Sunday, December 31, 2006

It's a Compact life

In July 2006 I joined The Compact , a group of people who commit to buy nothing new for one year. Originally, The Compact was comprised of a few friends from the SF Bay Area who resolved to buy nothing new, except food and a few necessities like health and safety items, for the year 2006. For these original members, the journey is coming to a close. As the year ends, however, The Compact is getting so much media attention (see examples here , and here ) that membership of the Yahoo! email list has approximately tripled in the last few weeks. I now get five or more new digest emails each day, whereas I once received one or two. Many of the new members plan to make The Compact for 2007. Some are people who already live a relatively 'compact' life, while others seem overwhelmed and nervous as the new year approaches. Questions pour in asking whether it is OK to buy this or that item. People wonder whether they will make it through the year.

For me, the last six or so months have been a wonderful experiment. I jumped in without thinking first about the consequences--just thought it was a commitment worth making and I'd deal with whatever issues came up. Although I didn't need to buy anything new for the first few weeks I was frequently confronted with things I wanted or might normally buy without thought, or with just the itch to go shopping for some stuff or the habit of using retail locations as outings with my son (something that many smart retailers have encouraged in recent years). I dealt with the itch by heading to thrift and salvage shops, but the itch has gradually subsided. I have stopped going to stores just to go, and have replaced that activity (which I engaged in not a lot, but more than necessary) with other activities, such as hiking and staying home. I have had more time for reflection, projects, reading, and especially cooking.

When I made the commitment to step away from rampant consumerism, its excesses revealed themselves ever more clearly. The world feels both smaller and larger. Smaller, as so much of what is out there has been rendered irrelevant to me. The walls of Target, for example, close in, as 95% of the store is off limits to me. This feels, most of the time, like anything but deprivation. I don't walk by the clothes or the DVDs longing to stop and check out the selection. I just walk by the clothes and DVDs. They hold no interest for me, because they are in some sense not part of my world anymore. And larger, as the virtual absence of retail opens up new possibilities to my imagination. As less stuff is coming into my home, and less time is spent bringing stuff into my home, I think more about what I can do with the objects and time that I have. I can make an egg carton into an afternoon spent sorting and counting small objects with my son, read the many as-yet-unread books on my shelf, explore my local parks.

I haven't been a 'perfect' compacter. I joined only for myself, not for my husband or son, so there are a two joint purchases we made new, and I allowed for some new purchases for my son by beginning to give him an allowance. I also encouraged him to search used toy and thrift stores. For Christmas, I made some gifts (a new experience for me) and limited new purchases to books and art supplies. I did buy supplies for my gifts new (mainly yarn), and some other art and craft supplies new. But with the new year comes a chance for me to recommit myself, this time with eyes wide open. I know what my weaknesses are, and how I have justified certain purchases in the past few months. I am also increasingly aware of the alternatives to buying new things. I feel I can trust that my 'needs' will be taken care of. I am now in a position to consider in advance what types of purchases I will allow, what I will avoid, what my goals and purposes are for remaining in the compact. I'll work on putting together my compact resolutions in the next few days.

This blog isn't meant to be solely about compacting, but I share this experience here because compacting is having a profound impact on the issues I consider most important to write about, and on how I live. Happy New Year!

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