March Madness: The Compact Free Stuff Edition

I have been a member of an environmental movement called The Compact for five years. The core idea of The Compact is to step away from the consumer grid and not buy anything new for one calendar year. Food, cleaning products, and medication are obvious exemptions, but all other material goods like cars, clothing, and household items, must be borrowed or bought used.

While The Compact is incredibly challenging, it’s also extremely fun, which is why a one year experiment that I started in 2007 became my permanent lifestyle. The Compact enriches my life in so many ways, I don’t think I could stop doing it now if I tried. There are certain things that you just can’t unlearn.

Due to forced obsolescence, it is often more expensive to repair an item like a printer, than it is to buy the same item new. And, even though I sometimes spend more money on something used, than I would on a new item, buying used still saves me thousands of dollars every year.

More importantly, The Compact has given me a great community, both online and in real life. In addition to acting like a 10,000 online person brain trust to help me source the most hard-to-find used items (like shoe polish) or discover new ways to use every resource in a more environmentally responsible manner, The Compact has also forced me to become a better neighbor in real life.

Somehow, in the last thirty years, Americans have forgotten how to share, so in addition to all of us being a great deal poorer, our houses are all crammed with crap, because God forbid we have to borrow anything–a hammer, a car, a cup of sugar–from our neighbors. Tons of useable items are tossed into the landfills every day because people have lost the network of friends and family who used to reuse hand-me-down clothing and housewares until they actually wore out. Rebuilding this type of old fashioned network was easier than I ever expected, resulted in closer relationships, a safer neighborhood, and tons of party invitations.

Many people think that The Compact, and other related environmental movements like Voluntary Simplicity, are about deprivation, but this isn’t the case. In fact, if I have learned anything from The Compact, it’s that you can find anything you need, with just a little bit of patience, because Americans have altogether too much stuff.

March was a primo example of how much I benefit from The Compact. At the beginning of the month, I had a garage sale. I made $159 selling 181 items, most of which I’d either found or had been given to me for free. In addition to helping me clear out my tiny garage, the $159 also paid for 100% of my wedding costs…so far.

I also lucked out this month and was invited to three separate girlie swap parties. The idea behind the swap parties is very simple: bring useable stuff you don’t want anymore to the party and throw it on the communal pile. Take what you want for free. The leftover goods at the end of the party are donated to charity. Everyone wins.

Here’s all the loot I got FOR FREE in just one month:

Merino wool J. Crew sweater. I was so excited to find this sweater. I’ve been looking for a used black v-neck sweater and this one fit me perfectly. It was only when I was proudly wearing it the next day that I discovered that the sweater isn’t actually black. It’s a dark navy blue. It now belongs to my neighbor Alexandra who was in the market for office clothes.

My current sunglass frames are ten years old, so I’ve been on the hunt for new-to-me frames. My friend Lora gave me her old clear-framed, cat eye glasses and my neighbor Anna gave me an amazing pair of vintage, handmade, Bruno Bernini glasses that were too small for her. I’m keeping the vintage pair and gave Alexandra the clear frames to go with her navy sweater.

Black vintage handbag. I’ve been looking for a lady-like, professional-looking handbag for everyday use. So far, no one has noticed that this 1970’s era handbag is made out of vinyl and not leather because the tailoring details are so good. In addition to the two exterior flap pockets on the front which are the perfect size for my iphone and parking stubs, the purse has a strap that allows the bag to be converted from a handbag to a cross-body bag. The purse was missing two rivets, which my cobbler replaced for a whopping $6.

iphone cover. The white iphone cover that I really want costs $30, which is entirely too much money to spend on a hunk of plastic, but nothing in comparison to the replacement cost of a new phone if I drop it on the ground. Luckily, I can wait for the universe to provide me with a used, white iphone cover, because my friend Giselle gave me her old cover. Her old chartreuse cover is really banged up looking, but it protects my phone just as well as a new cover would.

