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Family Traditions: The Bag Exchange

Updated on December 22, 2012

A Family Tradition

Without realizing it for some years, I finally noticed 'the bag exchange' and started thinking about the reasons for it and the purposes it served.

"No Joe, she gets the BROWN bag, not the WHITE one."
"No Joe, she gets the BROWN bag, not the WHITE one."

What is the Bag Exchange?

The bag exchange basically consists of the following:

  1. A plastic shopping bag (of any size)
  2. Contents intended for one person or family segment
  3. An entryway table to set it on

The Purpose of the Bag Exchange

The purpose of the bag exchange is to transfer vitally needed items (or items to return) to other family members - or to just rid your house of an item you think another family member probably could use.

The Bag Exchange Method

  1. Basically, whenever a request or need for an item is broadcast to other family members (several methods: phone, e-mail, in person, or through the grapevine (i.e., Mary needs a 2 gallon iced tea dispenser for her fridge), if you have the item, you place it in a crinkly shopping bag (in our family, they are kept in the kitchen bottom drawer), along with any items to return to this family member, and set it on the entryway table.
  2. Whenever you have a family visitor or if you personally go out and will be in contact with that family member, you take the bag with you. So, the bag then may be found on the entryway table or in your car.
  3. If you happen to meet with the correct family member, you transfer the bag directly to them, explaining the contents. Whether the recipient wants/appreciates the contents or not, they thank the giver.
  4. If you meet with another family member, you grill them to see exactly how soon they will be meeting with the family member for whom the bag is intended, and if sooner than you will see that person, you transfer the bag to the intermediary with strict instructions to deliver as soon as they see the recipient. (This involves a bit of risk and some after-checking (i.e. Did you get the bag I left for you with Aunt Vera?) If the bag was forgotten, trust points in the deliverer drop.

This is Serious Business

I think of it as a form of recycling, but this practice is not taken lightly in my family - it is no joke. Everything from clothes, housewares, books, basically anything that fits in one or more plastic shopping bags is exchangeable.

I personally have scored some great items from family members when I first moved into my unfurnished apartment - everything from office supplies to toaster and blender to bedding, cookware, dishes, clothing, and a lamp.

And, the unspoken rule is, that when/if you eventually get your donated item back from the recipient, it does not mean that the item was substandard, it means that you now have been able to replace the item on your own and the donated item is free to enter a plastic bag for someone else in need.

Family Traditions

Often, family traditions are only associated with holidays or special events, but stop and think about those day-to-day interactions that, although some members think of as a chore, are part of the fabric of your family, and are probably passed from generation to generation.

Value them.

Please share your family traditions in the Comments section below.

Do you have any family traditions not specifically associated with holidays?

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