Since last year, MacDonald has traded with people from across Canada and the United States and is now sitting on a year's free rent for an apartment in Phoenix.
He announced on his one red paperclip blog his intention to take the clip he'd used on his resume and trade it up, step-by-step, until he got a house. And his goal is getting tantalizingly close.
"This has turned into an obsession," said MacDonald. "So many people have heard that I'm trading up to a house that if I don't make it, I'll be a schmuck. I'll take a house anywhere in the world. That's kind of the adventure, trading up to a house and then moving there."
MacDonald, 26, currently lives in Montreal and has spent the last year doing odd jobs and traveling. But the project that began as a throwback to "bigger and better," a game he and his friends played as children, has now become his full-time occupation. And it's allowed him to spawn a Net cult following that's hoping he'll succeed. Popular blogs such as boingboing have been tracking his progress for months.
MacDonald's trades have gone as follows:
Paper clip for a fish-shaped pen
Fish-shaped pen for a clay doorknob with a funny face on it
Clay doorknob for a camping stove
Stove for a generator
Generator for an "instant party"
Instant party for a snowmobile
Snowmobile for an all-expenses-paid trip to Yahk, British Columbia
Yahk trip for a panel van
Van for a recording contract
Recording contract for the year of free rent in Phoenix
After each trade, MacDonald posts the item he currently has and waits for people to post offers--which anyone can see. He then decides, with the help of feedback from readers of his site, which offer to accept.
"I'm a guy in Montreal who has an Internet connection and one red paper clip," said MacDonald. "If 10 people hadn't volunteered to collaborate with me on this, then I would still have the red paper clip on my desk."
Indeed, as he's moved up the barter chain, MacDonald has encountered some mundane and even odd trade items, even as he's visited the far reaches of Canada and crisscrossed North America five times.
"I like to think I live off magic," said Jody Gnant, the singer from Phoenix who traded the year of free rent for the recording contract. "There is an amazing energy going on with this project right now. I'm thrilled that Kyle asked me to be a part of it."
Gnant said she owns a duplex in Phoenix that has an empty unit and that she will use the recording contract to lay down a "one red paperclip"-themed song.
She admits the value of the rental property far exceeds that of the recording contract, but she says such calculations are of no concern to her.
"I make strange decisions every day," Gnant said. "I live off magic, not necessarily off ones and zeroes."
And her red paper clip-themed song could certainly come in handy, given that MacDonald said he was approached by a number of producers interested in making a movie about his project.
To those who've participated in the trades, MacDonald is probably the key to the success of this crazy process.
"When I met with Kyle (I found that) he's just a young enthusiast, and I wanted to contribute to helping him," said Bruno Taillefer, who traded a van for the trip to Yahk, B.C. "It has everything to do with his personality, and his drive. Not anybody could do this. He's the type of guy I wanted to get involved with as soon as I met him. I really wanted to help him get his house."
Gnant said she feels the same way about MacDonald and the project.
"I think Kyle's an amazing writer, and that has everything to do with (it)," Gnant said. "He's a pioneer of taking a blog to the next level. There are probably other people trying to do the same thing, and we just don't know about them."
MacDonald is confident he's going to succeed, and hopes it can happen by the July 12 anniversary of the project's launch.
Asked what he thinks his chances are, he replied quickly, "100 percent. It's a fine line between being oblivious and being crafty enough to make this work."
His trading partners agree.
"I can't wait until Kyle gets his house, (and) I know he's going to get his house," said Gnant. "I don't think it's going to take him very many trades at all, and I'd love to think that's how the universe works."