As Ashland’s 16th annual Abundance Swap gets set for another round of making free holiday gift-giving easy, creator Jeff Golden reflects that it’s established itself as a much-copied alternative to the unbridled consumerism of Black Friday, the much-hyped shopping day after Thanksgiving.
The popular Abundance Swap town gathering — coming up this year on Sunday, Dec. 10 — is a simple, fun, two-hour shopping spree where, instead of bringing your credit card, you bring three to five desirable, quality items from your house that you really don’t use (maybe little-used skis, necklaces, game gadgetd, art supplies) — but someone else might love.
You bring them to the Historic Ashland Armory at 208 Oak St. at 1 p.m., set up your stuff on a table, enjoy some donated coffee and snacks, chat with friends, walk around and eyeball stuff you hope to grab. At 1:30 p.m., participants break into three color-coded groups and take turns “shopping.” When it’s not your turn, you stand by your stuff and explain it to others.
Golden, the emcee of the event — and producer-host of his public television show “Immense Possibilities” — says the idea came to him in 2001 during his Jefferson Exchange show on Jefferson Public Radio.
“It was Black Friday and we saw people camping out all night in parking lots of the big box stores, then, when they opened their doors in the morning, riots ensued,” says Golden. “We were saying, hey, this is supposed to be about Jesus? Is this where we’re going as a society?”
About that time, people were getting the idea of buying nothing for one day, on Black Friday, he adds, “but that didn’t quite get it for us. We realized there is something we like about holiday gift-giving, but how do you do it without the consumer frenzy?
“We said most of us have some nice stuff we don’t use. Let’s just have this exchange of gift-quality items, as an alternative to going to the mall. In addition, with less use of resources, it helps make the planet a better place to live.”
Thus began the event at Oak Street Dance studio. They expected a dozen people but 50 came, so they had to get a bigger space for coming years.
“It just struck a chord for people, the energy of it and the people they got to meet there,” he says. “It was so simple. It was like the way the tiny house thing caught on.
Children are especially welcomed, and there are always lots of toys to delight them. During the Great Recession, when disposable cash was rare, the Swap, says Golden, was a big help.
“This touched something in people. Their gifts don’t have to be expensive. They don’t need to buy new stuff. It just has to be appreciated as a gift because of its beauty or utility.”
Remembering an earlier swap, Jonnie Dale Lieberman says she was delighted to find a Viking helmet with horns and valued that “the swap is about finding a gift to give, not to keep and then I found the most perfect gift to give my grand-niece.”
Donna Benjamin notes, “I really like the community-building aspect of this event. There is always an opportunity to share a story on the mic about gratitude. It helps save money for holiday shopping and some of the gifts are quite valuable and useful.”
The holiday swap idea has taken off nationwide and such events are now held in 25 to 30 cities, Golden estimates.
Guidelines and information are at www.abundanceswap.org. It explains “how it works, what you need to do,” Golden says. “It doesn’t have to be expensive. Don’t buy new stuff for it. It just has to be stuff someone would appreciate as a gift because of its beauty or utility. Once, someone gave me a beautiful stone globe of the world and I appreciate it to this day.”
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.