Nothing New Here -- And That's the Point

Shawn Rosenmoss hand-makes Christmas gifts:
Shawn Rosenmoss hand-makes Christmas gifts: "We're simply trying to bring less . . . into our house." (By Randi Lynn Beach For The Washington Post)

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By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 18, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO -- In the living room, the group gathers to share inspirational stories about the joy of finding just the right previously owned shower curtain. To the uninitiated, these people appear almost normal, at least in a San Francisco kind of way. But upon closer inspection, you see it: Nothing in this house, nothing on their bodies, none of their products -- nothing is new. Everything is used.

For these people, recycling wasn't enough. Composting wasn't a challenge anymore. No, they wanted much more of much less.

Attention holiday shoppers! These people haven't bought anything new in 352 days -- and counting. These 10 friends vowed last year not to purchase a single new thing in 2006 -- except food, the bare necessities for health and safety (toilet paper, brake fluid) and, thankfully, underwear, and maybe socks (they're still debating whether new socks are okay).

Everything else they bought secondhand. They bartered or borrowed. Recycled. Re-gifted. Reused. Where? Thrift stores and swap meets, friends and Dumpsters, and the Internet, from Craigslist to the Freecycle Network, which includes 3,843 communities and 2.8 million members giving away stuff to one another.

These people purchased old sheets this year. Tonight's vegetarian feast was cooked in a hand-me-down Crock-Pot. Christmas presents? They're making them, or -- shudders -- they don't give them.

They call their little initiative "the Compact," which they say has something to do with the Mayflower and the Pilgrim pledge to live for the greater good, save the planet, renew their souls, etc. And although these modern "Compactors" say they never intended to spark a mini-movement or appear on the "Today" show, that is exactly what has happened.

Since the San Francisco Chronicle ran an article about them in February, their story of not buying has appeared on media outlets around the world -- everything from Yoga Journal to Martha Stewart's Body + Soul to the London Times. Even Oprah's producers called.

It appears they've pinched a nerve. Perhaps, the Compactors suggest, many people have the same feeling that the mall just isn't working for them anymore.

"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?"

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. So they apparently live among us, biding their time, quietly not buying, like some kind of Fifth Column of . . . Shakers.

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.

"And people hate us for it? Like it drives them nuts?" This is Shawn Rosenmoss, an environmental engineer in the original San Francisco group. 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.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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