The Compact is Not About Buying Tons of Used Stuff

by Katy on August 2, 2012 · 45 comments

I’ve written and talked a lot about The buy-nothing-new Compact over the past five years, and people always want to know about what I do and don’t buy used. (For the record, I don’t buy used underwear, socks, personal care items and harmonicas. Yes, harmonicas, think about it. 😉 )

Yet I often feel like people kind of miss the point of The Compact, which is to drastically decrease your consumerism. The Compact is not about buying a bunch of used stuff.

The Compact is about putting a stop to never ending and mindless consumerism.

  • Borrowing instead of buying.
  • Keeping others from unnecessary purchases by lending out your stuff.
  • Deciding that what you already own might just do the trick.
  • Fixing and repairing instead of replacing.
  • Abstaining from replacements that are based on trend style instead of function. (Stainless steel appliances, I’m looking at you!)
  • Being content with owning less.
  • Defining yourself by who you are instead of what you own.
  • And yes, The Compact is also about buying used stuff. Just not too much.

Clear as mud? Good.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

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{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

Pamela August 3, 2012 at 4:41 am

I think we get so mired in the details of something–or one or two details of it–that we fall prey to the forest/trees syndrome.

I’ve noticed a lot of people will focus on buying something used, and then they buy a lot of used stuff they do not need. Then the conversation veers into what’s the least expensive instead of what is sustainable.

I guess with things like the Compact the motto should be “When in doubt, don’t buy it. And if there’s no doubt, don’t buy it.”


Diane August 3, 2012 at 5:01 am

I can’t buy used anymore, but I follow all the other points of The Compact. As a matter of fact, since I stopped going to thrift stores over a month ago, I have bought nothing beyond food and basics. However, today I am going to Coldwater Creek’s 40% off sale to buy suitable interview clothing, nothing else.

Money saved is money earned.


Reese August 3, 2012 at 5:44 am

I don’t mean to pry, but why “cant” you buy used? If it’s not your thing, totally understand. But I don’t understand the word can’t 😉


Diane August 3, 2012 at 5:50 am

Bed bugs!


Diane August 3, 2012 at 5:51 am

Maybe I should have used the word “don’t ” buy used anymore.


Katy August 3, 2012 at 6:14 am

You know, you have me sufficiently paranoid enough that I have a plan to place my lent out luggage in black plastic bags that I keep in the hot car when my friend gets back from Mexico.





Diane August 3, 2012 at 6:19 am

Yes…black bags and high heat for several days will kill those nasty bugs! I just read that bed bugs are at the top of consumer complaints this year!

I am status quo right now, but ever vigilant with vacuuming, checking furniture, and applying DE.

Anne August 3, 2012 at 6:52 am

Is this an issue with clothes?


Diane August 3, 2012 at 9:31 am

Yup….it’s a BIG issue in general. For me, since I had bed bugs, just not bringing in anything used is best.

If you buy used clothing, bring into your home in a sealed bag, wash with hot water and dry on high. Also, steaming kills bed bugs if you have access to a steamer.

Erica August 4, 2012 at 10:09 am

Just so you know, the big outbreak in NY was caused by new clothing.


Katy August 4, 2012 at 11:45 am

Really? It’s like how people are grossed out by used shoes, but you never know if the new shoes you just bought at Nordstrom have been tried on by a dozen people.



Diane August 4, 2012 at 4:55 pm

New, used, tried on…whatever….if you have had bed bugs in your bed and couch in your home, you are sufficiently scared and vigilant from then on. The eradication process is lengthy and uncertain. It’s an ongoing nightmare.


Erica August 10, 2012 at 10:47 pm

Here is the info on the outbreak –

I also agree with Diane that having them scares you out of pretty much everything, new, used or otherwise. Two days after writing this comment I discovered my neighbor has been infested. Infested so bad all of her furniture was dumped and they started leaking into my house. Some have already nesting in my dining room table, and I’m already going through the process of what will stand up to treatment, what I can “cook” in my car and what needs to be tossed. I suddenly greatly appreciate Ikea’s modern furniture with slick metal legs they can’t climb up.

The thing I hate most is the waste. There is so much waste. And so much plastic.


Erica August 10, 2012 at 11:10 pm

I should mention I live in an apartment building, which heightens my risk when neighbors get them.

Lili@creativesavv August 3, 2012 at 5:15 am

I think point number 2 is significant — being willing and generous with your own stuff and lending. Sometimes thrifty people are mistaken for being stingy, and being generous with your belongings is a way to dispel that sort of thought.


Megyn @MinimalistMommi August 3, 2012 at 7:36 am

It’s funny because I agree with everything you wrote. Yet when I frequent your blog I often get the opposite opinion. I often see all of the stuff you purchase at Goodwill and think, “Well, she already has something similar to be used. Why buy another?!” (example: pitcher/vase). I guess I’m wondering where you draw the line between want and making do. I’m sure I just view things differently, but it just seems like there’s a constant in flow of stuff.


