Curious about how to host a Halloween costume swap? It’s easier than you might think. Read on for some tips to host your own Halloween costume swap to save money without all the stress. Don’t make spooky season scary for your bank account or the planet!
We’ve talked a lot in our Waste Frees series about how you can reduce your waste in your own home. But what about helping your friends, neighbours, and community reduce their waste too?
Don’t worry, I’m not talking about combing through your street’s trash bins to audit your neighbors’ waste or going door-to-door to preach the joys of composting. I’m talking about a super easy way to reduce waste, save money, and spend time with friends (and also be an eco-warrior without looking like it!).
Halloween costume swap to reduce waste and build community
Organizing a clothing swap does all those things! And what better way at this time of year to bring the Halloween spirit to a clothing swap and organize a Halloween costume swap? The NRF in the USA estimated consumers to spend $10.14bn on Halloween-related purchases in 2021, and $3.32bn of that was predicted to be spent on costumes!
How to Host a Halloween Costume Swap
From experience, we know many of those costumes are made of cheap plastic and thrown out after being worn just once or twice. The fun can stay, but let’s ditch the financial and environmental costs! Her are some simple tips to do just that.
Pick a date and a venue.
The beginning of October is the perfect time for a Halloween costume swap. It’s far enough away from Halloween to appeal to people who haven’t thought about it yet, and close enough that people are starting to look for costumes to wear.
And as for a Halloween costume swap venue? You can host the swap in many places as simple as your front yard, local school gym, a church basement, or a library spare room. Be sure you choose somewhere that is easy for people to find. A central location helps as well to make it as convenient as possible.
A library or village hall is ideal because it’s already designed to be a community gathering space. But I’ve been part of Halloween swaps in my front yard, at local village markets, and just this past week, outside a local community cafe.
On a side note, your local library might even be willing to host and/or promote the event for you. Many local libraries host Halloween costume swaps as they fit into their missions seamlessly.
Promote, promote, promote.
Shout from the rooftops about your event; make sure everyone knows about it. When I was a student, I sold books door-to-door and recruited students to be part of my team. It was drilled into me that you ‘get what you promote’. People need to hear something multiple times before they remember it, so don’t worry about repeating yourself.
You might think you’ve told everyone, but I guarantee there will be many people who haven’t heard about it yet. Ask if you can promote the event in the PTA/PSO school newsletter. Share about it on your local village or town Facebook group, and share it on any street WhatsApp groups you’re part of.
Word of mouth and social media can be really effective ways to spread the word, especially if you can focus on groups of people that are most likely to be interested (like all those local parent groups on Facebook).
Keep it simple.
Don’t get bogged down in the details and make it more complicated than it needs to be. Keep your costume swap event simple. You just need a date, time, age range of costumes, and ideally, specific collection points where people can donate costumes beforehand.
Some clothing swaps use a points system or a ticket system based on what you bring to the swap. The intent of these types of systems is to ensure fairness, so that everyone gets a chance to bring home about as many pieces as they brought to share. They can be helpful with more complicated swaps where people are bringing all different types of clothes and might want to bring home a variety of pieces.
A Halloween swap, however, can be a bit simpler. Most people just need one costume for the year. So if you are concerned that people will take more than their fair share, you could always limit take homes to one costume per person (or whatever the right amount is based on your supply).
Collect with intention (and maybe in advance)
Leave collection boxes at easy locations for parents to drop off costumes
Find friends who will help you collect gently used costumes in advance from different social circles around your area. When I was part of the 143 Exchange in Massachusetts, we left collection boxes at local nurseries and schools so parents could easily drop off any outgrown clothing or costumes before a swap event. A couple of mums checked on the collection boxes periodically in the run-up to an event.
Most recently, I was part of the Parents for Future – Dacorum (PFF) Halloween costume swap in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. We had 3-4 school collection points which made it easier to collect lots of costumes for swapping before the day of the event.
You could also ask local community centers or libraries to be collection spots. These often have more foot traffic than small schools or nurseries so you have a great chance of getting lots of costumes for donation.
