Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Year of Less

I don’t have to look far into my circle of family and friends to find compulsive shopping. This isn’t a problem I understand very well myself; I don’t like shopping and have many excuses for why I haven’t replaced old clothing. In her book The Year of Less, Cait Flanders gives us insight into shopping addiction as well as addictions to alcohol, other drugs, food, and television. Fortunately, she also describes her path away from the pain that drives these addictions.

The centerpiece of Flanders’ solution to her addictions was a self-imposed yearlong shopping ban. Her rules were quite strict. For example, she banned herself from shopping for take-out coffee, clothes, shoes, accessories, books, magazines, candles, furniture, and electronics. She did allow herself to replace things that she needed but had worn out.

During this yearlong shopping ban, she also got rid of most of her stuff. Her goal was to reduce her belongings to just the things she really used. This is one aspect of her journey that I can identify with—having too much stuff. I don’t buy much, but I keep too many old things.

“There were really only two categories I could see: the stuff I used, and the stuff I wanted the ideal version of myself to use.” This “aspirational” category of buying includes things like intellectual books and skinny clothes.

Her shopping ban included eating better and eliminating alcohol, other drugs, and cable TV. So the hard work she did to stick to these rules took care of her other addictions.

One particularly interesting aspect of this shopping ban was that Flanders didn’t restrict her travel. Although she did save significant amounts of money, that wasn’t her main goal. She wanted to make her life better. Her path to a better life included thoughtful purchasing, eliminating bingeing, and enjoying the benefits of travel.

“The toughest part of not being allowed to buy anything new wasn’t that I couldn’t buy anything new—it was having to physically confront my triggers and change my reaction to them.” It seems that Flanders’ self-destructive behaviour was an attempt to alleviate pain rather than a desire to consume.

The author’s friends tried to draw her back into her old life of consumption. “They told me I ‘deserved’ it. ‘You work so hard!’ they said. ‘And you live only once!’ I hated the acronym for that truism: YOLO. I’d watched too many friends swipe their credit cards and go deep into debt on that rationale.”

The book closes with some advice for anyone considering their own shopping ban. However, she doesn’t advise readers to follow her path too closely. Spend some time thinking about “the reason you want to take on a challenge such as this in the first place.”

This book is a much more interesting read than your typical book about finances. Flanders tells a compelling personal story in a way that keeps the pages turning. It gave me some insight into the reasons behind the otherwise baffling self-destructive behaviour I see in people I care about.

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