February 27, 2009

I bought something new today...

... but I wouldn't quite classify it as a fall off the wagon. It was a card for a coworker who just took his oath of citizenship yesterday. So we all wanted to do something and one of us ordered a cake and I went out and got the card. He seemed really happy that we'd acknowledged the event, especially when we tried to sing "My country tis of thee" alarmingly off-key. Then we tried "America the Beautiful" and couldn't remember the words. Only one person would even attempt "The Star-Spangled Banner." I think he really appreciated the card and the cake, which was actually a fruit tart that was better than cake. He told us about how he'd taken the oath with 6000 other people in the downtown convention center. He said the application process was simple and he'd only had to answer a few questions like who was the first President of the United States and who's the President now, and since his interview was on Inauguration Day he was a little worried that might have been a trick question. I had heard from other people who become citizens that the test was really hard and they had to study a long time. Are there different tests depending on where you're from and how long you've been here? I always had the impression that people who moved here and became citizens knew United States history better than those of us who grew up here and went to public schools.

Anyway, I don't feel bad at all about buying that card. Maybe if we hadn't been quite so busy at work, we could have made one. But I'm afraid it would have just ended up looking cheap and hasty, rather than creative and well-thought-out like a handmade card should. So instead of a fall, it's like a little slide or slip off the wagon. And I definitely don't regret it.

Have a great weekend. And if you live in Los Angeles, here's a free stuff alert: The Getty Center museum is free every day ($10 per car for parking) and it's fabulous this time of year. The blue skies on a clear day make the building and gardens alone worth the trip. And this weekend is the last chance to view a fantastic photography exhibit Dialogue among Giants: Carleton Watkins and the Rise of Photography in California. I highly recommend it- there are gorgeous photos of the Yosemite valley from the 1800s and a display of the huge camera used to take them, long before Ansel Adams took his iconic photos. And there's a 360 degree photo of San Francisco taken before the 1906 earthquake, plus much more.

February 25, 2009

Stay married and save the planet?

I couldn't help noticing that provocative news headline yesterday. So how does being married help save the planet? According to Senator Steve Fielding from Australia, staying married is better for the planet because newly single people lead more wasteful lifestyles, so divorce makes climate change worse. He says that when people separate they need more space, more electricity, and more water, and that increases their carbon footprint. He says this proves that divorce isn't just a social problem, but an environmental one. According to Fielding, married couples live a more "resource-efficient lifestyle."

Fielding made his remarks at an Australian Senate hearing on environmental issues. I think there are some problems with his assumptions. I'm skeptical of his research and opinion because he's the leader of the independent Family First party and grew up in a family of 16 children. In my experience, at least here in the states, any group with the word "family" in the title is sort of code for "anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-liberal." Also even though I'm married, I was single for many years prior to moving in with my then-boyfriend, and I have lots of single friends. Blaming them for global warming seems beyond ridiculous. Further, there's the emphasis on marriage, when clearly his resource-efficiency argument would work just as well for couples who are living together. And finally, I love children, but surely married couples with children are leaving a larger carbon footprint than any singletons out there.

But he does have a small point, and that is that it's a fact that two can live cheaper, and therefore more efficiently, than one. I just don't think we have to bash singles to make that point. What do you think? Whether you're married or single, chime in with your opinion on how married couples or singles hurt or harm the climate crisis.

February 23, 2009

Fat Tuesday

In celebration of Mardi Gras, some people go to New Orleans. The rest of us can get free pancakes at the IHOP. You can go anytime between 7am and 10pm on tuesday february 24th for your short stack, all they ask is that you consider making a donation to a children's hospital through the Children's Miracle Network or another local charity. You can find out the details and an IHOP near you here: http://www.ihoppancakeday.com/

I'm not really a pancake person, so I'll have to think of my own way to celebrate. Any ideas for a Compact-y Fat Tuesday? Is that a contradiction in terms? By the way, Compact-y is my new favorite word. As far as I know, Katy Wolk-Stanley over at The Non-Consumer Advocate (my favorite blog) coined the term. Check out her excellent blog: it's entertaining, thought-provoking, and funny. She's been a member of The Compact since 2007. I just joined this year.

How will you celebrate Fat Tuesday's, if at all?

February 20, 2009

Jeans made in heaven?

Anyone who read my previous post about my panicked jean shopping spree on December 31st (Last Day to Shop), the day before I joined The Compact, will understand why I was irritated when I read today's Daily Candy. With the title "Heavenly Creatures," we learn that Made in Heaven jeans have arrived in the U.S. I don't even know what that means, and already I want them. Damn. The first line of the little ad/article is "Shopping for jeans can be hell on earth." No kidding. It goes on, "Behold Made in Heaven. The second coming of the original British denim line has descended on America. Answering your prayers for a few perfect pairs, spring presents classic London..." It goes on from there, describing different styles, and I want all of them! So irritating. I'm convinced I really need these jeans, they probably fit perfectly, look amazing, and are so comfortable they feel like you're wearing sweats. Daily Candy is banned from my universe.