Think about costumes beyond Halloween
Did you know there is a National Costume Swap Day? It seems like there is a day for just about everything now, but I can get behind this one. The second Saturday in October (a perfect time for Halloween costume swapping) also appeals to other types of groups that have or need costumes, like theater groups.
Consider promoting your event (or at least a collection of extra or old costumes) to local theater groups. They may have costumes they no longer need from old shows. They also may want to attend the swap to find new costumes for their future performances! When it comes to clothing and costume swaps, the more the merrier, so get creative about who may have extra costumes on hand besides fellow parents.
Let people bring Halloween costumes on the day of the swap
You can, of course, have people bring their costumes for swapping on the day if you prefer. This is perfect if you’re organising your Halloween costume swap last minute and want to keep it really informal. But it might make your event a bit more hectic when you get started as you work to organize costumes for browsing, particularly if you’re hosting a larger event.
You can’t do this alone. While it can be really simple to host a Halloween costume swap, the more people you have involved in the set-up and coordination, the easier it’ll be. Ask a neighbour or a friend to help you out. Find extra hands and voices to help spread the word, collect outfits, and be your moral support on the day.
PFF Dacorum had a team of eight phenomenal women who each took shifts and roles preparing for the vent. When we started the swap, rails and hangers were collected and ready for the day. We had numerous big bags of costumes ready to give away. And no one had to stay for longer than an hour to oversee the stall.
143 Exchange has a group of volunteers that has grown over the years, and they do a great job sorting clothes while fostering closer connections to each other and their community. The more people helping to organise, the more people there are promoting it too!
Additional options for promotion and fundraising
If you’re looking to host something more robust, you can set up a Facebook event page if you want, but it’s definitely not necessary. You could ask for monetary donations if you plan to use the event as a fundraiser. And you could keep track of the number of costumes you give away so you have stats to promote afterward. You can do all of that, but you don’t have to.
Remember: Keep it simple. It’s only sustainable if you can keep it up and do it each year.
What to do with leftover costumes
Inevitably, you will have extra costumes that don’t get taken home. If you have storage space, you can consider holding on to them for next year. But you could also reach out to your local food bank or housing shelter and see if they host Halloween costume giveaway events or know families that could use whatever leftover costumes in good condition remain from your swap. These types of organizations are often well-connected to families with children who may not be able to afford their own Halloween costumes.
Furthermore, try posting extra costumes for free on a neighborhood gifting site or local selling site like Facebook Marketplace. I’m always pleasantly surprised at how many things can find new homes when offered for free to neighbors and community members through online community groups. Hopefully, all the costumes can find a new home somewhere and don’t end up in the trash after all the hard work to host the exchange.
Start somewhere, even if it’s small
Give it a try! Even if the first year is small, we all have to start somewhere. I only had five people come to my first Halloween costume swap, and they were all my neighbors. Very few costumes were exchanged as they all had kids the same age. I was disheartened at the time, but it sowed the seed and fostered friendships.
Now, years on from that first attempt, the 143 Exchange is hosting its annual Halloween pop-up. Through the event, participants save hundreds of outfits from landfills, $1,000s from being spent on something that’s worn for one night, and so many carbon emissions avoided from the impact of all the costumes not purchased new or tossed in the trash.
How about a holiday sweater exchange?
If you’re reading this in November then swap out the word Halloween for holiday sweaters and all of the above is still applicable! Skip purchasing an ugly sweater for all those ugly sweater holiday parties. See what your friends have. I bet they have something you can borrow or swap!
Good luck and let me know how you get on!
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About The Author
Sarah Burgess is co-founder of the social movement Just1bag2020, mother of two, and British Expat who spent four years living in the United States and recently moved back to the United Kingdom. Sarah spends her time promoting local sustainable change through small, easy-to-do actions that everyone can do to help out the planet. When not picking up trash and persuading others to do the same, Sarah and her family can be found travelling the world and experiencing everything this precious Earth has to offer.