Can I Talk You Into Trying The Compact?

by Katy on December 3, 2011 · 45 comments

December is upon us, which means holiday shopping, holiday decorating and holiday cooking.

Or . . . it means working on your new year’s resolution. Because if you wait until December 31st to figure out your 2012 goals, it might end up being nothing less than a depressingly self-serving to-do list:

  • Lose weight
  • Learn French
  • Exercise more
  • Stop watching The Kardashians

But I have a new year’s resolution for you to ponder:

Buy nothing new for a year. It’s called The Compact, and it’s a world-wide movement where people make a one year commitment to stop buying new stuff. There are no official rules, and everyone puts their own twists and exceptions in their compact. (For example, I allow purchases of new underwear and socks.) Because I have been  participating in The Compact since 2007, my rules have relaxed and I do buy a few new things every now and then, but for the most part it’s a rarity.

Everyone brings their own personal motivation to the project, and for some the choice to avoid new stuff is purely environmental, while for others it’s a financial decision. Doesn’t matter, as it’s your decision, and the result is the same. Over manufacturing of unnecessary and overly packaged stuff is a huge global issue, and The Compact is a great way to take a personal stand.

So, what do you say . . . can I talk you into trying The Compact?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

P.S. Please stop watching The Kardashians. I beg of you!

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{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

Van December 4, 2011 at 12:47 am

I’ll be doing it again this year. And spreading the word. And dragging others into the fight… 🙂

Don’t worry, I don’t watch the Kardashians or any tv. I watch horror flicks and cartoons almost exclusively.


Miss Roman Apartment December 4, 2011 at 1:32 am

The Compact is a really fun personal experience and a great every day adventure. I thought I’d do it for one year in 2007. Here I am four years later still doing it!

Also, I have OCD. And not in the pop-culture ha-ha reference way. The Compact has helped my OCD more than anything I’ve ever done.


Vanesa December 4, 2011 at 7:27 am

Would you mind elaborating on how it has helped you? I have a mild form of OCD, and I was wondering if this could help me too. Thanks!


Lisa December 4, 2011 at 10:19 am

I’ve been following the Compact for several years and plan to continue. I have OCD also and find that the Compact helps. I’m not the hoarder type…more of the compulsive cleaner and organizer. With less stuff around, the compulsion lessens. Oh, by the way, I’ve never watched the Kardashians and don’t intend to start now. As for other New Year’s resolutions, I’m thinking about doing mini resolutions…one each month.


Jennifer December 4, 2011 at 5:24 am

I feel like I have been easing into “The Compact” for a few years now. I have been buying used more and more and loving it more and more. There is fun and excitement at finding just what you need when you least expect it for very little money compared to retail. I have you to partially thank as well as my mother in law, friends and my kids (who are bigger now and not such a pain in the touchas to take thrifting or are at school!) I hope to do even more thrifting this year. However, I do have a quandry for you. We need new couches……bed bugs are making a comeback and the thought of potentially bringing those disgusting critters into my home sends me into full body shivers. Covers are not going to work as we need a sofa bed. Thoughts??


Betsyohs December 4, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Could you make a couch? Lots of tutorials on line, and you’d probably have to buy the foam new, but maybe that would be ok under your personal Compact? (It was under mine!) You can probably find the lumber used, and maybe even the nails/screws at a garage sale. I even found the fabric and quilt batting for covering the cushions at an estate sale. Had to buy the thread, though!


Lisa Under the Redwoods December 4, 2011 at 6:26 pm

Could you get the word out among your friends to see if they have, or know of someone who has, ome available. If it comes from a reliable Source it should be ok.


Elaine in Ark December 5, 2011 at 10:25 am

Don’t buy any used upholstered furniture! My bug guy told me it costs over a thousand dollars to get rid of bedbugs once you’ve got them in your house.

Don’t even take a chance.

Unless you get one from someone you know and trust.


Barbara Marlow December 4, 2011 at 5:28 am

I am in.
How do we explain our lifestyle when we are surrounded by people who shop all the time and have the newest of everything? I, for the most part, keep my mouth shut. But seeing this post is renewing my resolve to do better. I started off good when I first found the Compact a couple of years ago. I am not a big shopper at all but I can do so much better as far as looking for alternatives to things I think I need.


