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Leisure Spending

Learning to Be an Un-Consumer

John Perry, 44, a marketing manager, co-founded The Compact, a group that avoids unnecessary consumption. Two years later, it has more than 8,000 followers. <b>As told to Thomas M. Anderson</b>

How did The Compact begin? Over dinner, nine friends and I decided to go an entire year without buying anything new besides food, medicine and hygiene products. If we needed anything else, we would borrow it or buy it secondhand.

Why bother to put yourselves through this? We have concerns about sustainability, and we are Type-A personalities. We wanted to see if we could adapt our behavior as consumers to live off what we have while maintaining a modern life. We thought it would be fun to see how long we could go.

How did it grow into a movement? We consider ourselves accidental activists. The people and the media came to us -- we did not pitch to them.


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Tell us about your online community. I created a Yahoo group ( soon after we started. We had a lot of friends who wanted to keep score. The address for the group was listed in the first newspaper article about The Compact. The group took off and has grown to 8,000 people.


Who are your members? They're spread all over the world. People join for different reasons. Some are concerned about credit-card debt, and some want to simplify their lives or set a good example for their kids.

You must be saving money. Before, my family -- me, my partner and two kids -- probably spent $200 a month on things we bought without thinking. When we stopped doing that, we freed up money for other things. Now we overpay the mortgage every month, and we give more to charity.

If everyone followed your lead, wouldn't it hurt the economy? Runaway consumption and the depletion of natural resources is going to have a worse impact on our economy than some middle-class people like us deciding that enough is enough and that we're going to stop buying things.

What happened after the first year? Most of us re-upped our membership in The Compact. My family is in its third year. It is a lot easier than we thought. That was the real discovery.