More was never the answer. The answer, it turned out, was always less.p. 170
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After a long wait list at the library, I finally had the chance to read The Year of Less. I first came across Cait Flanders on my original journey into minimalism. Her name seemed to pop up everywhere whether I was searching for articles on personal finance, minimalism, or intentional living. I ended up on her blog and I was hooked. (Read about her blog and 19 of my other favorites here.) Her openness about her past and how she overcame some of her issues really struck me. As a married male with kids, I’ve always been surprised that I found so many of an unmarried woman’s posts so relatable. On the surface, I would think that we are at different points in our lives and would not have much in common, but I find myself relating to so much of what she writes about. It’s really a tribute to her writing style and her message.
The Year of Less chronicles Flanders’ year-long shopping ban. The book is broken up by each of the twelve months, but each chapter does not delve into great detail about every item purchased or purged that month. Instead, the book weaves in her personal story, both during that month and in the past. Flanders decided to take a year off from buying anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary. She also committed to declutter and organize at the same time, eventually ridding herself of nearly three-quarters of her possessions.
A Personal Reflection
The Year of Less, like her blog posts, dives deep into Cait’s personal life and struggles with alcohol and binge eating, among other things. In fact, this book was less about actionable steps that the reader can take to consume less and more of a personal memoir. I found her past battles, as well as the struggles she faced with overeating and dealing with her parents’ divorce to be genuine and heartfelt. The Year of Less does provide some good tips for those looking to complete a similar challenge, particularly in the appendix, but the real value in the book is when the reader can come to the same conclusion that Flanders did:
“It was enough. I had enough. I was enough.”
8 Lessons From “The Year of Less”
1. Being Selfish Is Okay
I had taken the time off that I needed. Most importantly, I had put myself first. I gave up the feeling that I owed anyone anything, or that I could be someone to everyone. I did what I wanted when I wanted to do it. I put my happiness first. And I was okay.p. 154
Selfishness is almost always considered a negative quality. Yet, when you really think about it, a degree of selfishness is so necessary to our mental health. When was the last time you put yourself first? When was the last time you took a day, or even a few hours to treat yourself? It’s okay. In fact, it’s great! I find that I am a far better husband, dad, friend, everything when I have had some time to myself or after I have been able to relax in some way. On the other hand, when I am stressed or overwhelmed, I know that I’m less patient with C and B, more apt to get in an argument with Ashley, and more detached from my friends. Taking time for yourself makes you a better you.
2. Our Wants Can Be Mistaken for Our Needs
The truth, I was learning, was that we couldn’t actually discover what we needed until we lived without it.p. 134
“I need the iPhone 28”, “I need this new pair of jeans”, “I need a new car”! But what do we truly need? There are certain things, of course, that we cannot live without. Most people would say that they really do need some type of phone, they really do need clothes, and they do need a car. But lifestyle creep tends to slowly sneak in. Lifestyle creep refers to the increase in our spending habits in relation to our rise in discretionary income. B
3. We Don’t Have to Follow the Script
It was only after chasing all the things I thought I should have that I realized what I actually wanted.p. 164
Messages bombard us from every direction. Our parents and friends give us advice. We see advertisements all over television and the internet. But, in the end, only you can truly decide what is best for you. It’s easy to get caught up in the rat race, mindlessly following the norms of society. Instead, be bold, be different, and most importantly, be true to yourself.
4. We Easily Fall into Bad Habits
I still don’t understand why we are always so quick to push off the things we actually enjoy doing for the things that take just a little less effort.p. 130-131
We’ve all done it. You really love going for hikes in the woods, but instead, you stay home. You really want to read that book that is sitting on your nightstand, but instead, you turn on the television. Even though you enjoy talking to neighbors and friends, you don’t take the walk up the street or pick up the phone to talk to them. In fact, science shows that we are actually hardwired to take the easy way out. Try to be more mindful and in the moment. You will be much more likely to do what you actually enjoy, instead of taking the shortcut.
5. We Need to Be Mindful of Our Priorities
All of these discoveries could have been boiled down to two questions: If it didn’t feel good, why would I do it? And what did I really want right now?p. 128-129
Oftentimes, I find that I know what my priorities are, but I slowly drift away from them. I think we often feel a lot of pressure to do things that we don’t necessarily want to do. We find ourselves saying yes and agreeing to things when we actually want to say no. There’s even a new movement labeled “JOMO“, the Joy Of Missing Out. Ask yourself the same questions that Flanders did, and align your actions with your priorities.
6. Doing It Yourself is Hard, But Rewarding
At some point, between growing up in the digital revolution…I valued convenience over the experience of doing anything for myself.p. 99
Yes, doing it yourself can be difficult. Yes, it can take up some time. But there is value in the pride that comes from accomplishing a task. I really love working on projects around the house, such as this one. It’s a great feeling to be able to say, “I built that” or “I figured this out”. Of course, I have to decide whether the benefits of accomplishing the task outweigh the time that will be spent working on it. This immediately brings back memories of my lawn mower disaster. But in this day and age of technology, when everything is literally right at your fingertips on your phone, it can be a very rewarding feeling to accomplish something for yourself.
7. Make Room For What Matters Most
One lesson I’ve learned countless times over the years is that whenever you let go of something negative in your life, you make room for something positive.p. 59
As a psychology teacher, I teach about the gate theory. Basically, the theory states that we can only tolerate so much pain, so the spinal cord only transmits the stronger or more dangerous pain to the brain. Our lives work the same way. We only have a certain amount of room and time in our lives, so we need to prioritize. What is most important? What can we eliminate so we can make more room for the good stuff?
8. It’s Easy to Get Overwhelmed
One thing debt and clutter have in common is that as soon as you start letting it pile up, it can be harder and harder to see your way around it.p. 3
I find so many connections between personal finance and minimalism. Debt and clutter both cause uneasiness and anxiety. We can handle or control a little bit of either. If you owe $300 on your credit card or have a room that is really becoming a space for storing junk, you can overcome those. Work a few extra hours or save some money by not going out to eat as much or buying that pair of jeans for a few months, and you are back in the green. For that junk room, dedicate a weekend or two to cleaning it out and before you know it, you have your room back. But when that $300 becomes $3000 or that junk room becomes a junk first floor, that’s when the process can get overwhelming.
Update: Cait has recently published a second book, Adventures in Opting Out: A Field Guide to Living an Intentional Life
Have any of you had the opportunity to read The Year of Less? Have any of you participated in a similar challenge? Is anyone interested in trying this out with us? Please let us know in the comments.