How many times do you walk out of a store with items you weren’t planning on buying? The consumer maxim that new is always better has turned much of the American populous into mindless shopping robots, constantly purchasing new items to replace things we already have, even though we don’t really need them. Runaway consumption is a major environmental problem, which is why one San Francisco-based group has decided to exit the endless cycle of "buy, buy, buy".

Signers of "The Compact" pledge to buy nothing new – save a few necessary items like medicine and underwear – for an entire year. And while it’s no walk in the park, participants are finding that living a simpler life doesn’t just reduce your carbon footprint, it saves loads of money and can be incredibly liberating.

The Compact started in 2006 when about 50 engineers, teachers, executives and other professionals in the Bay Area vowed to eschew consumerism in favor of buying secondhand. They have a blog and a Yahoo group, and they meet monthly to give each other support.

“We're people for whom recycling is no longer enough,” member John Perry told SFGate. "We're trying to get off the first-market consumerism grid, because consumer culture is destroying the world."

For Angela Barton, that means constantly resisting the temptation to have her husband, who didn’t make the pledge, buy things that she wants. Sure, she falls off the wagon occasionally -- as documented on her blog, My Year Without Spending. But she has also learned some valuable lessons about the value of non-material things.

It's interesting that not buying things has made me focus more on what I DO have. And as I get rid of the crap, it's like lifting a curtain or coming out of a fog. I'm really starting to see how STUFF has kept me busy and distracted, and disconnected from the things that really matter.

This recession is making people question a lot about their values, lifestyles and behavior. I think it will have a silver lining if it makes us question our relationship to the planet and the other people living on it. And if it causes us to use a different yardstick to determine how we feel about ourselves.

Barton decided to share her journey in the hopes that others would be able to relate to both the challenges and the rewards and possibly be inspired to give it a try themselves.

Nearly eight months into the project, Barton seems to have discovered a whole new world of frugal green living, and the most interesting entries may be yet to come as she navigates the art of secondhand gift giving once the holiday season arrives. Follow along at

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