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‘The Year of Less’ by Cait Flanders ***

My main goal for 2020, the first year of a brand new decade, is to stop shopping.  Or, rather, not to stop shopping entirely, but to stop buying things I don’t need (which basically amounts to the same thing).  I spent the first half of 2019 not buying any clothes at all, and those which I did purchase during the second half of the year were largely secondhand.  I feel as though I’m making inroads into being far more sustainable in my day-to-day life, and having seen many articles online, and YouTube videos, about year-long shopping bans, I felt like challenging myself.  I therefore turned to the advice of those who have already achieved this feat, and ended up borrowing Cait Flanders’ rather cheesily titled 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 from my local library.

In her late twenties, Canadian blogger Cait Flanders ‘found herself stuck in the 41cofeppafl._sx321_bo1204203200_consumerism cycle that grips so many of us: earn more, buy more, want more, rinse, repeat…  When she realized that nothing she was doing or buying was making her happy – only keeping her from meeting her goals – she decided to set herself a challenge: she would not shop for an entire year.’  When embarking on this project, the newest of many ‘experiments’ which she has set herself, Flanders notes the large financial incentive: ‘… I had no idea that during the next 12 months I would end up living on 51 percent of my income, saving 31 percent, and traveling with the rest.’

Much of Flanders’ project was initially documented on her blog.  The Year of Less is comprised of ‘the stories and lessons’ which she did not share online, for whatever reason.  She elaborates the reasoning for conducting such an ‘experiment’ in her introduction, writing: ‘I was never satisfied.  I always wanted more.  But since more of anything wasn’t filling me up, maybe it was time to challenge myself to go after less.’

Throughout The Year of Less, Flanders is honest about her past struggles with alcohol and her weight, and the way in which she becomes obsessed with things – like shopping and eating – in order to cope with various traumas and difficulties.  Although the move towards a no-buy year was, overall, a positive experience for her, she does write about the few friends who stopped inviting her to things: ‘They seemed confused by the whole experiment, and assumed that because I couldn’t shop, I also couldn’t go out for dinner.  Those assumptions hurt, because they made me feel like I was being ostracized for trying to better myself.’

There are clear differences between Flanders’ challenge, and the rules which I have set for my own.  I plan to borrow all of the books which I read from my local library, occasionally paying for requests to come in from other branches; at 75p per time, this is far less than buying even a secondhand book, and I am lucky that my local branch has a lot of really good stock.  Like Flanders, I am going to try only to buy consumables – things like groceries and toiletries – as and when I need them.  If something breaks and needs to be replaced, I will be allowed to purchase a replacement, and if I need any more furniture for my flat, the same rule applies.  However, unless I absolutely need something, I will not be buying it.

I am not going to be doing what Flanders chose to do, and get rid of 70% of my wardrobe.  For me, this is just not necessary.  I had a purge of my clothes last year, getting rid of the old things which I’d been hanging onto for years, and taking the clothes which just didn’t fit properly to the charity shop.  I am very happy with my current wardrobe, and am looking forward to being able to wear everything from it over the next year.

Rather than saving money, or getting out of debt – two major motivations for a challenge of this kind – I am merely hoping that this challenge will help me to better appreciate, and to use, what I already have.  I will hopefully finally get through, or at least make a visible dent in, the boxes of toiletries and makeup stashed beneath my bed, and watch all of the DVDs which I have been meaning to get to for years.

I am not going to be imposing a television ban upon myself, as Flanders did, and rather than go from July to July, as her challenge did, I am going to embark on it for the entirety of 2020.   Flanders also implemented an ‘Approved Shopping List’, filled with several items which she knew needed to be replaced in the next twelve months.  I have had this challenge in mind for rather a long time, and have therefore been able to replace a few things which were really worn out, or just were not useful, last year.  The only purchase which I can see myself needing to make in the next year is a full-length mirror; my boyfriend and I have been without one since we moved in July, and it’s something that we would both use daily.

I must admit that before I began to read The Year of Less, I imagined that it might be a bit gimicky.  I never turn to books which could be categorised under the umbrella of ‘self-help’, which I suppose, in a way, this memoir could.  I reached for this book in order to try and find some tips and inspiration for my own challenge.  I was interested in the ‘inspiring insight and practical guidance’ which the book’s blurb boasted.  However, the book is not as focused on the no-buy year as is title and description suggests.

Whilst The Year of Less is easy to read, with an accessible, almost chatty, prose style, it did feel at times as though I was just reading a series of articles, each of which had a loose connection to the one which came before.  There is not as much emotion in the book as I expected; even when Flanders is writing about really difficult subjects, like breakups and her parents’ divorce, her tone is curiously detached.  She does also steer towards being rather preachy on a couple of occasions, and I found myself cringing once or twice.  Some of the longer chapters are also rather saccharine.

Perhaps because I have slightly different expectations for my own challenge, and because I was expecting something different to what the book provided, I was rather disappointed by The Year of Less.  I expected to take more away from the book than I have, and frankly, I have found more workable advice in far shorter online articles.  The Year of Less is fine on the whole, but it felt more like a generalised memoir of Flanders’ life and struggles than a focus on her shopping ban.