A Compact Chat

by Katy on March 9, 2010 · 15 comments

Katy Wolk-Stanley

My name is Katy Wolk-Stanley and I am a diehard member of The Compact, (a worldwide buy nothing new movement) and have been since I joined up in January of 2007. I buy used gifts, I buy used school supplies, Heck, I even buy used sheets.

It may sound like a source of frustration to not be able to walk into a store and quickly grab life’s necessities, but nothing could be farther from the truth. It turns out that much of what I had been grabbing were not necessities, but stuffthat were simply wants.

Not buying new has actually freed my life up. Saving not only untold thousands of dollars, but forcing me to make conscious and deliberate decisions about my purchases and how I live my life.

I already considered myself a thrift store aficionado and my house bulged with clutter to prove it. Sure, it was cool clutter, but clutter nonetheless. Cool dishes, cool vintage linens, cool toys, I had it all. Unfortunately I was also buying all the new stuff as well. Combine the two, and something had to give.

A short wire service piece in the local paper in December of 2006 then caught my eye. A small group of San Francisco hipsters had spent the last year buying nothing new and calling themselves “The Compact.” They were shopping thrift stores, bartering and horror of all horrors — simply not buying at all!

“We’re just a rarefied middle-class San Francisco greenies having a conversation about consumption and sustainability.”

I went into The Compact telling myself I would give it a month. What if I needed something? What about family birthdays? A month seemed about right, not too intimidating. I could handle a month.

The first year flew by with very few Compact exceptions. We bought a new glass carafe for our coffee maker as well as gifts for home-stay families that my son and husband would be staying with during a class trip to Japan. Besides that, I really can’t think of much else that needed purchasing.

Not only was I saving money, but I was experiencing a increased awareness of how the buy, buy, buy mindset of society was affecting our lives, our wallets and the environment.

I started to make other changes in my life.

I looked around my house and decided to put a full effort into de-cluttering. I donated to Goodwill a whopping 19 times in 2007, sometimes completely filling the mini-van with the excessive belonging that had been invited into my home.

I slowly began making other changes in my life as well. I began hanging my family’s laundry on a clothesline, I turned my thermostat to 63 in the winter, (which nobody seemed to notice) mixed up my own laundry detergent and make a concerted effort to minimize my driving.

All these changes save my family money, but most importantly we’re decreasing our energy consumption. Because The Compact is not about saving money, it’s about sustainability.

Luckily, frugality and sustainability are often one and the same.

Will I ever stop doing The Compact?

Well . . . I’ve actually started buying some new stuff when the big picture outweighs searching out the used. For example, I no longer want to be storing my food in plastic containers. This has meant that in addition to the couple scores of Goodwill Pyrex leftover containers, I splurged on a brand-spanking-new set. But in concordance with my conscious spending mindset, I noted that Pyrex is manufactured in the U.S. using union labor, plus the packaging is 100% recyclable!

I don’t think I will ever stop being part of The Compact, as my life has greatly bettered and my bank account has mysteriously plumped.

What more could a girl ask for?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Beckie December 17, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Just found your blog…very informative! I’m curious as to why you choose to no longer store food in plastic containers…I’ll be lurking through your postings so perhaps I’ll find it somewhere. Cheers!


ette April 19, 2011 at 11:41 am

plastic leaches chemicals into your food… :S


Laura's Last Ditch--Vintage Kitchenwares September 1, 2011 at 6:26 pm

I had been picking up new, unused gifts from garage sales (gifts people got and didn’t want, mostly) to give for baby gifts, but I finally dared to give a used gift at a 1st birthday party. My mom dared, too. I was happy to say, ours were the favorites. We each spent $5, and gave gifts that would’ve cost about $75 new, while others bought $20-25 gifts. Ours were classic toys in excellent condition, and will probably be used for subsequent children, while the others were mainly electronic junk that will break (or intentionally be broken by annoyed parents) and then tossed. A good used gift is a thing of beauty.


Natasha (Domestica) July 12, 2013 at 6:28 am

We have been buying nothing new for 2013 and it’s been amazing! I have been amazed at how much it’s taught us about ourselves and our habits.


Julie Phillips August 13, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Hi Katy,

My roommate Geoff and I just started our Buy Nothing Year on Aug 3 and in our search for resources and community, came across your site. I love it! Thanks too for posting about The Compact – we hadn’t heard of it and it’s great to loop into an active community that has been doing this for a while and shares the same values we do.

I can totally relate to your 19 trips to Goodwill in one year: my first blog post is about a pin collection housed on a 5′ tall plush giraffe wall hanging that I kept in a box for almost 30 years and until very recently, was for some reason unable to purge. It’s amazing how our “stuff” develops a life of its own over time, and what a concerted effort it takes to break the accumulation habit and finally let go.

Feel free to check out our site: buynothingyear.com. I’m excited for this year and to learn from people who already live this way.

Thank you for the inspiring posts about your journey!


Rebecca January 2, 2017 at 9:16 am

Count me in. I will not buy anything new unless it is underwear or something my daughter needs.


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