Demi Skipper was bored one day when she stumbled upon a TedxVienna Talk featuring Kyle MacDonald, a Canadian blogger who had a bizarre and charming story of trading a paper clip and ending up with a farmhouse after 14 “up trade” transactions in one year.

MacDonald, then jobless, came up with the idea on a lark one day in 2005. He listed a red paper clip on Craigslist, saying:

This red paperclip is currently sitting on my desk next to my computer. I want to trade this paperclip with you for something bigger or better, maybe a pen, a spoon, or perhaps a boot.
If you promise to make the trade I will come and visit you, wherever you are, to trade. Hope to trade with you soon!
Kyle
PS I’m going to make a continuous chain of ‘up trades’ until I get a house. Or an Island. Or a house on an island. You get the idea.

He quickly found someone who traded him the paper clip for a pen shaped like a fish.

From there, he traded for a doorknob with a face, a camp stove, an empty beer keg, a snowmobile, an afternoon with rock star Alice Cooper, a KISS snow globe — and then actor Corbin Bernsen, a collector of snow globes, called wanting the snow globe in exchange for a paid role in a movie. Soon, he got a call from the tiny town of Kipling, Saskatchewan, which gave him a house in exchange for holding an audition for the movie part there.

After reading about McDonald’s unusual and hilarious string of swaps, Skipper, 29, a product manager for OpenTable who is working out of her San Francisco apartment, said she wanted to try it.

Skipper looked around her apartment for something as small and thrifty as a paper clip and settled on a bobby pin. On May 18, after making a short video explaining her trading project — including that she eventually hoped to score a house — she posted it on TikTok and went to bed.

Overnight, thousands of people saw the video, and within a week the number had exploded to more than a million. That million soon turned into 4 million. Skipper looked through the offers and traded her bobby pin for a pair of pink earrings from a woman in Atlanta.

After naming her quest the Trade Me Project, she added her posts to Instagram. From there, things got interesting.

Skipper traded her earrings for a set of four margarita glasses, then she traded those for a vacuum cleaner. Trade-ups after that included a snowboard, an Xbox, a camera, designer Nikes, an iPhone 11, a 2008 Dodge Caravan minivan, a skateboard and an electric bike food cart.

“The couple with the minivan drove from Minnesota to make the trade because they were also bored in quarantine,” said Skipper, adding that the minivan had some mechanical problems.

@trademeproject

Trading a bobby pin for a house. Cross country trade complete! #fyp #trademeproject #tmp

♬ Alone - Petit Biscuit

The ground rules for the Trade Me Project are simple, she said. She is not allowed to trade with people she knows, and no money can change hands.

Once she posts a new item for trade on social media (often with a specific goal in mind, like the iPhone), Skipper spends a lot of time examining the offers to find just the right one, she said.

“The response to all of this has been overwhelming — I’ve gone from thinking a few friends might want to get involved to having millions of likes and views,” she added. “There’s no longer any time to get bored.”

MacDonald said he’s impressed with Skipper’s success trading up from her bobby pin.

“Demi has seemingly more publicity and TikTok app backing than anyone else I’ve seen yet,” he said. “I’m stoked she’s doing it, and I hope it all works out for her.”

One of the people Skipper traded with, David Fogel of Jacksonville, Ore., said he was in the market for an electric skateboard when he saw she had one and was looking to swap for a laptop.

“I happened to have two MacBook Pros, and I think that what she’s doing is really pretty clever,” said Fogel, 34. “So I offered to trade her one. Since the skateboard and the laptop are each worth about $1,600, we both came out even.”

From there, Skipper traded the laptop on Aug. 8 for an eco-friendly “food truck” bike from Feras Bashnak, a Los Angeles entrepreneur who started his company, Ferla Bikes, as a way to provide young people in the food industry with a means to make an income without renting commercial space.

Although at $4,000 the bike cart is worth more than the laptop, Bashnak, 28, said he decided to make a deal with Skipper when she told him she hoped to trade up with somebody who had lost a restaurant job because of to the pandemic.

“I love that she wants to help someone, so I was all for the trade,” he said. “And I’m really looking forward now to seeing where she ends up with all of this.”

Now that Skipper has millions of followers on TikTok and 239,000 on Instagram, she is hopeful her ultimate trade will come about before the end of 2020.

“I do think that I’ll end up with a house,” she said. “But I’m also now thinking that if I don’t want to move where the house is, I’ll probably give it away to somebody who needs it more than I do.”

After posting about the 2017 MacBook Pro, Skipper said she was moved by all the people who reached out needing a new laptop but couldn’t afford to buy one.

“I was so inspired and touched by their comments that I decided to buy another MacBook and give it away,” she said.

She invited people to post a video about why they needed a laptop to #LetsGetThisHouse on TikTok, and she let her followers pick who got it.

@trademeproject

Trading a bobby pin for a house - A $4000 trade with @ferlabikes #fyp #trademeproject

♬ Tropical - SUDI

Skipper moved to San Francisco six years ago after graduating from the University of Virginia. Last year, after getting married (husband Bobby Sudekum is a software engineer) she started a side business, Tangerine Rentals, offering gently used wedding dresses for brides to rent.

Then in March, the pandemic hit.

“Suddenly, there were lots of wedding cancellations and business really slowed down,” Skipper said.

After she saw McDonald’s TedTalk about trading up his paper clip: “I thought it would be something fun to do to help pass the time,” she said. “I never imagined it would take off like this.”

So far, Skipper has completed 17 trades, and she is now looking at offers for her bike cart.

“Somebody once offered me a commercial-sized doughnut machine,” she said. “And I have to say, I was tempted. I would love to have a lifetime supply of doughnuts.”

Of course, she said, she would ultimately have to trade it away in her quest for a house.

If she secures a house, once the pandemic is over she plans to throw a big party and invite all of the people who were part of her swaps, starting from the humble bobby pin.

“I wouldn’t trade an experience like that for anything,” she said.

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