From one red paper clip to a cube van

One man’s unique—and successful—spin on the game of ‘bigger or better’

Kyle MacDonald decided to push his luck with a paper clip.
Kyle MacDonald decided to push his luck with a paper clip.
Credit: 
Photo courtesy of onepaperclip.com

If you happen to think money is the only way to acquire something, think again. All you need is just a red paper clip.

Kyle MacDonald, a 26-year-old resident of Montreal, has done just that. I heard about his story from my housemate and had to track him down to see if the rumors were true. Astonishingly enough, they were.

“[The paper clip] was the first thing I saw when I thought of this idea. The paper clip was sitting on my desk,” MacDonald told me. “It could have been any colour, but it happened to be red.”

Last July, MacDonald posted the red paper clip on his website, oneredpaperclip.com, inviting viewers to offer him an item in exchange for it.

“The idea came from a game we used to play as kids called ‘bigger or better,’” he said.

To play the game, participants go door-to-door around their neighbourhood, starting with a paper clip and trading as they go. The person with the most unique item after a specified time frame wins.

MacDonald said the response to trade was almost immediate.

“The first offer [to trade] came a couple of hours later. There were offers from all over the world,” he said. “But I happened to be in Vancouver at the time, so I made the trade in Vancouver.”

The red paper clip was traded for a pen shaped like a fish, MacDonald said, which he got from two women who—ironically—happened to be vegans.

He added that his favourite trade was this first trade.

“If I hadn’t had made that trade, I would still have the paper clip, and wouldn’t be where I am now,” he said.

After the fish pen, MacDonald traded for a one-of-a-kind doorknob, then a Coleman stove, a red generator, one instant party which included a neon Budweiser light and an I.O.U for a keg of beer, a snowmobile, a trip to Yahk, B.C., and a cube van from Cintas.

“I am trading until I get a house,” he said. “Originally, I planned on making trades and meeting people. I never thought about getting a house.”

He told me he is sure he will get one, and has no Plan B. He added that he would never sell the house, but would move into it.

He said he gets about five to 10 offers a day for trades, and that one of the weirdest offers was someone’s eight-year-old sister for the Coleman stove.

His trades have taken him to places like Vancouver, California, and New York.

“Nothing has ever been shipped,” he said. “I make all of the trades in person.” Kyle said he’s been approached by publishers to write a book on his adventures and is currently working on a book proposal.

He said he was surprised by the feedback and media attention the paper clip has given him, adding that he occasionally gets some negative reactions to his trading.

“I think they are kind of jealous,” he said. “When they say, ‘You didn’t invent barter,’ I tell them ‘I also didn’t invent the Internet or the paper clip.’”

Kyle graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in geography and has done some “contract marketing, tree planting, a lot of hitchhiking and traveling.” He now considers himself a freelance internet trader, and even has small ads on the website that cover his rent costs.

He said he hopes to make oneredpaperclip.com a site where anyone can offer an item and make trades.

“It is fun to look at all the things that people are offering,” he said. “It will be a form of eBay, but with barter.”

As for the cube van, he hasn’t found the offer he wants yet.

“I will always trade for something that has more potential for a future trade,” he said. “And, I am more interested in meeting the person [offering it].”

As we were wrapping up our conversation, Toronto’s Newstalk 1010 called on his second line. Who knows, his next trade could be an ear away.

—With files from oneredpaperclip.com

Trading history:

•Start: one red paper clip

•Vancouver, BC: one fish pen

•Seattle, WA: one one-of-a-kind doorknob

•Amherst, MA: one green Coleman stove

•San Clemente, CA: one red generator

•Maspeth Queens, NYC: one instant party, including one beer keg, one neon Budweiser sign, and one I.O.U. for a keg’s worth of beer

•Montreal, QC: a snowmobile

•Yahk, BC: a three-day adventure trip in Yahk, BC

•Yahk, BC: 1995 Ford Cintas cube van with a 16-foot long box and a 7.3L diesel engine.

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