Joining The Compact and Opting Out of Consumerism

Posted on March 23, 2006

USA Today reports on a growing trend where people join The Compact. Despite its name, The Compact does not involve pagan rituals or anything like that. People who sign up pledge to live simpler lives and to opt out of consumerism. The goal is only to buy food, toiletries and prescription drugs. No Manolos, no iPods, no Frappucinos. Nothing frivolous.
It began as a simple, or simply terrifying, pledge taken by a small group of friends feeling overwhelmed by all the things in their lives. Over a potluck dinner two years ago, they made a pact: Buy nothing new except food, medicine and toiletries for six months. The effort lasted a year before falling victim to the demands of modern life. But the commercial craziness of the Christmas season brought the group back together a few months ago.

Only now they're not toiling in relative anonymity. A whiff of media interest over the past month has turned their tool-sharing, library-going, thrift-store-shopping band into a full-fledged cultural phenomenon with more than 700 members joining through their Yahoo website. Groups are meeting in Maine, Alabama, Texas, Oregon and Wisconsin, and satiated consumers in Japan and Brazil are making inquiries.

The original group named itself the Compact after the Mayflower Compact, a civil agreement that bound the Pilgrims to a life of higher purpose when they landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. The goal of the members wasn't so much to save money, or even the environment, as much as it was to simplify their lives, says Rob Picciotto, a high school French teacher who attended that first potluck. "It saved us time because there was less time spent shopping. We still buy groceries and go to the drugstore, but we don't go to Target on a Saturday, which was a ritual before just to see what the sales were," he says.

*****

Not that the idea is embraced by everyone. In Chilliwack, British Columbia, Tira Brandon-Evans says that when she and her husband told friends they weren't going to exchange Christmas and birthday presents, they acted as if she'd suddenly developed a mental illness. She jokes that from her friends' reactions, you would have thought she had announced plans to have a sex change or join a satanic cult.
We were going to join The Compact and take a pledge to opt out of our materialistic, hedonistic lifestyle, but fortunately we were distracted by this amazing shoe sale at Nordstrom's before we could do something we might regret a few minutes later.