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One Red Paperclip Day

An experiment in bartering turned inspiring story

Kyle MacDonald's inspiring story about trading a red paperclip

One day in July 2005, Canadian Kyle MacDonald sat in his home office fiddling with a red paperclip. He decided to play a game he’d played as a kid and see if he could trade up for the clip. “For a house. Or an island. Or a house on an island,” he joked on the blog he created to chronicle the trades. Little did he know, two years later Random House would publish the zany (but true) tale of his bartering bonanza

The red paperclip got him a wooden fish pen, which he exchanged for a knob made by a Seattle-based potter. He bartered that for a Coleman grill in Massachusetts, then traded for a generator in California. The lark had turned into quite a road trip for the 26-year-old.  

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Back across the country he went, to Queens, New York, to trade his generator to a young man who offered him a vintage neon Budweiser sign. During this exchange Kyle says he realized he needed to focus on quickly tradable objects, things with what he calls “funtential.”

The fun certainly shot up with the next trade: A Montreal radio host emailed Kyle to offer up his snowmobile. That snowballed into national media coverage. Kyle landed on a news show and was asked if he’d go anywhere for a trade. “Anywhere but Yahk, British Columbia,” he quipped. The next day, a caller offered Kyle a trip to Yahk in exchange for the snowmobile. Done.

As the media hype escalated, so did Kyle’s trades—a van, a recording contract, a year of rent. But at one point he traded a day with musician Alice Cooper for a Kiss snow globe, which had his faithful blog followers up in arms. Wasn’t his whole purpose to trade up? they demanded to know.

For Kyle the trade exemplified what he’d learned during the red paperclip project—that different things are important to different people for different reasons. And you know what? Turned out actor Corbin Bernsen, best known for L.A. Law, collected snow globes. (He has over 6,000 of them.) And he was willing to offer a movie role for that Kiss snow globe.

One year and 14 trades after Kyle started his game that day in July, the town of Kipling, Saskatchewan, traded him the role (Kipling citizens auditioned for it) for a house—complete with the world’s largest red paperclip sculpture out front—at 503 Main Street. Kipling also declared the trade day One Red Paperclip Day.

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Kyle’s book about his adventure was published last month in the United States, Canada and a dozen other countries. “It’s not a sustainable living model but it sure was fun,” he says. “I just wanted to tell an interesting story, to see who I’d trade with. The best part is all the people I’ve met.”

Kyle’s Tips

1. Things can’t be different until they change.
And you have to make things change.

2. Ask not what your mind can do for you, ask what you can do for your mind.
Instead of using your mind to worry, do things that will give you peace of mind.

3. Look over the fence.
The grass might not necessarily be greener, but you never know what you might find.

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