The following is a guest post from Katy Wolk-Stanley, author of The Non-Consumer Advocate blog. In keeping with last week’s posts about clutter and stuff, Katy’s post illustrates the relationship between plastic consumption and consumerism. Enjoy!
My name is Katy Wolk-Stanley and I am a die-hard member of The Compact, (a worldwide buy nothing new movement) and have been since I joined up in January of 2007. I buy used gifts; I buy used school supplies; Heck, I even buy used sheets.
It may sound like a source of frustration to not be able to walk into a store and quickly grab life’s necessities, but nothing could be farther from the truth. It turns out that much of what I had been grabbing were not necessities, but lots of stuff that were simply wants.
Not buying new has actually freed my life up. Saving not only untold thousands of dollars, but forcing me to make conscious and deliberate decisions about my purchases and how I live my life.
I already considered myself a thrift store aficionado and my house bulged with clutter to prove it. Sure, it was cool clutter, but clutter nonetheless. Cool dishes, cool vintage linens, cool toys, I had it all. Unfortunately I was also buying all the new stuff as well. Combine the two, and something had to give.
A short wire service piece in the local paper in December of 2006 then caught my eye. A small group of San Francisco hipsters had spent the last year buying nothing new and calling themselves “The Compact.” They were shopping thrift stores, bartering and horror of all horrors — simply not buying at all!
“We’re just rarefied middle-class San Francisco greenies having a conversation about consumption and sustainability.”
I went into The Compact telling myself I would give it a month. What if I needed something? What about family birthdays? A month seemed about right, not too intimidating. I could handle a month.
The first year flew by with very few Compact exceptions. We bought a new glass carafe for our coffee maker as well as gifts for home-stay families that my son and husband would be staying with during a class trip to Japan. Besides that, I really can’t think of much else that needed purchasing.
Not only was I saving money, but I was experiencing a increased awareness of how the buy, buy, buy mindset of society was affecting our lives, our wallets and the environment.
I started to make other changes in my life.
I looked around my house and decided to put a full effort into de-cluttering. I donated to Goodwill a whopping 19 times in 2007, sometimes completely filling the mini-van with the excessive belonging that had been invited into my home.
I slowly began making other changes in my life as well. I began hanging my family’s laundry on a clothesline, turned my thermostat to 63 in the winter, (which nobody seemed to notice) mixed up my own laundry detergent and made a concerted effort to minimize my driving.
So what does this have to do with plastic? My increased awareness about sustainable living made me take a long hard look at how plastics have crept into my family’s life. Plastics were storing our foods, the kid’s school lunches and drinks; and replacing what had once been constructed from glass, wood and metal. When one of our wooden chairs broke, we were able to glue it back together. But when our plastic lawn chair broke it was transformed into a huge hunk of garbage.
I now try my very hardest to minimize the plastics that enter my home. I send the kids’ school lunches in stainless steel tiffins, refuse as much plastic food packaging as possible, bring my own reusable bags to the grocery store, (including lightweight produce bags) and have found a local recycler who accepts almost all forms of plastic.
Most of these changes save my family money, but most importantly we’re decreasing our energy consumption, minimizing our plastics usage and living a healthier life. Because The Compact is not about saving money; it’s about sustainability.
Luckily, frugality and sustainability are often one and the same.
Will I ever stop doing The Compact?
Well . . . I’ve actually started buying some new stuff when the big picture outweighs searching out the used. For example, I no longer want to be storing my food in plastic containers. This has meant that in addition to the couple scores of Goodwill Pyrex leftover containers, I splurged on a brand-spanking-new set. But in concordance with my conscious spending mindset, I noted that Pyrex is manufactured in the U.S. using union labor, plus the cardboard packaging was 100% recyclable!
I don’t think I will ever stop being part of The Compact, as my life has greatly bettered and my bank account has mysteriously plumped. And the plastics? Don’t miss them a whit!
What more could a girl ask for?
“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”