It’s Not Magic: You Too Can Trade Up a Paper Clip to a House

Sometimes, certain extraordinary events occur that seem to defy any attempt at a logical explanation, only to be later revealed upon closer inspection for what they really are.

For instance, ghosts?   They’re often easily explained by light reflections, coupled with a highly overactive imagination.

Bigfoot?   That’s just some guy in a cheesy gorilla suit.

UFOs?   Swamp gas, of course.

How about Lee Dewyze winning the 2010 edition of American Idol?   Okay, okay.   That one may never be explained, but you get my drift.

From a Red Paper Clip to a Farmhouse

The reason I bring this up is because my cousin Kevin recently reminded me of the guy who, several years ago, took one red paper clip and, through a series of savvy trades, eventually ended up with a two-story farmhouse in Kipling, Saskatchewan.

Believe it or not, to get that house for the price of a paper clip, Kyle MacDonald — a.k.a. “the red paper clip guy” — embarked upon a one-year journey that resulted in 14 trades.

First, he traded his little red paper clip for a pen shaped like a fish.   Next, he exchanged the pen for a hand-sculpted doorknob.   The doorknob was swapped for a camp stove, which was then exchanged for a generator, that was then bartered for an “instant party” consisting of an empty beer keg (with a promise to fill it with beer) and a neon beer sign.

From there, MacDonald traded the “party” in for a snowmobile, which he then dickered for a two-person trip to Yahk, British Columbia.     The trip was then swapped for a cube van, which was traded for a recording contract with a Toronto studio.   The recording contract led to one year of free rent in Phoenix, Arizona, which then was bartered for an afternoon with 70s rock icon Alice Cooper.

The afternoon with Cooper was ultimately exchanged for a motorized KISS snow globe with a variable speed dial.   (Don’t ask; then again, if you must know…)

It was all downhill after that, as MacDonald then traded the snow globe to collector Corbin Bernsen (yes, that Corbin Bernsen) in exchange for a speaking role in the film Donna on Demand (I don’t remember it either); that role was then traded for the house.

The Moral of the Story

On the surface, MacDonald’s story seems incredible, but there is a logical explanation behind it.   There is also a valuable lesson to be learned here: folks who are patient and adept at recognizing value can actually get more through bartering than by selling the same item for cash.   Simply put, both bartering and patience are skills worth mastering.

For example, although most rational people figured he was completely crazy to trade a year’s worth of free rent in the heart of America’s fourth largest city for an afternoon with an aging rock star well past his prime, MacDonald saw hidden value that others didn’t.   Of course, it paid off in spades.

As MacDonald’s exercise vividly proves, over time — and multiple trades — skillful bartering can lead to payoffs with effects that might be described as compound interest on steroids.

In less than a year, MacDonald took a one-cent paper-clip and turned it into a house worth tens of thousands of dollars.   Good luck getting returns like that from the stock market.   In fact, you’d probably have a much better chance of trying to snap a photo of the Loch Ness monster.


  1. 1

    Candy says

    It looks like I need to get on Craigslist and start bartering! I just need to find an old button or something like that to get started.

  2. 2


    Wow! I heard of the guy but never knew the entire story. What I get from the story is also that almost everything he exchanged was a subject of passion for someone. Passion is a priceless thing and I guess this is why he had so much great offers along the way.

  3. 3


    Don’t forget, too, that as the whole thing progressed, he received increasing amounts of attention. Media attention can also help, since people want to be part of something that appears to be “going viral”. That then makes it easier to be able “sell” what you’re doing, creating even more value.

  4. 4


    You are exactly right: bartering is a skill worth mastering. I have a friend who ran a pawn shop for years before starting his own on line business. He is close to the vest with his “secrets” (meaning, “I learned this on my own and you can too”), but he does quite well — as in 6 figure annual income.

    I have a long way to go myself; I am more prone to be the one ending up with the red paper clip.

  5. 5


    I always hear these stories and marvel as to how they are able to do it. In many ways it is a metaphor for life, risks and rewards. His risk was he could have wasted his time for nothing, instead of success.

  6. 6


    This is unbelievable! I wish something similar happened to me.
    I agree with Miranda, having the attention of the media helps a lot.

  7. 7


    @Candy: I’ve got a pocketful of lint, if you’re interested.
    @DoNotWait: Exactly. Somewhere on MacDonald’s website I remember reading a quote of his regarding some of his questionable trades where he said (paraphrasing): A glass of water is more valuable than a million bucks in cash if you find yourself stranded in the middle of the Sahara Desert. This guy was able to recognize when he was in those kind of situations and traded accordingly.
    @Miranda: Yes, you are so right. To me, the publicity speeds up the whole process of getting to that desired end-state. I don’t think it nullifies the power of wise bartering. :-)
    @Joe: I know what you mean. I traded a particular Ibanez electric guitar for a 12-string guitar about 15 years ago and I still regret it. I didn’t realize what I had until I gave it away.
    @krantcents: This guy is set for life, really. He has branched out into speaking, writing, and even has a new “big experiment” he is working on — although I don’t think it has caught fire.
    @Nona: Me too, Nona! Abrazos y besos! :-)

  8. 10


    I remember this story. His story ran all over the place by the time he got to the recording contract. That’s when fame kicked in for the movie part and then the house. But this story still makes me want to troll Craigslist for a trade.

  9. 11


    It’d be interesting to talk to the people who were a part of the trades along the way to see if they are still happy with them, because the best trades end up with both parties feeling like they got the better end of the deal.

  10. 12


    I wonder what the tax lawyers thought of this. It must be an accounting nightmare to try to figure out capital gains…and how would you do it when you barter. Is there some law about paying taxes on gains from bartering?

    Good Lesson indeed and I like the story.

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