Last winter, a woman showed up at my mom’s art gallery and wanted to buy a big, beautiful painting that was quite expensive. Instead of money, she proposed an alternative method of payment: bartering. In exchange for the painting that would decorate the woman’s elegant bed-and-breakfast in Prince Edward County, Ontario, my parents could have a three-day weekend retreat at the bed-and-breakfast. My mother happily accepted the offer — the woman was a friend of a friend, so she knew it was a legitimate offer and the B&B a beautiful spot — and a deal was made with no cash ever passing through their hands. Mom and Dad had a glorious vacation last spring that they still talk about.
I love the idea of bartering and think that using it as a way to exchange goods and services could benefit us greatly in our money-obsessed Western society. First of all, it would reduce dependency on cash, which would help decrease many of the class divides that result from access (or lack thereof) to money. Because a transaction would be based on exchanging skills, it wouldn’t matter how much money a person has, so they wouldn’t be as limited in getting what they need or want.
Second, because individual skills and talents would be marketable, people would more encouraged to develop those. Instead of selling one’s soul to a meaningless job that pays the bills (though that would still be necessary to a certain extent), there would be more incentive to become really good at one’s hobbies and interests, which are what make us into the interesting individuals that we are.
Third, bartering builds confidence in people. It’s extremely satisfying to make something that is useful to someone else, and even more so when you know that the other person is making good use of your product/skill somehow. Bartering acknowledges and celebrates differences, understanding that some of us are better at some things than others, and that all of those talents are important. It could give people a real purpose.
Fourth, bartering could reduce the blatant consumerism that is consuming us as a society. By forcing ourselves to consider the true value of an item or service — something that we don’t do enough in a world that obsesses over always paying the lowest price — we could better appreciate the things we buy and be more selective about what we truly need.
Fifth, bartering offers new experiences that we might not think to create on our own, such as my parents’ getaway to the B&B. Too often we get stuck in a rut because we’re scared to waste money on something outside our comfort zone.
The only bartering experience I’ve had was the time I placed an ad on Kijiji looking for a babysitter. I was desperate, about to go back to school, and I knew nobody in my new town. A lovely Greek woman named Marina answered my ad, in the very same predicament as me — wanting to study but needing childcare. And so began a babysitting exchange that has continued for several years, not to mention the accompanying friendship that developed between our two families. Now we get free babysitting and, because of the regularity, our kids have become as comfortable as brothers with each other. No money could buy this relationship we have.
I wouldn’t want an entire society built on bartering, so I’m proposing that we merely add an element of it to our transactions. I’m brainstorming my husband’s and my combined skills/assets that we could offer in return for others’ skills, and it’s not easy! What comes to mind is cooking, baking, babysitting, writing, personal training, a house near a beach for a vacation exchange, etc. (I suddenly feel like I definitely don’t have enough hobbies with tangible results!) In exchange, I’m looking for whatever you have to offer: babysitting, original art, food products, photography, fashion/shopping advice, interior decorating, etc. Pitch me ideas if you have some, or else just mull over what I’ve said and give it a shot applying it to your own lives. Let me know how it goes!