A Compact New Year

You’ve heard of compact cars, but have you heard of The Compact? The idea was created by a group of friends in San Francisco who came up with the not-so-crazy notion that it would be possible to live off of the refuse of modern society for a year. Aside from food, underwear and toiletries, they would only buy used items for a year. This concept has spawned a yahoo group and a number of compact-oriented blogs.

At our house, we tend to consume very little that is new. I just received a load of extruded foam insulation off Freecycle and a table off Craigslist, and I’m using them to insulate our worm bins. Freecycle is a fabulous resource for those who seek to buy used: it’s an email group that is regional in nature, where people post wanted and offered ads by the dozens. You generally need to pick up the materials that you ask for or request. The items that people want to get rid of are endless. In the past, we’ve gotten a jogging stroller off Freecycle that led me through training for a marathon. The used and free sections of Craigslist are a similar wellspring of used goodies.

In my somewhat younger years, I was a devotee of The Tightwad Gazette. I liked it not just for its emphasis on frugality but for its emphasis on creativity. Finding and using secondhand objects is an inherently creative process. There’s the thrill of the hunt, the joy of the find, and the wondering how you’re ever going to make this into something usable. Then there’s the pride in knowing that you have an old headboard standing sideways in your vegetable patch. At least, there is for me.

Why am I a little nervous about buying into The Compact? For one thing, I am a bit concerned about the useful objects that I planned to invest in during the new year. I am hoping to get some dimmable compact florescent light bulbs or new dimmable LEDs to replace the incandescent bulbs in our dimmers. Until relatively recently, we could only use energy-wasting bulbs in these fixtures, but that’s going to change. I might be able to find them used, but chances are I will get them new. The energy savings are worth it. Some investments in our home are hard to get used, yet they will pay back in energy and water savings. They’re an investment in conservation, even though they don’t follow the “buy used” rule.

I am also striving to go car-free for a couple of months in the new year. For many years, I purposefully had no driver’s license until I realized that people were making two round trips to pick me up, and that sometimes it would make more ecological sense for me to drive myself. At the moment, I am the proverbial lady who drives to church on Sunday, I use a car only on the weekend, and we’re striving to carpool to church in the new year. The problem? Generally Sundays are also my free and used stuff run, when I pick up used needful things on my way to or from our other errands. So I’ll need to think of other, more creative ways to get my used stuff; maybe I’ll find ways not to need it at all.

This new year, I’m looking at ways to make our life more compact; to use less and to use what we need and adapt what we have. Here’s to a Compact new year, whatever your iteration of it. Whether you’re planning to reduce your car usage, eat locally, buy used, or get clever at adapting what you already have, here’s to some compactness in your life, whatever form that might take.

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