Make your own swap market

Would you like to host a swap market? There are many ways to do it, and on this site we share our experiences. It’s a guide you can follow step by step, or you can get inspired and find your own way around it. We’ve deliberately added many details to the guide, but use whatever suits you.


First of all
 we recommend you watch the video about the swap market in Copenhagen to get a sense of the atmosphere, how it works and why people participate.

The swap markets we host have 200 – 1500 participants, but it could be fewer people, or even more. It depends on the location you can get access to, or if you make it in your local school, kindergarten or your neighbours.

Secondly, it’s good to know that you don’t have to spend any money to host a swap market. If you have access to a good room and a budget through your work (library, community center, school etc.), there are off course more possibilities to make it into a big event. Without a budget you need to be more creative and entrepreneurial, since in some cities it’s almost impossible to use a facility without paying for it.

In this guide we assume you want to host a large swap market where anyone can participate, and that you don’t have a budget. That means you can scale down from our advice, or you can add more fun (like a DJ or magician) if you have money to spend on the event. 

1. Find a (free) location with 20-30 tables and some clothes racks with hangers
– The room should have space enough for many people to move around while there’s access to the tables and racks.

If you do not have access to a place you can ask local associations, cultural centers, libraries, schools or your municipality, if they have any interest in co-hosting an event.

2. Find the first few volunteers
– 1-3 friends or acquaintances who want to help to arrange it with you and help with some of the practical tasks.

3. Select a date 1-2 months from now
– Then you have time to invite a lot of participants and find more volunteers to help.

4. Make it visible!
– When you have a room and a date, start spreading the word. Facebook, Twitter and all the local sites that share events for your area. You can send a press release to your local newspaper. If a swap market is a new thing where you live, they might make a story about it. Share the invitation in your network from school, work, kindergarten etc. If you have access to a printer, make posters or flyers that you or other volunteers can hand out.

5. Find a charity who can use the leftover things 
– If you do not have access to a car and can drive the excess stuff away for recycling, check out if there is a thrift shop nearby who wants to pick it up and sell it in their store. If they can’t pick them up the same day of the event (e.g. Saturday) then make sure you’re allowed to leave the things things behind for a few days.

6. Practical preparations 

– Make signs with the different categories, so you have them for the event. We laminate ours so we can use them again. It’s also a good idea to make big signs with the “swapping rules” so you won’t have to explain it over and over during the event. You can make a playlist with pleasant background music. If you’re hosting a big event it helps to make a chart of who’s helping when and with what. Meet with the volunteers before or send an email with a clear briefing so that everyone is on the same page. Since swap markets are non-profit and often don’t have a budget at all, some bakeries or local shops are generous enough to donate food and drinks for the volunteers. Go ahead and ask, the worst thing you can get is a no. You’re doing something good for your community, and others might want to support that.

7. Bonus
– If you think you have the time and ability, you can do something extra to spice up your event. Maybe your friend is a magician, a DJ, can do great face painting, acrobatics, balloon animals or something else. If you have money for entertainment, just go ahead and book what best suits your specific event. It’s also always nice with a cafe, so if someone wants to sell coffee and cake, or you have money to give it for free, then it also helps to create a good atmosphere. Maybe you know some who will repair bicycles, clothes or electronics and will host a repair cafe on the day.

GETTING ORGANIZED ON THE BIG DAY

A. Set the room up 1 hour before. (2-5 people)
– Set up tables in small groups and put signs up. If you need to weigh things and count the participants, have a welcome table that participants have to walk past to get into the room. Then they can also ask for help if the concept is new to them. Have more helpers if you’re setting up a cafe or a workshop.

B. Help during the day (3-6 people)
– Have your time table/chart with the tasks people are doing and when. We usually have some helpers saying welcome and explaining the rules. Others keep the room as tidy as possible, so that shoes aren’t mixed up with books etc., and help participants sort things if they’ve brought a lot. Have a corner where people can put excess bags and boxes from the things they’ve brought. In the entrance it’s a good idea to have a sign with information about more events coming, a mailing lists for new volunteers or just people who want to make sure they get the next invitation.

