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Katy Wolk-Stanley

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Could You Go a Year Without Buying Anything New? How About Five Years?

Posted: 07/25/2012 1:18 pm

If you viewed my life from the outside, it would seem pretty damned normal. I live in a generously sized house in a lovely Portland, Ore. neighborhood. I work part-time as a labor and delivery nurse, attend my teenage sons' soccer games and generally don't stand out too much.

In other words, your run-of-the-mill 44-year-old American woman.

But there is one thing that sets me apart from the other soccer moms, which is that I am a member of "The Compact." And no, that doesn't mean that I practice polyamory, weave my own caftans and practice 140-degree yoga. It means that I don't buy anything new.

I buy nothing new.

And I've been doing this since January of 2007. But let me start at the beginning. "The Compact" was started by a group of friends in San Francisco who were fed up with the role that consumerism was playing in their lives. So they made an agreement to buy nothing new for the entirety of 2006. No big deal, right? Well, the word spread like wildfire, and soon enough they started doing interviews both print and television and when December of 2006 rolled around, a small article showed up in the Oregonian, my newspaper. It grabbed my attention.

Could I last an entire year without buying anything new? I was already a thrift shop diva, but mostly for collectibles. I was skeptical. What if I needed something and couldn't find it used? So I decided to start slowly and see if I could go the single month of January without buying anything new. (I knew I was in a privileged position to have a choice of buying new vs. used, knowing so many people have no choice in the matter. It humbled me.)

To ensure that The Compact was doable, I came up with a list of personal exceptions of stuff I was allowed to buy new. Like underwear, toothbrushes, bras, socks and of course, consumables and personal care items. (No used tampons for me!)

My husband thought I was nuts, but that was nothing new.

January came and went without any difficulties, so I settled into the mindset of anything new has to be used. I logged into The Compact Yahoo Group almost daily for ideas and inspiration, frequently adding my own two cents.

You would think that barring oneself from buying new would be a pain in the tuchus, but really it isn't. Portland area thrift stores are filled to the rafters with, well... everything. And it's not a situation where I put mumbo-jumbo energy out into the universe to receive my needed items, there is simply too much stuff being currently manufactured. Period.

But a funny side effect happened as result of joining The Compact: directing so much focus onto my consumer habits made me examine other areas of my life as well. I began decluttering my house, and then donated load after load of excessive household belongings to Goodwill. I took a hard look at how much electricity my family was using and started hanging our laundry on a clothesline. I walked instead of drove and enjoyed the benefits. So when 2008 rolled around, I continued my Compact journey and even began writing The Non-Consumer Advocate, a blog which continues to this day.

My blog's tagline is "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without." And I mean it. I mend or repair instead of replace whenever possible, keep a tight eye on food waste, borrow instead of buy, and make do with fewer belongings. And when I broke our tea kettle beyond repair, I simply boiled water in a small saucepan until I could find a suitable replacement, which only took a week and set me back a budget-friendly $4.99.

It's been over five years since I made the commitment to stop buying new, and I don't see why I would ever need to stop. My family produces so little garbage that we easily share pickup with a neighbor, we enjoy a less cluttered home and we've saved countless thousands of dollars as a result.

My husband? He's come around on the issue, although he finds the used shoes thing to be seriously disgusting. So he buys new shoes for himself. He still thinks I'm nuts, but that's OK.

After all, I am The Non-Consumer Advocate.

 
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