The Compact

February 5, 2011

While reading for our next Voluntary Simplicity meeting, I came across a link for the Compact, a group that embarked on an experiment nearly identical to ours in San Francisco in 2006. I had heard of the Compact before, but I hadn’t seen the blog (which you can find here). Like us, the Compacters were motivated to reduce their impact on the environment by eliminating unnecessary consumption of stuff. Thanks to significant media coverage of their twelve-month effort, offshoots of the Compact have surfaced all over the world (including in the D.C. metro area).

The rules of the Compact were slightly different from ours in that they allowed purchases of socks, underwear, plants and fresh-cut flowers (from local businesses only), and digital music. They also allowed purchases from local artisans (in moderation), primarily as gifts. A couple of us NSEers, knowing we had elected not to allow the purchase of new clothing of any kind during the experiment, replenished our underwear drawers in December. Regarding the plants, I’m a little bummed about not being able to join the flower CSA this summer, but I figure I know enough gardeners to track down some free seedlings, if I decide to attempt another shady deck garden in the spring. We are still debating a digital media exception, and I’ll share that story in another post.

I love the local artisan exception, though, and it made sense for the Compact, given the primary goal of the project: “To go beyond recycling in trying to counteract the negative global environmental and socioeconomic impacts of U.S. consumer culture, to resist global corporatism, and to support local businesses, farms, etc.” Active participation in a more sustainable local economy also ties in well with the environmental and cooperative motivations of our own experiment. Yet, I’m not suggesting we amend our rules to allow the purchase of hand-knit scarves or artisan ceramics. This is the No Stuff Experiment, after all. Our primary goals are to discern our needs from our wants, to reduce clutter in our lives, and to make personal choices that correlate with our environmentalist values.

With regard to what we can buy, though, thinking locally is key—or at least it has been important to me. Despite the plentiful big box and chain stores out here in the suburbs, we also have a good number of locally owned businesses, and even in the winter, we have opportunities to support local food artisans, like the pasta, bread, cheese, pickle, sausage, and wine vendors at the Fall Church farmers market. I have had no trouble avoiding chain restaurants (so far Channing has managed to keep his Chili’s cravings at bay), and tonight we’re planning a trip to an independently owned movie theater in Fairfax for a double feature of Best Picture nominees.

So, while it’s a bummer to learn I’m not the first to blog about not buying new stuff, it is exciting to find we are participants in a bona fide, if loosely organized global movement of folks not just buying locally but totally rethinking their participation in consumer culture. How inspiring!

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Reading List

January 4, 2011

In an effort to make this blog at least moderately informative, I am planning to do some research. First on my reading list is Not Buying It: My Year without Shopping by Judith Levine (which I found in the local library). Ms. Levine and her partner embarked on their no-buying project in 2004. They gave up almost all buying—not just new stuff, but also (nonstuff) entertainment, services, and used stuff. They went so far as to cut out meals in restaurants and movie rentals.

That said, like me, they started out the experiment with plenty—so in the grand scheme, “going without” wasn’t going without much. Between them Ms. Levine and her partner had two houses, one apartment, two cars, a truck, and what sounds to me like more than enough skiing equipment. (For sake of comparison, I have one condo, one car, one fancy new road bike, and enough running clothes and gear to run four or five times a week, any week of the year.) I am only three chapters into Not Buying It and not sure what conclusions Ms. Levine reached by the end of her effort, but just skimming the reviews on Amazon makes me want to reevaluate the worth of most of the items in my home.

In any case, with research in mind, I’ve created an NSE reading list. You’ll notice that it is very short at the moment. Dozens of books about American consumerism and living simply are out there, and so I’ve included on this list only books that I’ve already read or that have been recommended to me. This is a living list, folks, so please pass along your own recommendations.