Jan 30, 2007

Podcast and an Australian Shopping Sabbatical

I did a great interview with Scott of the Money Blogger Podcast so I thought I'd post a link. He asked some really insightful questions and I think I came to understand more about my experiences w/ the Compact as a result of this interview.
He's also got some really interesting interviews on his blog, including one with Judith Levine (author of "Not Buying It: My Year without Shopping). Check it out at

And some Australian friends of the Compact are launching their own endeavour, called the Shopping Sabbatical. They sent along this nifty invitation that I can't seem to load here. But maybe you can find it on their new blog http://www.nomorestuff.blogspot.com/
So go, read, comment!

Jan 27, 2007

Really Really Free

I rode down to the Really Really Free Market yesterday, which was held outside the Montgomery St. Bart stationin solidarity w/ the SF anti-war march. In sharing our material goods, we talked about common values and worked on creating the change we want to see in our society. This was a great opportunity to meet like-minded folks and I encourage you to check for a RRFM in your area. If there isn't one, start one.
While there, I ran into fellow compactor, Sandy from the East Bay, and his lovely daughter, Emma. They're going to be on their way to Missouri for a move and I hope to relay some of his blog posts here. That's super interesting to me as (inshallah) I'll be going to grad school in the fall and so will be making a move myself. I feel so challenged by the Compact-transnational move that I've gone month to month w/ this venture. (Though there is a Compact Europe now, see the link to the right) Sandy and his family will be an inspiration; I'm glad someone is forging the path.

Jan 25, 2007

Compacting Other Businesses

Since folks are really into the idea of compacting your job, I started thinking about other businesses. I buy food and sometimes I think I spend extra time at the grocery store because I don't shop much of anywhere else. I'm also slightly in love w/ 2 cashiers at my favorite grocery store...
But yeah, I'm the wacko who holds up the line by carefully arranging my stuff into my messenger bag, all the while scowling at other customers loading up plastic and paper bags. I'm working on the scowl, I promise. Then I get the obligatory receipt and ask them to recycle it.
Sticking w/ food, I worked at a diner style restaruant for 5+ years. We dumped plasticware into every to go order when I'm sure many folks were going home to eat. Everytime I buy a burrito it's wrapped in tin foil, put into a paper bag, which is then put into a plastic bag (which I don't take, but most do).
I took a professional exception for shoes last year b/c I walk the hills w/ dogs all the time. But I was annoyed to buy shoes and watch the boxes go straight to recycling. Can't the manufacturers take them back? Brand new shoes were the only things in them.
How can we, as consumers (and we all consume something) change these standards? I love my grocery store b/c it's not corporate, but they don't have a bag recycling system and food receipts are useless.
Any small business owners out there have any suggestions on the best way to approach our favorite businesses about excess packaging and such?

Jan 24, 2007

Compacting your Job!

I have a fabulous job as a professional dog handler. Over the past few years, my employers at Pooches' Playtime have made a lot of efforts to green our small business (including letting me play recycling tyrant). I know that I'm lucky because I have kick ass employers, who also have their own dedication toward environmental stewardship. And you definitely have more influence in a small business than in a large one.
But by emphasizing savings and efficiency, many of us can mitigate the impact of our jobs. Maybe some of the changes we've made will give you some ideas for your job.

Water / Energy Use:
- We do a lot of laundry, but since the California energy crisis, we only wash full loads in off peak hours. We dry it outside on the chain link fence whenever possible.
- We've also learned that by using quick drying fabrics for dog beds, we save on the dryer time if we have to use it.
- Whenever possible, we make use of our grey water. Often for things like plants, or first scrub on the floors.

We converted to biodegradeable cleaners 3 years ago. Baking soda and vinegar are the most
commonly used in our facility. Borax and castille soap are also helpful. Safer for dogs, too!

- My bosses both drive hybrids for picking the dogs up at their homes for park outings.

