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Book Review: 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
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Book Review: 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 - Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: 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

Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: 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

Cait Flanders was already a modestly well-known blogger before she resolved not to buy anything for a whole year. A recovering alcoholic, she had chronicled her struggles to get consumer debt under control, crawling out from $30,000 of debt in one year, and maintained a personal finance blog in order to help others deal with their debt. However, in 2014, she took even more control over her life with a new set of rules prohibiting her from buying anything she did not need. She kept her readers up to date on this project as well.

Her new book, 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 (Hay House, 2018), fills in some of the blanks the blog left undetailed, including much of Flanders’s backstory on her alcohol abuse and family issues. Her Year of Less turned out unexpectedly to be a year of major tumult while she went through a self-imposed boot camp for dealing with life’s problems and her own insecurities while staying away from the crutches on which she would lean on in the past.

She set rules before she set out. She could buy groceries and basic kitchen supplies, cosmetics and toiletries (but only when she ran out), cleaning products, gifts for others, and items on a pre-approved shopping list. She could not buy take-out coffee, clothes, shoes, accessories, books, magazines, notebooks, household items (such as candles, décor, or furniture), or electronics. Her approved shopping list was strictly one outfit for multiple weddings (one dress and a pair of shoes), one sweatshirt (she only owned one and it had too many holes), one pair of workout pants, one pair of boots, and a new bed to replace the 13-year-old bed she had to get rid of. She could also purchase anything that had to be replaced, but the original item had to be tossed or donated. And she had to stay accountable on her blog.

What Flanders seemed to discover early was that the mindless purchases of five items when she’d gone to the store for three, or the extra book she threw into her online shopping cart in order to qualify for free shipping, were not the truly difficult thing to give up. Instead, she seemed to grasp that the hard part was dealing with the deeply engrained practice of turning to some therapeutic compulsion as a substitute for confronting what her real problems were. Just as she had once relied upon alcohol, television, and binge eating to numb the pain of life’s many travails, she saw herself relying on supposedly safe self-medication at the mall or online retailer.

“I was 56 days into the shopping ban and still felt my bad spending habits lurking beneath my good intentions,” she writes. “I had learned what most of my daily habits were, but I was about to find out my spending decisions were a lot more emotional than I thought.” This clear candor about the emotional roots of her behavioral problems (as she defined them) is the book’s confessional strength, and for the reader wanting true self-improvement beyond symptomatic actions, here is where the real value lies.

Despite one relapse, which Flanders reverses when she is permitted to cancel an impulsive and self-justified online purchase before shipment, she succeeds in her ambitious yearlong goal. There is one re-writing of the rules midway through the year, when she decides to take up gardening as a frugal decision worth spending money on, but even through the difficulty of her parents’ divorce and an enormously risky decision to leave her job, she comes out on the other side.

She even renews her ban for an additional year, saying, “In challenging myself not to shop for an entire year, I was setting myself up either for failure or for the most prosperous year of my life, and I’m happy to say it was the latter. The best gift the band had given me was the tools to take control of my life and get a fresh start as my real self. It challenged me. It turned my life upside down. It helped me save $17,000 in a single year. And then it saved me.”

Flanders has a very blog-friendly style, which is good for easy reading but means many of her stories take longer to tell than necessary, and since a good story needs some good conflict, some of her struggles, while absolutely sincere and relatable, seem to be spun as a bigger deal than necessary. Still, what makes a good testimonial is that it belongs to a specific person, and what devastates one person may not devastate another. The author is clear in helping the reader to understand that we all have these speed bumps.

Perhaps the most revealing section of the book describes what it’s like when one is differentiated among others by his or her personal life decisions, as if not shopping is who a person is. She recounts the annoying questions and behaviors of acquaintances among whom she is the lone sober person or at parties where she’s the only vegetarian. “Don’t you miss it?” people ask. “Why would anyone do that?”

With a mix of indignation and sympathetic patience, Flanders shares how utterly unhelpful such interactions are for the recovering alcoholic or for anyone working to be a better version of him- or herself. Those of us blessed enough not to rely on harmful coping mechanisms can learn a lot about being better friends just reading this section.

The book concludes with some friendly advice for the reader who wants to get a better grip on his or her spending. Although The Year of Less is not the science-based thesis we often gravitate toward in our reading selections, it is the story of one person, and sometimes one person can tell the story we most need to hear. It is not exactly a how-to, but it is a nice, interesting, possibly inspiring story.

 

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Book Review: 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 - Executive Leadership Articles

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