C. Dealing with hoarders
A few places we see people who aren’t just taking what they need, but hoarding. It is up to you as the organiser and host where to draw the line, and you can always ask people to leave if they break the rules or are being rude. If you don’t feel comfortable asking people to leave, then have some friends go with you. Be friendly but firm – people often already know, when they’ve crossed a line, and leave quietly when confronted. Rude, hoarding participants can ruin a whole event if they step on enough people’s toes.

D. Close and clean up (3-5 people)
– Make sure you’ve bought 2-3 rolls of large, transparent bags. Pack everything up for the charity and throw away the things that are broken. Put tables away, pick up signs, sweep the floor if necessary. It doesn’t take very long, unless you’re only 1-2 people.

After the swap market
– Maybe you’re high because it went really well, maybe you’re the perfectionist who is never completely satisfied. No matter how you’re feeling, it’s always good to consider what went well and what could be done better next time. Be aware that many participants have big ideas about what you should do – while not being willing to help create the events. Listen openly, and remember that it is you and your co-organisers who are in charge. You can’t make everyone 100% satisfied. After each swap market some people want different categories, or more tables, a different location, more heat, more cake, signs in the parking lot, or request that you screen ALL the donated items next time and check if they work. These are good suggestions, but not everything can be done unless there are volunteers to help 200 participants, or completely reshape the concept. Which is great too, we’re just trying to throw the event where EVERYTHING can be swapped by ANYONE with the least effort from the organisers. That way we hope more people find the courage to get started.

Our philosophy is:
– To keep the concept simple! Start small and build on it if you can. Entertainment is fun, but not necessary.
– To involve people at the level they can and will. Anyone can help whether they’re are young, old or in-between, is shy, hace back pain, PTSD or anything else you can think of. Everyone can are allowed to invent his or her own role!
– To use social media such as Facebook and Google Drive to coordinate everything. This saves time for the organisers.
– To make the concept available. Give it away. Let new people get space. Try new ideas out.
– To communicate simply and from “What’s in in for you?”. Most people have had enough of conversations about CO2, climate change and dying polar bears. It is important, but the most important thing is that people come and participate. Then you can always talk about serious issues when you meet and click with people.
There is no right or wrong way to do it. But there are a lot of different ways!
– To enjoy it. If you don’t do it because it’s fun, inspiring, cool, cozy or giving, then it is not likely that others will want to be be a part of it.

3 thoughts on “Make your own swap market”

    1. I find it difficult but there are some things to be aware of. Usually the behaviour reveals it. If the person acts normal, find things and have a good look or try things on its usually for themselves. When people walk around in a high pace, look manic/greedy, shove things into bags without really looking at them, pushing or elbowing others, stalking new guests to grab the expensive looking items or something like that then that person don’t understand the event. It creates a bad vibe. Usually that person is not nice to be around and guests might even come and say ‘he or she is pushing me/grabbing things from me – is that ok?’.

      I usually keep an eye on people for a while if I get warnings, and then I go and talk to them. Tell them to give other people space or take it easy or simply that other people have complained about their behavior. You can easily see if people are embarressed or if they already know they’re not following the guidelines.

      It’s harder when it comes to amount. I sometimes just have a chat. ‘Wow it seems like you found a lot today’ – very often people will just share. ‘Yes I brought 2 whole suitcases and now I filled a whole one with clothes for my children, it’s amazing.’ If people avoid me when talking to them, then it makes me more suspicious. If I suspect people are hoarding, I say: you have found a lot and people are starting to come to me and complain. So I am here to check in with you. The strange thing is that people who are in need often apologize or look ashamed. Where greedy people get upset that they’ve been pointed at or try and point at others. Even before talking to people, you can see who is grateful and ‘omg can’t believe it’ and just have to share their findings ans happiness with others – and those on a silent mission to graaab.

      You have to trust your gut, talk to people and be ready to either apologize for the unpleasant conversation or tell people they’ve found enough for one day. A few might not like you for setting a limit of one whole suitcase or 1 huge bag if needed. But 100 more will find you responsible for trying to be fair and stand up for the concept.

      🙂 which country are you from??

      1. Hej I just saw the message after a long time. 🙂
        I have considered doing it in my home country(Romania) but nothing happened until now. The situation is different there but maybe I will try more when I get there.
        Thank you for the advice 🙂

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A movement of swappers

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