Buy Nothing New, Well, Sort of . . . .

by Katy on February 12, 2011 · 41 comments

As a member of The Compact, I have been choosing to buy used since 2007. Except that I have gradually been adding a few okay to buy new exceptions as the years have passed. My main exceptions? Buying new items from locally owned stores and buying books authored by friends. I am a strong believer that communities are made stronger by shops that have owners, not stockholders.

This is why when the holiday gift shopping season came around, I bought my nephew a hardback copy of the the new Rick Riordan book at The Looking Glass Bookstore, and then when it turned out he already owned it, (grumble, grumble, grumble) I bought him a game at Cloud Cap Games down the road. It would have been sooo much easier (and frankly, cheaper) to click onto, but I feel a responsibility to think about how my purchases are affecting my community.

My father, Tony Wolk teaches in the English department at Portland State University, and is in a unique position to influence how students are buying their required books. He’s fully aware that students are on a tight budget and don’t really have the lofty choice to spend more than absolutely necessary. After spending 45 years in a tenured teaching position, my father is financially comfortable and has been known to tell students that he will hand them a crisp five dollar bill if they show him the receipt from a locally owned bookstore, rather than a national chain or Amazon. This covers the extra amount students would have saved by ordering from, and helps support the struggling small bookstores that Portland is famous for. Do the students take him up on his offer? Some do and some don’t, but my father is always happy to sacrifice a few bucks in the name of local booksellers.

You may have noticed that whenever I mention a book on The Non-Consumer Advocate, I always link to instead of It’s not an affiliate link, but my own little subversive thrill. I’m sure there is a way to get kickbacks from the links, but I’m pretty much technically challenged, and have given up on making significant income from a blog that tells people to stop buying stuff. (Yes, I am aware of the irony of a non-consumer blog with advertising.) I’m not perfect, as I greedily partake of the gift cards that I earn from doing online searches, (yup, that was an affiliate link) but my warped and quick-to-rationalize mind has no problem with this as there’s no money from my wallet with these transactions.

Call me human.

Are you willing to spend a bit more when supporting a locally owned business? Feel that I’m a monstrously demented hypocrite? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather February 12, 2011 at 10:41 am

I actually noticed that you linked to Powell’s. It made me think of changing to whom I link when I mention books on my little blog. Thanks for the continued reminder.


Kimberly February 12, 2011 at 10:46 am

I always choose local when possible. And as a librarian, I can spend tax dollars on local books too (although I do buy the majority of our books via our major vendors).

I believe in the power of my dollar. And I wield that power at my local stores.


Angela@MyYearWithoutSpending February 12, 2011 at 10:57 am

Katy, once again your father is a hero in my book. I love that he does that. The Portland journal Tin House asks for a receipt from a local bookstore when you submit a story to them.

Last month started my 3rd year on the Compact, and since I have no reason to stop doing it, in order to do it long term I do need to make a few exceptions. That’s the thinking that some would call hypocritical, but not me. My exceptions are nearly the same as yours, the first being new books by an author who is a friend or even just one of my favorite authors. Books and writing will be supported, period. The other is locally owned and/or handmade products, which so far is for the occasional gift when I can’t think of the perfect consumable or handmade item. I still haven’t bought anything new for myself other than a few books, which I would have never believed possible two years ago.

You have been one of my main inspirations on this journey, so once again, big thanks for that.


leslie February 12, 2011 at 11:51 am

I definitely try to support local whenever possible. I’ve noticed that as I repurpose and make more of my own toiletries and food from scratch, I have a little more money in the budget to buy local and organic. It’s nice!


sf mom February 12, 2011 at 12:07 pm

“Feel that I’m a monstrously demented hypocrite?” That made me chuckle. No, I don’t think that at all. I’ve been lurking around the Compact’s yahoo group since the beginning of the year. I’ve known about them for several years now, but always thought, “no, I can’t do that!” Over time, I realize that there is definitely a balance.

