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Barter is the New Black

Check out these swapping sites and events that allow for exchange of new-to-you products for free (or nearly).

The bartering culture is growing across the country.

There’s a machine in the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, that’s a kind of anti-vending machine. It’s not filled with plastic trinkets, junk food, cigarettes or anything that’s for sale. Instead, it invites you to give and take, inserting or removing items from its 13 bins as you deem fit. It’s called the Swap-O-Matic, and it’s a commentary on vending machines and our instant-gratification culture. Rather than buy something new, why not trade and reuse? (Viewers can even check the What’s Inside? portion of the site for real-time updates on what each of the bins hold).

The recession was a reminder to many of us that we don’t always need new things. According to NARTS, The Association of Resale Professionals, consumer interest is increasing in resale, and the industry is growing at about 7 percent a year. But what’s not reflected in those numbers are the alternative, DIY approaches to getting new-to-you things for free. While the concept of bartering is at least as old as human beings, the idea of swapping has picked up in recent years. Today, you can swap food, houses, books, clothes and even garden space. Here are some of the savvy swaps that are going on across the country. 

Food Swap
Once a month, Chicago bakers, jam makers, granola concoctors, sauce masters and others gather to commune over comestibles at the Chicago Food Swap. First, they wander around tasting the available wares, and then they broker deals, determining how much of what they have should be traded for what others brought. No money is exchanged, only sweets and savories. The popular event—and a wait list—fills up quickly. Want to find or start a food swap in your own community? FoodSwapNetwork tracks who’s swapping where across the US and Canada, and shares a guide on how to get started.

Garden Shares at Shared Earth
Got an itchy green thumb but no land to hoe? Check out SharedEarth, a garden-sharing website that connects landowners who have available plots but no gardening skills (or time) with men and women who want to garden. The site simply introduces potential partners, who can then figure out how to strike a plan to share in cost, labor and the fruits of that labor.

Couch Surfing
You’ve heard of sites such as and, right? These sites share listings of house, apartment, room and couch rentals, encouraging travelers to live like locals on the road. Well, CouchSurfing does that, too, but it’s a non-profit, and requires that couch sharers and couch surfers keep any talk of money at bay, ensuring that the service is free. While it’s not a direct, tit-for-tat barter/swap site, CouchSurfing encourages people who’ve used the service to give back one day and offer up their Futon to world adventurers (or road trippers), too.

Home Exchange
Living local takes on new meaning when you try a home exchange. There are a number of sites that act as middlemen for brokering the deal, such as Homelink USA and Home Exchange (membership fees apply). List your home and start researching areas where you’d like to go—Paris, perhaps? Or wait and see who’s interested in staying in your home, and then plan a swap for a week, a month or whatever fits your schedule.

Real Estate Trade
GoSwap differs from Home Exchange and other house swapping sites in that it’s permanent. The concept: “I’ll buy your home, you buy mine.” (Or car, boat, commercial property and the list goes on). Get started by listing your property online and search for matches.

Barter Quest
Trade your haves for your wants on Barter Quest. Say you’re looking for an iPod. Do a quick search and you’ll find that a user in Chicago has one. Want to make a trade? Check out the user’s “wants,” and you’ll see that he or she is looking to swap for a new XBOX 360. Good deal? Swap it! Not impressed? Keep looking. The site has an impressive array of goods (art, equipment, appliances, etc.), services (pet grooming, house cleaning, DJ, personal training) and even real estate, all up for grabs. 

Clothing Swaps
Want to trade your Gucci for a Fendi? If you have friends with such tastes, offer to host a clothing/accessory swap. Invite your pals over to your house, along with some of their gently used cast-offs, and get the dress-up party started. Not impressed with your friends’ fashion? Check out SwapStyle and Rehash, two sites that allow you to upload photos you take of your closet and then barter for new-to-you duds.

Book Exchange
Build your own library by swapping stories through PaperBook Swap. The site has more than 4 million books, including paperbacks, hard covers, textbooks and audio books available. Get started by listing your own books for swapping. Then, search for a book you’d like to read. Select that book, and the owner will send it to you for free. All the sender has to do is pay for postage, which they can purchase and print via the site. Over time, the site tracks how much you save by swapping books. How’s that for instant gratification?

National Soup Swap Day
Yes, this is a thing. One day a year— the next “official” date is Jan. 16, 2017, but you can host your own soup swap any time—soup lovers near and far pour over their mirepoix, sweat over their stews and chatter over their chili, preparing for the eighth annual National Soup Swap. The tradition started in Seattle and has spread throughout communities across the country. The goal? To break bread and swap soup! Host your own soup swap by inviting friends and family to create their own soup and bring it over to share. (Tip: You might want to suggest that they freeze it before traveling any significant distance. Soup swapping can get messy). 


Kate Silver

Kate Silver is an award-winning freelance writer and editor with more than a decade of journalism experience. Based in Chicago, she specializes in features, health, food and travel stories for print publications and websites. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Men's Health, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Southwest Airline's Spirit Magazine and many other outlets.

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