Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Compact

I joined the Sierra Club last year so that I could vote against the board take-over attempt by anti-immigration forces. To my delight, I received a backpack, which we use as our diaper bag, and several publications, both in print and online. A couple of day ago I was reading a Sierra Club publication called The Green Life. It had an article about a little movement out of San Francisco called The Compact. People who agree to the Compact promise not to buy anything new for a full year. They can buy fresh food and medicine, but not new clothes, bike seats, vacuum cleaners, cell phones, or couches. The idea is to consume less and leave less of an ecological footprint.

That idea has been circulating in my head. I think I have probably unintentionally lived by the Compact in the recent past. When I was living on a teaching assistant salary, I may well have not bought anything new for a year, except for books. I have never enjoyed shopping. When my mom took me to the shoe store once, I remember sitting down to try some sneakers on. There was a scraggly haired guy – an Eastern Kentucky mountain man type – at the other end of the bench. He looked at me and said, "These are the first new shoes I'll have bought in five years."

"I have to get new shoes every year," I said. My feet were growing after all.

"I would keep wearing my old ones, but they've got big holes in them now," he said. The tattered shoes he held up were completely beyond repair. I had never seen anything like them. At that moment, to my mom's dismay, I decided that when my feet stopped growing I would wear my shoes out just like him.

So not only do I not enjoy shopping – every minute spent in a store I could be picking at my guitar or napping or talking with my grandma instead – I enjoy the familiarity of heavily used objects, the concavities worn in by one thousand footfalls. As my good friend Hosam pointed out to MaGreen last Tuesday, I only have three pairs of pants. For me, not buying stuff is a preference not a virtue. That said, I don't think it would be possible for new parents to live by the Compact. Newborns equal stuff. And if your children are older, living by the Compact would surely be a shortcut to what I call the Gandhi effect. That is, you might become famous for your lifestyle, but at least one of your children will deeply resent you and try to do everything to oppose your ideals.

All childless people should try the Compact, especially college students in San Francisco. For parents, maybe it is a worthwhile thought experiment. A mental exercise, but not an ideal. Some baby gear has to be bought new, right? Like carseats.


Fiddler said...

I support The Compact, but agree that it needs some careful thought before embarking on the journey full force especially when it directly impacts others in the household... That said, there are always levels to participation, and it might not be a bad idea for a family to choose one thing to work toward not purchasing... Every single step is part of the bigger journey!

Diana said...

I couldn't agree with this concept more, but you're right with kids it's nearly if not entirely impossible. Still, as Fiddler said, there are always levels of participation, baby steps are better than no steps!

I hope you don't mind if I link to this post and to The Compact directly on my blog as well. I'd love to help spread the word about this!

GreenDaddy said...

Please do add links! Let's build a big green blogosphere.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that would be so hard for me. When I was growing up shopping was a hobby in my family and finding great new stuff at a bargain was ingrained in me. I have found the only way I can really go without buying unnecessary stuff is to avoid all areas where shopping occurs. When I do get the urge to buy, I try to replace buying things new with shopping at Goodwill, but it's a real struggle for me.

Henitsirk said...

I definitely have a hard time buying new things for the kids after living near a Deseret Industries thrift store. The local Mormons seemed to fill the place with kids (and adult) clothes costing only $1. Right now we live in a fairly upscale area that seems to have no thrift stores at all. It's very distressing.

We do have a weakness for owning books, even though we have 2 good libraries nearby.

An excellent source for used/new baby stuff, or any stuff, free for the asking, is Freecycle. I highly recommend it if there is a group for your area. Check it out at

Morton Hurley said...

Neat concept, but to execute would be difficult… which I suppose is purpose of the challenge.

So far, the only item I religiously purchase second-hand (otherwise known as “previously enjoyed”) are books. But that’s because I collect rare, old books. :)

surfingmama said...

Hi there!

We would like to invite you to showcase your blog articles to millions of internet-surfing mums through the Surfingmama Blog Carnival. Surfingmama focuses only on stuff that matters. For mums. Submit to us articles that mums need to make informed choices. Topics include childcare, preschool, child-education, child-safety, pregnancy, child-health, special-needs, breastfeeding, mothers-health, childbirth, getting-pregnant, and even humor!

In fact, we just concluded our premier carnival for mums where we picked out 11 fabulous articles. Check it out at:

Submit now! The 2nd edition is scheduled on Oct 9, 2006 at:

Erin said...

We are a Compact family, but don't live in San Francisco. It's been fun, not hard at all and we have two children under the age of 3.

GreenDaddy said...

Thanks Erin. I read some of your posts about the Compact on your blog and want to share the link. It's