There is a store in SF called R.A.G (Residents Apparel Gallery.) They only carry products from local designers, artists, makers, and all at very reasonable prices. (meaning, it’s for real people.) I love supporting local people and also buying gifts that aren’t mass produced. I’m a knitter, so I try to knit gifts for people too, but only those people who I know would really, really, really appreciate it!

As for books, I try to first get the book from the library. If I decide that I love the book, want to own it/support the writer, I buy it. I feel the same way about magazines. I don’t like the waste, but I do try to support the magazines that I love to read and then either use them for art projects with my children, donate them to my daughter’s preschool for projects, or share with friends.

Thanks for your inspiration. I’m seeking simplicity. Perhaps someday, slooowly, I’ll get it:)


Bonnie February 12, 2011 at 12:20 pm

I’ll spend more to support local businesses when I can, but in my not-so-big city, it’s becoming very difficult to FIND local businesses to support. Older established businesses shut down regularly, and the new places are most often outlets of national chains. This sometimes leaves me pondering whether it’s preferable to shop indie online or to keep my consumer spending in my community. Happily, buying used as often as possible avoids this dilemma.


Weston February 12, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Well. Since Jeff Bezos graduated from the same high school as my wife and oldest daughter I figure that when I order from Amazon I am ordering from a local businessman. Don’t see a reason to penalize the poor guy just because he took a risk and successfully filled an enormous gap in the market.


Mary H February 12, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Yes, I am willing to spend a bit more when supporting a locally owned business. I prefer to shop at at our local family-owned hardware and feed, seed, garden -supply stores. However, even though we have two colleges in our small town, we have neither a bookstore or music store of any kind. So over the years I’ve purchased a lot of music and books from Amazon and


Katy (another Katy in Portland) February 12, 2011 at 2:06 pm

It’s wonderful that you link to Powell’s, Katy! We are lucky to have such great bookstores in Portland, but it’s a tough business. Looking Glass Books is closing and Powell’s is laying off a bunch of people. So, to me, it’s totally worth the few extra bucks spent at my local bookstore. Let me give a shout-out to Broadway Books in NE Portland, another great local bookstore! That’s mostly where I get books, when I’m not at the library. And for those who live far away, Powell’s will now buy books by mail – check out their website – a great way to declutter and get cash or trade.

Thanks, Katy, for all you do in this great blog!


Alison February 12, 2011 at 5:07 pm

I would never call you a hypocrite but one thing I’ve noticed from reading your blog is that you really seem to enjoy shopping – I think that may not be evident to someone who stumbles upon your “non-consumer” blog and takes a bit of getting to know you. I love that you provide so much thought and alternative to the consumption culture.


Mamie February 12, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Our thinking is right in line with yours! Although our family is not “doing” The COmpact, we definitely make an effort to buy used and local whenever feasible. 🙂


Margie mccarthy February 12, 2011 at 7:13 pm

You GO Katey! You are one of my heroes!


Christina February 12, 2011 at 7:24 pm

I don’t mind spending more to support a local business. I am also willing to spend more at any place that offers decent service! I am sick of being treated like a bother rather than a paying customer. I am sick of sales people who do their best to avoid being helpful. I am sick of cashiers who are not capable of thinking beyond what the computer ‘says’. I prefer to buy things in person rather than online. But if I can’t get friendly, knowledgeable service then why leave the house?
Bottom line: I’ll spend more any place where employees get the concept that paying customers mean they keep their jobs. Or I’ll go where the shopping is less of a hassle – the internet. Thanks for letting me rant.


Ann February 12, 2011 at 7:24 pm

This post strikes very close to home. Last week we went to the closing for an independent mystery bookstore that we have been “regulars” for many many years. Not used purchases, usually. This store was a victim of Amazon…people would come to the store, meet the authors, discuss the latest “hits” and then go home and buy from Amazon. Very very sad. In our area, there are so few independent booksellers. And I live in a HUGE city.


