Tuesday, May 29, 2007

May 2007- Summer is Coming

It was so great to see everyone at our monthly meeting/potluck on Sunday. What a glorious day.. the kids were in the wading pool, we were all sitting out on the back patio, sharing food & conversation. A great way to end the weekend.
Most of us are acknowledging that it is both "getting easier" and "getting harder" . We have each (for the most part with some exceptions) had a few "slip ups" where we have found ourselves buying something in a moment of mindless consumer pattern.. like hair dye (just cause the girls were having fun!), or bees wax candles (at the market but still a buy), or something we "justified" based on health or safety, but knew it really wasn't... And a couple of us have just plain "broken down" and made a purchase ... like that "must have" book to mark the birth of our 1st grand-baby, or the frames because mom (who is 85) really wanted those family pictures hung..

The funniest is running into a fellow compacter at the local office supply store and the voice says " so what did you buy?".. it turns out just to be photocopying for work..

Mostly we all are acknowledging how overwhelming it is to be in any type of huge consumer store these days... Stepping inside one of those monsters is enough to send any of us running for cover... and what's the point if you aren't going to buy anything anyway? So we just don't go.

So the season is changing and summer is coming and that has provided us with a whole new set of "issues" to discuss. They mostly revolve around seasonal issues like:
Garden preparation.. like what can be scrounged for a new garden plot (old papers for mulch, wood chips, lumber, plants from people willing to share) and does buying soil made mostly from local organic compost count? (probably - but not everyone is convinced)
Bicycle & related stuff: A couple of our compacters have made the decision not own a car (way to go!) or (if they do own a car) to use their bikes much more (also way to go!). They have kids and have found out that it is next to impossible to find a used child carrier ..You know, the one that attach to the bike and roll behind the bike and can be used for transporting kids & groceries and all sorts of stuff.. We have ALL been looking but no luck.. So the question is... if we can put gas in the car and do car repairs... doesn't it make sense to buy the carrier and have a good reliable (and safe) means of transportation that is bike related? Our answer is probably but we are going to give one last concerted effort to find something used (we need two of them)...

On a less challenging note, the big HRM police bike auction is coming up this Saturday at the Forum so anyone looking for a bike is going there....

It is nice to talk with our fellow compacters.. get a boost to keep going and keep challenging ourselves. I still can't believe that 1/3rd of the year is almost over....

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Ides of March

I've been thinking a lot about kids and compacting and how it makes so much sense, financially and environmentally (because there is so much STUFF – often plastic – that new parents think they "need" for babies), but also as a tool for teaching our kids about consuming. There seems to be a lot of built-in pressure around becoming a parent and undue emphasis on the accoutrements of having a baby. How often have you heard: "do you have everything for the baby?" Lara and I didn't feel compelled to decorate a nursery before our daughter was born and I know that some people thought that was weird. But really, what do they need when they're infants? Sleepers, diapers, blankets, breast milk, and love. That's it.

When our daughter was born, we were given or loaned everything we needed. The only things we had to purchase new were cloth diapers and receiving blankets, and later – a stroller, shoes, and winter boots. The rest was given to us by our community of friends and most of it was second hand and of course barely used. This includes larger items like a baby swing, baby carriers (front, back, and sling!), and a portable crib/playpen that we actually share with another couple in this group.

Our daughter has just gotten to an age where she's starting to outgrow most of the great clothes we were given, so last weekend we went off to Frenchy's. We got some amazing good quality clothes for about ten bucks and walked away wondering how anyone can afford or would want to do anything else. Why buy something new for a little person who's going to outgrow it in 6 months when you can buy something that's only been worn probably a handful of times? For those of you who don't know Frenchy's, you can read about our little treasure in the New Yorker. http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2006/09/25/060925fa_fact)

So, anyway, I've been thinking about all of this and then I found the blog of the Australian Compacters and found that they've been thinking along these lines as well. Check it out - http://www.nomorestuff.blogspot.com/ (March 9 entry). Which reminds me to tell you that there are some great blogs being written by other Compacter groups and you can link to them from the original San Francisco blog (see our links). They include a comprehensive list of other Compacter groups operating all over the world (but mostly in the US).

And that also reminds me that I wanted to list a favourite site of mine – http://www.planetwaves.net/ – it's astrology based, but the creator (Eric Francis) has some insightful and profound comments about the state of our world. And another site that I recently found is called Generosity Incorporated (http://www.generosityincorporated.com/)
- a group of women trying to make a difference in the publishing world. Click on "About Us" and then Philosophy. And lastly http://www.firethegrid.com/, which is one woman's journey to get the rest of us to help heal the earth for one hour this coming July. Read "The Story" first - fascinating stuff.

