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What Can We Trade?

By James  Stout, Former Writer For BarterNews magazine

We all have a rich array of barterables -- goods, skills, and information, for example:

  1. Our skills might be in masonry, mechanical work, or midwifery.
  2. Our goods can include furniture, food, or farm equipment.
  3. And to trade our knowledge, perhaps we would find students in math instruction, or clients for our legal advice, or apprentices in carpentry.

We can use these guidelines in finding skills which we can trade.

  1. Be confident and creative. We do have many skills which are useful to other people. The list in the next chapter shows many common and uncommon abilities which could be worthwhile to someone else. Even "un-skills" are barterable; there is demand for leaf-rakers, lawn-cutters, and other odd-jobbers.
  2. Barter your primary skill -- the one which we use use at our job. For example, a carpenter can moonlight with some additional carpentry jobs. However, for a change of pace, we might prefer to do something entirely different; for example, an electrician who owns a few horses might enjoy giving some riding lessons on Saturday mornings.
  3. Do you what you like to do. If we are imaginative, we might find a way to barter the activity which we enjoy the most. For example, if we enjoy being with animals, we can groom dogs or walk dogs or wash dogs -- or care for other beasts. Do you like to talk? Then offer some telephone time to a social club (in exchange for your free membership).
  4. Consider your off-beat skills. At one barter club, some people registered themselves in these unusual categories: teller of tall tales, pool hustler, clown, parrot trainer.
  5. Use the skills which you have developed in your pastimes. For example, a bookworm can read to a blind person or to someone else who simply values the companionship and entertainment. If our reading has given us an expertise, maybe we can tutor in the subject which we have read about.
  6. Even our mere presence is worth something. "Just being there" is worth something if we are a babysitter, house-sitter, plant-sitter, or pet-sitter. Imagine how much more we are worth when we are actually doing something.

We can trade many types of goods. If we have lists, we'll be quicker to make a deal. When people approach us for a trade, we can read a few things from the list -- or we can just give the list to the people, and then let them compare their "haves" with our "wants" (or vice versa). Our lists can include these items:

  1. Our used items. This category includes books, magazines, furniture, gardening equipment, etc. People have swapped more glamorous items, too; a trade broker received an offer of a full-length mink coat and mink stole, both in perfect condition, as a partial payment on some real estate. (Actually, it's not a new idea for barterers to "think mink"; the traders of the Hudson Bay fur company used to barter in the 17th century.)
  2. Our unwanted items. For example, we can swap away useless gifts (from Christmas and birthdays).
  3. Our outgrown items. We have outgrown some of our clothing. Our children have outgrown many items -- their clothing, toys, books, furniture, etc.
  4. Our handmade items. We can trade the products of our hobbies: our paintings, beadwork, jewelry, fly-fishing lures, etc.
  5. Our surplus items. We will have more things to trade if we use some strategies. For instance, we can plant extra vegetables in our garden so that we will have a surplus to barter. At a store sale or yard sale, we can buy more things than we need if the deal is attractive and we know that we can trade away those goods.
  6. Our "junk." Even an old trashy item might be valuable to a collector who needs that particular piece to complete a collection.
  7. Other people's goods. We can keep an up-to-date list of things that our friends (and other barter partners) are looking for. With that list, we can set up trades between other people and get a commission or some other type of "piece of the action." The list will also help us to set up "triple trades"; for example, George needs a second-hand water pump for his car; in exchange, he can offer his used power drill. We might meet a woman with a water pump but no desire for George's drill. But she does want our cabinet -- so in the resulting triple trade, she gives the pump to George, we give the cabinet to her, and he gives us the drill.

We can make a list of things which we want to get by bartering. We might want clothing, housing, food, car repairs, entertainment, books, household items, business needs, health care, babysitting, education, etc. To develop a list of our "wants," we can refer to our various records, e.g., our checkbook, monthly bills, budget, shopping list, Christmas list, "wish list," New Year's resolutions, etc.

This list might give us more ideas for goods and services to trade.  

Accounting, acrobatics, activity consultation, adoption consultation, advertising, afghans, agriculture advice, air conditioning repair, airplane rides, alterations, alternative building techniques, alternative energy sources, animal care and sitting, animals (rabbits, worms, cats, cattle, greyhound, etc.), animation, appliances, appliance repair, art work, astrology, auto body work, auto design, auto painting, auto parts, auto repair.

Baby clothes, babysitting, baking, banking and loan-application assistance, barbecue equipment, batiking, beading, bees, bicycle repair, bicycles, biodynamic farming, birth control consultation, birthing coaching, blacksmithing, block laying, blueprints, boat engines, boat trips, body and fender work, body-brace making, bonsai culture, bookkeeping, books, bread baking, breeding, building demolition, building design, building maintenance, building materials, burglar alarm systems, business consultation, butane tanks, butchering.

