Jan 5, 2007

There have been lots of comments, questions, and discussions about how the choice to compact relates to poverty. Many of the folks who have read about our initial challenge consider us to be self congratulatory and elitist. Of course, I have a reaction to this as these characterizations are being leveled at myself and my friends.

I won't delineate my poverty pedigree as is so popular in our culture, but consider that many of the values of the compact are quite in line with frugality and simplicity, concepts often imposed and transfered by the restraints of class and income.
As an American, I consider myself to be quite privileged. My understanding of this country's consumption habits have significantly inspired my decision to limit the amount of new products that I buy in an attempt to shrink my own ecological footprint.

That the compact inspires people to think and talk about poverty is positive overall. The compact is a choice, one that, as many have said, most poor people are not afforded. But we've seen hundreds of people join the compact saying that their financial situation inspires them to do so. That's, in part, because our entire society has some relationship to this overconsumption glut. It's also worth noting that the environmental problems that inspire many other compacters (myself included) are largely generated by the middle and upper classes. We need to take some responsibility for solving these problems.

I'll leave the distribution of wealth for another day. There's enough for folks to hate on here.

25 comments:

Lauren Horton said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

There was an article about ‘Compact’ in the Sydney Morning Herald this weekend that urged me to have a look at your blogspot. I think it’s a great idea to be 'compact' and something that should inspire a lot of Australians to do.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, we spent 23.7 billion dollars on Christmas shopping, which seems so ridiculous firstly because I believe we are living in a time of 'faux richness' where everything just goes on credit, secondly do we ever really need the things we receive or buy for ourselves? Usually not.

I work part-time in a designer jewellery/homewares shop where regular customers spend upwards of $30,000 a year on a collection of jewellery/homewares that requires them to build cabinets just to house it all. This makes me sad to think of what that money could do for people less fortunate than themselves.

Since coming back from India last year I have cut back my spending on 'things' and 'objects' to a bear minimum. Cause 'things' like new designer glasses, bags, shoes or clothes or jewellery will only make you happy until the next new 'thing' comes along and that sounds like a pretty shallow existence to me.

I am happy to say that I too am compact, and plan to keep living the same way for the rest of my life…cause you can’t take ‘things’ to the grave!!!

Anonymous said...

There was also an article in the age in melbourne, aus. Although I am encouraged by the philosophy of your actions, i was worried that by promoting this line of anti-consumerism, you are forgetting that there are more effective and intelligent ways to approach the subject of materialism.
It is not just the accumulation of "stuff" that is the problem, it is where you purchase it. I am encouraged by your obvious endorsment of local business, but by not buying anything, you could be sending your local shop keeper out of business, and then forcing your philosphy on them, as they could no longer afford to buy anything new.

It said in the article that you could by basic necessities, such as toothpaste and soap, from a major drug company? or food, like the starbucks you got on the way to work? not buying anything is in a way giving up. Support local, kill the global. the person next to you could really appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

Probably part of the problem with the feedback is that you are thrusting a subculture into mainstream ideology--and lots of people are loving it! Of course, there's a mainstream backlash. That said, anonymous from Melbourne made some really good points to ponder.

rachel said...

I don't go to Starbucks on my way to work. I go to Phil's. Handmade, locally owned, small business.
I absolutely agree that where we shop is a high priority, but beyond that, we buy a lot of stuff we don't need. The compact does not prevent us from buying necessities or from supporting local restaraunts, hair cutters, grocery stores, pet stores, etc. And if I break my commitment, you'll find me buying my coffee cup at a local shop.

To suggest that we "could be sending your local shop keeper out of business, and then forcing your philosophy on them" is bizarre. It's not my responsibility to make sure that my local shop keepers can buy new things for themselves. In making this statement, you force the consumer system onto me, saying that I MUST SHOP.

Anonymous said...

To Melbourne -

People who want to own local shops will sell what there is a demand for. If people are buying goods and having the items they have repaired, then local shops will be created to sell used items and repair items. In taking away one demand, another one is created.

Canuckfurby said...

I am puzzled by the folks who feel by consuming less they will put shopkeepers out of business. There are trades that have virtually disappeared since my childhood because of easy credit and spending habits. The upholsterer's shop, the cobbler's shop, the seamstress, the appliance repair shop were all places I remember well. It is difficult to find these services now. These people all had to move to different lines of work.

pattipatpat said...

