For Patty and Dominic Selly, the Compact was a natural next step, figuratively and literally. Even if, in her words, "some people we know think we're lunatics."

The Minneapolis couple already were environmentally conscientious. They buy food at co-ops and via the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Dominic commutes to work by bike or bus. They recycle, download music instead of buying CDs, purchase "green products," and more. Much more.

Still, during the 11 years before they had children, the Sellys accumulated "a lot of lifestyle stuff. We had huge piles of stuff in here," Dominic said.

Enter the Compact, an effort that began in 2006 in San Francisco that is defined as "a 12-month flight from the consumer grid," according to its charter (see box on page E8). The couple agreed to buy used products except for food and toiletries in 2008. Their piles of stuff migrated to their garage, awaiting pickup from charitable organizations.

And even with a bicycle tire here and a CO² detector there, the Sellys have stuck to the plan -- both items are exempted -- and say they're happier for it.

"When we went out shopping before, it was often stuff we wanted more than we needed. This has helped us draw that distinction. Now we have everything we need and everything we want," said Patty Selly, who works, fittingly enough, in environmental education. "It's almost now like an afterthought, a relief not to have to buy stuff.

"I've been surprised how easy it's been. I'm surprised how much time we have. I'm surprised how much fun we're having. I'm surprised that our stress level has been reduced."

She's also surprised that she's had to make two trips already to buy used toddler clothes. Turns out Lucy, 2 1/2, and Julian, 10 months, are both growing really fast. "It takes quite a bit longer to buy secondhand clothes," said Patty.

But the couple still marvels at how much more free time the new approach has brought them -- "I didn't realize the weekends actually had so much time," said Patty -- and they've used their newfound leisure to go to a cat show and, of all places, the Mall of America.

"We took the kids to the merry-go-round," said Dominic, an independent software engineer. "It's interesting to go there with the Compact in place. It's liberating to look at that stuff and say 'that's not on the table.'

"We're just doing what we can. We're not trying to save the world. But we do feel like we're living lightly on the planet, not because we think everybody should but because we should."

So all is well with the Sellys and the Compact?

"Well, it's just spring," said Dominic, "so check back in November."

Bill Ward • 612-673-7643