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.

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 - (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 – – 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 (
- a group of women trying to make a difference in the publishing world. Click on "About Us" and then Philosophy. And lastly, 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.