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Your own private consignment store

Have stuff you don't use? Here's a fun way not just to declutter but also to get something you WILL use.

By Donna_Freedman May 31, 2012 7:36PM
Image: Friends (© Rubber Ball/Getty Images)Do you have clothing you never wear, books you've already read or gift items that were never a good fit? Join the club. All but the minimalists among us could probably name plenty of possessions that rarely get used.

If you don't want to have a yard sale, try creating your own private Freecycle Network -- but just for an evening.

Clothes-swapping parties have proved popular during the recession. They're like visiting consignment stores, except that everything is free.

Why not open that concept up a bit to include things like:
  • Best-sellers you'll never re-read (a "gotcha" ending doesn't surprise more than once) or DVDs you'll probably never watch again (ditto).
  • Clothing, jewelry, shoes and accessories that seldom (if ever) get worn.
  • Housewares. You thought you'd use that cupcake bakery or sushi mat a lot more than you actually did.
  • Outdoors or sports gear.
  • General tchotchkes such as vases, figurines, potpourri holders and candles.

Clear your shelves and closets in a single evening of fun. Here's how.

Fair trades

It's pretty simple, really: Just invite friends and/or family over for an afternoon or evening of socializing and swapping. Designate a bedroom or bath as the fitting room, group items by category and let your guests have at it.

That aromatherapy candle from the Secret Santa who didn't know you're allergic to fragrances might be just the thing for a stressed-out pal. The sweater your sister wore once would be completely new to you.

Emphasize that only items in good condition should be brought to the event. A beat-up pair of sandals or a sun-faded blouse should be given a decent burial, not swapped for someone else's like-new wares. (Post continues after video.)

Consider these rules, too:
  • Don't swap items given to you by someone in attendance. No matter how you frame it, feelings are likely to be hurt.
  • Keep track of the original owners of the things you take, lest you gift it back to them next Christmas.
  • Set a per-person limit. Otherwise the early birds might snag all the best worms. Knowing that only five items can be chosen will require guests to select more thoughtfully.
Serve snacks and drinks and/or ask guests to bring treats to share. Warm weather means lighter fare, so set out lemonade and iced tea, both of which can be made more interesting with the addition of sliced or crushed fruit. They can also be made more adult with the addition of alcohol, but only if you make sure no one drives home under the influence.

Home-popped popcorn is inexpensive and also lends itself to tasty variations like Bombay Popcorn, Dilly Lemon Munch, Black Sesame Mustard Popcorn, Chipotle Lime Snack Mix and Cheesy Popcorn (which is actually vegan, made with nutritional yeast). See "The world's most frugal snack" for recipe links.

Incidentally, a swap is not the same as re-gifting. No one is forced to accept anything. So enjoy an afternoon or evening with friends, then watch your clutter walk out the door in the arms of excited new owners.

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.