This may be the most productive pandemic project of all time.
Back in May 2020, Demi Skipper of San Francisco was perusing TED Talks online when she stumbled on an interesting story — that of Kyle MacDonald, who, from 2005 to 2006, made a series of trades with strangers, starting with a red paper clip and eventually exchanging it for a house. After an intensive Google search, Skipper learned that no one else had done it since, and her mind started "spiraling," she told NBCLX. "I'm like, 'OK, I'm going to be the second person to do that.'"
"For a lot of us, a house is so out of reach. It just felt like this was so cool to take a different approach on it, and I've always had that side-hustle mentality," she said.
Skipper, 30, who grew up in Vienna, Virginia, recently announced on her TikTok account that she made her last trade: a solar-powered trailer worth about $40,000 for a house outside Nashville, Tennessee. The 27 trades that came before included margarita glasses, a vacuum, a snowboard, an Apple TV and more.
"I don't think anybody thought I was going to do it. People were like, 'This is a really cute hobby,'" Skipper recalled. "I was like, I'm going to do this if it takes me 10 years. I won't stop until I make this happen."
Skipper, who'd never been to Nashville, saw her house the day after Thanksgiving. She didn't believe it was real, though, until she put the keys in the door and signed the deed. Now that Skipper has proof it's hers, she plans to redo the whole thing, trade it for a bobby pin to someone in need and start the journey anew — a journey she says she never could've completed herself without a lot of charity from strangers.
Skipper gave the bobby pin to a woman who sent her never-worn earrings on the condition that Skipper would invite her to the house when she got it. (They stayed in touch and already made plans for her to drive up from Atlanta.) Once, Skipper popped a MacBook in the mail, hoping to be sent a camera in return but also knowing she'd have no recourse if she didn't get it. But the camera came, and Skipper's community, called the Trade Me Project, grew. After making a swap for a car in Seattle, she needed somewhere to store it while looking for something to trade it for. Skipper got about 100 responses offering to help, and she simply had to trust, despite her parents' protests, that the host wouldn't wreck it. They didn't.
"We've all worked really hard, but then ... your parents talk about how they were 23, married, having kids, getting their first home, and a lot of us are looking each other like, 'Oh, we're 30. We don't have any of these things.' It's just the world we grew up in, but our generation is also super scrappy," she explained.
Since making her first trade, Skipper's heard of hundreds of people trying to do something similar but with different end goals, like a first car or college tuition.
"Everyone is looking around their own house, like, 'I've got a bobby pin,' or, 'I've got a pillow,' or whatever it is," she said. "People are putting themselves in the same shoes and being like ... 'These things that are supposed to be easy are no longer easy. What do I have in my reach that I can use?' It's almost like a movement now."
For people trying to join the movement, Skipper offered the following advice:
Don't be deterred by "No." Skipper said she got thousands of negative replies when asking people to trade over the past year and a half, from "no" to "What the heck are you talking about?" Put in the time, and someone will bite eventually.
Find your target market. Rather than cast a wide net, try to find a specific group — whether on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace or a more niche website — that will have people interested in your item. For example, Skipper hunted streetwear Instagrams when she had sneakers to trade.
You can be honest. Skipper made her first trade after sharing in a Facebook group that she was trying to use the bobby pin to get a house. Another woman was intrigued by the idea and sent her earrings just to get her started.
Know the value of your item. Whenever Skipper received something new, she did extensive research to make sure she knew exactly how much it was worth.
At the beginning, be willing to take anything. Once you know the value of the item you're trading, be willing to take anything worth slightly more.
Make the process your own. There was nothing special about Skipper's bobby pin or MacDonald's paper clip. She got her start because she'd recently bought a pack of 100 and had one to spare. So, start with something you can afford to give away. And it doesn't hurt if it's easy to mail, either.