The New Swap Meet Economy



Seven thousand dollars. That’s the value of stuff we have in our home that we don’t want, according to the NPD Group. But many savvy conscious consumers are taking matters into their own hands—or out of their closets—and swapping, bartering or buying used, rather than buying more new stuff. The result? A new “swap meet economy”, perfect for these economic times.

According to data compiled by a Sheldon Research Eco Pulse 2013 study, millennials, especially the under-30 set, are more comfortable with bartering, sharing and buying used items than people of their parents’ generation.

Chicago resident Erica Agran admits she enjoys finding great deals and often welcomes Web purchases shipped to her doorstep. Recently, she read about someone that gave away all of his possessions to simplify his life and then realized that she had way too many things of her own that she could easily share or give away. “I thought it would be fun to offer my friends the opportunity to de-clutter their closets, see if they could benefit in a swap and then facilitate the donation of the remaining items to charities who needed them,” says Agran.

Never having participated in a clothing swap, Agran says she just winged it, invited a dozen friends to her home and shared some basic ground rules with them in advance. For items that she wanted to donate, she consulted Chicago-based Zealous Good (ZealousGood.com). “I used the website to ensure that the donations went to people who could use them and needed them,” she says. “Zealous Good is like Craigslist, but instead of people contacting me to buy the items, charities emailed me via Zealous Good to tell me about how the items would go to good use. Then, they scheduled pickups once I selected the recipients.”

Among Agran’s enthusiastic participants was her friend and fellow Chicagoan, wellness coach Maureen Ryan. Ryan knew the event would include a fun group of girlfriends hanging out and exchanging some great clothes, but the real appeal to her was that it was “environmentally friendly, and thought it would be an inexpensive and fun way to make some changes to my wardrobe.” Another big reason is it forced her to take time and de-clutter. She felt so strongly about the event that as president of Ryan Wellness, she wrote about the need to de-clutter and the swap in her blog (RyanWellness.com/2012/10/clear-some-space-for-gratitude-wednesday).

KJ Hardy, of Chicago, calls herself a “hippie in a 42-year-old’s body” who has no qualms about bartering for goods and services. She recently received a massage in return for career coaching. Hardy says being involved in a sustainable activity is what would drive her to participate in a swap, which might include clothing, accessories, books, furniture and even paintings. “I am committed to sustainability and not using all of Earth’s resources to procure stuff,” she adds.

Plenty of websites make it easy to swap for those that want to broaden their selection of options beyond what’s in their friend’s closets. Bib + Tuck (BibAndTuck.com) features everything from designer labels to on-trend pieces. How does it work? Users earn Bib + Tuck “bucks” by trading items already in their closets. The more items one posts and trades, the more bucks in the account to use toward those cute white boots. Sellers set their own price, but no real money is exchanged.

Similar to Bib + Tuck, but with a wider range of categories and operating along an auction format, is Listia (Listia.com). On this site, one can upload items from throughout their home, including home décor, pet accessories and movies. Currency is earned when someone wins the auction listing.

If the thrill of the thrift store hunt or giving back to nonprofits is more appealing, WebThriftStore (WebThriftStore.com) allows users to upload items they’d like to donate on behalf of a specific charity to its site. Once the item is purchased, 100 percent of the purchase price is donated to the charity. It’s an easy way to donate goods, recycle items and de-clutter. Participating charities include the Children’s Brain Tumor Foundation and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

Others find swapping comfort in making sure extra food goes to a good home. The Sugar Beet Coop’s Cheryl Knecht Munoz participates in a soup exchange with her Oak Park neighbors. “One family cooks for the others and delivers it,” she says. “We trade off. It’s great.”

In some cases, friends get together at one home with ingredients to have a cooking party (similar to a cookie-making party during the holidays). It’s a fun way to spend time with friends while making homemade meals in the process for everyone to take home.

Those with more time than money on their hands might find TimeBank (TimeBank.org) an attractive concept. Participants earn credit for each hour of help provided to someone with a need. Those credits can then be used by reaching out to others within the network (not necessarily the same person helped). Locally, the Chicago Time Exchange (ChicagoTimeExchange.com) operates on the idea, “We have everything we need if we use everything we have.” According to its website, “An hour of your time is worth an hour of my time is worth an hour of anyone else’s time.”

Those with cars sitting idly in garages are earning extra dollars by registering them with GetAround.com, a site that allows owners to rent their cars when not in use. Extra bedrooms or empty homes can be listed on sites like Vrbo.com or AirBnB.com to attract renters and make some extra cash.

Whatever their reasons, consumers today are eschewing traditional ways of acquiring things they need or want by being more creative and mindful of what they allow into their lives and how they choose to get rid if it when no longer needed. By doing so, they are being thoughtful of the Earth’s resources, saving money and maybe putting that extra $7,000 lying around the house to good use.


Megy Karydes will be speaking about how writers can get more readers for their work at the annual American Society of Journalists and Authors conference in NYC later this month. Learn more at KarydesConsulting.com.

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