Post It's be gone! We've found enough scrap paper to last a life time for notes and messages.
- We encourage our clients not to individually package their dogs' lunch/ boarding meals in plastic bags, but rather to bring one bag from which we'll scoop the portions.
- For poop, we only use bags that have been used before. We pick them up at Safeway from the recycling collection or take overflow from our clients.

Most Compact friendly of all, we encourage people to adopt dogs, rather than buy them from a breeder. We have a very successful foster care program through which we've placed over 75 dogs in the past 6 years. Right now we have 3 pugs, one pug mix, a chihuahua, and a yellow lab who all think compacting is cool. Beds are best when they've been worn in a bit!

Jan 23, 2007

3 R's, maybe 4

Yesterday I went to Office Max w/ my roommate who needed to get school supplies (pens, printer ink, and cd-rw discs). While we were there I saw a very low cost printer. It was cheap b/c it was refurbished. That got me thinking about Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and wondering where refurbishment falls into that scheme. I think Refurbishment is actually better than recycling b/c you don't have to alter the parts, just reassemble them.
Here are some EPA definitions and thoughts on the 3 R's. I added Refurbish between Reuse and Recycle.

Reduce: Waste prevention, or "source reduction," means consuming and throwing away less. Source reduction actually prevents the generation of waste in the first place, so it is the most preferred method of waste management and goes a long way toward protecting the environment.

Reusing items -- by repairing them, donating them to charity and community groups, or selling them -- also reduces waste. Reusing products, when possible, is even better than recycling because the item does not need to be reprocessed before it can be used again.

Refurbish To restore to attractive or serviceable condition; renovate.

Recycling turns materials that would otherwise become waste into valuable resources. here's more to recycling than setting out your recyclables at the curb. In order to make recycling economically feasible, we must buy recycled products and packaging.

Jan 20, 2007

Compacting Forms, Forms, & More Forms!

I just finished my federal taxes, killing about 12 trees in the process.
Why the hell I'm doing my taxes so early?
I need funding for graduate school and deadlines are March first!
Why the hell didn't I eFile?
I have my own business and another job, so I can't, unfortunately.
The initial forms are a only 8 pages, and of course I don't print out the instructions. I read them, just online. In fact, I read them several times. Outloud, inciting my roommate to declare, "You talk to yourself more than anyone I've ever met".
My roommate has not read the choose your own adventure that is the Lifetime Learning Credit form 8863. "If line 10 is equal to or greater than line 11, enter the amount from line 7 on line 13 and go to line 14. If line 10 is less than line 11, divide line 10 by line 11. Enter the result as a decimal (rounded to at least 3 places)." The first sentence was the only part I needed but the rest is just so over the top...

Even though I don't print out the instructions, I ineveitably maul the forms with my pitiful handwriting. But I keep these as my copies at least. I am always thrilled (ha) to fill out the FAFSA (Federal Application for Financial Student Aid) online, wow that's easier than taxes. Likewise my grad school apps were entirely online, even my reference forms. Encouraging.

The Paperwork Reduction Act is like the U.S. government's attempt at the compact. Poor trees.

Jan 18, 2007

Jubilee Attempted

Wow, my shopping skills are gone, not that they were ever that honed. I tried to have my Jubilee Day yesterday in celebration of my acceptance to grad school. I say "tried" because I failed to shop.
Yes, I browsed. I tried on windbreakers. I looked at sizes and saw the words "made in vietnam". I'd like to think that I didn't buy a new windbreaker because they were all ugly, not sufficiently reflective, and lacking removeable sleeves, but I'm not so sure. Perhaps my need for perfection has been amplified by the compact. If it isn't just right, I see 47 other reasons not to buy the jacket and walk away.
My current windbreaker is beyond embarrassing now. But it makes me feel safe when I ride so I wear it. Torn cuff, holy, unzipping pockets, stains and all.
There have been some comments on professional attire and the affect of second hand clothing on one's social/employment status. I have to say, I've always been lucky to be a professional dog walker: Canines do not mind chain oil stains on your ankles or tears on your cuffs. But I'm starting to feel a bit grungy. Only because I hate shopping, not because I can't find decent used clothes (windbreaker withstanding).

