Quick summary: In July 2006, I joined The Compact. Yesterday, I gave some thought to my challenges so far. My initial pledge would take me only through July 2007, but I've decided to renew my pledge for the full year 2007, with some additional pledges, as well as some foreseeable exceptions. In what follows, I'll put my thoughts on the coming year's pledge into writing.
So, here it is: I will not buy new products for myself for the year 2007, except food and basic health and safety items and other compact allowables (e.g., stuff necessary for work). This is the basic compact, with the addition of 'for myself'. More about that part below. Also may allow myself a "Jubilee Day" in July, as some original members who want to continue for another year have allowed themselves a day to buy items they've needed or missed before renewing their pledge.
In a sense, the basic pledge is easy to get around or to justify your way through. I've bought things in the past six months that I didn't include on yesterday's list--mostly toiletries and the like, but also things like a new car seat for my son (actually a gift from my in-laws, but I was there when it was purchased and asked for it to be purchased as our Christmas gift, so I think this counts). This is clearly a safety item and a basic necessity, or considered to be so in our society. Our Destroyer outgrew the old seat and needed a new one, period. I made an attempt to buy or receive a freecycled used one. But there are many arguments out there against the use of "pre-owned" car seats. (In fact, some "helpful" local emailed me after my freecycle wanted post went out to sanctimoniously warn me about used seats. Thanks so much to all those who police others' parenting choices.) In any case, I was unable to get my hands on a used one. Plus, once we went to the store and had our son test-ride a few, the one that fit our and his needs the best was a brand-new, just-released model. I did, however, buy (or have my in-laws buy) the seat from a wonderful locally-owned shop.
No qualms about this exception, but you can see that it's a slippery slope. I've actually thought of some other exceptions I made since yesterday. One, a new notebook. I write, a lot, and preferably off of the computer as much as on it. My journal was full and I bought a new one, from a local business. Justifiable as an occupation-related expense? Maybe. But I had other blank notebooks at home. Just not the type I normally use for journals. And, two, an inflatable mattress. We had company coming, and our old mattress has some sort of unrepairable hole in it. So many things wrong with this purchase, and I just made it without exception at the time, from Target of all places, without trying to find a used or freecycled one. But if I wanted to...I guess it could be seen as a health expense, since we gave up our bed for company and I have a bad back, so needed a comfortable place to sleep. So that one is OK. Right??
The power of the compact pledge, even for those of us who are not terribly strict about it, is in forcing members to consider their purchases more carefully. Even though I have not, strictly speaking, kept myself from buying anything but bare necessities for the past six months, I have (a) considered each of the purchases I have made carefully, usually before making them, and (b) made exceptions, in most cases, consciously, and in many cases in tandem with my non-compacting partner and/or son (meaning some of my new purchases were unavoidable unless I strongarmed my family into compacting). Thinking is a positive thing. I think it is probably not a sustainable strategy to not buy anything new, ever, for the rest of your life, if you are to be a relatively normal and functioning member of this society. There are two ways to approach compacting: one, as a temporary pledge, knowing that you will be able to buy new things when the year is over, and that not buying anything new at all is just an exercise of sorts; and, two, as a beginning to a long-term change. I'd like this to be the beginning of a long-term change for me, but I'd also like to be a little more strict about my purchases in the coming months than in the past six. I'd like to avoid another inflatable mattress or pill dispenser purchase. Ultimately, the goal is decrease the amount of time I think about being a consumer.
So, here are my thoughts on anticipating exceptions for the next year. I don't want to give myself permission to brush off the pledge when it becomes inconvenient, but to anticipate those things that are likely to pose a compact-conundrum for me:
1. Exceptions as purchases-in-tandem: As I discovered when listing my new purchases in yesterday's post, most of the exceptions I made were things I bought with my husband or son, or for my husband, son or others. I suggested that it is probably not appropriate to force others into compact choices. Apparently, my sweet husband agrees. I pledge to continue to make compact-friendly suggestions when making joint purchases, but to not force my husband into anything (as if that would be possible). Joint purchases won't count against my pledge, but I also won't use that fact to justify buying things I lust after as a couple.
But what of my son? I began giving my son an allowance not long after I joined the compact, in anticipation of the fact that he might want things that I would not want to buy him. But, in fact, I have quite a lot of influence over his purchasing decisions, because (a) he's four, and probably less focused on products than the average four-year-old, as we've been pretty careful about the kinds of ads and things he's exposed to, and also because he's just a really great kid (apart from all that destruction), and (b) he totally adores me (my husband might say too much), and would probably do anything I ask him to do at this point purchase-wise. I'll aim to buy his necessities used, but I can't say I won't buy him any new clothing in the next year, and I will likely buy or allow him to buy basic art supplies if he runs low. I will also make sure he knows of alternatives to buying new stuff, and will continue to drag him along on hikes and other compact-friendly endeavors. As for gifts, I will buy consumables, make gifts, or at the very least buy eco-friendly products at local stores (e.g., I bought my son a Sigg water bottle for his birthday this year--a good product, and no more need for disposable water bottles on our hikes ). I also might buy some new books and/or music for people as gifts; see below.