Renee CA August 3, 2012 at 7:47 am

When I see something I really don’t need but just like at a garage sale or GW, I figure it’s already out there in the world and can just come visit my house for a while. It can grace my table, or wall, or whatever, I can enjoy it’s beauty and then it can move on to somewhere else. As long as I’m not hoarding and have the space for it, I admit I like things to change a bit.


Bec August 3, 2012 at 8:14 am

Agreed, and that’s my frustration with a lot of these minimalist-type blogs. Most of the time I find myself thinking, “well that’s a clever tip, but why would I want that [thing] in the first place?”

I’ve also found that much of the stuff I buy used is being sold because it’s crap. I do much better buying things rarely, but of quality. For example, I could never keep my hands on my cheap goodwill sunglasses for more than a month or so. Then I ponied up for an expensive pair and have had them (as my only pair) for four years and counting. Things that require a lot of resources to produce (like furniture) I like to buy used – but just because something is secondhand doesn’t automatically make it the best option. Most manufacturers don’t seem concerned with quality. Reward the ones who still do!


Erica August 4, 2012 at 10:08 am

I agree with supporting companies that make smart choices. There are thing everyone is going to have to buy and I much prefer to buy those things with sustainable and local companies. I don’t agree that used things are crap though – I’ve found a lot of high quality stuff from thrift and craigslist. People will get rid of things when they move , combine two households, or if they are tight on funds. I’ve personally gotten rid of nice, quality items just because I didn’t need them.


Hannah August 3, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Yes I thought the same thing. I love this blog and have read through the entire archives, and I always got the impression that the compact allowed you to keep shopping and acquiring new stuff as long as you weren’t the original owner. I’m glad to have this debunked. I would be curious to know where buying and reselling for a profit fits in.


Renee CA August 3, 2012 at 8:11 am

I don’t mean to freak everyone out, but I recently purchased a used mattress. It is almost new, from the beautiful home of a single woman who was moving and had no room for it. It had always been covered. I know that none of this is a guarantee but….You just have to be careful out there. My son and his wife have done the same.

My sister and her husband had a bad run-in with bed bugs in a brand new high-end hotel. They were the first guests in the room. You never know. I just try to be as careful as I can and not worry about it. I do understand about not being able to buy used, especially upholstered items. I was more that way when I was younger.


Bec August 3, 2012 at 8:21 am

I also recently had an awesome used mattress experience (I scored a queen-sized Sleep Number!). Use common sense about the person/household you’re buying from and inspect the hell out of that furniture before committing – but don’t give up on buying used just because our culture of fear tells you to only buy new.


Beth B August 3, 2012 at 9:29 am

This website is a great resource to see if the hotel you’re planning on staying at has or has had any bed bug issues.


Beth B August 3, 2012 at 9:29 am


Bec August 3, 2012 at 10:08 am

I’ve seen this website before. Take with a grain of salt as entries are made by hotel users, not public health officials. I’ve found descriptions often are anecdotal and sometimes describe what are obviously not bedbugs. You can’t be sure someone’s not posting false information to defame a hotel they have some other grudge against (read the FAQs, even the website admits it).


Rebecca B. A. R. August 3, 2012 at 8:34 am

I almost always get me used plush furniture from friends/family, so that I know that it is safe from bed bugs. With used clothing and other items, I always check for bed bugs before buying it–and clothes go right to the washer/dryer. I can definitely understand not wanting to buy used after having to deal with bed bugs, though, b/c they are such a pain to get rid of! One thing that I’ve noticed that I spend less on is by making myself only buy low toxicity on the skin deep/ewg scale for makeup/lip balms/soaps. Doing that really has lowered my available products, especially here in the USA.


Van August 3, 2012 at 9:29 am

I think beginning thrifters are especially beguiled by the low prices and overbuy– I was there once. Now I strictly only buy what I will sell or things I will really use.


Renee in CA August 3, 2012 at 9:51 am

So true.


Ashley S :) August 3, 2012 at 11:56 am

Love this article! I am a very frugal person, and always shop used. I have mostly decluttered our lives and am very disciplined about what we bring into our home. But I have a HUGE weakness for children’s clothing, and it doesn’t help that my daughter is very ‘girly’ and loves cute outfits. Most of her clothing is from the Goodwill, and it is so hard to focus only buying what she needs when there is so much high-end, name-brand clothing in like-new condition for $1-$2. I *try* to stick to the one-in-one out rule, but it doesn’t always work out. Luckily I also shop for my sister’s 2 kiddos, so between all 5 kids I manage not to overbuy too much.


Trish August 3, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Ack! kinda freaked out about the bed bugs. It never occurred to me that you could bring bed bugs into your household through bringing in used clothing/furniture!


Diane August 4, 2012 at 4:14 am

Yes, you can….I did! For over 25 years I have bought used furniture and clothing and never thought a things about bed bugs until….NOW. Unfortunately, these are bed bug times and because of that fact, I don’t bring used items into my home anymore. My pest control inspector told me he has seen a great increase in bed bug reports in the past few years. The psychological affect of having the bugs is extreme.


