I grew up in a small town in Connecticut, moved away after high school and lived in a variety of different places, and ended up ultimately moving back to a similar (but not the same) small town in Connecticut. I really love the sense of community and feeling of “we’re all in this together” that comes with living in this sort of setting. Now, as a mom, I’ve found this to be even more true than ever before. When I moved to my current home a little over four years ago, I was a stay at home mom with a one-year-old, and I literally didn’t know anyone in town. In previous “new homes”, I’d always been either in school or working, so I quickly found myself with an instant local friend base. This time, however, it was different. I found myself at home, day in and day out, with a baby who couldn’t yet talk on a road in the woods with no streetlights. It was isolating. I was fortunate to be welcomed into our town’s MOMS Club (an acronym for “Moms Offering Moms Support”, an international organization of stay-at-home and part-time working mothers) which turned out to be a great way to connect with other local moms in a similar situation.

Now, four years later, I’ve started and finished graduate school and returned to the workforce part-time, and I remain a part of this group of mothers. One of the hidden benefits of being part of a network of local parents (and there are many group options out there from MOMS Clubs to Meetup.com groups to Yahoo groups and more) has been swap meets.

Every parent I know has that stockpile of toys that are still in decent shape, but the kids don’t really play with them anymore. Or perhaps you have a stroller that isn’t in perfect shape (i.e., wouldn’t get much at the consignment shop), but still works. Or perhaps your child has a bike that she outgrew, but you don’t want to deal with coordinating strangers coming to your home from Craigslist or Freecycle. Enter the swap meet.

Our group of local moms has one annual swap meet and one annual fundraiser tag sale where we gather all our used toys, baby gear, and household items simply swap. It is fantastic. Not only are we cleaning out our houses, but we’re re-using items that may otherwise have ended up in landfills, we’re avoiding buying new items which both saves money and avoids using up more natural resources, and we’re keeping the kids busy…all for free! And while we only have two “official” swaps each year, many of us ask around the group before buying things such as sports gear, costumes, outdoor toys, etc. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.

So next time you find yourself staring at bins of baby toys that have been sitting in your basement for awhile, consider looking into a local swap meet and trading them for something new. You may just grow to love them as much as I do!

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