The new jeans I bought are okay, but neither of them are perfect. You know what I mean- the pair of jeans you'd put on every day if you weren't embarrassed to be wearing the same thing all the time? My favorite pair of jeans were a pair of 501s that were hand-me-downs from my brother. I used to get all my jeans from him when we were the same size. It worked out perfect because he liked to wear them slightly new and dark and I loved them light and worn in. I wore those jeans all through my twenties until right before my 30th birthday, they tore beyond repair while I was wearing them. They had already been patched several times with colorful fabric across the bum and the knees were left torn (this was the early 90s). Maybe I'll do okay buying jeans from a thrift store. Do you remember your favorite pair of jeans? I have an idea that jeans are the blankies of our early adulthood. Write and tell me your thoughts about all things jean-related.

Free stuff alert: If you live anywhere near Long Beach, CA, this concert sounds really cool. The Los Angeles based Indie/Rock/Americana band Everest will be playing a free in-store concert at 2pm on Sunday at Fingerprints Music Store. Everest is made up of current and former band members of Earlimart, Sebadoh, Alaska!, The Watson Twins, Great Northern, and Stanford Prison Experiment. They have opened up for Death Cab for Cutie and Neil Young. For more information on Everest and to listen to music samples visit: everestband.com or myspace.com/everest. You can also find out more at http://www.fingerprintsmusic.com/.

I don't know the band, but I love Neil Young, and I think I would love Death Cab for Cutie if I was more hip and listened to more new music. And with a 2pm start time, you'll be home in time to watch the Academy Awards starting at 5pm.

February 17, 2009

Girls just want to have fun

I'm going to be writing more about how to have fun without spending money. I'm inspired by Natalie, aka The Frugalista, over at The Frugalista Files. Check out her blog- it's great. Her tag line is "the frugal side of fabulous" and it's all about living well on less money and having fun on a budget. She often posts about free concerts, free breakfasts, free facials, all kinds of free stuff you can enjoy if you know where to find it.

I like her focus on fun and I'm inspired by it because for me so far The Compact has been fun. For one thing, a challenge is fun for me, but for another I think it's fun to discover, or remember, all the things that money can't buy. I don't want this blog to be an exercise in self-sacrifice or matyrdom. I look at my challenge of not buying anything new for a year as a sort of game.

Free stuff alert: If you live in Los Angeles, check out the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Free admission the second tuesday of each month, plus after 5pm every day. Closed on wednesdays. They also screen films and have free friday night concerts in the summer months. http://www.lacma.org/

The silver lining in this recession may be that we'll all rediscover some of our favorite things - like a picnic in the park, making sandcastles on the beach, and camping out in the backyard. What are some of your favorite free activities?

February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

I already wrote about having a green Valentine's Day earlier this week, but it's such a gorgeous day outside I just had to acknowledge it. Truthfully, I don't have very positive feelings about the holiday. For one thing, the idea of telling people when to celebrate their love and that they need to buy things to prove it irks me. And for another, anyone who's ever been single on Valentine's Day knows that the holiday seems like an excuse to torture the unattached. So my husband and I basically don't celebrate it, preferring instead to show our love "all the days of the year." And as long as we stick to that, that's fine by me. It works because my husband really is the kind of guy who constantly leaves me notes, makes things for me, tells me how gorgeous I am, and does little thoughtful things like empty the wastebasket in my office. He's sort of always thinking of me and that makes me feel warm inside.

Sorry to get all mushy! Anyway, I gave my husband possibly one of the best gifts ever during our first year together when I gave him a free pass on Valentine's Day. I realized that waiting to see what he was going to do for me or give to me was a sort of sadistic torture test for men, and so I didn't want to participate. He doesn't have to do anything or even mention it. And I usually don't do anything, although sometimes I buy him a giant Reese's peanut butter heart that he loves, and one time I baked him a heart shaped cake.

Tonight we're going to open a bottle of really great wine. And I think my feelings have changed a little bit over the years. I don't think there's anything wrong with the idea of a whole bunch of people celebrating their love for each other all at the same time. Maybe it will inch us forward in terms of consciousness raising, like when thousands of people meditate or pray at once.

So go ahead and celebrate your love today. And it doesn't have to be with a romantic partner. There's all kinds of love in the world, and we need all we can get.

February 12, 2009

Day 43 without shopping: but who's counting?

