Start a SwapLuck to Share the Things You Make and Do

When I wrote about homesteading magazines in February, several people praised Countryside as the best of the bunch. Intrigued, I subscribed. I've received my first issue and I have to say: I'm impressed.

Countryside isn't for everyone. It's very much geared toward those interested in getting “back to the land”. When I read the magazine, I couldn't help but think of my father. He loved this sort of thing. But even though I live in suburbia, there was still plenty of interest for me, as well.

Every month, Countryside features an enormous section of reader feedback, for example. People write in to tell their stories and to share tips and tricks about living in the country. It's like a great blog conversation in print. This month, a letter from Khaiti Kahleck of Wisconsin introduced me to the concept of SwapLucks:

I want to share an idea with readers, as we are all facing pretty freaky economic times. I know folks who knit, but don't can food, or make soap or go fishing or have a huge garden, etc. Many of us have skills or abilities to share, so we get together about once a month and have a “Swap-Luck”, where we all bring something we've made, grown, grown out of, or a skill to trade with each other. These are so fun!

Our group is slowly growing to include others now too. The last one had a dozen folks with pizza dough, goat milk, habanero peppers, fresh granola, kimchi, wine, soup — there's something for everyone! I'd highly encourage others to try this; it really encourages you to try new things, make creative foods or products, and doesn't involve money. And it builds community as well.

I think it's clever to extend the potluck concept beyond food, but I was unsure how it would work in practice. I wished Khaiti's letter to Countryside contained more information, so I tracked her down and sent her e-mail. “I'm curious about the mechanics of a SwapLuck,” I wrote. “How do they work?” Khaiti replied to describe the concept in greater detail:

Our SwapLuck group has over twenty folks who come and go, but started with a handful of friends. Friends tell friends, and so it goes. We get together about every two weeks. Last summer I read this fantastic book called The Revolution Will not be Microwaved, by Sandor Katz. He described these underground groups who get together and trade things that may be your specialty, but the financial overhead and burden to do what you love for a living (and up to code) is nearly impossible. But you love to do it anyhow.

So we got a group of interested folks together and started. In our group we have:

  • bread bakers
  • kimchi fermenters
  • potters
  • a seamstress
  • gardeners
  • backyard egg-producers
  • home brewers
  • goat milkers
  • peanut sauce makers
  • different dessert and cookie makers
  • a masseuse
  • cool junk collectors

There's all kinds of stuff! We all bring as much as we want to trade — no limit or restrictions. And if people like what you make or have brought, they swap with you (as long as you have something they want.) We all have our specialties, and the group is ever-evolving. People try new things all the time. That was part of the incentive, so we'd all be inspired to try making new things, knowing we had a ready audience. 

Over the winter, we met at a local bakery/coffee shop. Now that summer is coming, we'll return to meeting at people's homes. It is amazing at how business-like we are about it. Sometimes it's like a party afterwards, but the swapping comes first. At each swap we always decide as a group when and where the next is. That way the communication doesn't have to be on one person's shoulders. We are mostly all on Facebook, so if someone misses one, it is easy to find out where the next one is.

Our typical swap would be at 5:30pm. We wait til 6pm, then one-by-one we go around and describe what we have brought.  Then after everyone has their time, swapping begins. It is first-come first-serve, but second swaps are not unheard of! By 7pm we are usually done swapping. The one rule is “pre”-swapping is not allowed — like you see something good, you can't interrupt and say “I want that and I have this to swap!” That is our only basic etiquette rule. Swaps on “futures” happen all the time. Maybe you only have one batch of cookies, say, but you could promise a fresh batch to trade. This is all based on trust, and we have found it has built an incredible community as well.

I'd say the hardest thing to swap is services — and I am not sure how many of them have been swapped. The people offering services put it out there, but I am not sure if much has happened outside of the swap.

Have you ever done anything like this? If so, how did it work? More to the point, would you ever do anything like this? As I said, I love the idea. I'd love to participate in something similar here in Portland. I could swap writing services or blog consulting! (Those are sure to be in high demand, right?)

On a semi-related note, check out this article from Yahoo! Green about how swapping is shopping for the new economy. That's overstating things, of course, but I've heard of a lot more people swapping lately.

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Sarah
Sarah
11 years ago

Neat concept!!! Thanks for sharing!!

