a bunch of toys and no kids playing with them


How to throw a toy swap party

Dec 28, 2017

A toy swap party is fairly simple: you invite other families to a party and you all trade your kids' unwanted toys. 

I would love to say that it was my idea, but my wife would kill me. And really, the origin story is less important than the outcome, which was that the kids loved it and my wife and I enjoyed it even more. 

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If you'd like to throw one of your own, the holidays are the perfect time to get started. Somewhere, there's a family with unwanted toys that shares your dilemma. So, why not host a party? Unburden each other! It’s an easy and fun New Year's resolution you can actually get excited about.


People make the party, and we’re lucky to live in a neighbourhood with a healthy kid density. Picture hockey nets or a heap of scooters for every three to four houses, and you'll have a good sense of what our neighbourhood looks like.

For us, an email to families up and down our street did the trick. We simply sent a mass email to all the families we know on our street, which not only fostered a real sense of community, but it guaranteed that familiar treasures would pop-up at future play dates. Any given toy wouldn't be straying too far from its original home.

If there aren't many kids in your parts, try reaching out to parents at play groups, or strike up a conversation with parents at school pick-up and drop-off.  We found families with kids of varying ages worked best, as great toys are so often outgrown.  


Yes, as with the late '90s film Fight Club, the first (and second) rule of the toy swap is that you do NOT talk about the toy swap — at least not while you're attending. To keep everything under control, it's best to make the excitement all about the party.

First, set up your toy exchange in a quiet part of the house – basements, garages, spare rooms work well – and then give the kids something else to do. For example, hot chocolate and glow-in-the-dark sticks did the trick on our little cul-de-sac. While the bulk of the kids were distracted, individual parents leisurely browsed toys with a child or two. We invited the youngest kids to go first.


Yes. You want to moderate the excitement of the toy swap, for sure, but that doesn’t mean kids should be shut out entirely. Selecting the unwanted toys is a great way to involve the kids, and giving each kid two vetoes is a good way to give them some sense of control. Our family purges toys by digging them out of the basement and laying them on the dining room table, and everyone understands that toys on the table are on their way out.

Kids, and parents, get 24 hours to enjoy the toys placed on the table, but after that, it's time for them to go. Before they're packed for the swap, each kid can use the two vetoes, which means two toys may be spared from the purge. A similar farewell ritual may quell some heartache when some other kid is walking home with that Pokemon card collection you loved so well.


A toy swap party isn’t something you do in place of a donation. Every household could use a toy purge, so most parents will likely arrive at the party with more items than they plan to leave with. It’s a good idea to a have a few cardboard boxes on hand and a plan to clear any leftover toys out of your home. We loaded our toy swap spillover directly into the car as part of the party clean up.

Before the mop water was dry, we were on our way to a local women’s shelter that accepts gently used toys. But don't feel like you have to do it that afternoon or evening! Loading the car trunk may be all you can manage at the time, and that's fine. Just get them out of sight and, nominally, on the road. You do not want to wake up to a heap of unclaimed toys lying around the morning after.

Article Author Rob Thomas
Rob Thomas

Read more from Rob here.

Rob Thomas is a writer, editor and a work-at-home dad. Brood, a book of poems inspired by his experiences of fatherhood, was launched at the Ottawa International Writers Festival in 2014. His journalism has appeared in places such as Ottawa Magazine, the United Church Observer, Canadian Running and on CBC radio and television. He is also a founding member of an Ottawa social club for dads called The Ugly Mothers.

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