Reflections on My Compact Year

I wanted this post to be dated January 1st, but we turned out to have a more social New Year’s than usual, filled with friends both old and new and even relatives I haven’t seen for years, so there was no time for my usual reflections on the past year and goals for the year ahead.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll answer your questions about my year and give a more detailed account of the experience, but for now I just wanted to write down some general reflections.

And the main thing that occurs to me is that doing The Compact turned out to be much easier than I’d expected, but much more rewarding than I could have imagined. I’ve written before about how I was digging in my heels for deprivation and challenge, but there was almost no deprivation and the challenge was mostly a creative one that I enjoyed, like finding substitutions for things I needed to buy or making gifts that people would actually use.

I can hardly begin to list the ways my life is richer for this experience, but I’ll try to name just a few:

I’ve made more friends, mostly “online” friends, but some I’ve been lucky enough to meet in person. And the great thing is that they’re like-minded people who share my values and interests.

I feel like part of a community and that I’m living my values and sharing them.

I feel like I can handle any challenge, financial or otherwise, because I truly believe my friends and family will be there if I need them.

I feel more free, strong, and resourceful because I know I can live on less money if I need to.

I feel less susceptible to advertising and wanting STUFF because most of it isn’t worth it to me, in terms of the money I would have to earn to buy it, and all the steps that go into production and shipping and disposal of it.

Realizing I have most of what I’ll ever need has freed up time to do things I enjoy and spend more time with friends.

Borrowing or trading instead of buying new has brought new friends, closer ties with old ones, and a stylish wardrobe thanks to our annual clothing swap and my initial forays into some local thrift stores.

Doing without has been a great option that has helped bring less clutter into the house. I’ll still be working on decluttering some of what was already here in the coming year.

Getting a CSA delivery has been so much fun and helped us to eat healthier and with less meat.

I’m happier in general, because of feeling more productive, more connected, and living more in line with my values.

Those are just some of the rewards, I could go on and on but the post is going to be too long. The main thing is that I really can’t think of any downside to doing this experiment, which is why it was an easy decision to keep going with it and continue doing The Compact into 2010. I will be loosening up some of my rules and buying a few more things new, and I’ll tell you about that in a later post.

For now, I wanted to express how much I’ve gotten out of this experiment that I undertook almost on a whim. And to assure you that if you’ve considered doing it yourself, it’s not nearly as hard as you might think. I really want to communicate that anyone can do it, that there’s nothing amazing about me. I know it was easier for me because I don’t have children and because my husband wasn’t on the Compact, but my point is that it didn’t take any particular amount of willpower or strength of character. Whatever your situation, there’s all kinds of support out there and you can take whatever exceptions you need to make it work for you.

No one wants this to be so grueling that it can’t be a permanent lifestyle. And a lot of people thinking about their consumer habits and doing the best they can is going to make a much bigger difference than a few people living completely off the grid or isolated from the rest of society.

It’s been an extra bonus that so many people have written to me and told me that this blog has inspired them to join The Compact in 2010. I didn’t do this to “spread the word” but it is fantastic to know that I’ve made any difference in how we’re all thinking about what we’re buying.

I really am not the most frugal person you’ve ever met, the most creative or crafty or resourceful, or even the least interested in fashion. I’m just someone who said they were going to do something and then set out to do it. That’s really all it takes. The discipline and support and everything else you’ll need will be there for you once you take that first step and make a commitment.

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to share your thoughts in the Comments section.


  1. Cate says

    Reading your blog has definitely made me consider doing The Compact. While I don't have any plans to start in 2010 (though I'm not ruling out the possibility of doing it in 2011!), your blog has definitely helped me examine my priorities. I'm so glad you'll still be writing here, because I love reading what you have to say.

  2. frugalista says

    I am doing the compact this year. Well actually I started on the 1st. I have to adjust some of the rules as I live in Asia and where I live it really isn't acceptable to swap clothes unless it is with relatives or really close friends. Also we don't have goodwill here. On a more positive note, I can get USD2 jeans brand new a few times a year from factory sales.
    I am really hoping I can go through the whole year. February will be a challenge as it's Chinese New Year and food is the main thing. We don't exchange gifts instead we eat alot. Also there is a need to give out money packets to the children ( no exception here). Wish me luck

  3. Non Consumer Girl says

    It is an interesting point you make about living according to your values.

    I have found the same during my year of buying nothing new.

    It is easy to feel powerless against consumerism and the impact on the worlds resources of consumerism.

    But in making small changes to our behaviours, we can align them with our values.

  4. Compact UK says

    I am so impressed at how the challenge had so many positive influences on your life, I really hope I can learn half of what you have learnt through my own year of the compact.

    I think the reason why so many people have been inspired by you is because you write so well. Reading your blog makes realise that it isn't impossible to do, fun to do, and so fulfilling. (I apologise for not being good enough writer to eloquently express how good a writer you are).

