a little east of reality

Saturday, December 30, 2006

shepherds, not sheep

I love this story from the Washington Post that was posted on Aaron's blog about 10 friends who made a compact to not buy anything new for a year. Obviously there are exceptions ~ food being a rather important one ~ but for the most part they've been amazingly successful at being reusers/recyclers and not consumers.
We didn't do this to save the world. We did this to improve the quality of our own lives. And what we learned is that we all have a lot of more stuff than you think, and that you can get along on a lot less stuff than you can imagine.
I wouldn't have embraced a challenge like that three years ago. I was new to Canberra and most of my household items were back in Japan. I needed some basics and in a hurry. I'm not saying I couldn't have followed their example, just that I was too impatient to set up house to really consider the idea. Though to be fair to myself, it is really only the electrical goods and the kitchenware in my house that are new. My lounge suite, dining table and the rug under it, chairs, beds and wardrobes were all bought secondhand. And I'm cool with that.

What I have bought without much self-control are the smaller things in the house and the general clutter of life. And now I feel like my house is full of stuff I don't really need. A little new year's resolution to halt the buying process might be very good for me. I've been aquisitive in the past, and then I wasn't for a long time. It was a welcome change. Lately I find myself back in an old habit of browsing catalogues to see what I might want to buy. I'm still in the early stages, where I am mostly seeing something cool and then saying 'but I don't need it' and move on, but that could so easily change.

One thing that didn't surprise me in the article was the anger these people have experienced from others at their decision to stop buying just for the sake of buying, and to use their creativity instead of their credit card.

Some have called the Compactors un-American, anti-capitalist, eco-freak poseurs whose defiant act of not-consuming, if it caught on, would destroy the economy and our way of life.

"We're just rarefied middle-class San Francisco greenies having a conversation about consumption and sustainability," says John Perry, a marketing executive with a high-tech firm, and one of the founding Compactors. "But suddenly, we decide we're not going to buy a bunch of new stuff for a year? And that's international news? Doesn't that say something?"

"I think it upsets people because it seems like we're making a value judgment about them," says Rosenmoss, who has two children. "When we're simply trying to bring less . . . into our house."

This idea that we have to spend money in stores to make the world a better place is killing our planet, keeping families in debt and really benefitting the few much more than the many. The benefits of money circulating through the economy would be effected much more efficiently by fair wages and a few more companies deciding not to move offshore with their factories. These same companies (read the plot synopsis) scream 'buy! buy! buy!' the loudest and do the least to change things for anyone's benefit but their own. (See: the Coles/Myer group if you're Australian and Walmart if you're in the US.) The scary thing is that regular people support this bad behaviour when they tell people they are hurting others when they don't buy.

I think these 'Compacters' should be applauded and emulated - how fantastic to have friends that get together to make such a great goal and then support each other in achieving it all year long. They've really made me think, and I'm not the only one.
Their user group on Yahoo has grown to 1,800 registered members, representing SubCompact cells operating across the country (including Washington), and around the planet.

The online Compact community ( http://groups.yahoo.com/group/thecompact) spends enormous amounts of typing-time discussing things most Americans probably do not. Such as how to make soap. Or whether a mousetrap counts as a safety necessity. Or how to explain to your children that Santa Claus traffics in used toys.
I think more than any other kind of news I enjoy stories about people who realise that 'the system' is not working for them and seek a better and happier way to live. Shepherds, not sheep. I am one of these in theory, but I need to be one more often in practice.