Scarvey column: What’s up? Nothing new
By Katie Scarvey
I’ve been reading about something called The Compact. Sounds ominous, but it’s actually an agreement among some brave folks to take a “12-month flight from the consumer grid.”
Started in 2006, it’s still gaining converts. The aim is to encourage people to simplify, reduce clutter, wean themselves from disposable consumer culture.
Compacters, as they are called, agree not to buy new products. They can, however, borrow, barter, or buy used. Compacters get things from thrift shops, yard sales, Craigslist, Freecycle, eBay and flea markets. There are exceptions, like food and hygienic supplies ó you don’t have to make your own toilet paper.
I don’t know anyone who has made the total Compact commitment, but I do sense growing interest in the group’s goals.
Although we’re sometimes told that to buy, buy, buy is our duty as Americans, it seems pretty clear that many of us spend too much money and energy acquiring things we don’t need. With gas and food taking up bigger chunks of our budgets, it’s a good time to re-assess how and what we consume. “There are two ways to get enough,” wrote G.K. Chesterton. “One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.”A few years ago I interviewed Geof and Christine Wilson after they hiked the entire Appalachian Trail. The experience changed them, they said.
“We’ve learned that we don’t need nearly as much stuff as we have to be happy and content,” Christine told me. “All of that stuff now really feels like a burden ó it kind of makes us anxious.”
Hearing their reflections made me think. How much do I have that I don’t need?
“He who buys what he doesn’t need steals from himself.” I don’t know who said that, but it makes sense to me.
Millions of us are overextended, living paycheck to paycheck, not necessarily because we don’t make enough money but because we’re addicted to shopping as entertainment and we allow ourselves to be manipulated by a constant barrage of advertising that makes us dissatisfied with what we have. Even kids are being plopped on the consumer treadmill, at younger and younger ages.
I don’t think I could make it as a full-fledged Compacter, but I have lived somewhat like one. When our kids were young and I had no income, I got into the habit of buying used. It seemed a fair tradeoff for being able to stay at home with my kids.
Most young kids ó unless they’ve been conditioned otherwise ó do not mind wearing or playing with stuff that isn’t brand new. (You should take advantage of this while they’re little, because older kids are going to get more persnickety.)You may just discover, as I did, that shopping at thrift stores can count as entertainment. It’s always a treasure hunt ó although like regular shopping, it can get out of hand if you lose perspective.
Reducing the need to buy new is easier if you’re tapped in to your community. Ask and ye just might receive.
In my Fulton Heights neighborhood, it’s not unusual for someone to send an e-mail out to our neighborhood list asking for something, or letting others know they have something to get rid of. Most recently, someone offered a bunch of children’s school uniform clothing for only $5 ó a boon for someone who could have spent 20 times that for new items. If you’d like to try The Compact, even if it’s not for a year, let me know. I’d love to write a story about your experience.
Maybe I’ll even join you ó for a while.
Contact Katie Scarvey at firstname.lastname@example.org.