How to Trade a Paper Clip for a House

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In less than a year, one man took a 1-cent paper clip and turned it into a house worth tens of thousands of dollars. Here's how.

Sometimes, certain extraordinary events 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 American Idol back in 2010? OK. 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 1970s 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’s a logical explanation behind it. There’s 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 that 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.

Good luck getting returns like MacDonald did 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.

Stacy Johnson

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