In the compacting arena, things that we're seeking just keep falling into our hands: a cast iron frying pan from wonderful fellow Compacter Margot; our daughter's first wooden puzzles and a stool for her to reach the bathroom sink; and a clock radio. The last two things came from friends we met up with at a dance. We told them what we were doing and they instantly said: "What do you need? We've got everything in our basement!" And they do.

I wanted to just briefly touch on one other way that I feel like our family is "compacting." We don't own a car. We live centrally, so most things are within walking distance, but occasionally we rent a car to go to the beach or do a huge grocery shop. What we're finding more and more is that our community is incredibly generous with their cars. We have two friends that give us their car when they go out of town; another one that loans us her car when we need to go to the airport or run quick errands; and other friends who sometimes let us use their second car for the weekend. Again, this seems so obvious. Why do we all need to have our OWN vehicle? Why can't more of us share what we have?

Luckily, we live in a community that does.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Month Two

First day of the month update from Renée. First, I have to say that I concur with Jo about the scotch but am ashamed to admit it didn't even occur to me that I was buying something new when I reached for the bottle! I unconsciously put it in the food category, but of course it's not a need (is it?).

Recent great compacting experiences:

We had our dear friends, Fran and Bob, over for dinner the other night and told them about the Compacters group. They asked what we missed buying which is the most common question I get about what we're doing. The answer is that I'm not missing much at all and my life feels richer than ever.

The commitment to buying nothing new is making me really appreciate what I have and I'm not just talking about material possessions. I feel more grateful these days for my family, my health, friends, our city market, the local cafe, the way the days are getting longer, and the way there seems to be a collective uprising in consciousness. Look at this movement as one example. Look at the 100-mile diet as another. It feels like we're rallying against global insanity and these small actions feel good. What we as individuals - and as a society - really need and what we can certainly live without has never been clearer to me.

Okay that said, I do miss the weekend edition of the Globe and Mail. Nothing beats the feeling of sitting down on Saturday afternoon with a cup of coffee or a pot of tea and cracking that thick inky thing open. Well actually, that's what life on a Saturday used to look like and then we had a baby. Now it's about reading for 5 minutes before we fall into bed in a coma.

Nonetheless, I miss the ritual of the paper! So, when I told Fran and Bob this, they said "you can have ours!" And what did I say to their generous offer? "Yeah, but are you one of those people who read it all week long?" (meaning: is it going to be a week late and completely irrelevant?) "No!" they exclaimed. "We're done with it by Monday." Did I mention they don't have young kids? Okay, now this story gets even better. "Did you want our old New Yorkers too?" they asked.

Two days later, we were in possession of a grocery bag full of New Yorkers and last weekend's paper. The smell of someone else's house wafting up out of the bag, the bent and crinkled sections of the paper neatly folded, a coffee stain in the corner of one page. And it was more than just having the treat of sitting down with the newspaper. It was the kindness of our friends who took the time to put this little care package on their porch, wrapped up in a grocery bag, with our names on it.

One night, a couple of weeks into the Compact, after a request for crayons for our little girl, Cathy walked over on a brisk winter evening with her dog and her niece, crayons and markers in hand. Why doesn't everyone do this, I want to shout. A friendly face at your door offering you exactly what you said you needed. This feels so much better than going to the mall.

Lezlie writes and says she has stickers and puzzles for Sadie and the next time she's out and about she'll refill a printer cartridge and a liquid soap for me.

Jo is sending light switch covers and electrical pieces and a radio and books for members of our group -- from Ottawa!

Which leads me to what else I'm appreciating. I'm so grateful for what others are willing to give and so astonished that we're helping to solve each other's dilemmas with a few quick emails.

It makes me wonder what other problems we could solve if we put our minds to it. It also makes me wish that we could all benefit from this. This clustering together, this developing and strengthening of our communities, so that we share what we have with each other.

The experiences that I've recounted here are infinitely more interesting and heartwarming than driving out to the BLIP (horrible treeless and soul-less industrial shopping district just outside of Halifax) to buy something we thought we needed.

I'll close with two newsy items. Our ranks are swelling. This week we welcomed our second out of province member. This PEI member brings our total to lucky thirteen. And CBC Maritime Noon wants to do a little spotlight piece on us to see how it's going and what we're up to. It'll be a few weeks from now, but we'll post when it's going to air.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

From Ottawa: Jo's Journal

Hi from Jo, the non-resident member of Halifax Compacters, checking in from the nation’s capital with some observations from my journal.

