Another year has begun. And no matter how much I say that I won't do a resolution (or resolutions), I find that I always make an internal list of things I'd like to do, do differently, or do better in the coming year.
The biggest "do differently" came from an NPR article in November of last year. I learned about a group of people in San Francisco who decided to say no to consumerism, calling this decision The Compact. Essentially, they've decided to buy nothing new for a certain time period (for some it was six months, for others a year, for still others it is ongoing).
I didn't get to hear the entire article because (oddly enough) I was busy selling some books and clothes back to a second-hand store, but what I heard really got my attention. This partial article plus my son's response to a broken toy earlier that week ("It's okay, Mommy. We can just buy a new one") motivated me to do a mini-compact of my own for the year of '08.
As soon as I decided this (in November), I went on a major spending spree.
I panicked. A whole year without buying anything new?!! What about gifts for others? What about gift cards from people to me? What if I see those brown boots I want? What about all of those cute skirts that will come out in the spring? What about new music? What about new books? My mind was spinning because once I decided to cut out all of the mindless things I buy on a--if not day to day--weekly basis, I realized just how much I participate in this consumer culture.
Part of this participation comes from the fact that everyone is bombarded by ads for goods almost every second of the day. I don't even watch TV (honestly, I don't. I only watch movies), but I am well aware of the new iPod or new clothing line at that high end department store or new album released by that hot new band. We seem to soak up the need to buy stuff from the very air.
Part of this participation comes from the fact that gift-giving and -receiving is the primary way my family expresses love. We all love love love to get and give gifts. I am a kick-ass gift giver because that is how I tell people I care for them. I am a kick-ass stuff-buyer because that is how I tell myself I care for me. In fact, when my girlfriends all tried to stop giving each other gifts at birthdays, I refused to participate in their madness--oh I gave gifts. I gave great gifts. And when my birthday came around you can bet I received gifts too (thank you, my good friends, for loving me my way).
So giving up buying is not only about giving up shopping, it is also a bit like giving up my best way of saying "I love you." (I am not super proud of the previous statement, but it is the truth.) I would have to essentially learn a whole new way of showing that I care for others and myself.
But when I decided all of this, it was still November. . .
So I am not proud to admit I did a bit of stock-piling in my last month of consumerism. This Christmas, everyone in my family got a kick-ass gift. In the last few days after Christmas, I took every gift card I received and shopped my heart out. I bought cds, books, clothes, etc . . . to a ridiculous extent. I even pre-ordered a cd that won't be released until later this month and toyed with the idea of pre-ordering a book that is going to be released until this summer.
However, I don't really think my purchases are going to be "new" for much longer. I've already listened and pretty much memorized all of my new cds. I've read about half of the books I've bought. And I've worn all of my new clothes. It's only a week into my compact and my items that brought me such joy in their newness are no longer new. Already, seven days seems like a long time to not have made any purchases. The maw of the consumer beast is starting to gape.
I think this year might be hard. Not just because I won't be able to shop, but because I am going to have to seriously examine how I used to spend my money and time as well as what truly has priority in my life. Where is my treasure? Where is my heart? As one friend has half-jokingly claimed: I am a cavern of want. The question is: do I put worthwhile things into that cavern? Perhaps if I change my priorities, I could be sated.
We shall see.
So the following are my mini-compact rules (and a lot of this, I got off of the original Compact blog). The biggest thing will be to use common sense about any purchase:
1. Nothing new unless it is food, beverages, underwear, necessities (like soap, deodorant, medical supplies, etc . . .).
*A notable exception I am making to the above is original art.*
2. Experiences can be bought (e.g. plays, trips, dining out, museum tickets) but must not be too excessive. Also, subscriptions to magazines and museum/zoo passes can be renewed
3. I can buy things used, but I am going to try to avoid buying anything. Honestly, I don't need anything. This avoidance to buy anything will include downloaded music (gulp).
4. Some caveats: My son can have new clothes if he needs them. My husband can have new running shoes. I can have school supplies if I need them (like pens and texts) but I have to look for used first. Anything my lab buys for me for my research, I can have new (It would be really hard to do biology research with, say, used pipette tips).
People have asked what I'll do if my computer crashes or my car fails or my house burns down. Those things would indeed stink, but all of that stuff can be replaced without buying into the consumer trap. Besides, those things most likely won't happen (they didn't this year), so it is sort of pointless to worry about them until they come up. Again common sense.
A year is a long time, but as I sit on my couch, typing on my Vaio, listening to Trance Party Volume 1 on my iTunes, drinking Witch Creek Barbera out of my Crate and Barrel red wine glasses, facing my 19-inch TV and Kenwood stereo topped with piles of books, cds, and movies, in clothing that is sassy and has no holes, I think I can do this. I have been blessed with wonderful friends and family, a good career, and lots and lots of STUFF. A year with nothing new in the stuff department isn't surmountable.
Wow. This blog has come a long way from what I envisioned it to be when I started a year and a half ago. I am still doing the CSA but it isn't that hard anymore. The only thing I have moldering in my fridge is lettuce (still can't figure that one out but at least I compost), but I have learned to cook and handle a variety of produce. I even like chard now (to an extent).
I am still cooking vegetables every night (that never seems to change), but it doesn't seem to be the challenge it once was. Here's the fried rice I cribbed from Veg Times after coming home from a New Year's trip to Mammoth and finding "nothing" in my fridge:
1 c. dried rice, cooked
bok choy, stems chopped, leaves chopped, separated
carrots, chopped and blanched
dried shitake mushrooms, soak in hot water for 30 minutes, chop, save liquid for something else
beet greens, chopped
frozen and shelled edamame, rinsed in hot water
spicy chile and garlic sauce
Saute the onion, garlic, and ginger until soft. Add the bok choy stems and carrots. Saute a few minutes more. Add the mushrooms. When everything looks done, add the greens and the edamame. Saute for a minute. Add the rice, a splash of soy sauce, and a tiny bit of the garlic sauce. Saute until everything is uniform in color and a little brown from the pan. Top with sliced, roasted almonds.
Yummy New Year. . . .
The art of being Californian, it seems, is to cultivate a loose-limbed insouciance while secretly working away like a frantic ant.
--Richard Fortey The Earth: An Intimate History
--Richard Fortey The Earth: An Intimate History