Sickened by consumerism and inspired by Puritan values, a growing number of people are publicly committing themselves to consumption-free lifestyles. Are these anti-consumers revolutionaries or social outcasts? Zachary Slobig investigates.
When a group of environmentally concerned friends in San Francisco decided to buy nothing for a year, they unwittingly sparked an international trend.Rachel Kesel once waited out a tornado in a sprawling Kennesaw, Georgia, shopping mall. She chuckles at the memory, since it's been a year and a half since she's bought so much as a new pair of socks without prolonged deliberation. "Now, when I try to shop, it's like I'm broken," the 26-year-old says. "I just can't do it." Today, she is picking through T-shirts and sneakers at a vintage-clothing shop on San Francisco's Haight Street. She never approaches the register.Kesel looks like a hippie college kid, dressed in a light blue windbreaker accented with reflective tape and a few tears, and a pair of tan nylon hiking pants that zip into shorts. She pushes a 10-speed bike, covered in liberal bumper stickers, down the sidewalk. She has 10 piercings in her ears, but only wears two simple hoops, which she rotates among the holes.Back on the first of January, 2006, she and a group of nine San Franciscan friends vowed to purchase nothing new for one calendar year. But her January cut-off date came and went, and six months later, the most she can do is what she calls "foraging," better known as window-shopping.Kesel and her friends had, as their stated mission, a plan to flee the consumer grid-an idea they sealed in a pact just before Christmas almost two years ago. They called themselves "the Compact," after the Mayflower Compact, the 1620 social contract drawn up by the Pilgrims, those Puritans bent on building a "city on a hill" that would be a beacon to the world. The premise was simple: barter, borrow, or buy secondhand for a year-food, drink, health, and safety necessities excluded. Yes, they could buy toilet paper and new underwear, but, say, a gallon of white house paint or new dog toys? Unacceptable!It was a tall order, but it seems there's no shortage of people up to the task. Kesel and the other original Compacters claim never to have intended to start a movement, but with an exploding Yahoo group and a metastasizing network of blogs, the Compact has since collected some 9,000 acolytes from Bucharest to Taipei, even some in Orange County, California. Sure enough, a community is rising around the Compact's simple tenets."There is no dogma," says Kesel. "No one is out to chide you for not being perfect. We're not out to be environmental martyrs. We're just a group of folks looking to consciously reduce our consumption and keep trash out of the landfills."
|We're not out to be environmental martyrs. We're just a group of folks looking to consciously reduce our consumption and keep trash out of the landfills.-Rachel Kesel, Compact member|
|The Compact is just a group of people responding to a rising tide of environmental anxiety, and it's broad and loose enough for people to project their own concerns on it.-John Perry, Compact founder|