I’ve been patting myself on the back all month, telling folks I’ve bought nothing new in January or February, except a 9-V battery for my smoke alarm (surely on the exempt list), so I’ve been clean for all of 2007.

But I was challenged a few days ago, so I’ve been pouring over my journal and scrutinizing receipts (I keep everything) so I could “prove it,” if only to myself. I zipped through the pile, smirking, no problem (grocery store, bakery, post office, manicure, haircut, prescription, fuel, oil change, theatre tickets, hotel, restaurants – but then – a bottle of Scotch. In or out? Can I justify that under food? Health and safety? Sanity?

Then in January, the new windshield wipers and shovel at Canadian Tire. My old wipers were dangerously close to giving out completely, and the shovel was for my car emergency kit, so those were safety issues for me.

Oh lordy – I had forgotten all about the new winter wardrobe I outfitted myself with when I was home at Christmas time. Forty bucks at Frenchy’s, so I’m off the hook on that one too.

One other questionable item was a roll of newsprint for packing (I’m involved in a major house/office move) that I picked up at the mover’s while I was buying used packing boxes. But didn’t I need that? By the way, I bought only a handful of boxes, as I’ve had friends-with-offices saving photocopy paper boxes, and I discovered (when buying the Scotch) that the liquor store is delighted to get boxes taken off its hands.

So am I upholding the family tradition of purity, like my son Kevin, and my daughter-in-law Lezlie (until she blew it with the stickers), who are also Halifax Compacters, or not?

Like Lezlie (until the sticker incident), I expected the challenge of buying nothing new would be, well, more challenging. But I don’t buy much new anyway, so maybe I’m not really starting from zero. And I don’t buy much new because I hate shopping, at least in the places where one buys new things, amid throngs of people buying new things. Junk shops, pawn shops, Frenchy’s, Value Village are more to my liking, and besides, after I get through with the manicures, restaurants, tickets, and the Scotch, there’s no money left for new stuff anyway.

Before I start sounding too sanctimonious I should also confess that I already had stuff – bought last year – that let me off the hook in making a "don’t buy new" decision. I give gifts to several family members whose birthdays are in January and February, and since I was driving to the Maritimes for Christmas, I took the gifts with me, where they remained tucked away until the birthdays. Interestingly, though, more than half of the gifts were OK anyway – second hand items, family treasures and gift certificates for experiences, rather than things (a ski pass, dinner theatre).

One challenge I faced last week was a gift for my 6-year old grandson Alex’s upcoming birthday. I had to wrack my brain a bit, but an almost-new board game from a second-hand store and an amusement park pass saved the day. But that’s the thing – I had to really think about what to give him. Buying something new off his wish list would have been the quick and easy thing to do.

Apart from forcing me to make thoughtful decisions (the need vs. want debate), another unexpected effect of the compacters’ challenge is what goes through my head when making an on-the-OK-list purchase. For example: a bottle of liquid dishwashing detergent lasts me six or eight months (because of the restaurants, etc, above), and I was almost out the last time I went to the grocery store. I fired a bottle of my usual brand into the cart, and got halfway down the aisle before I had second thoughts. I went back and looked more carefully at the offerings, and this time, I chose the bottle (at twice the price) of the non-petroleum-based product. But I ended up putting that back on the shelf too; then I called Kevin and e-mailed Lezlie, to get their advice on an alternative. At Kevin’s suggestion (if I had to have dishwashing soap), I went down the block to my neighbourhood green/organic shop and got my bottle refilled with non-petroleum stuff from the bulk barrel.

Then there were the shoelaces. The plastic end piece was missing from one of my winter boot laces – it’s been gone for a couple of years, and every time I tie up the fraying lace, I think: “Drat, I forgot to buy new boot laces.” But since shoelaces aren’t on the OK list, I put the word out that I was looking for a pair of used laces. No one had any, but I got several suggestions on how to fix the old lace. And then the light went on. Why on earth would I buy a pair of new laces just because the end of one (otherwise perfectly fine) lace was scraggly? So I fixed the lace by applying a dab of glue to the end, the adhesive I use for bookbinding, because it’s permanent and dries clear. Now I’ve got a neutral pH archival quality bootlace.

Another fallout of the exercise is thinking, thinking, thinking about the stuff I already have. Why do I have all this stuff? Where did it come from? Am I using it? Is it giving me pleasure? And finally, what are my kids going to do with it when I’m gone? This is likely a function of age, combined with my upcoming move to a smaller place, but it adds another twist to the compacters’ challenge.