Jan 15, 2007

Thank You Dr. King

From "Letter from a Birmingham Jail"

"Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea...

You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches, and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of directl action. Non-violent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confont the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension a part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension". I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood."

Jan 14, 2007

yes, a new high

Thanks for the rockin' comments on the last post. I couldn't agree more that what we non-shoppers need is a new high to replace that euphoric feeling one gets from buying crap. For me, it tends to be cycling. That's definitely what got me through the urge to blow cash yesterday. I was riding my bike home, and that always clears my head.
The fact that I volunteer in habitat restoration and work as a dog walker gets me into the park system where I can enjoy that which I work to preserve. That's a really great feedback into my commitments.
But the emphasis doesn't have to be on the high, it could be on the new. Maybe that's where my frustration's coming from right now. I have all of these wonderful aspects of my life (cycling, dogs, parks, Arabic, etc) but I've been working at them for a while. I can remember times when a new component to my bike reinforced my enthusiasm for riding or a new idea for training made me excited to walk my dogs.
I guess I still don't fully understand how to update my life purely of my own ingenuity. Ya know, w/o stuff as the impetus. I have a couple of ideas though. I'll try riding to new places. I'm looking for a conversation partner to advance my Arabic skills. I'm working on an Earth Day project that's relevant to dogs and parks with some environmental orgs in SF.
Hopefully these things will be a more than adequate substitute for shopping as I'm kinda struggling through month 13 of the compact.

Jan 13, 2007

Union Square or the Twilight Zone?

Today I was in Union Square supporting some street theater aimed to draw attention to the plight of 395 men still detained at Guantanemo Bay. These are the things that take me to Union Square. I've never actually shopped there, can hardly afford to do so. I see Union Square and all the corporate shops while I'm at Critical Mass or for the occasional demonstration, like today. I used to pass it on my way to Arabic class but my school moved so I'm spared that now.

So yeah, two hours at Union Square was kind of annoying. While just over half of the shoppers were into us, nearly all were swamped with brightly colored bags w/ over displayed slogans and logos. Walking billboards. If you know you're going shopping, take your own bag. Spare yourself the embarrasment of being a tool for these companies.

The scene was nauseating and I felt really distanced from a lot of the shoppers. Some of them looked so familiar and I felt some jealousy toward the carefree women in tons of makeup and jewlery, loaded down with exciting new purchases. Not concerned at all with how that product was made, advertised, and delivered to the nearest Macy's. Asking me for directions to Bloomingdales (like I fucking know). Not concerned with what's going on in our American names while we get high on the haze of consumerism.

I'm serious, despite my orange attire, I was turning a pale green. It stuck with me as I rode my bike away from the demo. I was wondering what I could justify buying. I keep fantasizing about going to get bike gear for Aids LifeCycle. Damn I want a new toy.

I settled for an over packaged burrito and came home.

Jan 10, 2007

on retail therapy

So I've had a couple of bad days. Chalk it up to family stuff and "the surge". I woke up this morning and had a hellacious urge to shop. I'm not kidding. I was quoted in an article as saying that the impulse buying wanes after a year compacting. I stick to that, but a sudden attack of the retail therapy virus was shocking.
To relieve myself of the symptoms (pensive account monitoring, racing thoughts of Valencia St.) I found some books to sell to a shop. I got some credit and picked up a (used) copy of an Edward Said book.
Then I went to Community Thrift to buy some new glasses. We constantly break them in our apartment, so we're mostly on to plastic. But I got three great glasses, one of which I broke before I got home. That's what happen when you transport glass on a bike.
In the fever of this virus, I wanted to declare today my Jubilee Day, and just go wild buying new stuff. Damn I want a new wind breaker. My best friend told me my current one is "beyond help". But the fierce wind actually kept me from going to See Jane Run for a new jacket! Ha! Guess the urge to shop wasn't as strong as I originally thought.

