The Year of Less

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
Categories: Biography, Motivational
Genre: Self-Help
Publishers: Hay House, Inc.
Published: 1/16/2018
In her late twenties, Cait Flanders found herself stuck in the consumerism cycle that grips so many of us: earn more, buy more, want more, rinse, repeat. Even after she worked her way out of nearly $30,000 of consumer debt, her old habits took hold again. When she realized that nothing she was doing or buying was making her happy, she decided to set herself a challenge: she would not shop for an entire year.

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

Key Insights

Right before Cait Flanders turned 29, she was taking a walk with her friends and discussing where they were in their lives.

Flanders seemed stuck and began comparing herself to her friends who were entering new stages in their personal lives and careers.

When her friends asked what she would be doing in her 29th year, Flanders radically blurted out that she would quit all unnecessary spending.

“More was never the answer. The answer, it turned out, was always less.”- Cait Flanders

Flanders held herself accountable by posting the rules on her blog:


  1. No buying clothes, shoes, accessories, electronics, books, or home decor.
  2. Buying gas, food, and consumables were ok.
  3. If she was shopping, the item had to be on the list.
  4. Broken items could be replaced if the old item was thrown away.
  5. No take-out coffee.


These insights describe Flander’s rough journey to living free of materialism. Her story shows how sticking with a goal, no matter how big or small, can change your perspective on life.

Key Points

  • The Month of July

Flanders never knew she had a shopping problem until the year 2014 when she started misplacing and losing items that she owned.

When she looked for these missing pieces in her life, she found items she didn’t even know she had. For example, five identical black tank tops and multiple bottles of the same lotion. Not to mention, she had clothes with price tags still attached.

Flanders had previous trouble with both alcohol and debt, and this shopping problem was starting to bubble over too.

In July, after she set her rules against shopping, Flanders decided to start cleaning out. When she began digging through her closet, she realized she only wore about 15% of the clothes in her wardrobe.

Then, she went to the bookshelf and realized she would never manage to read all the books she purchased. And in the bathroom were even more unnecessary items!

When Flanders finished her deep-clean, she had managed to get rid of about 50% of her belongings. This made Flanders feel lighter, happier, and ready for a change.

  • The Month of August

Flanders’s biological father came into her life when she was already 12-years-old. The first time she tasted alcohol was with him and it sent her on a pathway to destruction.

After multiple efforts to quit drinking because of ruined relationships, blackouts, and job losses, Flanders finally had a realization at the age of 27 that made her put her habit aside for good.

“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.”- Cait Flanders

To substitute this problem, she took up take-out coffee, which ended up being a huge expense over time. After two months of her shopping rules, Flanders began to realize how much money she was spending on take-out coffee.

Flanders used the same approach to her coffee problem as she did with her alcohol problem. Flanders changed her mindset and tried to identify the triggers associated with her take-out cups of coffee.

By looking at these triggers, which she discovered were based on emotions she was feeling, she was able to nip the problem in the bud. She incorporated other soothing tactics to help her emotionally rather than relying on her familiar cup of joe.

  • The Month of September

Alcohol and food problems were easy for Flanders to acknowledge and address. But, shopping was a much harder one to tackle.

The trigger for shopping, she discovered, was breakups and failed relationships.

After relationships ended, Flanders found herself at the mall loading up her cart with clothes, home goods, electronics, and anything else she found materialistically comforting.

“Stuff I purchased with every intention of using, but only because I told myself it would somehow help. I wasn't good enough, but this stuff would make me better. I wanted to read, wear, and do everything so I could become the person I thought I should be.”- Cait Flanders

When her shopping ban was well underway she stopped herself from purchasing a cart-full of items online. She knew that before her promise to herself she would’ve pressed ‘buy.’ But, with her rules in her head, she made the conscious decision to not go through with the order.

Instead of buying, Flanders decided to declutter and spend time with friends even though she was feeling sad and empty.

