Let’s face it. Children are expensive. By the time a child is 17 years old, parents will have spent an estimated $10,000 to $20,000 just on the child’s wardrobe. It’s no wonder, since kids typically grow out of their clothes twice a year, shedding on average 40 items from their closets.
If you’re wondering what to do with your closet full of outgrown baby clothes, there may be a solution for you online. Several websites make it easier than ever for parents to trade their dusty books, toys, DVDs and clothes, swapping them for more needed items. Plus, there are the books, music, entertainment and other paraphernalia from which children quickly graduate. Pretty soon, Ni Hao Kai-Lan makes way for Harry Potter and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Before you know it, they’ll be swooning over the vampires and werewolves from the Twilight series.
San Francisco’s ThredUp started a year ago as a site for parents to swap children’s clothing. Since then, it has expanded to books, DVDs, toys and Halloween costumes. "Our goal is to build a company that serves millions of moms and solves their problem that clothes don’t grow, but kids do," says co-founder and CEO James Reinhart. The premise is that you may not want or need the products that you currently own, but another family, somewhere, will. You can donate your belongings or try to sell them yourself through eBay, Craigslist, a consignment store or your personal network of friends and family. But, by tapping sites such as Swap.com and ThredUp, you widen your reach and lessen some of the hassle. Plus, you get something in return. There’s also the satisfaction that comes from knowing that your belongings won’t end up in a landfill just yet.
Dealing With the Downside
Are there drawbacks and risks? Certainly. Users have complained about receiving smelly and stained clothing and scratched, torn and marked-up media. You may feel like what you receive in return isn’t as nice or as valuable as what you gave away.
But, the sites say they do their best to protect their users. Swap.com guarantees that you receive the item you’ve been promised. ThredUp occasionally intercepts the boxes for quality control and has let unsatisfied customers pick out a new item at no cost. Of the 60,000 trades made so far, the company says that 96 percent of them have been rated at least three stars out of four.
All of the sites depend on their community of users to build success. Recipients are encouraged to rate and offer feedback on the items they’ve received.
Last fall, Katy Crain, mother of a 1-year-old in Santa Clara, traded her daughter’s 6-month-old clothing and picked out a box of 12-month-old clothing. Now that her daughter is starting to outgrow her 12-month-old clothes, she’s packing them up and exchanging them for the next size. "Everything fit and was great quality," she says. "I’ve recommended it to anyone who’s looking for things on a budget."
ThredUp.com Once you register, ThredUp sends you several standard medium U.S. postal service shipping boxes. You stuff them with your child’s outgrown clothes, books, DVDs and toys and list the contents online. The site guides you with your listing, such as offering a menu of popular clothing brands to choose from. Top brands listed are Carter’s and Baby Gap, and people fit about 15 articles of clothing into a box. No photos are allowed on the site, so the description of the items is key to attracting a taker.
Parents browse the site and pick a box they want. If it’s your box, the site supplies the mailing label and postage for shipping. If you’re receiving the box, you pay $5 for the trade and $10.95 for shipping. For every box you ship, you get to pick a box for yourself.
The site’s sweet spot is in the 1- to 5-year-old range. The company is taking steps to match supply with demand, such as the overabundance of newborn clothes and the lack of older children’s clothing. It is also contemplating adding other categories, such as maternity clothes. If a box has lingered on the site with no interest, the site encourages the poster to edit it or add more items, for example; it will remove boxes that have been listed for too long.
Swap.com You post your library of books, DVDs, CDs and video games that you want to trade. Then, you browse the available titles to see if there’s an item you want. Once you initiate a trade, the site will reach out to the other parties to see if they’re willing to participate. It’s usually not a direct one-to-one trade, but an exchange between you and a chain of different people.
You can also create a wishlist. If there’s a match, the site will contact you and give you a deadline to respond. It costs 50 cents to $1 for each trade, plus the cost of shipping your item. The site supplies you with the address of the recipient and gives you the option to pay and print your mailing label online, giving you and your recipient the assurance that the package is on its way. Selections are a mix of adult and children’s titles, from copies of Once Upon a Potty to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Current bestsellers are in demand and easy to trade, but you’d be surprised at the eclectic tastes and requests. You could very well swap your Eminem album for a Sesame Street DVD.
PaperBackSwap.com, SwapaCD.com, SwapaDVD.com These sister sites operate autonomously, but the format is the same. You list the items you want to trade and when someone requests your book, CD or DVD, you mail it to them and cover the cost of shipping. For each successfully sent item, you earn credit that you can use to request an item of your choice from the catalogue. You can also keep a wish list, and PaperBackSwap.com, will alert you when an item becomes available. More than 2 million books have been swapped through the site, with about 35,000 traded each week. It has a library of nearly 5 million books.
Ellen Lee covers family technology for Bay Area Parent.