Monday, May 24, 2010

The Modified Compact

I've been reading a lot about The Compact. Which sounds like a new John Grisham novel. But it's not.

The Compact began in California as a challenge between ten friends looking to cut down on their material consumption by purchasing nothing new (with a few exceptions) for a year. The goals were to counteract the American consumer culture, to cut down on their own personal waste and clutter, and to live more simply. Thousands of people have since joined the Compact, many extending it long past that first year. Members range from the casual to Freegans, who try to pay for nothing through means like dumpster diving behind restaurants for their food.

Many blogs document various Compact participants and their personal journeys in their Compact lifestyles; my favorite so far is the Nonconsumer Advocate. I can relate to the author's commitment to the Compact, as well as her drawing the line at used undergarments.

In the wake of the ongoing BP underwater oil gush, it's been shocking to read about the amount of oil that is used to create and transport goods. I feel convicted that I need to be more responsible and to go beyond just bringing my own tote bags to the store. I need to be mindful about even going to the store.

Yesterday I was canning jam with my friend Martha. If you're curious, we made strawberry, strawberry-jalapeno, and strawberry chutney -- notice a theme? Anyhoo, we've been friends for 20 years, and we were post-college poor singles at the same time, and share a love of the bargain. I told her I was thinking about doing a modified Compact, and she said, "Um... isn't that kind of what you already do?" I looked down and saw what she meant. My shirt, tank, and earrings were all from garage sales. My shoes were new, but they are Dansko's and built for life. She reminded me that most of Phil and my barware is vintage 60s. We've been eating off vintage Fiesta (and likely now glow from the lead paint) for about 15 years. Sylvia and Tommy were there with me, and both were wearing garage-sale duds.

"Why do you need to do anything formal?" she asked. I took another sip of wine and agreed.

But the more I thought of it, the more I thought that my garage-sale earrings weren't the whole story, and there's a lot I buy new that is unnecessary or completely wasteful. We're entering the most expensive time of year with Max out of school and requiring another $400 a month over the summer for day camp. And yes, for those of you not living in the Midwest, I realize how insanely cheap that is. But still.

So with the motivation of an extra $400 going out the door, and really wanting to be more mindful about what we bring into our house and the virgin materials necessary, I've made my own Compact in force for the next 10 weeks, starting tomorrow. Meaning I have an hour and 17 minutes to go crazy on Here are my guidelines:
  • This compact is mine. Phil is on his own, and I won't cluck my tongue if he has a bender at Luna Music. That's his business. Maybe he'll even buy me something during his bender. Just saying...
  • Undergarments can be purchased new. I'm unbending on this point.
  • E-products can be purchased new. I am in the book business and staunchly support the purchase of information and entertainment. So books that are sent to my Kindle and don't require sacrificing trees or transportation costs are just fine.
  • Items needed to finish up craft projects are okay. So if I'm about to make a dress for Sylvie out of stash fabric, but need some medium-weight interfacing, I can go to town. $3-a-yard clearances on Amy Butler fabric at don't count as "items needed to finish up craft projects." No matter how hard I'll try to convince myself otherwise.
  • Likewise, items truly needed for the summer gardening season are at my discretion. I know I'm low on canning jars, so will try to get some through If that doesn't work, however, and I'm about to lose a crop of tomatoes that need to be preserved, I'm getting new jars. This doesn't extend to the rose structure I'm coveting.
So really not too bad for 10 weeks. And really not too different from the way we already live. I'm excited and curious to see if putting stricter parameters around what I can and can't purchase will make me realize how much money I've been wasting and how much more ecologically responsible I could be.

One hour and eight minutes and counting....

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Blogger jbratch said...

Awesome! Keep us posted on your thoughts and success.

6:34 AM  
Blogger Melody said...

I think I have some canning jars taking up space under the bed in the guestroom. You're on your own for lids though. :) I'll try to remember to dig them out and bring them into work for you.

I love this commitment you're making. I've been trying to turn my toddler clothes addiction into at least a thrift store addiction (not so difficult really), and I do my best to re-use, but I can do a LOT better on restaurant spending. Next year, damn it, I AM going back to doing my own gardening, but for now I'll make due with farmer's markets.

Oh, and thanks for the excuse to buy an e-reader. Not that I really needed one. Have just been trying to justify the purchase of personal electronics when I so rarely indulge in them.

7:06 AM  
Blogger Julia @ Hooked on Houses said...

I can totally see you doing this. It'll be interesting to hear how it goes. I'm relieved to see there has been an amendment allowing for new underwear. :)

1:38 PM  

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