Editor-At-Large: Shopping: the loser's route to happiness

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The Independent Online

I hate resolutions, life-changing regimes and free advice. There is no way a "new" JSP is going to emerge from the gloom of January. But one simple bit of philosophy I read about last week has given me a lot to think about. A year ago, nauseated by rampant consumerism and growing piles of waste surrounding them, 10 ordinary people who lived in the San Francisco area formed a group calling themselves the Compact. They chose their name inspired by the Mayflower Compact - an agreement drafted by the original pilgrims who landed in America in 1620. The new Compact, for the 21st century, redefined the way that this group of New World citizens would run their lives. They signed up to give up shopping for a year: no new clothes, gadgets, cars, CDs or make-up. The only things they were allowed to buy were essentials such as medication, food and stuff like toothpaste.

What began as a personal crusade among a small group of middle-class friends became a movement which inspired a growing number of other people. The group's blog, sfcompact.blogspot. com, has been visited by thousands of people offering encouragement and advice, many of whom are signing up to do the same thing. What was creepy about watching the This Life saddos 10 years later on TV the other night was how out-of-date their thinking seemed to be, whingeing about sperm, careers and fancying younger women.

How much more interesting it would have been to have followed the San Francisco Compacters as they struggled with their life-changing commitment to stop buying and start bartering at the same time as working and bringing up their families. Everything they acquired during 2006 was bought second hand, bartered, borrowed or home-made. At the end of their first year, the original 10 plan to celebrate with a "Jubilee Day", when they can shop for just 24 hours, before starting year two of Compacting.

I asked for no birthday presents when I turned 60 the other day. One thoughtful gift was a donation to a lottery run by a local hospice. We could all do with a heap less buying and a whole lot more making do. How much stuff do we need? Christmas is a time when millions of gadgets get given, only to be abandoned a few months later - and the energy they consume does nothing for the environment. I know that loads of you will have presents sitting in the back of a cupboard you are never going to use. In the meantime, we are a nation getting along on credit, running up the largest debt of the wealthy EU countries.

From the cradle to the grave, we are breeding generations of citizens who have no idea how to live on what they earn, no concept of saving for old age and no interest in keeping to a budget. So, instead of dopey beauty tips for the new year, or ludicrous detox diets, I make one small plea for us all to consume less. We don't have to go down the hard-core route of the Compacters, but we could find ways to cut back on stuff we don't need. You only have to look at the proliferation of storage units all over the country, filled with belongings we no longer have houseroom for, to know that clutter is out of control.

The Compacters have been attacked by fellow citizens for being unpatriotic, as if over-consumption is an essential part of the American way of life. Others have derided them as self-congratulatory and élitist. Isn't ittime we sneered at the sad souls who festoon themselves with designer handbags and wear clothes that scream "label"? That's fine if it's a reward for saving and pruning you've applied to the rest of your life. But to adopt shopping as a way of making yourself feel happier is just sick.

Consumer spending last Christmas was higher than ever - but an increasing amount was done via the internet, from home. One reason could be that we don't want to be seen carrying loads of carrier bags. The next step could be to buy only when you really need to replace. It's a big decision, but I'm going to try to consume less in 2007 - how many MAC eye pencils does a girl need?

... but if you can't kick the habit, try Whitney's bargain basement

One lady who is certainly pruning her spending is troubled singer Whitney Houston, the diva whose drug abuse has been a talking point for many years - a woman whose beautiful voice unfortunately resided in a head where the brain stopped functioning without chemical stimulants some time ago. She's finally divorcing her errant husband, Bobby Brown, and is working on a come-back album.

Meanwhile, there's the question of paying the outstanding bills run up during a decade when she's cancelled shows, locked herself in hotel rooms for weeks on end and done hardly any work.

The storage company that looked after all her lavish stage costumes is putting them up for auction this week. Whitney owes it around £100,000, and many of the frocks haven't been off their hangers since her 1999 tour.

So, if you fancy a designer dress by Versace, Dolce & Gabbana or Giorgio Armani, a leopard-print catsuit, a sequinned corset or even a transparent grand piano, this could be the place to pick up a bargain. And, as it will be second-hand, you're not deviating from the rules of Compacting.

Mad House: Well done, Donny. Stuck with those losers, I'd run, too

Big Brother are a group of people so boring that if I ran into them at a party I couldn't manage to stay for the second canapé, thanks very much. (Donny Tourette obviously agreed, and did well to stay for the second day before walking out.) Cleo Rocos - still waffling on about Kenny Everett after all these years, and Ken Russell - does he know what planet he's on?

The main interest is going to be seeing how their carefully confected hairstyles last without a crimper at hand. I imagine ageing dolt Dirk from the A-Team, who clutches a cigar like it's a substitute for an inflatable woman, will soon start looking a bit rough around the edges. California bouffant doesn't last long in North London.

Power women: We don't reach the top but we can change a lot

It would take women 200 years to achieve equality at the current rate of progress, according to a report last week. We still make up only 10 per cent of the directors of FTSE 100 companies, 12 per cent of senior police officers, and 10 per cent of the senior judiciary. It's going to take another 40 elections to make up the correct male/female balance in Parliament. But why sit and moan? We have enormous power as voters, readers, listeners, consumers. Don't view television made by companies with no female board members. Don't buy from supermarkets where women are not represented at the highest levels. Boycott elections with no female candidates, or put up your own. The only way to bring about change is to take direct action.

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