The other day I went to the fabulous J. Paul Getty museum with a friend who hadn't been there. The reason is that she works too much, like a lot of people in Los Angeles. So it was a gorgeous clear day, you could see all the way to Catalina, and we had a great time. We saw two photo exhibits and spent a lot of time in the gardens. Then she begged me to go to the museum gift shop, and I had no problem with that. Except when I went inside, I immediately wanted EVERYTHING. Beautiful jewelry and scarves and kid's books, and especially the cards.

I love to buy postcards whenever I visit a museum. Sometimes I actually mail them to people, and sometimes I just keep them to look at or put up on my bulletin board. They always have beautiful notecards at museum stores too, and in fact that's where I bought a lot of that stuff, before I joined The Compact. My friend said she wanted to buy some cards and we found a beautiful box for her, and with a little bit of willpower, I managed to walk out of there without buying anything. I have to admit I didn't even look at the postcards because I probably would have figured out some rationalization to buy a couple.

Truth be told, I don't think there's anything wrong with buying a few postcards at a museum, or even any of the other items they sell. But I'm doing this experiment, so I figure I have to give it my best shot. But after my year without spending is over, I'll definitely go back to buying postcards as museum souvenirs. That's one purchase that really does make me happy. Maybe because it's more than just stuff, it's a reminder of an experience.

What do you think? I love cards and postcards, but is it worth cutting down all those trees to make them?

February 10, 2009

Have a green Valentine's Day

If you absolutely must celebrate this holiday, you can do it more responsibly with just a little thought.

First, if you give chocolate, check the label to make sure it's organic and fair trade certified.

Next, ditch the flowers and go for something that will last. Try a potted orchid, rosemary topiary, or if it has to be roses, a romantic climbing vine rose can be planted in the yard.

If you'll be giving jewelry, steer clear of dirty gold and sketchy diamonds at Brilliant Earth, which has a large selection of beautiful conflict-free diamonds. Even Tiffany and Co. has an impressive corporate social responsibility program, including not using real coral in their jewelry and insisting on responsible precious metal mining. If you're on a tighter budget, pick up a vintage bauble at a consignment shop.

Once again, I got these cool green ideas from Whole Life Times. You can pick up their excellent magazine at yoga studios and health food stores around town if you live in L.A., San Francisco, Seattle, or Chicago, or check them out online.

And one more thing I'd like to add: my favorite card I ever received from my husband was one he made for me. He cut pictures out of magazines and made a collage with words like "woman," "friend," and "activist" worked into the design. It was beautiful and I treasured it for years. So get creative and make something - your Valentine will appreciate the effort. And remember, the most important thing about the holiday is to spend time together, not to buy stuff.

Do you have any other ideas for a green Valentine's Day?

February 8, 2009

Birthday cards and gifts

When I started this experiment of a "buy nothing new year" by joining The Compact on January 1st, my biggest concern was what I would do about gifts. I sort of figured I've got plenty of stuff, but I don't want to give up buying gifts for friends and relatives. Also, I'm something of a "card queen," and give and send them for almost any occasion. I'm especially big on thank you cards, because I believe in that simple act of taking a moment to acknowledge people when they do something nice for us.

So far, I've had three birthdays for friends and relatives come up. My grandpa is easy, I always send him baked goods. I made him Toll House cookies for his 91st birthday. For the card, I sent a World Wildlife Fund card with a picture of a male lion on the front- perfect. For another friend that's moved out of town, there's a loaf of his favorite pumpkin bread on its way to him now. And for one of my very best friends, I spent all day cooking a delicious vegetarian dinner and then gave her a "used" copy of Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama, which she loved. I bought the book on amazon used, and sometimes you can get remainders that are as good as new. My understanding is that they're headed to a landfill, so you're saving them from that sorry fate. I love buying used books and going to the library, but longterm I'll go back to buying some books new because I believe in financially supporting the authors. I particularly make a point of buying a copy when I go to a reading.

I'm actually trying to go the entire year without purchasing new cards. It probably won't be a problem because I have a drawerful already, and I'll just have to be more creative about using blank cards for other occasions, and sometimes making cards. Homemade cards are actually some of my absolute favorite gifts to receive. I also love cards made from photos of friends, not just babies.

What do you think about trying to give gifts without buying anything new? Any ideas?

February 5, 2009

The Coming TV Catastrophe and How to Avoid It

Even though the date for switching to digital TV has been moved from February to June, if you're considering buying a new flat screen TV, please be responsible about disposing of your old analog tube TV. It could lead to an environmental disaster if all the old TVs are sent to a landfill. That's because they contain toxic chemicals which can leach into the groundwater.

So here are a few options for getting rid of your old television:
First, the Take Back My TV campaign is urging TV makers to accept and recycle their old products for their entire lifecycle. They've already convinced Sony, LG, and Samsung to offer takebacks. If you own one of those brands, check it out at Take Back My TV dot com.

