When Darcy Cruwys was pregnant, the single mom's friends sent her their old maternity clothes. Then when her daughter, Maggie, was born five years ago, the same friends sent their kids' old clothes and toys.
"Probably the first two years of my daughter's life, I really didn't have to buy anything, and it was a huge help," said Cruwys, 41, of Bozeman, Mont. "It got me thinking how lucky I was to have such great friends. What about all the people that didn't have friends like that? What a waste it was."
If there's one thing mothers can't stand, it's wastefulness. So in January, Cruwys started swapmamas.com, a forum that encourages families around the country to mail their gently used toys and other items to site members who want them.
In addition, Cruwys has organized several face-to-face toy swaps with her friends and neighbors, and she's quick to rattle off the benefits: Swapping saves money. It's good for the environment. It teaches kids to share. It's great for grandparents, who may not have an arsenal of children's toys at their disposal. It's how Maggie discovered the joys of Lite-Brite.
Cruwys, who is now a full-time moderator for Swap Mamas, shared these tips for hosting a toy swap.
Pick the 'where' and 'who.' The bigger the location, the more families you can invite. And the more families you invite, the better the selection of toys will be. But kids don't do well with too many options, so aim for about 10 children who are close in age.
Make an event of it. Toy swaps are largely an excuse for grown-ups to get together and eat. So whip up batch of your famous artichoke dip and bake some cookies for the kids.
Detach yourself. Get over your nostalgia. That Optimus Prime action figure is just collecting dust in your son's closet, so why not give it to a child who will actually appreciate it?
Get toys in tip-top shape. Require participants to bring toys that are in usable condition.
Set the ground rules. One is to swap for keeps. Another is to circulate toys the way a library circulates books — with the intention of them one day returning to their owner. If your group prefers a temporary swap, then write each child's name on his toy, and make sure all participants agree to keep their borrowed loot in good condition. Then hold another swap, bring back all the toys and let each child go home with something different.
Loosen up. A Hot Wheels car for a Nintendo DS may not seem like a fair trade to you, but if the kids are happy, then don't rock the boat. "It's the parents who are placing the value on the items," Cruwys says. "Kids are not as picky as adults."
Leave as much as you take. Part of the purpose of a swap is to clear your house of clutter. So although it's all there for the taking, be discriminating. If there are leftovers, donate them to charity or have the group's leader hold onto them for the next swap.