Another aussie here to say, good on you, go for it! We need this idea, along with the conscientious consumerism mentioned here that I have practiced for years. What little fruit, vegetable, meat, pharmaceuticals and clothes I buy I buy only from independents, with supermarkets only patronised for basic foodstuffs. A Canadian produced programme some months back showed how every dollar spent at local businesses benefitted the community about three times as much as one spent at a global business. Mentioned here also, for instance, if you buy a good pair of shoes at an independent and then have them repaired at a cobbler, that saves 3 pairs from the rubbish tip and also keeps someone in work. There's lots of ways we can help save the planet and our sanity!

Anonymous said...

I believe that one of the reasons that local shopkeepers go out of business, is because big businesses like Coles Myers decide to build huge shopping complex’s right next to them in small towns such as Oatley, Sydney, rather than because we decide not to consume as much from them.

I also think that compact are talking about the necessities rather than the essentials that are being cut out of their lifestyle. We are living in a ‘throw away’ society…a fickle society that can be lead too easily by advertising and the lure of what that new product can do for you.

I worked in advertising for 6 years and recently quit because we made a commercial for a product that didn’t work…it went to air and the client probably made a fortune…advertising and my moral values don’t seem to sit very well and in turn my desire to consume 'as much' has changed.

Anonymous said...

My daughter and I made a promise yesterday to not buy anything new for the next week. I know it's not very big, but we hope to be able to expand it into two weeks, a month, a year... I can't speak for her, but my reasons are twofold: to have a smaller footprint on our world and to simplify my life. Thanks so much for the inspiration!

Michelle Cavanagh said...

I too saw the article in the SMH which made me check out your blogspot. we have been following the general philosphy ourselves for some time now. i am the mother of six - all now adults - and one grandchild. three years ago, after going down the route of spending like crazy at christmas time, we decided to do the secret santa thing. now we only have to buy one present to a minimum value of $50. we don't include the children in this but for myself i bought most of the children's presents from the oxfam shop. when i couldn't find anything suitable in the oxfam shop i bought a book written by an australian author. since i'm an author myself i support the 'australian voices in print' concept. secret santa works wonderfully well, you actually need to be more thoughtful using this method and you don't run around the shops like a chicken with its head cut off!
incidentally i have just come back from the movies where we saw "heading south" starring charlotte rampling. i suggest members of compact catch the movie if possible because in part, it relates to the haves and have nots in this life.
And don't forget there is always the recycling idea - see sites such as http://www.freecycle.org/
congratulations to you all and keep up the good work!!

Michelle Cavanagh said...

AND of course i encourage everyone to buy from the local markets - which are certainly springing up here in sydney at a rapid pace - instead of the big supermarkets. that probably goes with out saying !!

Jay Z said...

hey excuse me may i please join this blog?

Anonymous said...

It's funny how the common jerked knee reflex to assertions about bailing on consumption bloat turn on fears of a collapsed economy.

To me it is more about an allocation reshuffle. The money goes to thrift shops and small businesses or is saved instead of pouring into the usual suspects like Ikea or Home Depot.

And the habit of buying cheap goods from the PRC is just increasing trash as a lot of the stuff is too shoddy to use. It breaks out of the box.

And yet, the national after market, used goods from stores or craigslist is full of sturdy stuff from the days when manufacturing was done here.

So quality goes up while cost goes down or equals the shoddy semi fake thing that breaks but is 'new'.

I'm corresponding with a noted economist on this about such things as how would this impact the huge trade deficit if it becomes a national trend.

It is also an essential initial step toward preparing for the changes needed to build a sustainable world and move past the sloppy Oil model.

I've heard the New Zealanders have lived like this for years and just keep old stuff like 1940's tub washers working because their remoteness makes bloated consumption an unappealing model.

I just found out that my original manifesto on this from the fall of 2001, 'Slob Chic' will appear at the top of the search page in google linking to the version in my blog.

It's inspired me to make a Slob Chic tracking category for regular essays on the idea along with helpful tips.

Anonymous said...

Given that almost all the repondants to this post are Aussies, perhaps we should start a local Compact group (I don't know how to do this myself.)

I find restricting consumerism very difficult with four kids who *love* new stuff, though they are happy with hand-down clothes, fortunately. I feel in Oz it is acceptable to buy new necessary environmental items such as trigger hoses, water tanks, dripper systems etc (we have stage 3 restictions here) -- perhaps we could make this type of exception in our local group.

