During this holiday shopping season, a heck of a lot of people are using the Internet to indulge their consumer tendencies. Some others, including my wife and I, are trying to use technology in a different way -- to turn against consumerism.
Lisa and I first heard about the Compact, a group of people who swore off buying nearly any new products for a year, on public radio. But the group, which launched about a year ago, has spread its anti-consumerist message through a blog and a super-active e-mail discussion list.
The group's founders started it for a number of reasons: to simplify their lives, to reduce waste and clutter in their lives, and to strike back against the modern throw-away culture, where even expensive products like computers, television sets and kitchen appliances get discarded after a few years. The group wanted to "go beyond recycling in trying to counteract the negative global environmental and socioeconomic impacts of US consumer culture, to resist global corporatism, and to support local businesses, farms, etc.," according to the Compact blog.
As practiced by strict adherents, the Compact seems to be a form of anti-e-commerce. The founders of the group came up with a list of rules, including exceptions to the not-buying-anything-new rule. Obviously, it'd be tough to find used food, although there's a movement called the Freegans who try to do just that. But scrounging for food in dumpsters isn't everyone's idea of a fun Saturday night, so food is one of the exceptions in the Compact.
Medicine is also an exception, but "elective treatments like Viagra or Botox" are banned. Compacters are allowed to buy new socks and underwear, but not "couture or ornamental" undies.
So the rules may seem a bit subjective. It's OK to pay for downloaded music (no packaging), but it's apparently against the rules to buy blank CDs if you want to burn that music. Huh?
And yes, this all may be a little liberal-hippyish for some people's sensibilities. However, moderate and conservative religious leaders have long preached against the dangers of consumerism, and several Evangelical leaders have focused on environmental concerns in recent years.
For my wife and I, the decision to follow the Compact, or at least a liberal interpretation of its rules, was prompted by several factors, all tried together in one big lump of consumerism.
We had a baby just over a year ago, and we're trying to remodel our basement to add some useable space in our smallish 1950s Cape Cod. Even though we've lived here just five years, our basement is full of ... stuff. Just this morning, I was trying to clear space for a contractor to do some work on a natural gas line, and there was all this junk in the way. Where did we get all this stuff?
As Lisa put it, "Every time we try to do something [in the basement], it becomes apparent that we've shoved stuff into every corner and crevice of this house."