Earlier this month, you met Cait Flanders, a former "binge consumer" who shared her personal minimal spending journey in 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. We wanted to know what an actual self-imposed shopping ban looked like for this woman who managed to climb out of $30,000 in debt. Below, an at-a-glance look at some of the concrete numbers, as well as the ultimate lesson she came away with.
My shopping ban ended on July 6, 2015. Throughout the year, I lived on an average of 51 percent of my income ($28,000), saved 31 percent ($17,000), and spent the other 18 percent on travel ($10,000). I proved that I could live on less, save more, and do more of what I loved, and learned so many other lessons throughout the process. I could have walked away feeling like it was a success. It was a success. Instead, I published a post on my blog the next day (my 30th birthday) announcing I was going to carry on and do it for another year.
The rules were essentially the same, except this time I wanted to do something I’d regretted not doing during the first year: tracking every single item I purchased and consumed. The thought of writing down how many tubes of toothpaste I used didn’t exactly spark joy, as Marie Kondo would say, but I wanted to add some data points to my research and show readers what an average female consumer might actually need to purchase in a year. I didn’t know what to expect, but assumed I would use a lot less than I thought, and I was right. As an example, I went through five sticks of deodorant, four tubes of toothpaste, two bottles of shampoo and two of conditioner. Knowing this about myself isn’t necessarily earth-shattering, but it does prevent me from ever thinking I should stockpile toiletries again.
The other reason I wanted to continue the ban was because I hadn’t taken advantage of the newer rules I had written for myself in January. I never ran out of cleaning supplies or laundry detergent, so there had been no reason to make either. I also hadn’t bothered to make candles or plant a garden yet, and instead opted to live without. But moving back to Victoria confirmed I did want to take on these challenges. I planted a small garden and learned I don’t have a green thumb, but I’m glad I carried on and tried anyway. Some people are just meant to take care of succulents and cacti.
On the decluttering front, I continue to bag up and donate things I don’t use, and I have gotten rid of somewhere between 75 and 80 percent of my belongings. The most frequently asked question I get about that is if there’s anything I regret letting go of, and the answer is no. Truthfully, I don’t even remember what most of it was. One item I do remember selling in the second year of the ban was a brand-name purse that I always felt embarrassed to have on my shoulder. If you met me, you’d see a girl who wears the same black leggings and flannel shirts almost every single day. I am not a brand-name kind of person, but I held on to that purse for years because it seemed like "something professional Cait should have." When the second yearlong shopping ban was over, I traded it in for a 60-liter backpack I can take with me on overnight hiking trips. That is something I will never be embarrassed to own.
Travel continues to be the one thing I value spending money on. In the second year of the ban, I traveled to Portland, Oregon; Charlotte, North Carolina; Toronto, Winnipeg, Salt Spring Island, Galiano Island, Toronto, and Vancouver; and numerous times to Squamish (where I would eventually move). And when it was over, I went on a seven-week road trip around the United States by myself. While I have the freedom and money to do something “bigger,” like live and work from a foreign country for a few months, I’ve realized I care more about exploring North America first. It’s far too easy to take your surroundings for granted, and I am blessed to live in one of the most beautiful parts of this continent.
When the second year was over, I decided not to repeat the experiment, but only because it had become a way of life. I don’t keep an inventory (truthfully, I never did after I first created it), but I do only buy things when I need them, and never simply because they are on sale. You might think that means I spend more when I shop; however, the opposite is still true because I don’t waste money on anything. Every purchase I make is carefully considered, not done on impulse. I haven’t made a black- out purchase since Black Friday in 2014 (and have barely used my old e-reader since then either). I do buy books on occasion now, but only if I know I’m going to read them right away, and I usually pass them on to a friend or to my local library when I’m done.
Today I consider myself a former binge consumer turned mindful consumer of everything. I continue to experiment with consuming less of things I feel I’m not getting any value from, including doing a 30-day social media detox and another month without television. Whether it’s these experiments or the shopping ban, I still hear some people’s concerns about how a ban feels too restrictive. While I understand how easy this is to worry about, my advice is always the same: Remember that all you’re committing to is slowing down and asking yourself what you really want, rather than acting on impulse. That’s it. That’s what being a “mindful” consumer is all about.
One of the greatest lessons I learned during these years is that whenever you’re thinking of binging, it’s usually because some part of you or your life feels like it’s lacking—and nothing you drink, eat, or buy can fix it. I know, because I’ve tried it all and none of it worked. Instead, you have to simplify, strip things away, and figure out what’s really going on. Falling into the cycle of wanting more, consuming more, and needing even more won’t help.
More was never the answer. The answer, it turned out, was always less.
This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from 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. It can be found online at hayhouse.com or amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.
Would you consider a shopping ban of any sort? Share your experiences with us below.