Wide, red, leather belt. I look like such a gun moll when I wear this with my pencil skirts.

Flowered blouse. Both this blouse and the wide-legged jeans have such retro styling, that I look like an extra on MAD MEN when I wear them as an outfit.

Brown and teal plaid shorts. Okay, these are so not part of my usual color palette, but I have a hard time finding flattering shorts for my stumpy legs, and these Gidget-worthy shorts have a great fit. Ultimately, these will probably end up in someone else’s closet because of the colors, but I’ll make a pattern off them so I can copy these in other fabrics.

No. That’s not a sex toy. At least at my house. The little red rubber thing is a dog chew toy that I brought home for our cat Pannonica to play with. She loves it.

Green J. Crew corduroy pants. Patience is a virtue. My friend Assa had a pair of green cords that I have coveted for nine years. These pants are practically new and are the perfect fit. I’m already on the hunt for a second pair of cords because I know I am going to wear my green ones until they’re rags.

Reversible wool scarf. Red, black and blue striped on one side, with cream and black polka dots on the other. Amazingly, it is still possible to find clothes that aren’t made in China. This muffler was made in Scotland.

Put a bird on it! Sterling silver necklace. The sterling silver bird charm is going to be sold on etsy, but I’m keeping the intricate, woven chain for myself.

Silver and enamel earrings from India. These are going to be a present for my friend Patty.

Sterling silver petroglyph pendant. Although I originally picked this up for myself, I may end up gifting this my anthropology professor.

Taryn Rose laptop bag. This laptop bag is missing its matching strap and needs an extremely minor repair, but otherwise, it looks unused. Online, this laptop bag currently sells for $1200. Although my heart says “Buy a strap and keep this for yourself,” my brain says, “You’ve never lost a bag, but if you were ever to lose one, it would be the $1200 bag with your computer inside of it.” So, I’m going to spend $10 to repair the bag, listen to my brain, and sell it on etsy for $500. My ugly Patagonia messenger bag works just fine.

Sterling silver earrings. Hello, Mother’s Day Present for mom.

Felted dryer balls! I’ve been looking for an eco-friendly alternative to Mr. Foxypants’s love of cancer dryer sheets. Wool dryer balls reduce the time needed to dry laundry and also eliminate static. There are tons of people selling wool dryer balls on etsy, but here’s a great video tutorial on how to make your own:

For my garden, I also got a varigated elderberry tree which will be transplanted into a large, italian, clay pot to make my dumpy front porch look slighly less dumpy

A mostly full box of Dr. Earth organic fertilizer.

Three small clay pots. I’ve already planted these with flowering cacti for future giftgiving.

Tomato plant, mystery variety.

One dozen spinach seedlings. I’m regifting these to Patty, since I won’t have time to put them in the ground.

Fold-up pruning saw for my beekeeping kit.

Two issues of CRAP HOUND, a hilarious, highly collectible, and genius zine that combines equal parts scathing satire and found art in the guise of a clip art book.

The bright green luggage tag reads “not worth taking.” Perhaps I should put that on the Taryn Rose laptop bag, and not my suitcase…

New in box programmable electric timer that I’ll use to automatically turn on the space heater in my bedroom an hour before wake-up on chilly mornings.

Two tailoring rulers. Why are specialty tools so expensive even when they are plastic? Mine are free!

A zip-lock bag full of Barbie Doll heads. I have to do a little research on these. While these were wired to be Christmas ornaments, I’m not sure these are off the shelf items, as I got these from a friend who used to work for Mattel. If this set of ornaments are unique and not found in every Target across America, I’m going to put these on ebay and see how crazy crazy toy collectors really are. If this set was mass produced, I may have to do a serial killer-themed holiday party next year so I have an excuse to use these as home decor.

One Comment

  1. Stephanie Del Princi
    Posted April 3, 2012 at 1:14 am | Permalink

    Love all of your finds. Great stuff. I want to have a girlie swap party. Sounds like such fun! Any tips?

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