The Year of Less, by Cait Flanders

I had never been a big reader of memoirs and self-help books until I stumbled upon BrenĂ© Brown’s Daring Greatly over two years ago. Ever since then, I’ve been discovering more and more excellent authors, whose stories inspire me to focus on what is most valuable to me and help me craft a better life for myself. Cait Flanders’ The Year of Less is one of those stories.

I first heard of Cait Flanders when she did an interview with one of my favourite podcasts, Being Boss. She talked about struggling with debt in her 20s and starting a (now very popular) blog, which served as an accountability tool, while she was clawing her way out of the hole she had dug herself into. Finally, she discussed her new book, inspired by a year-long “Shopping Ban”, which allowed her to appreciate the things she already had and discover that making do with less might result in living a fuller life.

I listened to the podcast as I was waiting for yet another buyer: I had just started purging my apartment of things that I wasn’t really using, selling some of the items online, decluttering, and trying to come up with new ways to limit my spending. I was thrilled with my discovery: The Year of Less seemed like just the kind of guide I was looking for! After five months of living off my savings and still waiting for my new work permit to be processed, I realised my budget had been quite optimistic. While I knew I had a great safety net and a supportive partner, who took up the role of being the sole breadwinner of our household, I knew I had to change my money habits and become more mindful of my spending in the future.

The book recounts Cait’s struggle with alcohol addiction, emotional eating, tendency to binge on consumer goods, food, and entertainment, and how engaging in those behaviours helped her block shame and feelings of inadequacy and abandonment. The Shopping Ban not only allowed her to manage these issues, but also enabled her to create new, healthier habits, which in turn helped her navigate through turbulent times. What’s perhaps the most important, the Ban allowed her to reduce the clutter (literally and metaphorically), reconnect with her values, and identify the triggers that were at the roots of most of her problems.

The author’s story resonated deeply with me. Raised by fiscally responsible parents, I also thought that I had a good grasp of my financial situation. I have never been in debt and I’ve been earning a steady salary since I was 23. Yet somehow my savings account was empty most of the time and I had no retirement fund to speak of. I often lived from pay check to pay check, even though I was earning a decent income. Where was all that money going? Add to that the uncertain life of a trailing partner, and suddenly my situation seemed a lot more precarious than I initially thought it was. I really didn’t like the direction I was heading. I decided to cut drastically on my spending this year and I feel I’ll be re-reading The Year of Less whenever I’m in need of some emotional support.

If you, like me, are considering embracing the Shopping Ban, here are the 10 steps Cait  Flanders suggests in a short “Guide to Less”, which can be found at the end of The Year of Less:

  1. Declutter your home. Reflect on the number of things you own but are not using; ask yourself whether all these items were bought for the person you are, for the person you were, or for the person you aspire to become.
  2. Take inventory. Make a list of items you tend to stockpile on. Do you really need a year worth of hair products? Four identical shirts in different colours? Four pairs of sneakers, if you only ever wear the ones that feel the most comfortable?
  3. Write three lists: The Essentials, Nonessentials, and The Approved Shopping List. They will guide you through the period of your Shopping Ban and remind you of what your goals and values are.
  4. Unsubscribe from all store/coupon newsletters; unfollow brands on social media. Sometimes it’s easier to abstain from something completely, so declutter your inbox and get rid of the temptations.
  5. Set up a Shopping Ban savings account. The money you saved will be the best motivation to keep going.
  6. Tell everyone you know. If you’re someone who needs accountability partners to maintain good habits, make sure your family and friends know what you’re up to. Ask them to check in on your progress regularly.
  7. Replace costly habits with free/cheap alternatives. Start brewing your own coffee. Introduce Meal Prep Sunday to your weekly schedule. Go for a run in the park instead of buying an expensive gym membership. Swap buying new books for using the library and download electronic versions on books already in the public domain.
  8. Pay attention to your triggers (and change your reactions). Are you prone to rewarding yourself with shopping? Or maybe you tend to buy more food when you do your groceries while hungry? The Shopping Ban is less about depriving yourself of something and more about becoming a more mindful consumer.
  9. Learn to live without/become more resourceful. Unless you really need something, try to live without it for at least 30 days, and see how many times you actually miss it. Really need to buy something? Check, if you you can purchase it second-hand or with a discount.
  10.  Appreciate what you have. It might not be much, but it’s enough. You have enough. You are enough.

Have you ever tried keeping your spending under control? Do you have experience with minimalist or mindful living? Or maybe you’re just starting your journey towards financial health? Feel free to leave a comment in the comments section and share your story!


The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store by Cait Flanders
Hardcover: 216 pages
Publisher: Hay House Inc. (January 16, 2018)
Price: $7.39 (Kindle edition)

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