No, swap parties are not an essential service

This is a very different message than the one that I was preparing for a few weeks ago. I had got excited about the possibility of organizing a restricted swap: strict guest list, time slots, masks, gloves, disinfecting gels… trying to fulfill all the public health requirements while making my un-clients happy.

That would have helped Ateneu which now finds itself in a financially precarious situation (you can make a donation, btw). Also, if one can believe the social media, everybody has been pruning and decluttering their wardrobes. And it has been 3.5 months since the last swap. My activist identity needs reinvigorating, making true that all ‘I do real things instead of just complaining’ posturing.

I vividly imagined how great it would be to swap again, to lovingly infuse the original spirit of the Un Armario Verde swaps with a very clear signal that we take this shit very seriously, that we are in with the government on this one, that sustainability and public health at a time of a waning pandemic are not mutually exclusive.


Then, when Barcelona was announced to relax the emergency measures to what is phase 1 in Spain, I looked into it with a cooler head. And had to conclude that the two wishes are not compatible at the moment. What one could do at this point – and always with the caveat that only those people who think that this is a good idea for themselves should even entertain such activities, as the individuals levels of perceived ‘acceptable’ risks vary so dramatically even among the supposedly not at risk population – is to do a 10-person (at a time) swap in a home or in a park without crossing the limits of one local health area. Is this last sentence excites you, organize that! There can also be 1-to-1 exchange via online tools. Sounds like fun? Great, Freecycle, Wallapop, Vinted, etc. will happily take your business. Or just post on your own social media whatever you are giving away or looking to acquire.

But neither of these practices of circulating used garments will happen under the name of an Un Armario Verde swap anytime soon. There are the practical concerns: the Ateneu opening even for restricted events and guaranteeing the cleanliness there, the whole question about clothing and how it should be treated… So far we have never even thought about it, as it was assumed that the attendees are decent enough people not to knowingly bring bedbugs and beyond that it was just a natural selection of garments. Now it is different. I do not want anyone to even suspect that they brought covid-19 home from the swap. Even if there can’t be any legal liability, even if the great majority of our users are not the most at risk demographics, even if we put a great part of the responsibility for the most at risk on themselves being serious about avoiding crowds… I just don’t want to worry about it.

Also, my key volunteers for these adventures live in other health areas, and I prefer to wait for them to be allowed to come. Yeah, the controls are not that serious, and we could sneak some swappiness in there… but I just don’t want to try and bend the rules, or ignore the ones that are uncomfortable. Maximal integrity has always been my aspiration for the swaps, and I want to keep it this way.

(The geographical division was true at the time of drafting this, it will change as Barcelona moves into phase 2 and we all become one big family again, being able to bring our viruses across those lines)


And then there is the second, deeper reason for me to resist an emergency swap. Repeat after me, a swap is not a need. Most of us live in such abundance that you cannot just run out of clothes in two months. Furthermore, swaps do not respond well to exact needs. They are rather bad at providing underwear, socks, and other true basics on demand. For example, I am all for food banks branching out and providing those items, be it in kits or by establishing a permanent free shop with all the public health advantages that a permanent space would have over a pop-up endeavor. I see how growing out of clothes and shoes is a thing for children. I can imagine certain, rare at population level situations – you were stranded here with your March suitcase, got a completely different job now that demands that you have your own specific garments – when a basic swap as we know them would have been a godsend.

But most of us have all our last summer clothes in place and have been just spending more time in our jammies. How does that create a *need* for an emergency swap?

What you have is anxiety, my friend, and the prescription of Dr Ratniece is to just sit with it. Why are you antsy for a swap? Is it about the event? Is it the wish to discard and forget? Is it the wish to acquire bags and bags of new garments? Why? Don’t you really have anything else to occupy your mind and time with these days?

Journal about it, and, if you wish so, let me know what comes out. But not in terms of ‘people want a swap’, ‘people need a swap’, ‘people are used to’… The ‘used to’ went out of a window 70+ days ago. We are not an essential service. Write about what you get out the swaps.

Have you happened to transfer your compulsive shopping habit into a compulsive swapping habit? This is now the official time to sit with that urge to acquire. Have you got attached to the idea of ‘saving’ garments? Let go. Stop Trying To Save The World All By Yourself. Is it the wish to discard without guilt because you have only just now realized how much you have needlessly acquired in the past? You knew it all along. Ask yourself about the reasons. Sit with that stuff. It might be a whole new beginning for your relationships with your garments, completely new patterns of acquiring them and discarding them.


What do you think? Do you consider swapping to be an essential service? I know, I wish it would be… Are you the ultra-cautious one waiting for this to be over in your underground bunker and taking no risks? Or are you the one who has decided that one just have to go on enjoying the new normal life to the max because the end (or at least serious limitations) to that enjoyment might come sooner than expected? ♥


  1. As much as I used to enjoy the swaps to renovate my wardrobe or find a new style, I loved the social and open aspect of them. People would approach you in a way that would never happen in any shop, strangers would be willing to give you a second opinion to help you decide if you should take a new garment or not. You could have interesting and unexpected conversations. You could make new friends. It’s true that we can keep selling and finding stuff online or in second hand shops and that clothes swaps are not an essential need. However, we do need our social life back, and so we need events like this!

    1. Thank you, Patri! Of course, creating new, alternatives experiences is the main reason behind these events. That’s why I’ll wait for a bit until I can bring them back in all their glory instead of wrapping them in pandemic worries.

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