  • The Month of November

The temptation to shop was all around Flanders. She began streaming her shows instead of watching cable. But, advertisements were still present in everyday life and there was no escaping them.

On Black Friday, the shopping holiday, Flanders bought an e-reader to use as a giveaway on her blog. She planned to give away the one she owned and keep the new one for herself. But, before she even knew what she was doing, she ended up purchasing two e-readers.

Right when she realized what she did, she emailed the store and canceled the order for the second e-reader. Instead of spiraling and feeling remorse, Flanders solved the problem right then and thereby putting in the cancel request.

  • The Month of January

Flanders began to help her friends declutter their own lives. Through helping, she learned more about her friends and more about herself.

Flanders discovered that she wanted to be a more creative person. Her parents were both creative and raised three children on a small budget. They loved to sew and garden. Flanders decided she wanted to do the same.

Right after Flanders began thinking about these thoughts of her parents, her sister called to warn her that she thought their parents were separating.

Flanders was shocked. She rushed over to visit them and they seemed fine to her.

However, thinking about the separation made her regret not taking the time to learn from them when she was growing up.

She decided to change her focus from dwelling about the divorce to learning from her parents and relatives. She learned sewing, gardening, and how to fix things.

With these new hobbies, she adapted her approved shopping list so she could fuel them properly.

  • The Month of February

In the month of February, Flanders found out her parents really were divorcing. Depression hit her like a bag of rocks and she didn’t leave her house.

Flanders’s creativity came to a pause. And she worked from her bed.

Then, one day, she got so frustrated with her depression that she decided to declutter again.

This act of decluttering didn’t cure her of the depression, but it was the first step in making her life joyful again.

  • The Month of March

In March, Flanders was still suffering from depression. She went to bed early, got up late, and she ignored texts and invites from her social circle.

Flanders began eating to comfort herself. But, when a friend brought up Flanders’s behavior to her, she realized she needed to make a change once again.

“But something I had learned time and time again was that every small change you make pays compound interest. It helps you make another change, another mind-set shift, another decision to live a new way.”- Cait Flanders

Flanders began logging her eating behavior as well as how much she watched TV.

To change her TV habits, Flanders began only watching educational TV and listening to educational podcasts.

To keep her mind off of her parent’s divorce, she dedicated time to writing, reading, and researching.

This made Flanders start mindful behavior, rather than avoiding her problems.

  • The Month of May

After ten months of her shopping ban in place, Flanders began to feel numb to her shopping triggers.

Flanders’ money spending was completely under control. And, when things broke, she was often able to fix them rather than just go out and replace them.

In May, Flanders did a lot of traveling. But, with every trip, there was a purpose.

Her first trip was for business. Her second was to see her brother. And her third was a vacation from work, which had neglected to take for three years.

For her personal vacation, she decided to take a ten-day road trip, which started in NYC.

In NYC she explored the city, museums, and saw Broadway shows. Through this trip, Flanders was inspired to follow her dream to be a freelance writer.

This sparked Flanders to quit her 9-5 job and follow a new path in life.

  • The Month of June

The final month of the shopping ban was upon her and Flanders knew this meant uncertainty.

However, she had proved to herself that she could kick a habit, no matter how difficult!

Her shopping ban made her realize that she did not need material items to make her happy. She realized that she, herself, was enough.

“The ban uncovered the truth, which was that when you decide to want less, you can buy less and, ultimately, need less money.”- Cait Flanders

Throughout the ban, Flanders spent 51% on things that she needed to live, 18% on travel, and saved 31%.

She learned that she could be mindful and save while also living a fulfilling life. And she learned the triggers of her addictions and how all of her addictions stemmed from the same emotions.

Most people use shopping in order to deal with bad times in their lives and everyday negative feelings. But, by confronting those underlying emotions, you can live a life of less, just like Flanders.

The Main Take-Away

Cait Flanders took a personal oath to conquer her shopping addiction over the course of a year. By decluttering her life and discovering her triggers, Flanders was able to nip her problem in the bud and learn more about herself than she ever dreamed.


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