Somewhere in my basement is a box filled with Halloween costumes I made for my son.
There’s an elaborate dinosaur costume with stuffed spines on the head and tail. There are blue overalls and a red ballcap with felt rabbit ears, which my son wore along with a painted-on mustache the year he was Bunny Mario of video game fame. There’s a wizard’s cape, an adorable turtle costume from the toddler years and a not-so-adorable Grim Reaper getup.
And then there’s the pièce de résistance, a tweed jacket with an extra pair of arms, each with a startlingly realistic plastic hand protruding from the sleeve. The fake arms dangled from the real ones via clear fishing line, so it looked like my son had an extra set of limbs.
My husband occasionally gets a laugh by squeezing into that jacket — the coat of arms, as it’s known at our house — but the other costumes are pretty much forgotten. I’ll stumble on them when I’m digging out the Halloween decorations, spend a few minutes reminiscing and then stuff them back into the box.
But this year, I just might help those costumes find new homes. I’m inspired by Kimberly Danek Pinkson, one of the promoters of National Costume Swap Day.
Pinkson is the founder of the EcoMom Alliance, a nonprofit organization that’s involved in organizing the annual effort to encourage parents to trade their kids’ costumes. The second Saturday of October is designated as National Costume Swap Day, and individuals and organizations are urged to plan swaps with friends, neighbors, fellow school parents or even the general public.
The event was started in 2010 by the mother-daughter team of Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson, founders of the Green Halloween effort to make the holiday better for people, communities and the planet. Their goal was simple: to discourage parents from buying new costumes every year and reduce the volume of cast-off costumes going to landfills.
Halloween costumes represent a disturbing amount of expense and waste. According to conservation advocate Bob Lilienfeld of the Use Less Stuff Report, Americans spend more than $2 billion on costumes every year. If half those costumes were swapped instead of discarded, annual landfill waste would be reduced by 6,250 tons, the weight of 2,500 cars.
Pinkson also pointed out that a lot of costumes have plastic masks and accessories that aren’t biodegradable and release potentially harmful gases when they’re new. Reusing those parts allows time for that off-gassing to slow.
But the benefits of costume swaps go beyond saving money and saving the earth, she said. “The part I think that really affects people is how it brings communities together.”
Costume swaps are fun. Parents get a chance to mingle. Kids get to try on new identities and maybe stretch their creative muscles by putting together a costume from unrelated parts.
Last year 250 swaps were registered with the national organization, ranging in size from about a dozen participants to more than 1,000. None of those registered swaps were in the Akron area.
I think that needs to change.
I’d like to see costume swaps take hold here, and I want to help. If you organize a swap that’s open to the public, I’ll publish the particulars in advance in Take Note, the events listing that appears in the Beacon Journal’s Home section. Just send the information to the email address at the end of this column.
Sorry, I can’t list swaps that are open by invitation only.
You can also submit the information to CostumeSwapDay.com.
While the official swap day is Oct. 12, you’re not required to hold your event that day. Choose a date that fits your schedule.
Tips for hosting a costume swap are at http://tinyurl.com/SwapTips. Pinkson offered a few recommendations:
• Choose a venue that’s big enough to hold the crowd you’re expecting and appropriate for children.
• Decide on the rules. Will each person receive one costume for each costume donated, or will participants be allowed to take whatever they need? The latter might be a better choice if people show up with armloads of old costumes, Pinkson said.
• Provide tables or, better yet, clothing racks and hangers to display costumes. Racks can be rented fairly inexpensively, she said.
• Group costumes by approximate size or age range.
• Have one or more mirrors so kids can see themselves in the costumes they’re trying on.
• Enlist plenty of volunteers to keep the costumes organized, since kids aren’t always good at putting things back where they found them. It’s not a bad idea to assign a few people as roamers so they can answer questions and provide other help where it’s needed.
• Turn the event into a party. Offer snacks (Pinkson recommends healthful and organic choices) and maybe a face painter or other kid-friendly activities.
• Make arrangements ahead of time to donate leftover costumes to a charity or have them picked up.
I’m hoping to hear about lots of costume swaps this season. Halloween is still two months away, so you have plenty of time to get organized.
I might even show up with some of my old costumes.
But not the coat of arms. That one stays.
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or email@example.com. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/mbbreck, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckenridge and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.