Kelli December 4, 2011 at 5:37 am

I’m just completing my first year of the compact and I have to say my life feels richer and better for it. I had never considered purchasing used clothes before, always thinking it was gross…..however 2008-2011 have been really hard financially for us and I had to begin to approach my spending differently. I started by purchasing items we needed for our home at thrift stores and then I got up my courage to look for clothes. I found I actually enjoy it and I wear better brands now than I did when I was buying new. When my family compliments an outfit I’m wearing I tell them it’s “new to me” and then we chuckle. My 15 year old daughter has really embraced this and actually looks forward to shopping at thrift stores and she’s learned the value of a dollar!! My boys age 4 and 7 love looking for toys at thrift stores and I will be wrapping up some used toys for Christmas–they don’t even notice (or care) if they happen to be used!! We have had a total change of heart in regard to buying used–we love it!


Laura's Last Ditch--Adventures in Thrift Land December 4, 2011 at 9:45 am

I love this! So nice to hear of people who have actually made a total turnaround in their buying habits. You know when you start giving used gifts you’re hard core (in a good way)!


Lauren December 4, 2011 at 7:51 am

I’ve spent a lot of the past year trying to shift towards a zero-waste home and buy less stuff. I’ve made some pretty good progress. I live in an urban area with a very high cost of living, and my attempts at thrift-store shopping are often thwarted by high prices. Here’s an example: A couple of days ago I was so proud of myself for finding my son a couple of pairs of footie pajamas for my son (and he really needed them) at a children’s consignment store. They were exactly the ones I had wanted to buy for him from Costco. They cost five cents (yes, that’s $0.05) less than they would have cost me at Costco. I got them anyways, but only because I’m trying to reduce our wastefulness. Most of the clothes at this store had some wear left in them, but cost almost as much as they would new. If something only has 50% of its life left, but costs 95%+ of its original price, it’s really not a frugal buy, is it? I wish it were only this store (at least this one has good sales occasionally that make it more worthwhile) but it’s not. Most of our local thrift stores are like this. I go to the thrift stores when I visit my sister in another state, so I know reasonable resale options exist in other places. I can’t really fly out of state whenever we need things though (however much I’d love to visit my sister more often). Craigslist isn’t much better here. Preschool rummage sales work better, but there are few of them.

Anyhow, this is my long-winded way of saying “I’m trying” and I’m very grateful for this site and others like it that give me lots of good ideas. I think my twist on the compact might just have to be that when I do buy new things I try to make sure that 1) we really, really do need those things 2) we use them and repurpose them to their fullest extent and 3) I have a way to pass things on for further use by someone else when we’re done with them.


Laura's Last Ditch--Adventures in Thrift Land December 4, 2011 at 9:49 am

If it makes you feel any better, sometimes 50% of the life is all you need. For something like pajamas, this could possibly be the case. Also, you might consider going without things like pjs, instead opting for sweatpants and a cotton shirt that’s too grubby for public viewing. Also, when I need something, sometimes I try just asking on Facebook. In turn, I offer things on Facebook, too.

Thinking ahead is really the best defense, though, so possibly you can indeed pick up things you’re sure you’ll need when you’re out of town and have better thrift stores to choose from.

I am thankful for a really good collection of thrift stores in my town. It sounds like you have a much tougher time of it!


emma December 4, 2011 at 6:25 pm

That 50% idea works if you are only buying for one kid- if I do that then I end up buying twice so all the used clothes (easily 90% of everything except socks and underwear) I get the two girls is all nearly new and good quality so it lasts.
Thinking ahead rocks, when they have a growth spurt you can go shopping from the Rubbermaid tubs in the closet instead of the mall.


Katy December 4, 2011 at 10:32 am


Is there any way you could casually mention to someone who has older kids that you’re open to receiving hand-me-downs? And then mention that you’d be happy to do something in exchange for them? maybe bake cookies or something similar.



Jan December 4, 2011 at 12:11 pm

I used to ask when they were going to have a yard sale! My friends who found great sales often had children just older than my own. Their yard sales were my gold mines.
My daughter asked a friend about her yard sale and found a huge bag of clothes on her porch the next week. She has “returned” the favor by passing on some clothes to a porch of another family that has a child younger than hers.
Ask—and you shall receive?


Betsyohs December 4, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Any chance you could go to a different neighborhood in your urban area to do your thrifting? It would surely take more time, but I always marveled at how much cheaper the thrift stores were in Brooklyn when I lived in Manhattan.


JoeAnne December 5, 2011 at 10:08 am

Lauren–Have you tried eBay for clothes? I have had some luck with buying used clothing in lots for my 2 girls. I usually look for listings with good descriptions and pictures from sellers with a high positive feedback rating. I also love craigslist but understand that my area may have lower prices than yours. I believe that any progress is good 🙂 I have not actually tried ThredUp (a site for swapping clothes/books/toys) but that sounds like it might be worth looking into? Good luck!