Anonymous said...

Given that almost all the repondants to this post are Aussies, perhaps we should start a local Compact group (I don't know how to do this myself.)

I find restricting consumerism very difficult with four kids who *love* new stuff, though they are happy with hand-down clothes, fortunately. I feel in Oz it is acceptable to buy new necessary environmental items such as trigger hoses, water tanks, dripper systems etc (we have stage 3 restictions here) -- perhaps we could make this type of exception in our local group.

amy said...

I was happy to see a piece on The Compact run today in the Stateman Journal in Salem, OR.

My reflections on commercialism are resulting in some similar decisions. For me it's a realization that *I* strap myself with an incredible burden when I act as a consumer for reasons other than need.

Now don't get me wrong, I'll never be living in a cabin in the woods churning my own butter, but I have come to realize that the rampant consumer lifestyle is one of shackles, not freedom. At least for someone like me with a decent, but not limitless, income.

In fact, the result has been the accumulation of debt, debt that is easy to ignore or at least make minimum payments and think, "Hey, I'm doing okay... they keep raising my credit limit so it must be okay, right?"

So while I really REALLY wanted an iPod Nano, fact is I have a 2nd generation iPod that, while not as cool, works as it should. It pipes music into my ears and fits in the palm of my hand -- what real value would I gain from buying a new one, and in turn how many hours would I consign myself to toil in order to pay for it?

For my husband and it, the big "aha!" came when we spent a month saving EVER receipt for EVERY purchase we made. We put them up on a huge tackboard, and we overflowed it onto the walls. IT was... disturbing. The frequency with which we went to some locations, the simple amount of time generating those receipts took... no wonder we didn't feel we had enough time to read, to reflect, to talk with friends, to just BE. We were spend so much time being consumers.

So we're started many new habits and the results are buying less, buying less often, and making sure we make the best use of what we have, whether that's using it ourselves or finding another home for it through Freecycle or selling it on Craigslist.

And finding a lot of time to relax and enjoy the home we've worked so hard for.

Anonymous said...

Let me Congratulate you for presenting me and to the whole world a solution to a basic problem to which no practical steps has been taken by the so called leaders of our society.
I would also like to share with you my personal experience, regarding doing these type of work,that we the people are not ready to accept any new thought even if we consider ourselves very modern and progressive. So please don't loose heart. Don't react to the negatives. We are here to show the whole world an escape route from the inevitable destruction the whole mankind is facing today.
Allow me to present my feelings towards the noble mission you have started a year back. Our journey will be much easier if we can ensure the following two things;

1)Simple Mind- Our Mind is programmed by tons of ideas,beliefs,likes,dislikes etc.through our complex education system and the onslaught of information sources. We need to come down to the base point and start afresh like a simple human being.I believe if we can try to achieve a Simple Mind the other things will fall automatically on to their proper places.

2)Wealth Shedding-- I believe the root cause of the problem is the accumulation of wealth in the hands of the people disproportionate to his/her need to provide for food, clothing,shelter and the basic necesities (the limit set individually)a modern man can expect to have.So, we have to shed or share our wealth, in excess of our needs,with our fellow members on this earth. We need to do this because sharing,caring,loving etc. are the basic qualities available predominantly in a human being.

Allow me to be with you to be with you in your journey and share some of your burdens on this path.

Supriyo,
Kolkata,India

Echoes said...

Supriyo makes a valid and worthwhile point - it is a mindset; a desire for simplicity that can translate into a life that accomodates the compact.

My partner and I left corporate jobs in 1994 to open an antique shop. Over the years, we've developed a life and lifestyle that encompasses the principles of this movement, without really realizing we were doing so. The more I read in this blog, the more I realized we've been following the rules. Not a stick of furniture we own was purchased new, though every piece is higher quality than most new made furniture. Our glassware, from everyday 70's tupperware to Waterford crystal goblets all came from other dealers, garage sales or auctions. We do buy new clothes, but a lot of what we own and wear is vintage. Because we are a business we tend to be hard on vehicles so we'd never buy a new van or truck - always used, then overhauled by a friend who is a mechanic; kept on the road for as long as humanly possible without risking life and limb. Our garden, the talk of our block, is gorgeous, and every plant comes from friends, cuttings, neighbors - and we give cuttings and over growth as gifts often. And since we sell folk art and hand made items in our store, we make our own bath products for retail sale - no need to purchase any of that either and the quality is much better than store bought. We haven't eaten in a fast food or chain restaurant since the mid 90's. Not out of any sense of righteousness, but because there are many privately owned restaurants in our area. And as business owners ourselves, we understand the importance of supporting small business.

