Friday, December 29, 2006

:: New Year's Coincidences ::

My mom's never been a resolution-maker. Well. Strike that. She's never been a resolution-maker on January 1st. She makes resolutions all year long: to eat healthy, to spend more time with her friends, to stay more organized, to give up her home business (she also works full time). But she's not keen on making them at the same time everyone else does. She thinks, and I agree, that people's expectations are too high at New Year's. They set goals they never intend to keep -- no wonder most people don't make it to the end of January with their resolutions.

This year, however, she happens to have a couple of resolutions she wants to make, some goals she wants to set for herself, and she's kind of upset that it happens to be New Years. So my sister suggested that maybe they could be New Year's Coincidences, rather than New Year's Resolutions. I sort of like this.

Of course, I myself have always made resolutions and set goals. Since I was 8, I've kept a diary or journal and each year, I've sat at midnight (or on January 1st) and made long lists of goals and resolutions: save $1000; make a new friend; grow three inches (obviously, I don't set this one anymore); read one book a week for the entire year. I also go back through the previous year's goals and resolutions and count up how many I achieved and how many I didn't. I had percentages to compare from previous years and was always half proud of my progress and half determined to do even better the next year. The process was quite laborious when I was young, when I would set as many as fifty goals, but as I've gotten older I've tended to choose just one or two. Two years ago my goal was to take more trips home to Rochester to see my family than I had the previous year. I achieved that one. The year before I think my goal was to buy a house. I bought a condo.

This coming year, I hardly even know where to begin. So much is coming up in 2007. New job for Brian. The bulk of my dissertation writing for me. NEW BABY!

Now, I'm not sure this is the resolution (or coincidence) for me, but I have been doing a little reading around about resolutions, and I'm quite interested in a mass-resolution made by over 3000 people last year. The group calls itself The Compact. It is a group of people (based in San Francisco but extending around the globe thanks to a blog ( and a Yahoo Group ( who have made the following pledges in their commitment to a 12-month "flight from the consumer grid":

  • To go beyond recycling in trying to counteract the negative global environmental and socioeconomic impacts of disposable consumer culture and to support local businesses, farms, etc. -- a step that, we hope, inherits the revolutionary impulse of the Mayflower Compact.

  • To reduce clutter and waste in our homes (as in trash Compact-er).

  • To simplify our lives (as in Calm-pact).

To these ends, the group does not buy new products of any kind from stores, websites, etc. except for necessities like food. They are allowed to buy movie tickets and things -- things that they experience rather than horde. To get what they do need, they borrow, barter, or buy used. Think Christmas a la Craig's List.

The idea at the heart of The Compact is an interesting one, and one that I like at first. Fully 10 to 15 percent of my own (and Brian's) regular monthly budget usually goes towards just the sort of things that The Compact strives to avoid buying. Imagine if I could save all that money, and probably more. Think of the money saved at Christmas, and the fun (and challenge) it would be to come up with creative gift-giving ideas.

At the same time, though, I think that there are ways to save just as much money, and possibly to have as strong an impact on the environment, etc., without going to such extremes. What if instead of refusing to buy new clothes, I refused to buy cheap clothing. No more synthetic fabrics, no more $10 Target t-shirts or shoes from Old Navy. Just nice, tailored, classic clothing and well-made shoes. I'd probably save as much money in the end and wouldn't have to replace my stuff as often. Shoes would last me five years instead of a few months. Sweaters wouldn't pill or stretch.

It makes me wonder, though: what changes could I make that would feel (a) like a real commitment but not (b) like I was buying things I didn't like (like used clothing that never seems to fit quite right) or (c) like I was depriving myself or my family of things that would give us pleasure. Imagine not being able to buy new sparklers for the fourth of July. Or not being able to buy books, instead always having to get them from the library. Books, reading them, working with them, and living with them, make me happy.

I guess the real question is: how do I balance my desire to make an impact (or to lesson my impact) with my desire to feel fulfilled and free? And then: am I shallow for wanting to buy my sister a new necklace for her birthday, knowing it will make her happy to have it? Is consumerism necessarily a bad thing, or is there a way to resolve to be a more mindful consumer without having to throw away the whole thing?