Rachel December 4, 2011 at 8:55 am

I’m also slowly easing into The Compact, and I’m hoping that my move into an urban area at the end of the year will give me more options for thrifting than are available out here in the middle of nowhere. I will admit that my biggest weakness for buying new things is for crafts, though I don’t feel particularly bad about that since I try to only buy what I know I’ll use, and it’s usually to make something for someone else which I think is better than going out and buying a completed object for them.

My main obstacle is that my siblings and parents are still very consumeristic, and look down (to varying degrees) on making things or buying used items, and I’ll be living with an older sibling. I may end up continuing what I do now but not talking about it to them and finding other people to share my crafty/nonconsumerist tales with. Viva la resistance! 😛


Shelley December 4, 2011 at 8:57 am

I’m not averse to the idea of not buying new, but I’m not prepared to promise I won’t. When I identify something I need (or just want) I tend to shop the thrift stores, then consignment shops. If I don’t find what I need then I look online and finally at department stores. I tend to skip the really cheap shops for clothes or household goods as I’ve had bad experience with shoddy goods, which are of course a waste of money. If I can’t get something second hand, then I’ll pay full price for a new quality item, knowing I’ll use it for a very long time. Bill tends to shop for new items, but he buys only one or two things every few years and tends to wear his clothes out. So, whilst I agree with you in principle, I’ll not make a promise I might not keep.


Laura's Last Ditch--Adventures in Thrift Land December 4, 2011 at 9:56 am

I, like Shelley, am wary of making promises, but honestly, I think I only bought two or three things new all year, not counting the packing tape I use for my Etsy business, postage stamps, and food. Good grief, with Dumpster diving and gardening, I hardly even buy new food! It’s fun, really–wish hubby would stop going to the hardware store for his junk, and instead visit local estate sales–lots of good guy stuff there!

I started out just being a tightwad and not noticing if something was wasteful, so long as it was free, but gradually, as Amy Dacyczyn wrote in The Tightwad Gazette, once you don’t really need to save money so badly anymore, you start caring more about waste of resources, too, not just of money.

Best wishes to all, whatever step of the journey you’re on!


Kimberly Sea December 4, 2011 at 11:33 am

Yes, yes, yes! I’ve been following the Compact for years now with lust and envy, have tried it a couple times, but ended up falling back on the consumer wagon. But this is my year I think! I’m going to commit to one month (January) for now. My motivations are financial, environmental, and mental/emotional. Less stuff= more money, less environmental impact, and less mental clutter and worry. Win…win…win!!!


Jenni December 4, 2011 at 11:37 am

I’m interested!


Robin December 4, 2011 at 1:07 pm

I’m in! I hope to do a blog post (and link you) about this tomorrow.

Thanks for your very motivational blog. I appreciate you!


Katy December 4, 2011 at 1:14 pm




Yankeegal December 4, 2011 at 1:46 pm

I am in again also. I did very well this year until my daughter’s wedding in Sept.and kind of fell off the wagon-all that wedding buying got me off track. I didn’t plan ahead enough to find a dress and other things that I really could have done without. But I am ready to give it another go.
I love a good challenge-it really helps to keep me motivated. Thanks for posting it!


Jen December 4, 2011 at 5:05 pm

This is a tough one for me, because I live in a fairly impoverished small town in Indiana. The thrift stores here are truly garbage, everything at the one by my is old Xmas decor, hideous glass items, and stained clothes. I am not exaggerating. Garage sales tend to be garbage too, because everyone holds on to anything useful. Also seems people selling on Craiglist here pretty much want retail prices!

So, I do the best I can. I really think of alternatives before I buy anything and I borrow stuff from relatives like the extension cord for my Xmas tree before I run out and buy new.

I am a semi-Compact-er every day!


Laura December 4, 2011 at 5:13 pm

Allergies won’t let this work. However, I enjoy reading about your exploits and I try not to be wasteful, within my limitations.