Kathryn February 12, 2011 at 8:49 pm

I just started reading your blog about a month ago and really enjoy it. DH and I aren’t doing the Compact, but we’re big on buying less, buying used, etc. And we definitely are willing to spend more to support local businesses; in fact, our whole neighborhood is being very intentional about this. Our area is undergoing a commercial revitalization, and we are trying to send the message that we want to fill our storefronts with mom-and-pop shops, not big boxes and chains. So far, it’s working pretty well. We’re getting some amazing small businesses that are building relationships and investing in our community in ways no chain ever would.


Nicole February 12, 2011 at 9:09 pm

Hi Katy, I really enjoy your blog, and I’ve been reading for a while.
Supporting local businesses is hugely important to me. I work for a small, independently owned restaurant. I sell my knitted accessories at 2 (currently, hoping to get into more) local stores. Many of my friends own, or are employed by new, independent businesses.
We all live in Windsor, Ontario, which currently, and for the past while, is the city in Canada with the highest unemployment rate. We’re right across the river from Detroit, Michigan.
Here, supporting local is important for so many reasons. This area is being taken over by Sprawl*Mart (There are at least 5 within 40 minutes of driving) and the little shops are being pushed aside to make room for them.
If our area doesn’t start getting past the automobile, and looking towards other businesses to support here, we’re going to turn into a ghost town.
Because of all this, I have no issue paying a bit extra in local businesses. Today, I made about $15 in tips at my waitressing job. I went up our main road towards the river where my bank is to deposit it. On the way back, I picked up a tea latte at the coffee shop ($5+tip) a Shawarma for my boyfriend ($5+tip) and a poutine for myself ($5+tip). I try to put back as much as I can into the local economy.
I only wish I could afford to do more.


Katy February 13, 2011 at 9:46 am

Windsor, Ontario? A.K.A. Bieber-ville?

I love that kid!



Tracy Balazy February 17, 2011 at 10:03 am

Nicole, I live in Dearborn (city bordering Detroit), and you are so right about rotten Walmart! I hate that place. My husband and I forgo the deals we could be getting there or at somewhere like Costco and instead shop at Dearborn’s Westborn Market, where I don’t think it’s so much that individual items are priced higher than the big-box stores as much as that Westborn carries a lot of locally produced cheeses and breads and stuff that tend to cost more because they’re produced in smaller quantities and of higher-quality ingredients. But it’s worth it to us!


Marianne February 13, 2011 at 5:20 am

Absolutely! It means the shops and faces that keep my quaint town local and norman rockwellish stay here. Not to mention i am a local business myself but it is an important piece of the puzzle people often forget about. Then they look around and wonder what happened…


Jessica February 13, 2011 at 6:00 am

I live in Ann Arbor, MI… so if you get really technical about it (or you like to rationalize), Borders is a “locally owned bookstore.”

I’ve been out of college of about three years and and I wouldn’t have taken your dad up on his $5. While I do think it’s awesome that he does that, I wouldn’t have gone through the hassle of buying the books on Amazon if all I saved was $5… most of the time I cut my book payment in half. I would’ve been spending $400+ a semester on books buying at the local store…. and it’s a pretty big kick in the pants to “return” a $100 textbook and all you get back is $15.

On almost everything else though, buying local is the way to go though. I think most people don’t realize how much their town has to offer them.



Katy February 13, 2011 at 9:47 am

My father’s students are buying paperback novels NOT textbooks, so the price differences are not as dramatic.

The whole textbook racket makes my blood boil, but that’s a subject for another blog post.



Barb @ 1 Sentence Diary February 14, 2011 at 9:20 am

I was wondering about that too, at first, until I recalled what your dad teaches. My school books were so expensive I did absolutely ANYTHING I could to save money on them — buy previous editions, try to do all my homework with the library reserve copy, whatever I could think of. Every penny not spent on school books was then available for food and transportation costs.
Of course, that was before the days of Amazon and…


Tracy Balazy February 17, 2011 at 10:05 am

You’re right, Jessica, Borders is based in Ann Arbor. The economy around here (I live in Dearborn, just outside Detroit) is so bad, the Dearborn Borders is closing soon. I’m hoping the area’s small bookstores pick up the slack, although Dearborn’s old classic Little Professor Books closed a few years ago after 40 years in business.

