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  • Writer's pictureSecond Opinion Magazine

Could You Go A Whole Year Buying Nothing New?

November 26 and 27, 2010: Buy Nothing Day (BND) is an international day of protest against consumerism

Every Holiday season Karen Heimdahal used to love to join the throngs of people hitting the stores and sales for that perfect present. But a few years ago, a light bulb went off and she drastically changed her shopping habits. It happened when the financial counselor for Lutheran Social Services of MN saw an increasing number of clients at her job who were paying LARGE credit card bills, accruing lots of debt, and not seeing anything for it. So she turned the lens on her own life. “My first thought was ‘well, I don’t need to do that, I don’t buy much stuff anyway.’ But then I realized that was an excuse.”

So her and her husband, Andy, joined Compact, a growing social movement to buy nothing new for 1 or more years, and haven’t looked back yet. The Compact, named after revolutionaries who sailed the Mayflower, started in 2004 with a San Francisco dinner party that decided they were going to organize themselves and dedicate their lives to one year of living more simply. They pledged not to buy anything new (almost) for an entire year. The only new products allowed were food and bare necessities for health and safety (think toilet paper, medicine, brake fluid and underwear). That year, their idea made big waves. Publications from Yoga Times to Martha Stewart’s Body + Soul to the London Times picked up on the story, and even Oprah’s producers called. The media attention almost created a backlash against the movement, to which original Compactor Shawn Rosenmoss replied, “I think it upsets people because it seems like we’re making a value judgment about them, when we’re simply trying to bring less…into our house.” In one year, the group attracted 1,800 people to their Yahoo! group and spawned SubCompact cells operating across the country.

“The Compact” Yahoo Group lists these items as their aims:
  1. To go beyond recycling in trying to counteract the negative lobal environmental and socioeconomic impacts of disposable consumer culture and to support local businesses, farms, etc. — a step that, we hope, inherits the revolutionary impulse of the Mayflower Compact. To reduce clutter and waste in our homes (as in trash Compact-er). To simplify our lives (as in Calm-pact) the group follows two principles:

  2. Don’t buy new products of any kind (from stores, web sites, etc.).

  3. Borrow, barter, or buy used. Exceptions, such as medicine, utilitarian services, and underwear are detailed on The Compact’s blog.

“I wasn’t sure she was going to be able to follow through,” said Karen’s husband, Andy. “In this consumer-driven society it seemed like a nearly impossible task.” It hasn’t been easy, but Karen’s dedication has impressed her friends and family. Some have said because of Karen and Andy’s commitment, they themselves have changed the way they buy – like saying no to plastic bags or thinking twice before buying something they really wanted rather than needed. Karen also says it’s taught her more patience and how to slow down, which she likes.

Sure the patience and persistence of finding great gifts takes a little more planning and creativity, but it’s completely worth it. “New to you” shows your loved ones they really are worth the effort.

Today, the group’s blog has links for nearly every state in the country, where you can join a local Compact movement or start your own. “We didn’t do this to save the world. We did this to improve the quality of our own lives,” says John Perry, another original Compactor. And that spirit of less is more still lives on, quite heartily, too. Books, films, and blogs documenting a year of buying nothing new have sprung up like weeds in a spring garden all across the globe. Think you’re up for the challenge? You can

check out the 2010 yahoo group and find out lots more. Most assuredly, another yahoo group will be created for 2011 Compactors. Wouldn’t that be quite the New Year’s Resolution?

Doing More with Less

Maybe you’re not quite ready to join the Compact, but how about making a few adjustments to reduce the commercial influence/reliance in your home? We found these simple living tips from the Country Lore department at Mother Earth News and just had to share them with you.

Mosquito Control Have a puddle, rain barrel, pond, or stock tank where mosquitoes seem to breed year after year? Stock it with goldfish, which thrive on mosquitoes and their larvae. They’ll also help control algae levels in the water. In our climate, you might want to rescue your goldfish from the water before it freezes, give them an indoor tank for the winter, and then send them out again once bugs are back in season.

Winter Squash Life Now that you’ve got that yummy squash down in your basement or cellar, you want it to last through the winter, right? To extend its life, dip the stem in melted beeswax or paraffin. If the stem is broken off (making the squash prone to early rot), apply wax to the scar to make the veggie less likely to spoil.

Signature Seasoning This simple recipe for herbal seasoning can replace the expensive blends you buy at the store – and makes for a great grilling gift. Mix 5 tablespoons of salt with 2 teaspoons each of the following: onion powder, garlic powder, celery seed, parsley, basil, oregano, basil, thyme and marjoram. Mix together before putting into a shaker bottle with large holes.

Repurposed Dishwasher Racks Here’s a great alternative to the often cheap or quick-to-rust dish-drying racks: use the old dish racks from discarded dishwashers. They’re big enough to hold pots and pans and are sturdier and more corrosion resistant than what you can normally get. Drying cutlery in the silverware basket from the dishwasher is also a clever step. Find old racks at a dump or recycling centers that accept appliances. Take end caps off the metal tracks, slide the rack out, remove the wheels and voilà.

Watch the Kitchen Waste Studies from 2009 show most people waste about 15% of the food that goes through their kitchen. To minimize the waste, use leftovers by combining them into wraps, omelets, soups, and casseroles. Make smoothies from fruit and veggies that are almost overripe. Bananas can be frozen, apples can be turned to applesauce, spinach and cabbage can be cooked up, etc. Make your own broth from meat and veggie trimmings and freeze for future use. Freeze stale bread and hard crusts for future use in bread pudding, bread crumbs, or French bread. And clean the fridge once a week so you have a more active awareness of what’s really in there.

Resources to help you on your compact journey is where you can swap books, cds, movies and video games for free! Swapping saves you money and saves the planet (member swaps: 1.7 million | member savings: $11.1 million | reduced carbon footprint: 10.0 million lbs.) This is the San Francisco Really Really Free Market website, but there are suggestions and ideas for starting your own in your community. Quit throwing stuff away and give it to someone who can use it instead. The Freecycle Network™ is made up of 4,852 groups with 7,584,213 members across the globe. It’s a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns and thus keeping good stuff out of landfills. Membership is free, and everything posted must be FREE, legal and appropriate for all ages. There are all sorts of local yahoo freecycle groups. To find one nearest you, search your location on the main website (listed above) and follow the steps to joining your own local freecycle group. Let your fingers do the thrifting!  A National Directory of charity-driven thrift stores by city, state and zip code. They have a wopping listing of 9589 stores so far and it’s growing. This is a virtual mall of kids stuff.  From clothing to strollers to diapering it has loads to swap.  When you sign up you get zoints and you use these as your currency when you want to send off stuff to someone else who can use it. There is even a FedEx and UPS tool that lets you print prepaid and preaddressed labels. Author and filmmaker Colin Beavan blogs about what we can do to “end our environmental crisis, make a better place to live for ourselves and everyone else, and hopefully come up with a happier way of life along the way.” And it’s not the kind of stuff that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and worthless.

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