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Colorado couple tries to go a year without buying anything new

Dipping into the world of secondhand furniture and recycled clothes, they want to set a ‘socially responsible’ example for their son and reduce their environmental ‘footprint.’

By Jillian LloydCorrespondent / December 10, 2008

Consumer revolt: Andrea Tringo, toting her 3-week-old son, peruses free book bins at a store in Lafayette, Colo. Ms. Tringo and her husband, Steven Posusta, have been exploring the world of used furniture and hand-me-down clothes in their quest to live a greener, less materialistic lifestyle.

Jillian Lloyd

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Lafayette, Colo.

Andrea Tringo is running errands on a crisp Colorado day, employing her favorite form of transportation – her own feet. “It feels good to be walking,” she says, ambling past turn-of-the-century storefronts.

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Lafayette is great for this. I can walk anywhere.” Lafayette, a quaint community of 26,000 just east of Boulder, boasts striking views of the Continental Divide and an easy bus commute to Denver – which is how Ms. Tringo’s husband, Steven Posusta, gets to work these days.

Last summer, they sold his gas-guzzling pickup truck. When their remaining car, a 1999 Subaru, needed a new engine, they got a rebuilt one. They also frequent the public library to get books and DVDs instead of buying new ones, and they grow some of their own food in the backyard.

The middle-class couple is trying to follow an unorthodox lifestyle even for these frugal times: They are attempting to go a full year without buying anything new. That’s right, a full year. Whatever they need, they try to borrow, buy secondhand, or do without.

Eleven months into their social experiment, they are largely adhering to their commitment to the simple life: Sure, they’ve purchased a few new things – who wants to use recycled underwear? – but for the most part they’ve adjusted painlessly to a life of secondhand furniture and used clothing.

What started out as largely a green initiative – to live more in harmony with the environment – has since transformed into something more fundamental: a journey into what the couple considers a “socially responsible” lifestyle. Tringo says they want to set a good example for their newborn son. Along the way, the couple has learned a lot about their own values, as well as the nation’s.

“It was deciding to create another person who will be consuming resources for a lifetime that made me think seriously about this,” says Tringo. “I don’t want my son to grow up to be materialistic, or to not think about the impact of what he does.”

•••

Tringo and Posusta were never spendthrifts. And they were always environmentally conscious. But with both comfortably employed in the high tech industry, they had disposable income. The question was, what were they going to do with it? As a newlywed couple, they set out to define a lifestyle for their family.

They knew it wouldn’t include being a target for advertisers. “It’s crazy, it’s frivolous stuff – the Kate Spade diaper bags and very expensive shoes,” says Tringo. “I just didn’t feel comfortable with that.”

Then, a little over a year ago, the family heard about an anticonsumption experiment called The Compact, which began serendipitously in 2006 when 10 San Francisco friends pledged to flee the must-have-everything ethos and buy nothing new for a calendar year. [Editor's note: The original version had the wrong inception date for The Compact.]

Espousing a rebellion against bourgeois consumerism and eager to reduce their environmental “footprint,” they vowed to only borrow, barter, or buy secondhand. The only exceptions would be food, consumable products like soap and toilet paper, and items related to health and safety.

By Jan. 1, 2008, Tringo and Posusta were enthusiastic converts. And they were in good company: Today some 10,000 Compact followers exist worldwide – in places as far away as Iceland and Taiwan. Ironically, The Compact originators never intended to start a movement.

“There are about 10,000 people on our Yahoo forum, and people are joining every day,” marvels Rachel Kesel, one of the founders. “At the outset, we thought, ‘There are 10 of us willing to do this! Isn’t that great!’ ”

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