On the rare occasion I buy a CD anymore, I go to Dearborn Music, an independent store that somehow, miraculously, stays in business.


Bob Soltys February 13, 2011 at 6:49 am

Thanks for the reminder about Powell’s, and to avoid Amazon. Good to see that Powell’s is a google eBook merchant.


Anne Weber-Falk February 13, 2011 at 7:21 am

I am slowly changing the way I shop these last couple of years. When the kids were younger we had little to no money left after the bills and our frivolous spending. I shopped where most of my friends and neighbors shopped. I didn’t think much about it. The kids are older now and we are making a better wage. We are also smarter with our spending. We’ve learned about some of the practices of the big box stores and have seen the demise of the local stores as a result. We now try to frequent these local businesses first. I still buy my paper goods and toiletries from the big guys but the bulk of my groceries, gifts, and books come from our area small businesses. We look at thrift stores for clothes and in the summer buy from the farmer’s markets. It’s a start and I feel like I am doing a good thing for our community and for ourselves.


Momma February 13, 2011 at 7:24 am

My youngest is in college, and this year we spent a fortune on texts for her from the college bookstore, choosing to buy used books whenever possible. One of them cost $179 new, because she couldn’t get it used. She came home to tell us that another girl in her class had bought her text on Amazon……. for less than five dollars. When I heard that, I decided buying local wasn’t all it was cracked up to be used or new.


Katy February 13, 2011 at 9:49 am

Textbooks are a category in and of themselves. Such a scam with new editions every year that make even last year’s book supposedly obsolete.




Jenny February 13, 2011 at 10:04 am

I own a small bookstore and will say that we’re in the same boat as Powell’s and Looking Glass. It’s partly the economy, partly Amazon and partly e-readers (which, thanks to google books indies can have a crack at now). Tough times for small stores. Our local toy store and feed/pet/garden stores are struggling, too. And our last music store closed 5 years ago. But we made it through the last wave of tough times and we’ll do it again—takes some creativity and diversifying.


Lisa February 13, 2011 at 10:41 am

I do try to support local businesses, but in this area there aren’t very many of them. Your post had me sweating a bit about Amazon until you admitted your “human” tendencies. This past week I redeemed a gift card for two used books on their site. It was my first experience with them, and I can see how easy it would be to become hooked. I felt like a kid in a candy store!


CC February 13, 2011 at 12:37 pm

I shop at a local owned pharmacy, and it only cost a bit more. But what I get is worth so much. I can walk in and get my rx filled right away, no waiting. I can call and pick up(they also deliver for a small fee) quickly. If the dr calls in a rx it gets filled and if they need to call the dr office I’m called when its ready. I had so much trouble at any other drug store I have used in the past that even if I’m not getting $4 drugs I gladly pay the difference for the great customer service.

I also use a local bank which gives good customer service. And like the pharmacy the employees have been there for years and know you by name.

I live on a small income and like everyone have to be careful how and where I spend. Good service is one place I think is worth spending.


Dmarie February 13, 2011 at 2:05 pm

love it that you’re promoting local shops. Already a big fan of eating at locally owned and operated restaurants, I’m trying to be more conscious of local businesses of other sorts before I shell out the dough. Thanks for yet another great conscientious-consumer post!


HeatherS February 13, 2011 at 4:00 pm

I am willing to pay slightly more but have to admit that if the price difference is pretty large I would buy it somewhere else rather than at the local store. For instance one local book/toy store that I shop in carries Lego sets now and the set my son wanted for Christmas was $20 more than I could buy it online. Well, he only gets three gifts anyway and $20 was the price of the third gift so with my budget it made a big difference. I do buy other things from them though.

There is only one local shop I will not shop in and it is owned by possibly one of the rudest women I have ever met! I have no idea how she stays in business as I am not the only person in town to experience this treatment.