Nicki at Domestic Cents
Nicki at Domestic Cents
11 years ago

Sounds similar to bartering, which I love to do. I would be interested if I knew of a group like this. I think it’s an excellent idea.

TJR
TJR
11 years ago

Getting rich is about using your time effectively, among other things. That is why hobbyist bartering or self-sufficient gardening will not make you rich, not even slowly.

However, people starting to get out of debt might benefit – if nothing else, compulsive spending isn’t possible during no-money-activities.

And, this kind of things can help (re)discover the joy and meaning of life regardless of money. Essentially: get happy, not rich.

Rosey Dowr
Rosey Dowr
11 years ago

What an excellent idea. This takes yard sales to a new level. Sort of MeetUp.com meets FreeCycling.com.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
11 years ago

I see how something like this could be fun to do, but mostly for the social interaction. If I wanted almost anything on that list, we have a farmer’s market here in town every thursday afternoon where I could get it. The cash I’d spend on fresh baked bread at the farmer’s market really isn’t very much, and I’d earn it a lot faster by just doing my regular job as a software engineer than I would by taking up beer brewing (for example) as a hobby. If I already brewed beer for the fun of it, and had tons… Read more »

Sierra Black
Sierra Black
11 years ago

I think it’s cool that this works for Khaiti’s group. I wonder how it would scale up for mine. Where I live in the Boston area, we pretty regularly have: Soup Swaps Recipe Swaps (like a soup swap, but for any vegetarian entree) Clothing Swaps Toy Swaps …as well as several e-mail lists where people can do ongoing trades of stuff they no longer need (Freecycle, Boston Reuse, etc.) What all those events have in common is that there’s some constraint on what gets swapped. I’m curious enough about doing a Makers Swap of handmade items that I’ll probably try… Read more »

Laura @ BeyondBeerMoney
Laura @ BeyondBeerMoney
11 years ago

Great post!

Countryside (which I also get, oddly enough) and ideas like a “Swap-Luck” are a great example of the fight against lifestyle inflation.

The point is to spend less money and get more pleasure from your expenditures (and life!).

sarah
sarah
11 years ago

I guess the question as to whether or not this kind of thing can make you rich depends a lot on how you define rich. If you only define it in terms of dollars, then this probably isn’t going to help you much. But if you define rich in terms if things like belonging to a community and the gratification that one gets when making things oneself, then this is an excellent idea. It seems like some of the previous comments are focused on the money definition. I use swapping/bartering quite a bit in my life, and it turns out… Read more »

Avistew
Avistew
11 years ago

I have never done anything like that, but I would! I can knit, and tutor French. However, doing it for the money can be tricky. Knitting takes a lot of time, and the price people offer to pay would translate to a few cents per hour of work. Tutoring and translating are usually in demand, but you’d be surprised how many people get shocked or upset when they realise you’re expecting to be paid for your work. Exchanging knowledge for knowledge would be, I think, the best trade. It’s giving something without losing it. Then you have trading goods, which… Read more »

WereBear
WereBear
11 years ago

If we look at it as a way of sharing, it’s marvelous.

If you are making these things anyway, because you love it, and wish to see them in a good home, how wonderful. We can knit or brew or bake as much as we want, and get things we cannot do in exchange.

SeekingLemonade
SeekingLemonade
11 years ago

Hmmm, seems interesting. I can immediately see that in most cases, it’s not really about the money. For someone who has makes item X and has more than they need, it is about saving time and reducing some expenses. For someone who has makes item X and has more than they need but is otherwise unemployed or in reduced circumstances, this can be a life saver. Nothing here will make you rich financially, but it will make one feel further from the edge, reduce anxiety, open new avenues of experience (“I never tried X, but since so-and-so has it, I… Read more »

stephanie
stephanie
11 years ago

I know a group of young people (college kids through 30-somethings) who do this about once a week. It’s actually a group that gathers for dinner, a very laid back Bible-study sort of thing, and yoga, but they’ve included a swap as part of it – everyone brings stuff they no longer want and puts it on a table. Anyone can glance through the stuff throughout the evening, and at the end of the night, when people leave they take what they want with them. It’s not technically a swap, though – its more like giving stuff away. If no… Read more »

Will Wright
Will Wright
11 years ago

JD – Have you heard of Brightneighbor.com? It’s Portland based, and does something similar online. You list what you want and what you can offer, and people can look and contact you to make the swap. Obviously the face-to-face contact is a wonderful addition, but this is a great place to start, especially if not everyone can meet up on the same night.