If you own another brand, consider holding on to your old set. It will still work if you buy a converter box that will switch the signal from digital to analog. It will only cost you about twenty bucks if you get the free $40 coupon the government is offering. Look for that deal at dtv2009.gov. Their site still says February 17 is the switchover date, but I've heard and read several news reports that the date has been delayed to June 12.

If you must get a new TV and your old one isn't a brand participating in the takeback program, try selling it on eBay, or even giving it away at Craigslist or Freecycle. At least someone else will be using it and it won't end up in a landfill.

And finally, make sure your new TV is an energy-efficient one from one of the companies with a takeback program. Energy Star-qualified TVs use 30 percent less energy, so look beyond the initial sales price tag.

I got all this information from the cool magazine about green living called Whole Life Times. Check them out online at wholelifetimes.com.

If you read my post awhile back about my husband bringing home the new TV (An Addition to the Family), I just want to mention that he actually sold our old one on local Craigslist, for a nominal price. His thinking was that if people pay a little bit of money, they're less likely to trash it than if they get it for free. I don't know if that's true, but the buyer was very happy to get a second television for their bedroom. And after doing a lot of research, our new TV is a Samsung.

February 3, 2009

The Church of Stop Shopping

A friend just turned me on to this fantastic website called Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping. Apparently this guy, who calls himself Reverend Billy, started doing spontaneous "sermons" in Times Square back in 1996. He ranted preacher style against the evils of consumerism and materialism, and he caught on. Now the act includes an entire choir and they tour around the U.S. and the world, preaching the gospel of love, anti-consumerism, and radical neighborliness.

The group believes that consumerism is overwhelming our lives and that corporations want us to have experiences only through their products. They think their message--consuming less--is the single most effective and immediate response an individual can take to immediately halting the climate crisis. Their website claims the message has reached millions of people and has contributed to the public's increasing awareness of the relationship between shopping and climate change.

Check it out- it's really interesting. They've been involved in a number of successful grassroots campaigns. And there's also a Morgan Spurlock-produced (Supersize Me) documentary about Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping called What Would Jesus Buy? that I just put in our Netflix queue.

A few days after that Wal-Mart worker got trampled to death by a crowd of bargain hunters on the day after Thanksgiving, Reverend Billy held a candlelight vigil to honor the man and raise public awareness about the dangers of excessive materialism and consumption. That sounds like a little bit of sanity in a world gone crazy.

Has anybody seen the documentary? Let me know what you think about it if you have.

February 1, 2009

Am I unpatriotic?

George Bush infamously asked Americans to go shopping to show their patriotism and jumpstart the economy after 9/11. This morning the AP ran a story titled "Americans save just when economy needs their money." And I have been thinking about this whole question of how economies work and whether I'm going to be contributing to the problem. But it's not an easy questi0n to answer without getting an economics degree. Wait, I do have an economics degree, from way back in 1984, but I don't remember much about it. I wasn't really that interested in it even at the time.

The AP article says American's new frugality couldn't be happening at a worse time. They cite the "paradox of thrift": that what's good for individuals - spending less and saving more - is bad for the economy when everyone does it. But the article continues by quoting economists who say the amount of spending of the past two decades was unsustainable, fueled only by gains in home equity, which was an illusion.

My first thought is that we Americans operate in extremes. We've heard for decades that we don't save enough, and we're drowning in debt. I suppose now if everyone really started saving half their paycheck and not frequenting their local shops and restaurants, that might not be the best thing to get the economy back on track. But that's not going to happen. Wouldn't it be better if more people started saving for an emergency and not buying things they don't need on credit?

There's also the issue of short term versus long term. In the short term, the economy needs to get back on track and maybe we as consumers need to help out with that. But in the long term, we really need to focus on these issues of climate change and environmental damage and how we contribute to the problem with materialism and overconsumption. So I think that long term goal is even more important than the short term goal of fixing the current economic crisis. And I put the burden of that job more heavily on government, banks, and corporations, than I do on myself or consumers.

Finally, just because I'm not going to buy any Gap clothes or Pottery Barn accessories this year, it doesn't mean I'm not going to be contributing to the economy. For one thing, I still have to buy food and I'll still be going out to eat. And we're not giving up wine and beer, so Trader Joe's will be getting just as much of our business. Also, there are plenty of services I'll still be using- I see no reason to give up getting a haircut or going to the car wash occasionally. Going to the car wash uses much less water than doing it in your driveway. So in a way, the title of my blog is misleading. I'll still be spending, just not buying new stuff.

But this is an ongoing question I'll be exploring. My hunch is that the economy would do just fine if everyone cut back and saved responsibly and didn't go into debt. It's the Wall Street bandits and corporations that have been making huge profits that might feel it if people stop buying cashmere mittens and designer kittens. So I say not buying all their crap IS patriotic!

What do you think? Can the economy get back on track if people stop buying new stuff?