Have you heard of the fellow who was able to trade a paperclip for a house?

It’s a terrific (and quite funny) story that points to the possibility for us all. What if we are in the midst of a transition from a “consumer” society, back to our roots in a “trading” mentality?

If you’ve ever put anything out on the curb with a “Free to a good home” sign and knew someone else would come along and put it to good further use, then you are probably part of this changing vision. There’s a growing movement afoot that we will dive into today, and I suspect we will all come away looking at our “stuff” with completely fresh eyes!

Image: Two figures offer each other things to trade

Source: Pixabay

First, let’s do a little thought experiment:

Have you ever stopped to think about how life worked before there was such a thing as money?

We were all traders and barterers. That’s all there was! Everyone’s needs were completely personal and defined moment to moment.

For example, our needs were only successfully met if we were good at working with a network of people who could trade goods or services seamlessly.

Most importantly, the “value” of everything was strictly determined by how much something would be worth when we wanted to trade it away for something new that we needed. Think about that. Things had to be durable or easily repurposed into something else that was desirable.

Here’s another question:

When was the last time you bought something and considered what you would do with it when you didn’t need it anymore?

That endgame consideration was crucial before money was invented. There was no place for shoddy workmanship, “one-offs” or single-use. Food was the only thing we just “consumed.”

Still a little fuzzy on where this article is going? I get it. This is a totally new way of looking at the real value of what we buy.

Trading a Paperclip for a House

This short TED Talk is by a fantastic fellow who is famous for trading a paperclip for something a little more valuable, and then repeating the process again and again until he eventually ended up with a house. Of course, Kyle MacDonald is the best one to tell his story, so we’ll leave it to him.

Be patient, the video is a little slow, but after a couple of minutes, Kyle gets on a roll and we get an entertaining look at the future of a kind of commerce that might save our budgets, our sanity, and the planet! Here’s Kyle:

Great work there, huh?

If Kyle’s experiment is any indication of what the future could look like, then “trading” for the things we need (or just giving things away) could be the way of the future!

We might all eventually consider ourselves more like temporary owners, rather than consumers.

10 minutes

A Village Made of Plastic

What might happen if we placed more focus on the idea of inventing ever more creative and practical uses for what's already been made? Why keep making more "stuff"? There's something popping up in Panama that can inspire us all!

Read More

Finding a Trading/Bartering Network to Join

I was curious about how one makes a conscious shift towards this lifestyle and looked into this growing movement of people who are trading with others for what they need.

Turns out, websites like CraigslistFreeCycle, and apps likeTradeMade and LetGo are gaining momentum like never before. In fact, I’ve got a few kids’ bicycles and some archery equipment I’m never going to touch again and I plan to list them this weekend on TradeMade and see what happens! Should be an interesting experiment, at the very least.

23 minutes

What if Trash Pick-Up Was Annual?

What if you could save money, time, your conscience, and fit your entire year's worth of trash in a mason jar? This is surprisingly very do-able!

Read More

The Best Ideas Expand Us All

There’s no doubt that Kyle MacDonald is a thought-leader. And as you might expect, that paperclip project was not a “one-off”. In fact, he got even more creative several years later and tried another experiment that points to more possibility for us all! Take a look at this…

Great work again! I suspect the possibilities are endless.

Maybe we’re all dabbling in this kind of economy more than we realize?

Rather than packing your garage or closets to the gills, are you giving away those things you don’t need, or haven’t touched in years? Whether you’re listing your objects online, having a yard sale yourself, or donating it, there’s something wonderful in knowing that someone else is enjoying the objects that you no longer give attention. (And the fact that they aren’t ending up in a landfill definitely doesn’t hurt.)

But are we bartering and “trading up” as much as we could? I suspect most of us have no idea how fun and fruitful it might be to be a part of a few trading networks!

10 minutes

The Wild Potential of Embracing Our Limitations

What if embraced our limitations? What possibilities might we discover if we just owned them and let them force us to get creative. We might actually find possibilities we would never have discovered. Take a look at how remarkable this mindset can be!

Read More

One last thing that should not go uncelebrated.

Did you notice the last part of Kyle’s story was all about the wonderful energy of connection this project brought to at least 3,500 lives? Everyone in this story was uplifted by their interactions. For instance, the people who took his free taxi ride and got to pick out something from his trunk seemed delighted. There was a great collaborative energy there. Maybe that’s a model to shoot for in the next era.

“All about the people saying, ‘Yes. Let’s build something together. Let’s do something together. Let’s collaborate. Let’s see what happens.’ – Kyle MacDonald

Furthermore, this might be a great mindset to use for solving other world problems!

Here’s how I’m changed by these videos.

First, I’m going to start considering the endgame for whatever I’m purchasing. If it’s going to involve the landfill, I suspect I’ll start passing up the purchase more often. Second, when I’m at an impasse with family, friends or at work, I’ll try to remember Kyle’s example of creative problem-solving. He kept coming up with unconventional systems that were a win/win for everyone.

That’s probably the sweet spot to shoot for.

Stay open, curious and hopeful!

~ Dr. Lynda

Would you like to meet another thought leader?

There are plenty of people to help inspire us all! See who you bump into in this category.

Thought Leaders on EWC

Please subscribe! We want to make sure that everyone’s getting a peek at the amazing things happening in the world. We will send you a quick email whenever we publish a new article.


  1. “What If You Could Trade a Paperclip for a House? | Kyle MacDonald | TEDxVienna.” YouTube, TEDxTalks, 20 Nov. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=8s3bdVxuFBs&t=618s. Accessed 31 Aug. 2018.
  2. “Ticket to Ride | Second-Hand Van | Kijiji Canada.” YouTube, Kijiji Canada, 17 Nov. 2016, https://youtu.be/OJScU1Ciwkc. Accessed 31 Aug. 2018.

Dr. Lynda is a dentist, artist, global traveler, and philanthropist who looks for potential and shares it with the world. Hear her latest conversations with thought leaders on the Conspiracy of Goodness Podcast--new episodes every Wednesday!