2. Exceptions for work and serious hobbies: I will be writing this year, so what of stuff needed for writing, such as a printer and printer-related gear, notebooks, pens, a computer, etc.? And what of hobby supplies, for photography, crocheting, drawing and painting, and anything new I want to take up? In truth, I think I have most of what I would need to write: a computer, printer, and lots of notebooks and pens, even if not the type I most like using. We have been talking about buying a new computer in the next year, because the one we have is my small, memory-challenged laptop, which is currently bending under the weight of the thousands of photos we take of our son and on our hikes (and literally bending from a few Destroyer-induced topples from the coffee table). This will be a tandem purchase, so see above. I know buying used in this case will not be acceptable to my wonderful husband. As for hobbies and other supplies, I'll pledge to use what I have or can get used as much as possible, even if that decision determines the things I am able to make. I'll go with that. If I really feel I need something new for work or a project, I will buy from a local store, and as eco-friendly as reasonably possible. One last thing: I really want a sewing machine. I have no idea how to use one, but I'd like to learn, using used materials to make alterations, make new things from things that are falling apart, etc. I will attempt to find a used one, but if I can't find what I am looking for by the time my first year is up (in July), I may consider this a Jubilee Day purchase.
3. Exceptions to support the arts: I usually buy used books and music. But I do like supporting good artists and authors by buying new products. And I may be working up to writing about books that are new sometime in the next year. So, I will continue to buy used, but may buy a few new items, again locally, for myself or even for others as gifts.
These are my thoughts on things I am likely to be faced with buying new in the next year. And here are a few of the additional compact-related things I'd like to do this year beyond the basic pledge:
1. Food: I'll be continuing to work on reducing the packaging that I bring into my home from food. Also, I've been moving toward making as much as I can of my food from scratch, with a basic rule that I not buy anything (OK, much) with more than five ingredients (basic good sour cream has five ingredients, and I do like sour cream, so that's my cutoff). I'll also continue buying locally and/or organic from local stores and farmers markets, and in bulk. This will be my 16th year as a vegetarian; I'm eating eggs, milk and dairy products, but will buy local and organic as much as possible. It's difficult to get good local cheese. [Update: my husband claims there is lots of good local cheese available; getting it, however, would still require a special trip to a specialty store a few miles from stores I normally frequent. I'll probably generally stick to cheese from my general part of the country that's available at stores I already go to. I haven't made the 100-mile diet pledge. Yet.]
2. Health items: I've been reassessing my need for certain "basic" health items, and will continue to do so. The Compact email list has introduced me to all sorts of homemade health and cleaning product options. I'll use these, and buy earth friendly products when I buy products.
3. Garbage and the other things I bring into and send out of my home: I'll continue my ongoing attempts to reduce the amount of garbage I have through recycling and reuse. My goal is to compost more, and to reuse at least once things that I might have otherwise thrown away or recycled. If I can't reuse it myself, I'll collect and freecycle. (Related to exception (1), above: I will not force or nag my husband into joining me here, though I may quietly appreciate it if he does so of his own volition.)
4. Organization and clutter: Like many people, we have more stuff in our house than we need. But I think the decluttering fad can go too far. I plan to declutter by degrees by cutting down on the stuff I bring into my home. I also plan to organize the things we have better, so I can better use up the items we have and avoid buying more. I don't like the idea of throwing a bunch of unused crap into a bag and dumping it at Out of the Closet just to purge, but I will freecycle or otherwise place into a good home some of the things we have that others could get better use from.
5. Buying used stuff, and especially clothes: In the beginning, I bought quite a bit of used stuff as a way of weaning myself from buying new stuff. I wasn't a shopaholic, but had certainly been buying more than necessary, and had taken to shopping as a way to get out of the house on a rainy day now and then. Even doing this once a month or so can lead to excess. It's too easy to convince yourself that you deserve to buy a new pair of shoes, or a t-shirt in this season's color, when you are hypnotised by Gap-culture. I haven't felt the urge to do this in some time, but in case I get sucked back in and start turning to thrift stores to fill the need, I pledge to buy no more than twelve items of clothing or shoes for myself this year. This comes to one item per month, and should be more than enough to satisfy any consumer-culture-driven cravings. I'm also saying right now that, once July 2007 passes, I might allow myself to buy one pair of pants new. If and only if one of my basics falls apart, and if and only if I can't find a replacement used. I have trouble finding pants that fit well, even new. No shoes, though. I lust over good, sturdy shoes, the kind my mother and most of the people I went to high school with would roll their eyes at. They are practical, tough to find used, and some compact members count them as a health item. But even if one of my pairs falls apart, I should have enough to back them up for the rest of the year. As for other used stuff, I'll try to be judicious in these purchases. I don't lust after much. Might buy some cooking stuff, since I'm cooking a lot more since joining The Compact and making my from-scratch-when-possible pledge.
That's my pledge for 2007. But one more thought before I go. My husband has suggested to me, in private and in a comment on yesterday's post, that one way to circumvent the compact is to get him or other people to buy stuff for me when compacting is inconvenient. He has a point. I, for example, asked for a couple of items for Christmas that I wanted, and had trouble finding used (a mala, or Buddhist meditation bracelet, and a garlic press). This is certainly cheating, though it seemed like a good idea at the time. I will plan not to do that in the coming year. And, of course, I'll be keeping a list of issues that come up as I go--both things I buy and things I don't buy--and will blog about those that are the most interesting (to me).
Happy New Year!