A Compact Chat

by Katy on October 8, 2009 · 19 comments

Katy Wolk-Stanley

My name is Katy Wolk-Stanley and I’m 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 stuff that 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.”

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Jinger October 8, 2009 at 6:20 am

I like it! I’m beginning my glass Pyrex collection next week when I get paid…one piece at a time.


Leigh @ compactbydesign October 8, 2009 at 1:32 pm

You really nailed it Katy. We’re coming up on the end of our first year as Compacters and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about where we go from here. I don’t see many changes and only a few exceptions (really want the Pyrex too).

The lifestyle changes that have accompanied this year of conscious sustainability (making choices to change the way we live) have been an unexpected bonus born of a Compact mindset.


mari October 8, 2009 at 2:51 pm

I learn alot what is a need and wants. Alot of what I have are wants and not necessary a need. After joining the compact, I was able to prioritis what is needed and knowing that I don’t need alot to live.


Alyssa October 8, 2009 at 6:16 pm

Will you share your “recipe” for homemade laundry soap?


elinor October 8, 2009 at 6:54 pm


I too started the Compact in 2006. Because of The Compact, I was able to save for my first home. I still don’t buy much new if I think I can find it used. My wardrobe is becoming increasingly used, and get lots of complements. I make my own laundry detergent, and converted my family. My mother loves it because her clothes come out softer (she’s a laundry connoisseur). I even line dry my clothes (inside my loft). It saves me $1.50/load (quarter machines), not including the electricity.

I still have a lot to do, esp getting rid of clutter. I am getting to the point of having my mother come over and help me decide.

Congrats on your efforts!


Mary q Contrarie October 10, 2009 at 7:30 am

I didn’t know I was a compactor. I do many of the things that you are talking about. I dry all my laundry on a clothes drying rack. I buy clothes from consignment shops and goodwill. I get all my books from the public library. I have not done a very good job getting the plastics out of my life. My plan is to not replace it with more plastic when it goes bad.

I will have the most problems during the upcoming holiday seasons. I am not crafty so making homemade gifts is not an option and food gifts are not always appriciated. I’m looking forward to seeing articles on how you handle the hollidays.


Angela October 10, 2009 at 11:54 am

I love Mary q Contrarie’s comment because I think there are a lot of people out there who are practicing Compact habits and nonconsumer ways, but didn’t know there was a name for it.

I feel so lucky to have found out about it because it’s enriched my life so much. To illustrate how much my thinking has changed, I remember when my neighbor told me a few years back that he never bought anything new because he had everything he’d need for the rest of his life. It seemed so extreme to me at the time, but now I know he had the Compact attitude without knowing there was a name or a movement. And I’ve learned so much from him. He’s the best neighbor I’ve ever had because we share things all the time: food and baked goods, rides to the airport, even household items for parties.

Katy, I think you did a great job of summarizing your lifestyle and philosophy in one post.


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