• As guests arrive, count the number of items they brought and issue one swap dollar for each.
  • Arrange their things (or have them do it) to their best advantage. (This will be easier if you recruit a helper or two. If you didn't do this in advance, ask the first guest(s) for assistance.) Try to keep like items together: pants in one spot, tops in another, accessories somewhere else, and so on.
  • When everyone has arrived and all the items are displayed, hold a "viewing" so everyone can assess the goods on offer before the actual swapping begins. If your refreshments are the easily portable kind, you might do a "sip & see."
  • After everyone has a chance to see what's out there, break for food or start swapping.
  • BUT before the "buying" frenzy begins, haul out that container of numbered slips of paper you prepared earlier. Have each person draw a number. She who draws number one gets the first crack at the goodies, then number two, etc.—but each can only spend one swap dollar per turn. Once everyone has traded in one of their dollars, start over again with person number one. This method should prevent any ugly tussles over a widely-coveted item and keep your space from being trashed by a crowd of swappers run amuck.
  • Finally . . . Let the swapping begin!

After all is said and done you may have some unclaimed items. These can either go back to their owners or (if said owners agree) to your local donation center. Meanwhile, you and your guests will be left with the memory of a fun time and the happy knowledge that their new (to them) treasures didn't cost a dime. My inner accountant would be so proud!

Susan Ellingburg is a natural-born Texan who sings at every opportunity, reads as much as possible, and cherishes every day she gets to spend with friends.  She's a serious foodie and not-so-serious gardener who is determined not to let being single stand in the way of living an amazing life.  Read Susan's blog at TastingGod.wordpress.com.

**This column first published on April 15, 2010.