Claire
Claire
11 years ago

OK, I’ve been intending to email you about this for a while, JD. This is an ideal segue! I am a member of a co-op here in Portland called the Sunnyside Swap Shop and Indoor Playspace. It’s an indoor playground for parents and their children to gather and play, but it is also a swap shop at heart. Members can bring in clothing, books, and toys that their children have outgrown and swap for new items. It is the ultimate form of recycling! The founder was inspired to start the co-op when she realized that all the parents she knew… Read more »

Avistew
Avistew
11 years ago

Will Wright > Oh, I almost forgot, we have a French similar one! When you have something to offer, you put it for grabs, and you link to your profile. You profile lists things that you are looking for or could be interested in. A friend works at a museum and can get free tickets every month. She trades them every time. Many people on that website ask for food (1kg of rice for instance) because they’re students and broke. In exchange for free tickets to the museum where she works, my friend has had earrings, a food bowl for… Read more »

DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad
DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad
11 years ago

Interesting concept! Would provide a benefit beyond the actual swap– a social event!

Shara
Shara
11 years ago

DH and I do something similar, though much more informally. We trade time and such with some friends. For example I cook for a friend of his who is divorced and he comes over and helps DH with larger jobs that take more than one person. In fact DH has a number of single friends I can trade food for time. So much of it is about changing your frame of mind. DH always considers what we do for others as being neighborly, but what others do for us as favors. But you can trade time and expertise and both… Read more »

Marie
Marie
11 years ago

This is a great money saver because so much of starting a frugal habit is the start-up costs. (For example, if I hadn’t inherited canning supplies from my mom, I’d be reluctant to shell out for all new stuff.) If everyone bears the cost of the supplies for one process, you’re really saving a ton.

MLC
MLC
11 years ago

Up here in Canada, this would be considered a barter group and the government likes to get their taxes on the exchanges even if no money changes hands. Unless you want to take your chances at doing this underground, you can join a barter exchange group in your area (check the phone listings). They usually allow one person for each specialty in each group (ie. one florist, one real estate agent, one seamstress, one bookkeeper, one handyman, etc.) and then they have a form where you log your trades by ‘selling’ your product/service for the same number of ‘barter’ dollars… Read more »

Linear Girl
Linear Girl
11 years ago

FWIW – Bartering is taxable in the United States, too. IRS link:

http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/article/0,,id=187904,00.html

Jvonhusen
Jvonhusen
11 years ago

I love the concept and I am going to try to do something like this with my buying club, and neighbors. I think our summer block party would be a perfect time to do this. In the mean time, my friends and I have started a database of skills that we have to share on our Yahoo buying club group, in SE.

allen
allen
11 years ago

@JD: She didn’t mention how they determine order of trade? do they go one by one, or is it then a free for all (ala PIT)?

In addition: Please remember that these are things you have to pay taxes on. Services/goods/whatever. If you didn’t make it yourself, it counts as something you “paid” for, and thus must pay taxes on (local codes may differ)… Just like you pay local sales tax on items you buy online, right? RIGHT? 😉

Jen M.
Jen M.
11 years ago

I’ve attempted to be a part of 2 barter groups in my county, and neither of them was successful for me. I don’t know if it’s because I offer mostly services, or if it’s because the groups both focused on value equivalency (in other words, you tried to barter based on the monetary value.) That’s not for me. I barter more based on who-needs-what. A loaf of bread might be really valuable to an unemployed photographer, for instance, so maybe I’d photograph a house or a wedding in exchange for a few loaves of bread. Apparently, my neighbors were just… Read more »

Jvonhusen
Jvonhusen
11 years ago

We are going to try this on May 16th in SE Portland. From 9:00 AM until 5:00 PM We are inviting people to bring whatever they have to trade for other goods or services.
SE 97th and Boise st.

khaiti
khaiti
11 years ago

great to see all the feedback and stirring this has caused JD! I hope others all work this out to their own advatcage. It is certainly NOT a way to get rich, moneywise, it is a concept to en-RICH your life, as well as provide you with some inspiration/incentive to make those things you are good at! And it IS social as well, nothing wrong with that. Sounds like for the folks who have tried this before and got stuck with a bunch of money-fixated folks, try again with more likeminded people and be open and honest about what you… Read more »

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