Marketplace is community-funded public service journalism. Give in any amount that works for you – what matters is that you give today.
TEXT OF INTERVIEW
SCOTT JAGOW: Last summer, this guy in Canada named Kyle McDonald decided he would start with one red paper clip and try to barter his way to getting a house. He traded the paperclip for a ballpoint pen that looked like a fish, then he swapped the pen for a door knob, the door knob for a stove and so on. He just traded an afternoon with rocker Alice Cooper for a snow globe featuring the band KISS. We couldn’t resist calling up McDonald, and asking him, why is he doing this?
KYLE MCDONALD: I’m doing One Red Paperclip as a personal challenge and I guess you could say procrastination to find a real job.
JAGOW: Yeah. I’m sure some people might say if he wants a house, why doesn’t he just get a job like the rest of us. So why don’t you just get a job like the rest of us?
MCDONALD: One of the things I really enjoy doing is meeting people and writing about it. So what I started to do once I got the one red paperclip and traded it for something larger, I actually met two girls in Vancouver, B.C. Canada and I traded with them, wrote a story about the experience and then posted it on my Web site. And then did it again and again and suddenly I had all these stories that were up, about not necessarily the objects whatsoever but about the people that I met and my goal was to eventually maybe create a book out of these experiences trading with people and just sort of what it was like. That was more the actual draw of doing this project.
JAGOW: So until you get a house and you’re doing this project, how are you making money in the meantime?
MCDONALD: I work part-time for a company that stabilizes wobbly restaurant tables. And this has actually allowed me to travel quite a bit. I’m not sure if you’ve ever sat at a wobbly table in a restauranta€¦
JAGOW: Oh yeah, oh yeah
MCDONALD: Well it’s this company called Table Shox and they actually make shock absorbers that go on each leg of the table. So I’ll be out in Los Angeles or Seattle or New York, Chicago and actually working at trade shows for Table Shox and then on my days off or spare time I would actually make my own little trade show with the paperclip trades. And I was sort of piecing together a bit of income with that and I actually posted some small text ads on my Web site that actually helped pay my rent and I’ve been able to go the last seven or eight months without having a full-time job just to sort of make ends meet.
JAGOW: So what’s the strangest trade you’ve been offered?
MCDONALD: The strangest thing I’ve been offered – in addition to body parts, souls and virginity, which I’ve ruled out on all counts – I’ve been offered a full-body tattoo, but I think the one that takes the cake is full-body laser hair removal for two people but restricted to residents of Tennessee and Kentucky
JAGOW: Oh my goodness. So how far are you from the house you think?
MCDONALD: I would like to try and get there by July 12 of this year. I started July 12th last year. That only gives me about six weeks, seven weeks or so but, you know, it’s a goal and I don’t think if it takes me 13 or 14 months it’ll be a total failure.
JAGOW: Well bartering is so Middle Ages, are you trying to start a bartering renaissance with a little help form the Internet maybe?
MCDONALD: Somewhat but not really. I really don’t believe in barter as a business opportunity. I think it’s extremely inefficient. It’s taken me thousands of hours to get to where I am. I think it’s a lot more fun than swiping your Visa card at a store though. That’s why I’m doing it. The thing about barter is it forces you to create a win-win situation and sometimes that’s interesting. One day you’re trading a pen for a doorknob and that’s not much of a deal there, but another day you’re trading a large moving truck for a recording contract, which is seemingly ridiculous, but then the benefits of each party have to be involved. So it sort of forces you to negotiate quite a bit rather than just buy something, which is a really interesting way to go about trading.
JAGOW: Well it does sound like a lot of fun. Kyle thanks a lot and good luck.
MCDONALD: Hey, thank you.
There’s a lot happening in the world. Through it all, Marketplace is here for you.
You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible.
Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.