Anyway, I digress. The point is that once your heart is in it, the body and the life follows. It wasn't all that long ago that everyone lived lives of less comsumption and greater simplicity. Just ask your grand or great grandma. And it doesn't mean poverty. As I said earlier, our home is filled with wonderful pieces, our garden is spectacular, our vehicles are solid, safe, functional and in compliance with local clean air standards. Our dogs are both rescue adoptions. And when we do have to purchase something new, we consider the best way to do that, too. We aren't as well to do as we were when we were bankers. But we are a heck of a lot happier.

Thanks for listening :-)

Anonymous said...

Amy - I had the same experience when I created a budget spreadsheet to see where all our money went. Whoops - now I know! Needless to say some changes have been made.

Anonymous said...

Social changes come about through the visions of groups such as Compact. Such change will not come from government but from the people.

Stamford University studies show that when 5% of the populous accept a new idea it becomes 'embedded'. By the time 20% have accepted it, it is unstoppable.

For those Aussies reading this might I suggest you check out the Australian Conservation Foundation's Greenhome program online. There are many ideas well worth following there.

Let's work on the 20% model!

Anonymous said...

After hearing about the compact, I decided that it would be a good idea for several reasons. In no particular order, I like to shop, I am poor (working in nonprofit and having Sallie Mae own your head doesn't help) and I am a little fed up with the waste. Most importantly, there are so many out there that don't have the ability to go on a spending hiatus. Unlike the people who made this pact, and perhaps many others, I do not come from a priveleged background. I will never forget the 9 months of my life that I was homeless in the Bay Area, sometimes crashing at work or Denny's, sometimes sneaking in a friends room. Unlike the unfair assumptions that people make about those who do not have a home, i was not on drugs and I was not unemployed. I simply could not live within my means. And here I am today, making more money than I have (still nonprofit) and I continue to struggle- and more importantly our poverty problem continues to worsen.
So I am joining the compact. February 18 I will cease shopping for the unnecessary (sorry, I might need retail therapy to make it through Valentine's day). If I slip, I will donate $100 dollars to an organization that is working to fight for fair housing and end homelessness. Our culture has lost its way, and I think there's a way in your life you can be a consumer and support our economony and not overspend and overwaste. Hopefully this year will help me find a balance.

Sandy said...

It's good to see this happening with lots of people in the rest of the country. I have lived the past 6 years in a small Alaskan village which only has a basic grocery/hardware store, with the nearest actual shopping mall more than 200 miles away, and only accessible by commercial airline. For the twenty years prior to that we lived in an even smaller village with a store that only stocked paper and canned goods, so we have long lived with the restraints these people have chosen. It really isn't that difficult when you really stop to decide if something is a "need" or a "want", and up until a few years ago when internet actually began working well here, shopping was just too hard! Enjoy the experience, you will find it very freeing eventually.

Green Brandon said...

Really interesting post. I'm one of the people who were inspired by you who is dealing with money issues. Not poverty, exactly. I come from a lower-middle class family, and for the last 6 years I've been working part-time and putting myself through school. Consequently, I have a large debt, and very little disposable income. I won't try and pretend that I'm poor, because I have a roof over my head, food on the table, and I'm getting a good education, mostly thanks to having found a decent job. Money has been a huge stressor, however, and I'm tired of living on the cusp of financial ruin. So, I'm not buying anything non-essential in January, and then I'll see how long I can keep it up after that. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

Caroline Morris said...

Just a quick note- I am also from Oz and saw the article about Compact in the Melbourne Age (although I live in a rural area). It was really great to see publicity for Compact and to know that the ideas behind it are being spread far and wide- just the number of Aussies replying to this is a great indication! The Compact philosophies match my own (although I have not been so strict) and I'd be keen to be in touch with other Aussies to share ideas, tips etc. (Not sure how to do this though without publishing my email address and inviting even more spam...)

Cheers, Caroline