Jan 9, 2007

Tips on linking up w/ folks in your area

I've gotten lots of requests to post links to this blog for regional compact groups. I've had some admin switching to do, but I'll post a long list soon.
Until then, if you want to find folks, you can search on yahoo for "compact" and your area (mostly by state, a few cities, and the South).
Or you can join the main yahoo group. If you join the main yahoo group, set your membership preference to "web only" or your inbox will be flooded w/ several hundred messages per day.
that's the not so fun side of the main group, but the nice part is there is a file "Directory of Local Compacts" or something like that, which lists the regional groups. You can also put up a post to try to find other folks in your area. I'd definitely ask people to respond directly if you go this route.

I've gotten some enlightening feedback on military family budgets. I'll try to mesh it all together in the next couple of days. Truly it's a lesson in civics.
And I'm getting more and more interested in the idea of faith and materialism. I'm really excited to see other people talking about this! As a conservationist, I'm often trying to bring together groups that think they're in opposition to one another (think sportsmen and water activists). But often with environmental issues, there's a natural synergy that develops around the stewardship of land. I'm stoked to see people engaging in a similar conservation about a religious mandate to care for the earth.
Whatever reaches people. One day the right winger will lay down by the left winger.

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.

Jan 4, 2007

Wow, so many people have joined the yahoo group today. In approving some of these requests to join, I was struck by some common motivations and lifestyles among people. And there were some exciting outliers.
- So many moms and dads mentioned in their emails that they want to teach their kids that there's more to life than stuff. That rocks people.
- A few folks mentioned their faith as the genesis of their commitment to reduce attachment to crap. One comment was in particular reference to being a better steward of Earth.
- Again we had folks mentioning the difficulty of living with military budgets. I'd love to hear more from these folks so I can blog about it. Email me.
- We have a new compacter from Indonesia among many other places.

Answering some comment questions:
I have an ibook (G4). Have not gone for the cord yet. I'm still looking for one used.
Regarding linens: Some folks just need to have new bedding I think. I'm cool w/ used. Perhaps that one purchase makes it easier for someone to keep up with the commitment for a longer period of time.
I replaced the helmet. Training for Lifecycle and my family gave me a ton of shit.
Be forgiving of yourself and others. That was one the best sticker I ever saw on a bike. So simple, but really pertinent to my own life.
With all of the media coverage, more regional groups are springing up or expanding. I've been getting a lot of requests via this blog to post links for those groups. That will always take me a while to get to, but you can post your own link to the yahoo group, which attracts way more people than the blog. There's a file for regional groups, and you can post a message to the list. It's great to hear from so many people from all around the world. Folks who have been living like this for years and others who are just going to give it a whirl.

On the media madness, I'm finished w/ radio interviews, unless there's a public, collective, or pirate radio request. No more Clear Channel interviews for me. There are other compacter's who will go for those I think. I can forward requests but I can't really talk in sound bites or get angry at "the corporations" while talking on a Clear Channel station. The hosts have been nice, one was even honestly questioning how his station can advertise to a progressive audience in a socially respectable way.

I've been asked some great questions lately, but there are some that never get asked. I wish someone would ask me to trace a product, like a book or cotton sweater, from extraction to retail. It gives a great opportunity to talk about the various reasons people have chosen to compact. And it could take an entire interview, leaving no time to ask me whether or not I think not shopping is un-American.

Jan 2, 2007

compact karma gone awry

If you've read the AP article on the compact or my post about the stolen bike seat, then you know that I've had some really good luck finding stuff I need while compacting. Something weird is in the air as of late though.
I've been a dog and cat sitter for six years, and have never really had anything of mine destroyed until recently when a pittie ate my helmet. This past weekend a wily cat ate through the power cord for my laptop. The crazy part of all of this is that both items were brand spakin' new when attacked by the anxious jaws of Bella and Sybil - two very sweet critters. (The helmet is a safety item. The power cord was given to me by a friend who borrowed my laptop while I was traveling. He was tired of using the soddered, sparking fire hazard that I delivered w/the computer.)

I tried to get a used power cord before but no one wants to give those up. Might have to grab a new one on Jubilee Day. Can't believe I have to brave the Apple store again! Temptation.