Jennie August 3, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Love this post. I am impressed with “the compact.” I am trying to buy less new myself and make a conscious effort to think about it long and hard before I walk up to the register.



Indigo August 3, 2012 at 5:31 pm

A big thing that always pops up is that what you invest your time and money in should be a reflection of you and your values. I’ve lost track of examples of people buy or doing things because that’s what they are “supposed” to or what “everyone” does. It runs from having the latest gadget even though your old one did the job just fine, to the bigger house with more space than you need to show off that you can, the job that looks good rather than makes you feel good, etc.


Jo H. August 3, 2012 at 7:19 pm

Good reminder! And, to follow up on some of the comments, it’s not necessarily consumerism if you like to buy items to give yourself a change from what you already have. Some people enjoy watching sports, some people enjoy making nice meals – and some people enjoy creating a beautiful and interesting home environment for living in. I like Renee CA’s comment above about having things come visit her home for awhile, and releasing things back to the world. Great way to look at it!


Katy August 3, 2012 at 8:42 pm

I too enjoy switching up my home interior, but I’ve always been able to do it buying secondhand.



Jo H. August 4, 2012 at 2:11 pm

I agree; somehow I failed to make that a part of my comment 🙂 I was trying to address the concern that buying used but “un-needed” items of beauty is consumerism. It’s not, in my definition.


Rowena August 4, 2012 at 5:57 am

The important thing for me was to identify those activities that feed my soul and don’t require shopping. In my case those activities included sewing up fabrics I had stashed over the years, volunteering at our county museum, spending time with people I care about, and tackling clutter. It’s easy for me to resist buying stuff when I think of all the money I would still have if I hadn’t bought so much in the past.


Linda from Mass August 4, 2012 at 6:47 am

I try very hard not to buy anything that I do not/will not need. Sometimes I buy something that I know that I will need in the future if the price is right. Today I stopped at a yard sale and she had jeans hanging on a metal drying rack. I asked if the rack was for sale. She said no, but then said yes for $2. I have 3 drying racks right now but for $2, I could not pass up another. My daughter is going off to college and I wanted to give her one of my racks to dry her clothes and towels. She may not use it but if it saves her some drying fees, it might motivate her. Now I can give her one of my smaller racks for her room.


FrancesVettergreenVisualArtist August 4, 2012 at 8:47 pm

Why single out stainless steel appliances? I switched when I gave my kitchen a facelift & wanted a bigger, more energy efficient fridge. The dishwasher was on its last legs, and the oven was unsafe (hence the reno in the first place). Yes, it was more expensive, but we saved up, and the stainless makes my repainted cabinets and worn hardwood look brilliantly stylish. In my open concept house, this matters. The old fridge went to Habitat for Humanity and the other appliances were recycled. So how is this an example of consumerism?


Katy August 4, 2012 at 9:14 pm

Because many, many people switch out white and black appliances for no other reason than they’re no longer trendy.



Elaine in Ark August 6, 2012 at 12:32 pm

And on HGTV, people are always complaining when homes for sale don’t have ss appliances. They’ll reject perfectly good homes because the kitchen is “dated” and lacking granite countertops, $200 faucets, etc. They really need a dose of reality!


Rowena August 7, 2012 at 5:00 am

I think the bottom line on consumer decisions is that each of us makes them for ourselves. There’s nothing inherently wrong with stainless appliances, granite countertops, a new car bought on credit, or a jet ski, or whatever. What’s important is that purchases be carefully considered. The habit of filling up a shopping cart with stuff, even used stuff at Goodwill, without considering how each item will fit into one’s life post-purchase, leads to clutter and financial


Katy August 7, 2012 at 5:33 am

Well said. However, I do believe all that mining for and then shipping all the granite does have a negative environmental impact.

Yes, granite countertop are for the most part quite beautiful, but there are so many attractive green options these days.


Rhonda August 6, 2012 at 6:12 am

One thing I thought of in relation to the comment about your frequent trips to thrift shops, I also rely mostly on thrift shopping for what I do buy, and I find that if you are going to rely on thrift stores as your main shopping avenue, going often is key. Because of their nature, you never know what will be there, and you can’t count on something still being there if you decide to wait to purchase it on another day. It’s a very different process from department store shopping.

I have also found that it is kind of a “movement along a continuum” thing, both with minimalism and with thrift/used shopping. When I first started thrift shopping I bought much more, because I found quality stuff at such low prices. After a few years of continuing to rely on buying used, I am much more circumspect and careful, no matter what the price. And with minimalism, as I go on I find I can make do with less and less, but it is a learning process. And I still appreciate beauty and quality. So if I see something I love I might pick it up and then donate something I have, put it back out into the universe and someone who needs it more can have the opportunity to find it!

I love reading your blog, Katy. It makes me think about my own choices. And the comments, again, give new insights and ideas. We’re all in different places on our journey. It’s really fun to share that journey with you!


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