Marie-Josée February 13, 2011 at 5:03 pm

More than anything, I would define myself as an environmentalist. I spend my money on businesses that grow or make organic, biodegradable and, or durable goods. Between two products that cover those requirements, I will pay more for the local product. It isn’t frugality, or even non-consumerism that motivates me, but the impact of my choices on my(and my family’s) and the planet’s health.


psmflowerlady/Tammy February 14, 2011 at 8:13 am

I was raised in a family of big box store lovers. My mom used to drool over her “deals” – although she applied that logic to yardsales too – so I guess it wasn’t all bad. I truly try to shop locally whenever possible. One of my favorite fallback local businesses for gifting is Rossi Pasta – they’re sold through catalogue sales and online and are purveyors of AWESOME gourmet pastas. This satisfies two of my gift buying criteria – buy local and consumable. Unfortunately, I don’t routinely buy it for myself or my family. We get the regular best value elbow macs my dimes can buy. Hippocritcal – maybe – but supporting them for gift giving is better than not at all and I can live with that. I think we all make compromises and that doesn’t make our decisions bad – in many ways they are better than mindlessly buying @ the big box in the first place.


Grace February 14, 2011 at 8:24 am

I’ve always been a big local business fan, but have become an even stronger advocate since moving to a place where local businesses are VERY few and far between. I never quite knew how much I’d miss them until they were gone.


rhonda February 14, 2011 at 10:08 am

I definitely will spend more SOMETIMES to shop local. It really depends on the situation. Sometimes things are tighter and I may have to shop at Shaws and go for the deals. Other times we are a bit more flush and I do what shopping I can at the local Co-op. I have tried to change how we eat and how I cook to incorporate more of what is available inexpensively or in bulk at the co-op, also. But I’m imperfect, busy, sometimes just too darn tired. I work hard to buy second hand whenever possible with clothing and most everything else, and to only buy when necessary period. I think we all do the best we can and it’s never going to be perfect. But at least if we are reading this, we are probably consciously thinking about these things and enjoy “spending time” with others who are making these conscious decisions instead of just blindly consuming. Thanks for sharing with us!


Vicki February 14, 2011 at 10:26 am

I try to spend as many dollars as I can locally. Lucky for me, here in Arizona a local business woman started the non-profit Local First Arizona. They encourage a 10% shift in your spending to local businesses. You can go to their website and look up local businesses in their directory. I know I sound like an add, but I love their web site! And yours too Katy (of course).


Deb February 15, 2011 at 11:19 am

It’s nice to see so many others who support their local stores, especially book stores. They are struggling tremendously in a rapid changing industry. For me, browsing through a book store is such a relaxing treat!

My close friend is a manager at Powell’s, and it is definitely a sad time there. Over 30 good people laid off, sales are down due to the recession, online sales, e-readers. Powell’s is doing its best to compete in all of those markets, and I truly hope it finds a way to thrive again. I cannot imagine Portland without our beloved Powell’s!

Thanks for a great post, Katy.


Dusti McLain February 15, 2011 at 4:20 pm

We bought a new mattress for our daughter but it’s a quality mattress and we purchased it from a locally owned store that sells mattresses made in Oregon. Can’t bring myself to feel guilty about that


Marisa H February 16, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Most of the time when I have to buy textbooks I use Amazon to get them used from sellers, and then also sell them to others through Amazon. So I’m still buying used products that definitely would not be at a thrift store! Buying new textbooks would be financially impossible and silly.


Jan Rose May 31, 2011 at 1:48 pm

We LOVE to buy local food. We can hardly wait for the local farmers’ markets to open in May. There’s one open every day of the week in Portland. We ALWAYS put the ice chest in the car when we make a “trip into the city (Portland).” The cost is more, but the food is fresh, usually organic and always local.
We even helped to start a local Farmers’ Market in our small community of Colton, OR a couple years ago. Alas, we will not have it this year, but hopefully we can rejuvenate it next year.
We also buy local seeds & plants for our garden. This helps the VERY small/home businesses. We also try to buy from local family farmers.


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