  5. Angela says

    Thanks Cate- As I've said before, I really do think it's easier to do the Compact when you're older and have acquired things. You've got a lot on your plate right now, and you're doing great with your priorities! Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

    frugalista- Good luck! Interesting about it being unacceptable to swap clothes. I do think there is a bit of a stigma about used clothes even here. As far as food and money, they're not STUFF so as far as I understand the Compact, there's nothing against giving food or money. I hadn't thought about cash, but I love to give food as a gift.

    Non Consumer Girl- yes, for me it is the only way. When I look at the general culture, sometimes I feel like part of a changing tide. But other times it feels like the materialism and consumerism is so ingrained that most people will never get away from it or be able to examine how they want to incorporate it into their lives.

    Compact UK- Congratulations and good luck. And thank you so much for the compliment on my writing. I love to read and to write and it matters to me how words are put together, so I work hard on that and I appreciate that you notice. Thanks.

  6. Betsy Talbot says

    Angela, I disagree with your statement "there's nothing amazing about me." Of course most people can do this if they set their minds to it, but not everyone would take the time to share the experience with total strangers. Thank you for opening up your life to us this year. I'm excited to see how this experiment impacts your "regular" life going forward.

    Happy New Year!

  7. Anonymous says

    I just discovered your website a couple of days ago and although I don't think I can go the entire year without buying anything new (we are remodeling our bathroom), I will try and my husband is reluctantly agreeing to go along as well for as much as we can. Maybe this is a day by day thing… I've lived on an extremely small income before as a single parent and yes, those were the most creative and fulfilling days to look back upon. Kudos to you to be able to add such distinction to your resume! -The Frugal Brit

  8. Marie-Josée says

    Reading your blog has been so enriching and thought provoking. My husband and I will be joining The Compact in 2011, and I credit you for this commitment. I want to focus on losing weight this year by doing Dr. Joel Fuhrman's Eat to Live program, which is a low carb, low protein, low fat but very high fruit and veggie lifestyle. This will be a big challenge for me, but my husband and son are joining in to support me, and for their own health. Plus we will be moving in February and we thought that it would be very hard to observe The Compact while making a new home. We do intend to look for used items first before heading out to the store. Your kitchen remodel post really got me thinking. Thanks again!

  9. Gauri says

    Hey Angela. I'm a first-time commenter, and I wanted to let you know that you've inspired me so much that I am doing The Compact this year. :)

  10. Clandestine Road says

    I recently discovered your blog and the intentionality with which you live is very inspiring and encouraging. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I also began a "compact-lite" lifestyle last year but didn't have a name for it. I started because I wanted to be more intentional in my spending. I found that my spending habits had increased over the past few years, though my needs did not. It was a fruitful and, to be honest, scary, experience to investigate that I was spending money to avoid my own sadness. I found it alarming how my mood seemed to be tied in with consuming. (I found the cliche "retail therapy" to be fitting.) I think you said it best with her comment, "it feels like the materialism and consumerism is so ingrained that most people will never get away from it or be able to examine how they want to incorporate it into their lives." Thanks!

    Angela in WA

  11. Angela says

    Thanks Betsy, but I still don't think I'm amazing. Blogging has been so enriching for me. When you write a story or an article, a few people will write to you, but with a blog it's a constant conversation. It's incredibly stimulating and rewarding.

    The Frugal Brit- Thanks for commenting! And yes, to some degree, it is a day-by-day thing. I think the main point of the "experiment" of the Compact is to notice how ingrained our consumerism is. Not to beat ourselves up, and certainly not to feel guilty or worried. Although I admit I was a little worried at the beginning. And yes, your years living on less will help, as did my several years in college and post-college.

    Marie-Josee- Thank you so much for telling me! And yes, for me it works better to focus on one big thing at a time. Since you'll already have a move and a big weight loss goal on your plate for 2010, it seems very wise to start thinking about the Compact this year, but wait until 2011 to officially join. Good luck with your weight loss goals, and don't get discouraged when you're not perfect. I have a post planned on that soon- I've made a lot of big changes this year, but I've "fallen off the wagon" and not achieved my goals many times. I just pick up and keep going. It's a huge lesson for me not to try to be perfect and not to beat myself up. I tend to be incredibly forgiving of other people's weaknesses, and more judgemental of my own. Not good.

    Gauri- Thank you so much for telling me! Good luck, and please feel free to write to me at my email address with any questions or concerns.

    Angela- I'm so glad you found my blog and thanks for your comment. Whenever I'm writing this blog or reading the blogs I love, I feel like there's a community we all belong to and it's a great feeling. Sometimes in the "real" world I can get depressed that a lot of hard work can be undone in seconds. And yes, on a personal level, I think we've all found that part of ourselves was convinced that we would be happy if we had more "stuff." It's a sad realization, but liberating on the other side.

    Thank you all so much for your smart, insightful, and also supportive comments.

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