Swapped Gifts + Holiday Swap Soirees

Giving swapped gifts is a fabulous way to turn something “old” into something “new” for someone else, but it can be tricky. Secondhand & swap gifts are usually more thoughtful and personal, because they require a level of knowledge about the personality, hobbies, and passions of the recipient, but they easily come off as tacky, too.

If you’re shopping for swapped or secondhand gifts this year, ask yourself whether or not a swapped gift is right for the person on your list by answering these questions first:

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 last holiday season, 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.

All swapped gifts should be in new, like-new, or very good condition (unless you’re giving a vintage collectible or something antique). There’s no reason you have 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 clearance at a big box store, either. Only you and Santa himself need to know about that one.

Jewelry, purses, antiques, collectibles, books, CDs, DVDs, video games, vintage records/LPs, and homemade holiday cookies all make great gifts for friends and family members, and can almost always be found through swaps or secondhand shops.

Last holiday season, we polled more than 4,000 of our fans and followers on Facebook and Twitter about getting swapped items as presents, and here’s what they said:

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

“I’d be amazed at your swap-hunting skills and appreciative of the gift!”

“I would feel awesome!”

“As long as it was something I wanted, I wouldn’t care.”

“I love that idea! Why would it matter as long as you thought it was something of quality that the person wanted!!”

“I would be glad you were giving it to me and not keeping it yourself!”

“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!”

“I would feel you had made wise economic decisions in a difficult time. Truly, it is the thought that counts.”

“Second the know up front idea…personally I wouldn’t care and would actually be happy, but I can see how some would not…”

“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.”

“I would love it. Especially if it were a sweet pair of boots!”

“It’d still be awesome. In fact, I’d probably think it was more awesome.”

“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. ”

“LOVE IT!!!”

Since we’re truly Swapaholics, here are some of our own beloved things that were “gently used” before we gave or got them as gifts:

Vintage jewelry Amy received last year as Christmas presents from her boyfriend and from a friend.

Antique beer cans I gave to a friend, who worked for Miller Brewing, a few years ago. (He still has them displayed in his kitchen, which makes me smile every time I visit.)


Adding a little  swapping to your holiday party — the office, with friends, or your family affair — takes the pressure off everyone involved and is a great way to have fun while saving everyone 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.

Provide swap gift labels for people to fill out as they come in (like these awesome freebies from Jessica at How About Orange). That way, they can let each other know where the item came from and attach a funny or sweet 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. Cheers!”

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

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

  • Cookie Swaps
  • Recipe Swaps
  • Holiday Cookbook Swaps
  • Ornament Swaps
  • Handmade Gift Swaps
  • Holiday/Cocktail Dress Swaps
  • Lame Gift Swaps
  • Goodwill Hunting Swaps (All thrifted/vintage gifts)
  • Ugly Sweater Swaps
  • Holiday Playlist/CD Swaps
  • Skill Swaps (aka, the IOU swap)

Check back later this week for our “definitive” rules for that most contentious of holiday swap events: the Yankee Swap!

~ Melissa