Would You Trade Your Paperclip For My Condo?


In 2005, Kyle MacDonald decided to play Bigger, Better for real. He started with one red paperclip, traded up for about a year until he achieved his goal of owning a house. This story made headlines in 2006 and has stayed with me since. The value we ascribe to things is fascinating.

The Furniture Lives Here

About two years ago, my mother and I merged our households. We ended up with two tables and ten chairs, three couches, two armchairs, two coffee tables, three side tables, two TVs, multiple rugs,  three microwaves, you get the idea. Luckily, I own a big condo and Mom is a good decorator. Unfortunately, it felt like the furniture lived here instead of us.

At the end of last year, Mom decided she no longer wanted her furniture and was giving it to me. How, huh, generous? While it was tasteful, it was not my style. Since most of it was in its 20s and 30s, I was ready to chuck it all. Instead, I put us through the torture of online classified ads. If a man can trade a paperclip for a house,  Mom’s trash could be someone’s treasure.

Seller Beware

I sold the wardrobe once to a couple who couldn’t find a vehicle big enough to transport it. I sold it a second time to a woman who wanted me to hold it for almost two weeks but couldn’t figure out how to send me a $10 deposit through PayPal or etransfer. (I asked for the deposit because the wardrobe was the most popular item posted.) Finally, I sold it to a mother-to-be who was doing a little nesting. (She was really cute as most first timers are at that stage.)

One potential buyer not only offered me less than what I was asking for an item, but she also expected delivery. (Sarcastic laugh.)

About an eight person dinning table with six chairs for $60, another potential buyer asked: “Is the table scratched?” “Hmm, no,” I wanted to answer, “it was delivered yesterday from Thomasville Furniture but it clashes with my outfit.”

After three weeks of odd stupid questions and flaky people-such as the man who wanted to buy a scratched glass coffee table with matching side table for $30 as a gift for his girlfriend (Gentlemen, if all you have is $30 to spend on your girlfriend, buy her some Godiva chocolate! If she really has her heart set on a coffee table, then go to Wal-Mart. At least, it will be new.), I had had enough. I contact a few local charities to donate the stuff but they were at capacity. So today, two helpful friends came over to move the remaining furniture to the trash. With every piece that went out the door, my hardwood floor revealed itself, my condo became spacious, and my mind uncluttered. Do you hear the angels too?

The Point

There’s a reason I started this post with the red paperclip and it wasn’t to detail my trials. As we moved the furniture out, we bumped in to my new neighbors who loved, wanted and took all of it. Since we established from the beginning that it was all going to the trash (half of it was already there), I couldn’t sell it but gave it to them. They even bought a couple of items that I didn’t want to keep but refused to junk because I felt they were worth more than a trip to the curb.

Let me get to my point. A few months ago, my friend bid on an item on Ebay. When I asked if he thought he would need to revise his bid, he answered, “I won’t. I offered what I felt was a fair price.” I thought that was a great answer. Each of us ascribes value to things differently. While Mom and I didn’t want her furniture, some people thought it was worth the time to email me, pick it up, and pay for it. My new neighbor beamed like a lighthouse at her newly found treasures. Her joy spread to all of us.

I am relieved to put an end to this experience. I am thrilled to have decluttered. Most of all, I’m glad to have made my neighbors so happy. That is priceless.

If you decided to play Bigger, Better for real, what would you trade for what? What do you think of Kyle MacDonald’s trades? Do you have any interesting classified ads stories to share as a seller or a buyer?

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  1. #1 by Julie Farrar on February 12, 2012 - 10:16 PM

    I do not have the haggler gene in me. If something is being offered at below cost and I want it I buy it. There are times at estate sales or antique stores I’ll go for that traditional 10%-below-price offer. I’m to the point now that I really have to love it or need it to spend money for it. I’m trying to declutter my house, too.

    • #2 by Patricia Caviglia on February 12, 2012 - 10:33 PM

      I have noticed that a lot of people get to that age somewhere in their late 30s or early 40s. Maybe the brain just kicks into a different gear in which owning is not as important as experiencing.
      Sent from my BlackBerry device on the Rogers Wireless Network

  2. #3 by Elisa Nuckle on February 12, 2012 - 6:48 PM

    One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, yes? I love garage sales because of that, and when my husband and I had to furnish our apartment we found a great set for cheap. The original owner thought it was all so worthless, but to us it was gold — price was right, quality was great, etc. It’s all about perspective, just like you said.

    • #4 by Patricia Caviglia on February 12, 2012 - 10:40 PM

      I like the word perspective. That’s exactly how value is determined.
      Sent from my BlackBerry device on the Rogers Wireless Network

  3. #5 by Carrie Daws (@CarrieDaws) on February 12, 2012 - 4:57 PM

    I love decluttering .. and while the money for my junk would be nice, I typically opt for the give-away or trash mentality because of the hassle.

    • #6 by Patricia Caviglia on February 12, 2012 - 10:41 PM

      I completely understand!
      Sent from my BlackBerry device on the Rogers Wireless Network

    • #7 by Margaret on February 16, 2012 - 1:09 AM

      I’m with Carrie – I like things done quickly – over and out – once the decision is made that it’s no longer needed. It’s too much as a hassle doing the classifieds or even a garage sale.

      • #8 by Patricia Caviglia on February 22, 2012 - 12:43 AM

        I would do it again, but I think I would shorten the length of time. A month was way too long to put up with the hassle. Plus every day, I wished the furniture would magically disappear. Lol.
        Sent from my BlackBerry device on the Rogers Wireless Network

  4. #9 by corajramos on February 12, 2012 - 1:11 PM

    I enjoyed reading about how you got rid of ‘stuff’. I used to hold yard/garage sales and was successful at it, but worth it? No. Now when I do the declutter dance, I just give it to local charities. I don’t have to do it all at once, can slowly send it out as I get another bunch of stuff together, and not feel that stress of having to get it all done in one day. The charities benefit, I am not stressed and I get receipts to take off at income tax time. So worth it.

    • #10 by Patricia Caviglia on February 12, 2012 - 10:46 PM

      I tried the charity route. Unfortunately, they didn’t have room. I’m guessing timing played into it. I would probably have had better luck during a season when people move.
      Sent from my BlackBerry device on the Rogers Wireless Network

  5. #11 by laird sapir on February 12, 2012 - 12:55 PM

    I love de-cluttering! Way to go, Patricia! Great post. And now, I am going to go looking for a red paperclip I can turn into a million dollars. Or a car. Or something.

    • #12 by Patricia Caviglia on February 12, 2012 - 9:07 PM

      Go for the million. I suggest a gold paperclip for the color’s association to money.
      Sent from my BlackBerry device on the Rogers Wireless Network

  6. #13 by patriciasands on February 12, 2012 - 10:29 AM

    Three cheers! Here’s to an uncluttered condo. I’m sorry the sales approach didn’t yield any results but I love how you brightened your neighbour’s life! That was definitely a pay it forward experience.

    • #14 by Patricia Caviglia on February 12, 2012 - 10:47 PM

      I agree. Not only did it make her so happy but I can’t think of a better way to start a friendship.
      Sent from my BlackBerry device on the Rogers Wireless Network

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