This woman is on a quest to swap a hairpin for a house. Here’s how it works

Demi Skipper is planning a daring strategy of trades – and millions are following her journey

Trade Me: Demi Skipper is on a quest to swap a hairpin for a house. Photograph: Demi Skipper/Instagram

Trade Me: Demi Skipper is on a quest to swap a hairpin for a house. Photograph: Demi Skipper/Instagram

 

While many of us were still finding novelty in group Zoom calls last May, Demi Skipper decided she was going to get a house. But not using money. Instead, she was going to trade items.

Now the owner of one of only a few Chipotle celebrity cards in the world – which gets her unlimited free food at the American restaurant chain for a year – and hoping to reach a house by the end of summer, the 29-year-old started her journey where many voyages do: in a YouTube hole.

Sitting in the living room of her rented house in San Francisco, she had just finished watching a Ted Talk by Kyle MacDonald, also known as the red paperclip guy, who traded up 14 times to get from a red paperclip to a house in 2006.

Ah, the diamond necklace. It was a soul-crushing moment. I’d just traded this really nice Mini Cooper that was probably worth, like, $8,000, and I pretty much cut that in a quarter

MacDonald was a 26-year-old jobless Canadian who traded from a red paperclip to a fish-shaped pen, to a handmade doorknob, to a camping stove, to a generator, to a keg of beer and a neon sign, followed by a snowmobile, a trip to Yahk, in British Columbia, a box truck, a music recording contract, a year’s rent in Arizona, and an afternoon with the rock band Alice Cooper. His strangest trade was then for a Kiss-themed motorised snow globe, which he swapped with the snow-globe fanatic and actor Corbin Bernsen for a role in a Hollywood film, before trading the movie role for a two-storey farmhouse in Saskatchewan, in Canada.

Skipper, a self-described “scrappy entrepreneurial type”, was up to the challenge. “I can’t buy anything. I can’t use any money. And I can’t trade anyone I know,” she excitedly explains over a 7am video call. She’s used to early mornings, as she has been working 6am to 2.30pm as a product manager for BuzzFeed. “A lot of comments [about my project] are, like, ‘You need to get a job,’ and I’m, like, Oh my gosh, if they knew I’m working like 12-hour days,” she says, gesturing in disbelief.

Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist and Ebay are Skipper’s go-tos. She first posted an image of the bobby pin explaining her mission, and traded it for brand new earrings from a woman on Facebook who was excited to take part. People’s eagerness to get involved has been the most surprising thing. “I get probably 1,000 messages a day on Instagram. And a lot of them are, like, I don’t have a trade, but I live in this state and I’d be willing to drive your car from here to here, or I have a garage or a safe place where you could keep a trade.”

She left the earrings on the porch of a woman keen to get rid of four margarita glasses, which Skipper traded for a vacuum cleaner. Then she had to trade outside of her city to meet a couple who exchanged their kid’s old snowboard for a vacuum cleaner. The snowboard went for an Apple TV. It was the first branded item she received, which made it easier to trade. She then arranged to swap it for a pair of Bose headphones, before finding a man on the neighbourhood app Next Door to trade her for an old Apple MacBook.

A MacBook from a bobby pin: it was a landmark moment. Until this point, her project, named Trade Me, wasn’t well known. Now she had the eyes of thousands of people on her. “The next trade was really nerve-racking, because it was the first one I had to ship. So I had to trust that the person I was trading with would send me the camera and lenses,” she explains.

The camera went for the first pair of collector sneakers she found. “I reached out, and the guy really helped me understand how to tell if sneakers are real.” Skipper then went on to trade two more pairs of sneakers, which the first trader advised her on. Desperate to get out of the sneaker world, Skipper found a man who had been searching for those $1,000 trainers for a long time, and traded them for a brand new iPhone 11 Max.

Demi Skipper as she trades items for valuable sneakers. Photograph: Demi Skipper/Instagram
Demi Skipper as she trades items for valuable sneakers. Photograph: Demi Skipper/Instagram

A family of Trade Me fans offered her a red minivan for the iPhone. While it was the most surprising upgrade, Skipper remembers it as the most emotionally difficult. A couple were so inspired by the project that they drove the van 29 hours from Minnesota to San Francisco with their two kids.

The minivan broke down after its long journey, and Skipper posted this hiccup on her TikTok. What she didn’t foresee was the amount of hate the family soon got, including a lot of Islamophobia. “The worst parts of the internet came out,” she says.

With the minivan no longer working, and unable to spend money to fix it, she was forced to trade down for an electric skateboard that went for the latest MacBook. She swapped that for an electric bike food cart, followed by a Mini Cooper.

The next trade went downhill.

“Ah, the diamond necklace,” she says. She thought it was worth $20,000, but she was quickly told that although it was worth that amount when made, it would only be bought for $2,000. The necklace’s appraisal value was $20,000, but as she quickly learned, this is not the same as the resale value. “It was a soul-crushing moment. I’d just traded this really nice Mini Cooper that was probably worth, like, $8,000, and I pretty much cut that in a quarter.”

She again then traded down for a Peloton exercise bike. Next was an extremely run-down Mustang, followed by a Jeep, a tiny cabin, a Honda CRV and then three tractors.

May 2021. Demi Skipper has traded a hairpin for items including an iPhone and a minivan. Photograph: Demi Skipper/PA
May 2021. Demi Skipper has traded a hairpin for items including an iPhone and a minivan. Photograph: Demi Skipper/PA

Like Kyle Macdonald, Skipper has a large audience. Nearly five million people follow her on TikTok. Her most recent trade – the three tractors for a Chipotle celebrity card – was offered to her by the fast-food chain after she posted the video about the tractors. There are only about three in existence. (As well as the unlimited free Chipotle food for a year, the card’s owner also gets a catered dinner for 50 people.)

Obviously, the company wouldn’t be so keen to get involved if it wasn’t for the millions of potential customers following her journey, but Skipper is adamant that anyone can do their own trading project. “There’s this 18-year-old guy in London who’s gotten really far, and he’s not even TikTok-famous, but he’s done it on his own, trading with people he knows,” she says.

Although Skipper doesn’t spend any money on trades, she decided early on to pay for shipping. “It doesn’t feel right when you’re trading with someone and then you’re, like, ‘Oh, can you pay for my shipping too?’” She’s spent about $4,000 on shipping so far.

Today’s world revolves around money, but cash in and of itself has no actual value. As a society, we’ve agreed on a story of what money is worth. We spend most of our time earning it or spending it, but that’s only been the case for the past 5,000 years. Before that, we would directly trade goods and services: I’ll fix your roof if you give me a bag of potatoes. “[You can] say: this is worth this many dollars. But part of trading up is to find the person who finds a different type of value in it,” says Skipper.

Skipper hopes more and more people will trade in this way. “Trading evens the playing field more, because everyone has that bobby pin or paperclip.” Thousands of TikTokers are now tagging her project in their own pursuits for anything from cars to college tuition.

“Honestly, I love that it’s a bit of an FU to capitalism.” – Guardian

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