You know what spring cleaning gets you?
Stuff. Lots of stuff to get rid of.
Sure, you can take the usual routes — hold a garage sale, cart it off to Goodwill, take out a classified ad. Or you can entertain yourself in the process of purging.
We've cooked up a few fun ideas for lightening your load. You know what they say about all work and no play.
HOST A SWAP PARTY
Swap parties are a great excuse for socializing in the name of recycling. And while you're splurging on that third slab of brie, you can rationalize that you're sacrificing your bikini body to save the environment.
Swap parties work best if you choose a category — purses, home accessories, sporting goods, CDs, whatever. Everyone brings one or more gently used items in that category and gets a chance to take home an equal number of their friends' things.
You can make up your own rules, but one method is to give each guest a ticket or token for every item he or she brings. Put the guests' names on their tickets.
Allow everyone an hour or so after arriving to peruse the goods. Then when the swap begins, have them put their tickets next to the items they'd like to have. If more than one person desires an item, put the tickets into a hat and draw one.
Real Simple magazine has swap party ideas on its Web site, www.realsimple.com. They're in the "Holidays & Entertaining" section, under "Everyday Celebrations." Or just Google "swap party." You'll find plenty of ideas.
HOLD A CHARITY AUCTION
This is a variation on the swap party theme, except you sell your unwanted things to your friends and donate the proceeds to charity. It adds an element of competitive excitement as you and your BFF go paddle-to-paddle over that coveted Gucci belt.
In the interest of full disclosure, it should be reported that this idea was brazenly lifted from the letters section of Better Homes and Gardens magazine's March issue. It was just too good not to share.
We called the letter writer, Mary Howe of Jefferson, Ohio, for details. Howe said that at the auction her church group held, 10 or 12 women brought unwanted kitchen gadgets and sat around a table bidding on items. "Most of the bids started at, like, 25 cents," she said.
It was all very informal, Howe said. One person led the auction, someone else wrote down the winning bids, and everyone settled up when the auction was finished. At the end of the night, they'd raised more than $40 for a family in need.
Especially if you have a big crowd, you might want to run the sale more like a professional auction. Assign each guest a bidding number, and give that person a paddle with the number on it. Have someone record the winning bids for each number, and collect at the end of the evening.
Whatever doesn't sell goes back home with the owner, or collect the unwanted items and give them to charity.
Who says gift exchanges are only for the holidays?
A white elephant gift exchange is a fun way to swap your stuff with your friends or family members. And without the attendant stresses of the Christmas season, a nonholiday gathering would be that much more enjoyable.
White elephant gift exchanges have become associated with joke gifts, but really, a white elephant is something of value that you no longer want or can't afford to keep. So in a real white elephant exchange, the gifts are used goods that others might want.
Rules and procedures vary, but here's one way to do it: Everyone brings one gift-wrapped item, and all the gifts are piled together. Have the participants draw numbers to indicate the order in which they'll choose gifts.
When your number comes up, you either pick a gift from the pile, open it and show it to everyone, or you steal one that someone has already opened. If your gift is stolen, you get to either pick again or steal. (No, you don't get to steal back the gift that's just been taken from you, although you can reclaim it if you get the chance in a subsequent turn.)
Since No. 1 didn't have the opportunity to steal at the beginning, he or she gets the option of taking one last turn at the end of the game. Then the exchange is over.
To avoid a never-ending cycle of stealing, consider limiting the number of steals per turn or per person. And be sure to state the rules up front.
Warning: This game works best with a group that has a healthy sense of humor and fair play. Good-natured wrangling and back stabbing are all part of the process, and if some participants don't understand it's all in good fun, things can get ugly.
There's nothing novel about turning castoffs into crafts. What is new are the avenues for doing so.
The Internet has opened up a wealth of opportunities for creative types to share ideas and show off the fruits of their labor. Can't think of what to do with Grandma's old canning jars? A quick Google search for "canning jar crafts" will probably turn up more projects than you have jars.
Some other good online resources are the recycled-crafts sections of CraftGossip.com (http:recycledcrafts.craftgossip.com), CraftBits.com (www.craftbits.com/recycled-crafts), AllFreeCrafts.com (www.allfreecrafts.com/recycling-crafts/index.shtml), Make-Stuff (www.make-stuff.com/recycling) and FamilyFun(http:familyfun.go.com/crafts/crafts-by-material/recyclable- projects).
Or why not form your own online group devoted to turning trash into treasure? Google, Yahoo! and Facebook are a few places where you can start groups devoted to a common interest. You might even use them to swap materials as well as inspiration.