On the one hand, there is a tremendous appeal to living a more simple, uncluttered life, especially since I’m on the road a lot, and like to travel light, at a moment’s notice. On the other hand, I’m facing significant lifestyle changes, the most painful of which are parting with hundreds of my books, and foregoing the pleasure of providing a guest nook for my dear ones when they visit.

But I’ve discovered another pleasure – freecycling – can bingo be far behind? Among all that stuff I have weighing me down are bits and pieces that someone else needs – a dimmer switch, a few sheets of stickers, a radio, a puzzle – and stuff from someone else’s ubiquitous junk pile is filling my needs – and neither one of us is buying anything new. And what satisfaction to pass my books on to other avid readers, my portable crib to expectant grandparents, my second bed to a student sleeping on a piece of foam on the floor. And on top of that, every piece that is freecycled out my door is one less thing the paid-by-the-hour movers will be carting around.

And one last observation – buying nothing new takes time. Thinking, planning, debating (I burned at least half a day on the dishwashing soap), digging through stuff, picking up, delivering, writing. Which is, perhaps, why so many of us buy new to begin with. It’s often faster, more convenient, and sometimes even less expensive, and buying that extra bit of extra time appeals to even the greenest of the non-consumers among us.

So while the actual buying nothing new may be less difficult than I anticipated, thinking through all this other stuff is what I find challenging at the moment – but I’ll get through – no problem – as long as I keep Scotch on the OK list.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Well, we've been at it for 22 days now and our numbers have grown from 4 to 12 in that time, with several others mulling over their involvement. We got together last weekend to talk about how it's going.

Some highlights:

The day after our Feb. 1 start date, Cathy went to Alberta for a conference and was trapped in the West Edmonton Mall for 3 days. What a place to be trapped when you can't buy anything – she said she used the time to conduct some sociological research. Becca's watch died and it wasn't until she was sitting in the watch store, waiting for a new battery to be inserted, that she realized she had just purchased something new. Kevin cancelled his family's Lee Valley catalogue (too tempting). Lara and I (Renée) struggled, only briefly, with buying vacuum bags, before deciding that for us this is a health issue.

What we haven't mentioned previously in this blog is that our group is exempting health and safety items (and some work related items for the freelance writers and photographers and artists among us) from the buy nothing credo . Obviously this means different things to different people. Would you buy a used bathing suit from Value Village? Some of our members would and others wouldn't - a fascinating conversation!

In these first days, some members report feeling both relief at not being "allowed" to buy anything new and alienation because the acquiring of material possessions is so entrenched in our culture. (One of our members has not "come out" as a compacter yet at work because "they already think I'm weird."). We all agreed that so far it's shaping up to be an excellent opportunity to bring some consciousness to the choices we make and to decrease our impact on the environment. It's obvious already that once you start going down this road, there are a thousand small decisions to make. What I can say with certainty is that it feels good to be doing something rather than feeling powerless and depressed about the state of the world AND it's nice to be doing it with like minded others.

Other stuff:

Nancy was visiting a sick friend and wanted to get some flowers. Is this buying something new? We all agreed that if the flowers are grown locally and chemical free, this kind of purchase has no negative impact on the environment.

Becca noticed some locally grown cucumbers at the Farmers' Market, but then stopped to wonder what kind of power the farmer is using to grow greenhouse veggies in the winter.

Where does buying art/music/books fit in? There are three writers, a photographer, a potter, and a painter in our group. We certainly want to continue to be supported for the work that we do, but are also cognizant that this is the year of buying nothing new. Many of us talked about "needing" art as more of a spiritual/emotional foothold and that surely this is as important as a health or safety item. One suggestion was bartering for art and another was to make a monetary contribution to an artist whose work you admire, even if you're not buying their art for a year (e.g., if you use the library to read an author's book, send them a cheque in the mail).

Downloading music from places like myspace – is this supporting a musician in a sustainable way?

Options for giving gifts to others: donations in someone's name, gift certificates for experiences not items, and memberships (art gallery, museum, etc.)

A quandary: energy efficient light bulbs that are made in China and use fossils fuels to get to North America. Seems to defeat the purpose. Is there a Canadian producer of these types of lightbulbs? And who sells them locally?

At our next meeting, a number of us would like to talk about how to renovate homes without buying new things. It's been suggested that used building materials can be found in these spots:
- Habitat for Humanity has a website and a store in Burnside w/ recycled building materials
- Renovators Resource in Halifax
- Freecycle

Any other ideas out there?