Laure December 4, 2011 at 5:15 pm

I love this idea. Not sure it’s totally feasible for me as there aren’t any thrift stores near me. However, I have tried to slowly easy into this…and have found that it’s fairly easy by (1) using what I have instead of buying anything (2) “spreading the word” among friends and family when I need to use or acquire something. I’ve noticed many more friends/family doing the same…which lets me “clear the clutter” by giving my seldom-used items to a good home.
Also, I am determined to buy local. A few years ago, after yet-another China-produced Dollar Store item was recalled for lead, I completely stopped buying the “made in China” crap and my life had improved greatly.
When you think about the environmental impact of manufacturing a gift bag in China, shipping it around the world…not a bargain at $1/bag, LOL. I’d rather find an alternative…


Lisa December 4, 2011 at 11:02 pm

(I just wanted to make sure you had at least one contrarian in the bunch! :))


Katy December 4, 2011 at 11:49 pm




Donna December 5, 2011 at 12:01 am

I can’t go the route of “buy nothing new” but am instead committing to buying less in general. Luckily, we live in a warm climate so our wardrobe needs are very minimal.
I tried buying my clothes a few years ago at consignment shops but got discouraged because the prices are not much better than buying clothes at clearance. Plus there was the no-return policy. The worst part was when I brought some of the clothes purchased at the consignment shops back to them for resale (due to their no-return policy) and they were inexplicably rejected.
So instead, I now buy on sale, with coupons, and stock up during the end-of-summer clearance (even though we can wear summer clothes here year-round). Good luck to all who are doing the compact!


Rubymay1029 December 5, 2011 at 4:57 am

I have committed to making progress. Last year was my first year and I did pretty well. I would like to remind everyone about There are local chapters all across the US. It is a great way to pass on usable stuff to people who want it — all free.


Elaine in Ark December 5, 2011 at 10:22 am

Well, I won’t be doing the Compact, but I do shop more in thrift and consignment stores now.

Not watch any of those low-life “reality” shows – NO PROBLEM! I don’t put garbage in my mouth – why would I put it in my brain?

However, I am hooked on the Walking Dead, Leverage, and the Closer. And reruns of Columbo.


Kris December 5, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Okay, you’ve convinced me to actually really try going at this seriously. I’ve been a thrift store shopper for my own clothes for years and try to find things secondhand before I buy new but when I’m tight on time, I tend to flake out (I’d hit outlets to try and keep costs low).

My guilt-free exceptions in the clothing department are socks, underwear, swimsuits and running shoes. I’d also like to reserve my right to buy something new if I’m somewhere “exciting” because of work (ex. if I have a 2 day layover in Tokyo, if I see something I’d like as a souvenir that I REALLY like, I want to be able to buy it) and even that isn’t likely, I prefer to take photos. Gifts are generally “experiences” (like my parents are getting tickets to see a comedian this Xmas) so hopefully I can side-step that issue with my friends/family.

So there you have it, a new Compacter. I’m not guaranteeing success but I’ll try my best. 🙂


Ellie December 5, 2011 at 5:58 pm


But let me explain 🙂

I have trouble with things like Doing The Compact because I am one of those people who has an aversion to being absolutist about ANYTHING. Tell me I can NEVER do something, or that I need to STOP doing something COMPLETELY, and I tend to get agitated and contrary, and start feeling the urge to to the exact OPPOSITE. I think if I committed to strictly “Doing the Compact”, it would make me constantly obsess about buying things. Being absolutist about anything makes me nutty.

On the other hand, if you tell me it would be awesome if I could TRY to do something MOST of the time (but that I don’t have to be a fanatic about it) then my instinct is to cooperate and do the best I can! You don’t need to talk me into trying to reduce consumption – I came to that conclusion on my own a long time ago. Which is why I mostly avoid shopping (not too much of a hardship, as I never really enjoyed it), and try to buy – or simply “acquire” – things I need second hand as much as possible. BUT, if there is something that I really need and I can’t find it second-hand very easily, or if there is something that I really, really want new (which doesn’t happen very often, but it does happen), then I will buy new. And when I do buy new, I do my research and buy quality so that it will last and I won’t have to buy it again, and try to patronize local businesses and skilled craftspeople as much as possible.

Interestingly, I once read an article about how people fall into two categories when it comes to temptation: “moderators” and “abstainers”. The former find it easy to reduce/moderate potential vices, but feel upset at the thought of absolutes; the latter find it easier to abstain completely from temptation, and trying to “moderate” an indulgence just makes it harder to control. While I’m not generally eager to shop, I am very much a “moderator” in temperament – so it’s not surprising that I go about reducing consumption the same way.

And that’s the best I can offer.


Ruthie December 5, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Yes. Thank you for asking. It is what I needed.


