Tips for Holiday Swapping

When The Swapaholics think of the holiday season, we immediately imagine freshly baked cookies, cuddling with puppies, ice skating, hot chocolate, sparkling Boston snow, and (what else?) Yankee Swaps with our friends and families.

Today, got a huge shout-out in the New York Times that talked about the swapping & bartering trend, and giving swapped or secondhand items as holiday gifts, in particular. Naturally, we love it, but even though antiques have been readily accepted gifts for centuries, giving something “used” to a friend, family member, or co-worker can be an intimidating decision to make — and is definitely not for everyone. But, when you’re swapping or buying something that’s brand-new or like-new and still in its packaging, will anyone even know the difference?

If you’re looking to give a secondhand, vintage, or re-gifted item to your nearest and dearest this weekend, check out these basic rules for keepin’ it classy:

Shopping for Swap or Secondhand Gifts

Giving swapped gifts is a fun and fabulous way to turn something you have into something nice and new for someone else. Secondhand & swap gifts are usually more thoughtful and personal than store-bought gifts, since they require a level of knowledge about the personality, hobbies & passions of the recipient.

Questions to ask yourself about whether or not a swapped gift is right for the persons on your list include:

Is your friend a swapper? A vintage, consignment or thrift shopper? How would you feel telling them where it came from? Of the two dozen people we polled this week, they all said that they’d be thrilled to receive a swapped gift but definitely would want to know up front where the item came from.

Gifts should be in new, like new or very good condition, unless vintage, collectible, or antique. There’s no reason you need to disclose, say, that a brand-new DVD still in its plastic wrap was swapped. You wouldn’t go around bragging that you got the item on sale at Target, either.


Jewelry, purses, collectibles, books, CDs, DVDs, video games, vintage records/LPs all (pretty much universally) make great gifts for friends and family members, and can almost always be found at swaps.

Check out our own beloved swapped gifts from seasons past:

Vintage jewelry, given to Amy for Christmas from a boyfriend and friend

Antique beer cans given by Melissa a few years ago to a good friend, a brand rep for Miller Brewing


Still wondering whether your friends and family will be psyched about swaps this holiday season? We asked our 2,000+ readers and fans on Facebook and Twitter about getting swapped items as holiday presents, and here’s what they said:

Poll: If you got an awesome gift & later found out it was secondhand from a swap (even if new in packaging), how would you feel?

1. “I’d be amazed at your swap-hunting skills and appreciative of the gift!”
2. “I would feel awesome!”
3. “As long as it was something i wanted, I wouldn’t care.”
4. “I love that idea! Why would it matter as long as you thought it was something of quality that the person wanted!!!”
5. “I would be glad you were giving it to me and not keeping it yourself!”
6. “I would probably want to know upfront. I don’t mind second hand at all, but if I was the one giving i would probably say something like ‘I saw this at the greatest swap/thrift store and I thought of you!”
7. “I would feel you had made wise economic decisions in a difficult time. Truly, it is the thought that counts.”
8. “Second the know up front idea…personally i wouldn’t care and would actually be happy, but i can see how some would not…”
9. “I probably don’t count since all of my gifts come from/are given from these types of events but I truly think its “the thought that counts”. If it is a perfect gift for that person, who cares.”
10. “I would love it. Especially if it were a sweet pair of boots!”
11. “It’d still be awesome. In fact, I’d probably think it was more awesome.”
12. “I’d feel good that you thought of me when you found the gem, and even better when I learned that you got a good deal! Life is too short to have friends who “don’t do” leftovers or enjoy the thrill of a bargain.”
13. “LOVE IT!!!”

Hosting a Swap

Changing up the theme of your holiday party or post-holiday party to a swap — at the office, with friends, or at your family affair — takes the pressure off everyone involved, and is a great way to still have fun while saving time, money, and stress.

Keep it fun, festive and seasonal with a wine swap or a gourmet food swap — ask each attendee to bring one new, unopened bottle of wine, jam, marinade, spice rub, or other gourmet foodstuff, and let each person take one new-to-them item home in return. Download free printable gift labels (like these and these we found on How About Orange) for people to fill out as they come in, so they can let each other know where the item came from and attach a funny, sweet, etc. message to the bottle or jar about why they’re giving the item away, like “I don’t know WHY my mother-in-law thinks I grill lots of steaks, since I’ve been a vegetarian for 10 years!” or “My husband and I love this spicy red wine & drink it in front of the fireplace every winter. Salute!”

Display and organize the swap items in a central location for guests to browse as they sip and mingle. Host a more formal swap around a sit-down dinner by having each guest swap the item they brought with the person on their left. Keep going, allowing people to “stick” and skip to the next person, until everyone has something new-to-them that they’re excited about. Poke fun at the patriarch/matriarch of the family or head of the company by setting the rules so that they agree to take the “lame gift” leftover at the end.

Some other popular types of swaps during the holidays can include:

  • Cookie Swaps
  • Family Recipe Swaps
  • Holiday Cookbook Swaps
  • (Handmade) Ornament Swaps
  • (Handmade) Gift Swaps
  • Holiday Cocktail Dress Swaps
  • Lame Gift Swaps
  • Yankee Swaps
  • Goodwill Hunting Swaps (All thrifted/vintage gifts)
  • Ugly Sweater Swaps
  • Mix Holiday CD Swaps
  • Skills/Labor/Favor Swaps (aka, the IOU swap)

Feel free to cater your swap’s theme to your family’s own holiday traditions or other special winter pastimes you enjoy with your loved ones. When it comes to swapping, the possibilities are truly endless — be creative, be crazy, be calm, and here’s to swapping all year long in 2011!

  • Rowena

    I am in the Estate Sale business, so I have lots of un-rehomed items that seem to find their way into my house. Why ditch a perfectly funky item…they come in very handy.
    Whenever people come to my place they see items that catch their eye. When a occasion arise I know exactly where to go shopping for them !!!! They are delighted as am I.

  • Keren Charles

    I think giving a secondhand holiday gift would be okay…But you have to know if that person would appreciate it. One year my sorority sister, gave me the super haute dress that I borrowed from her a few times. The enclosed card read “It looked better on you. Enjoy!” It was one of the best gifts I got that year.