How to Turn a Paper Clip Into a House

What is one red paper clip worth?

For Kyle MacDonald, 26, the question is simple, but the answer is more complex and more inspiring than anyone could ever imagine.

Starting with one red paper clip, MacDonald wondered whether it was possible to make enough trades to eventually get a house.

His inspiration was a childhood barter game called Bigger and Better.

"It would be cool [if] instead of getting the job to buy the house, I just played Bigger and Better till I actually traded up to the house," MacDonald said. "That's when I looked down at my desk and saw one red paper clip and said, 'I'll start with that.'"

From there, MacDonald blazed a new trail in Internet trading from his computer in Montreal, making incremental trades until this week -- a year and a day since he began his adventure -- when he made his 14th trade for a house in Kipling, Saskatchewan.

A Long, Strange Trip

It all started July 12, 2005, when MacDonald offered to trade the now infamous red paper clip in a posting on the Internet message board Craigslist.com.

Before long, two young women from Vancouver, Canada -- Rhawnie Vallins and Corinna Haight -- stumbled across his listing.

"I was like, 'Hey, Rhawnie, check this out. This guy wants to trade a paper clip.' What can we trade him? What do we have?" Haight said. "We got to do this now, you know?"

Two days later, MacDonald traveled to a convenience-store parking lot to meet Vallins and Haight and make what he says was the most important trade in his adventure: one red paper clip for one fish-shaped pen.

"As soon as I got the call, I'm like, 'Wow, this is going to be fun,'" he said. "People actually want to do this."

That fact became increasingly obvious as the trades kept coming.

MacDonald swapped the fish-shaped pen with a woman in Seattle for a tiny doorknob with a smiley face. He then traded the doorknob with a man in Amherst, Mass., for a Coleman camping stove.

The Birth of OneRedPaperclip.com

What had started as a game was now taking on a life of its own, and MacDonald needed to find a way to reach a bigger audience. He created his own Web site: OneRedPaperclip.com.

Despite some strange offers -- body parts, souls and even virginity -- MacDonald still was getting legitimate bids.

When he and his girlfriend, Dominique, began poring through hundreds of letters and e-mails looking for deals that would get him closer to a house, they found a Marine sergeant in California who wanted to trade the camping stove for a power generator.

"I went from a generator, which was, you know, I thought was great, to a keg of beer, which I knew was great," he said. "Two days later, a local deejay named Michal Barette said, 'I need to get in on this. I'll offer you my snowmobile.'"

So MacDonald, who was now a celebrity, traded for the snowmobile.

Later that week, while being interviewed on Canadian TV, MacDonald announced that he would travel anywhere to make the right trade except one place: Yahk, British Columbia, population 200.

"So I thought, 'Well, that's safe. No one's ever going to make an offer from there anyways,'" he said, laughing. "Woke up in the morning, and the phone rang: "Hi Kyle, my name's Jeff. … And we want to make you an offer.'"

The offer was an all-expenses-paid trip to, you guessed it, Yahk, British Columbia.

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