Cabinetry, cake decorating, calculators, calligraphy, camera repair, camper shells, camping gear, cane weaving, canning, caretaking, carpentry, carpet cleaning, carpet laying, carpets, cartoons, catering, CBs, CB repair, ceramic tiles, ceramic work, chainsaws, chainsaw sculpture, child care, chimney sweeping, choreography, circus performing, cleaning, clerical skills, clock repair and making, clothing, clowning, collective bargaining, commercial art, community organizing, companionship, computer programming, computers, concrete work, consultations, consumer protection, convalescent care, cooking, costume design, counseling, counters, crafts, crocheting.

Dance instruction, darkroom instruction, day care, delivery, dentistry, diet consultations, dining room help, directing (music and theatre), dishwashing, dishwashing machines, dog care, dog grooming, dog-obedience training, dogs, domestic work, doll clothes, doll repair, domes, drapes (hemming and installing), driers, driving, drug counseling, drumming, ducks, dump trucks, dyeing.

Editing, elderly care, electrical work, electronics, embroidery, enameling, engines, engine rebuilding, entertainment, errands, escorting, exercise instruction.

Fabric, family-finance consultations, farming guidance, farm work, fashion design, fencing, fence installation and repair, fertilizer, fiberglass repair, fill dirt, film-making, firewood, fish, fish farming, fishing poles, fixtures, flower arrangements, flowers, flying lessons, fly tying, food, food preservation (canning, drying, freezing), food processors, foraging, foreign language instruction, forges, framing, freezers, fruit tree advice, fund raising, furniture, furniture making and restoring, furniture moving, furs.

Game tables, garden space, garden work, glass, glass cutting, goats' milk, gourmet cooking, grant writing, graphic art, greenhouse management, guns, gunsmithing, gun stocks.

Haircuts, hairdressing, ham radio services, handwriting analysis, handyman work, hat trimming and making, hats, hauling, hay baling, health counseling, hearing aids and repairs, herbs, horse care, horses, horse training, hot water systems, house cleaning, household items, housekeeping, house-plant consultations, house-sitting.

Ice cream makers, instrument repair, interior decorating, investment advice, ironing.

Jamming, jams and jellies, janitorial work, jewelry repair, juggling, jugs.

Kittens, knitting.

Labor, land clearing, landscaping, lapidary work, laundry, lawn maintenance, leather work, legal consultations, library work, literature, locksmithing, lumber.

Machine work, macrame, magic, management, manure, manuscript critiques, marital counseling, marketing, martial arts (kung fu, judo, etc.), masonry, massages, mattresses, meat, meat cutting, mechanical drawing, mediation (tenant-landlord), medical skills, meditation instruction, mending, midwife services, milking of cows, money-management counseling, mortuary work, motorcycles, motorcycle repair, motors, moving, mowing, musical instruments, music lessons, music performances.

Nature walks, needle work, notary services, nutritional counseling.

Odd jobs, office help, office space, oil burners, oil changes, oil painting, optometry, orchard consultations, organic gardening, ornaments, outdoor games, oxygen tanks.

Painting (auto), painting (house), parenting education, party help, peacocks, pet care, photography, physical therapy, piano moving, piano sharing, piano tuning, pigs, piloting, plant care, plant identification, plants, plumbing, plumbing materials, plums, plywood, poetry, ponies, pool tables, popcorn poppers, portraits, post-hole digging, pottery, printing, private detective services, produce managing, projectors, proofreading, psychologist services, puppet shows.

Rabbit cages, rabbits, radio repair, radios, ranch work, real estate, records management, recreation partners (offering our companionship in backpacking, badminton, bicycling, bird-watching, boating, card games, dancing, fishing, frisbees, horseback riding, ice skating, rafting, rock-hounding, running, scuba diving, skiing, sky diving, softball, surfing, swimming, tennis, and other activities), recreational therapy, recycling, reloading equipment, remodeling, renovation, research, riding instruction, river raft trips, road building, roofing, roofing materials, room and board, rotary mowing, rug making, rug shampooing.

Saddle repair, sailing, sandblasting, sanding, saunas, saws, sawdust, scrap metal, screening, sculpture, secretarial services, selling, sewing, sharecropping, sharpening (saws and mowers), sheep, sheep shearing, shelving, shoe repair, shoes, shopping, shorthand, sign language, sign painting, silk screening, small engine repair, social work, soil analysis, solar-energy consultations, solar power, speech therapy, spinning, sports equipment, stained glass, steam cleaning, stone work, stoves, stove cleaning, surveying, swimming-pool use.

Tables, tai chi instruction, tape recorders, tax consultations, taxidermy, telephone work, television sets, tennis lessons, tents, tools, toys, tree pruning, tree removal, trees, trucks, truck driving, tutoring, typing.

Undertaker services, upholstery.

Vacuuming, vegetables, vents, veterinarian services, vineyard work, vinyl repair, vitamins, vocational counseling.

Waitressing, wallets, wardrobe consultations, washing machines, waterbeds, water power consultations, weaving, wedding-reception planning, weddings, welding, wilderness-survival instruction, windmills, window cleaning, windows, wood, wood finishing, wood stoves, wool, writing.

Yard work.