For local folks reading this blog, there is a seed exchange at the Captain William Spry Centre in Spryfield on Saturday March 10 from 2-4:30pm.

A big thanks to Glenda for the yarn tips.

And here's a list of things our group is looking for in a used/recycled state if anyone can help out:
- piano light
- white or opaque shower curtain
- hot water baseboard covers
- small stool for a 2 year to stand on to reach the sink
- hanging flower baskets
- garden tools
- one can (or partial can) of glossy white spray paint
- glue for repairing piece of pottery (already has glue for wood & plastic)

Thanks for checking in on our progress.

Thursday, February 1, 2007


February 1st. C day - the day our Compact begins. Today, we begin a year of intentionally buying nothing new. It's our hope that we'll get a chance to be creative, build community, raise awareness about other options to consumerism, and most important of all – do our part to help our planet, which is in desperate need of humans who care.

We started off with a bang as two of our group members were interviewed on CBC's Maritime Noon yesterday. Costas (the host) wants to check in with us when the season changes (in Nova Scotia that could be April or it could be June!) and see how we're faring and what some challenges have been. A few people got our blog address off the show and have written in. Thank you for your support and the tips. (Glenda – can you give us the resources you mentioned for assessing, deconstructing, and cleaning? Thanks!)

I also signed up for freecycle (see link below) yesterday and was given a few other resources from a friend that may be helpful for others checking this blog for information. Here they are (and we'll try to figure out how to put these up as links later)

http://ecologyaction.ca/newhome/ - the Ecology Action Centre's website for how to do ecofriendly home renovation.

http://www.100milediet.org/ - Local Eating for Global Change

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/HRM_Freecycle/ - this is the Freecycle website where people post things they want to get rid of OR receive. All for free! No money, no barter, no trades.

The thing that hit me this morning as I was reading the parts of last Saturday's Globe that I didn't get to yet, is that I won't be able to buy a newspaper! We only buy one a week and it's kind of a special treat. And we really do read it all through the week. My idea is to ask some of our neighbours if we could read their paper after they're done with it. Someone else suggested an online subscription but I love the feel of the paper in my hands.

Just the first of many questions, I'm sure.

We'll try and update this blog as often as we can.

Monday, January 15, 2007

First Entry .. In the beginning

This is the first entry of the Halifax Compacters Blog...We just wanted to get started.. no big deal....This is just us, a small (very small right now) group of friends who all happened read the article on the San Fran Compacters in the local paper last week. It was all about their "buy nothing new" 2006... and we got inspired.. Oh sure, we know the very fact that we can consider a "buy nothing new" year puts us in the priviledged category.. but we are still willing to go for it. We want to put our well trained consumer instincts "on hold" for 2007 and see what comes of it..
Our hopes - to learn more about ourselves, to build some community as we build our awareness.. to challenge ourselve and each other to "think before we buy" and explore a different way of being in our world and in our lives... and have some good times together on the journey...

So far we are two couples, one child, two dogs, and two cats...who have met together in a living room by the wood stove, great coffee, cookies and conversation about exploring our "buy nothing new" compact... We have agreed to start the compact on February 1, 2007 - to meet together Sunday at 11:00 AM once a month to continue to explore, talk and eat together.. and invite other "like minded" explorers we know to join us....

Some of our questions already:
What about building materials? I've gotta fix the cottage roof this year.?? How to get creative about that? and drywall? How do we decide what's in the "no buy new" rule and what's not?

Shoes - two of us have a "shoe" thing... it's going to hard, especially when summer comes.. I'm not buying used shoes! I'll tell you that right now.. but for now I'm "set" for shoes so "whew" - we won't have to talk about that one until at least March...

And Restuarants... that is a "service" but is there a difference between a local neighbourhood restaurant and a big chain? does it matter? how does buying local fit in?

And speaking of buying local.. the whole issue of organic vs local purchasing come up.. We are in to "buying local over organic" but our compatriots have a child and organic trumps local for them when buying for her... lesson... we will all need to decide things in a ways that makes sense for us... it's great to have other people to talk it through with , to challenge us, support us and ask questions with....

1st "compact" score...we mentioned we borrow/find/acquire a spare bed for my neice (who is coming for few months..) We "put it out there" to our compacters and within an hour of getting home we have a call saying they got an email from other friends who are moving and looking to off load a bed... just need to pick it up!! wow...

So.. here we go, we'll be chronicling the ride..feel free to come along in blog space as we chronicle the Halifax Compacters 2007 "buy nothing new year"....