Molly December 6, 2011 at 7:03 am

I’m on the fence, so I’d like some help.
– I’m hoping to lose weight next year (doesn’t everybody? BUT I’m on Weight Watchers again, and it’s worked before, and, um, none of my clothes really fit now, so I kinda have to… anyway). Intermediate clothes, heck yeah I’ll buy used. No point in spending too much money when I’m not going to where them that long.
– But new clothes are supposed to be my treat when I hit goals. Ex: for every 5 pounds, I told myself I’d get a new exercise item of clothing. When I hit my goal, I want to go to the fancy, expensiveasallgetout jeans store and buy a designer pair. Yes, I *am* vain. I’ll admit it.
– Makeup. I wear it. I’d like to wear more of it.
– Craft supplies (as mentioned above). Yarn? Fabric? Where can I get these?

So… help? Thoughts? Intelligent useful readers?


Ruthie December 6, 2011 at 7:39 pm

Hey! I am new to the Compact but most of my stylish thrifty friends love ebay. 🙂 You can get name brand stuff for way cheaper. Example, lulumon, Patagonia, Columbia, etc.

If you buy one thing all year, would you want it to be those designer jeans? Then think about HOW AMAZINGLY AWESOME they would have to be. The one thing you bought new, all year, was your goal pants. Woah.

Makeup could be considered an item like toilet paper, shampoo, and ketchup. If you can’t make do and do without, at least use it up. Wait to buy more stuff until you’ve scraped the bottom of what you’ve got, as long as it’s clean and sanitary. If you’re trying the compact for money issues, try to find your most financially sound make-up option. If you’re doing it for environmental reason, explore eco-friendly make-up brands.

Craft supplies: I am also crafty. Explore the world of green “reuse” crafts. Also, ebay and etsy have lots of vintage or pre-owned patterns, supplies and accessories. There are lots of free patterns online, too. Plus, could you make it through your stash in a year? Most crafty people I know couldn’t.


Molly December 7, 2011 at 6:24 am

“Could you make it through my stash in a year?”
Um… probably not. That’s a good one. Thanks, Ruthie!

I will ponder some of my “rules” on this.

(5 minutes later)
I KNOW! I will put a limit on how much I can spend on buying *new* stuff. I think that will be a good start. And we must start somewhere.


Lynn December 6, 2011 at 7:33 am

Wow! I was just thinking about doing something like this on my own. I have really been simplifying my life lately and this seemed like another way to work on that. I have a business sewing diaper bags and hand bags (and making other upcycled items). The hand bags I already try to do as much upcycling as I can, but some things like thread, etc. have to be new. 🙂 And fabric for the diaper bags is always new, though I am trying to push the same type of upcycling with it, just no one seems to care for that idea so far. I have committed to crafting all my Christmas decorations this year from fabric (or other items) I already have on hand. And the majority of gifts this year will be handmade either by myself or by a local crafter. I can’t wait to see if I can pull it off. Even cutting back at least half the new stuff purchased would be a great goal!


Ruthie December 6, 2011 at 7:46 pm

Lynn I was thinking about this today, as I had to run out and get some brown thread and my thought was “what will I do in January if this comes up?” I think I’ll start looking for a good lot of “used” thread on e-bay, like this

and be a little more adventurous in my color choices.

I did some consignment sewing for a girl with an upcycled etsy shop and she used white thread entirely. Her stuff all looked very professional and classy!


Ann-Marie December 12, 2011 at 3:22 pm

I proposed it to my husband this last weekend and I thought for sure he would say no. To my surprise and delight he agreed that it would be good for us to try. This is something we have done for a month here and there to help out with the finances, but this is a commitment that will be a challenge for us. I am both excited and scared by the prospect!


Vickie August 23, 2012 at 12:47 pm

I’ve shopped garage sales and thrift stores for years. My Mom was a very frugal person, who shopped garage sales and yard sales when I was a kid. We did get some new clothes at the beginning of the school year, but we never went without anything. I raised my daughter the same way. My house is furnished in antiques and used furniture given to us by family members, when they bought new.
I’ve found new things with tags still attached at garage sales and thrift stores, so I don’t feel like I’m doing without by any means. I work in a college town and I’ve noticed the Goodwill store here has GREAT deals. Most college students buy new and then dump their stuff when they get bored with it or move, after graduating. Also, keep in mind many thrift stores are privately owned, with a portion of their profit going to charities; so, some will be higher priced than others. I like knowing that I’m recycling useful items. I’m following the FlyLady lifestyle, so when I buy something, I try to make sure when the newer item comes in something else goes out; that way I’m not adding to my clutter. I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s responses, it’s nice to know so many people are trying the less materialistic lifestyle.
BTW – I’ve never watched the Kardashians – I had no clue who they were until a few months back when my brother had to explain it to me. LOL!


RoelErick November 20, 2014 at 1:04 am

The link to “The Compact” ( ) is dead.


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