Over the last few months, we’ve shared excerpts 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, and it seems readers couldn’t get enough of Cait Flanders and her personal minimal-spending journey. I had a chance to catch up with the former “binge consumer,” who talked candidly about what life’s like now after her self-imposed shopping ban.
HANA ASBRINK: What has the reception for your book been like?
CAIT FLANDERS: It has definitely exceeded my wildest expectations. The parts of the book that people relate to are all different, which feels really good; like there might be a little bit of something for everyone. But I’ve heard from many readers that they feel like I’ve either written their story or helped them find words to describe something they hadn’t realized about themselves. I can say the same thing about a few books I’ve read, so it feels really special to have been able to replicate that experience for some people who read mine.
HA: When did you officially end your shopping ban? How was the transition out of it, and what principles did you end up keeping or tossing?
CF: The shopping ban ended in July 2016, on the day before I turned 31. The transition out was easy. After two years, I learned that life changes, and so do our interests and hobbies. So I did have a few things I wanted to buy right away, like camping gear/equipment for a two-month solo road trip I was getting ready to embark on. But I didn’t buy anything superfluous, and I didn’t buy anything extra on the trip.
I would say the best thing the shopping ban taught me was to stop browsing. If we choose to browse around, we will almost always find things to buy. Now, I wait until I have “felt the need” for something before I will make a purchase—and then I start to use it right away.
HA: Do you set an allowance or something similar for yourself now?
CF: Nope! But that’s also because I’m self-employed and earn very irregular income. My finances have changed a lot since the shopping ban ended! But the one thing I do save up for (aside from retirement) is travel. I still spend a lot on travel.
HA: The topics of minimalism and wellness with regard to consumerism are both such hot topics right now. Why do you think that is?
CF: I think we’ve lived through a few decades where consumerism ran rampant, and we were constantly being sold on the idea that we could and should “have it all.” But now that a lot of Westerners have “had it all,” we’ve realized the pressure that comes with it—not only are homes filled with stuff that needs to be maintained, but we need to earn a lot of money to maintain this lifestyle, and it doesn’t actually seem to be making most people very happy.
So now I think we’re in a time where we are backlashing from consumerism and feeling very anti-everything. But my guess is we will slowly even this out, and get to a place where we understand that buying stuff is okay; it just feels better to only buy what we need (not what we are sold).
HA: Is there anything you missed purchasing during your ban?
CF: The only thing I really missed buying was books. The answer to that question would be different for everyone, because we are human beings and personal finance is personal. But I missed buying books: first, because it was a habit and something I did all the time, and then because I just missed being able to read things when I wanted to (rather than having to wait on the library).
HA: How has this lifestyle change impacted your relationship with friends and family? And were any of them inspired to take the plunge with a ban themselves?
CF: I would say that it impacted my relationships in a really positive way. Throughout the first year of the shopping ban, a lot of relationships were challenged for very personal reasons (breakup, divorce, etc.). In seeing how quickly things could change and slip away, I realized the only thing I cared deeply about was the people in my life. So now I pour a lot of energy into my relationships. I would rather maintain those than “stuff.”
And I can’t say anyone has taken on full bans, but I’ve had a lot of family and friends say they stop before making purchases now, and question why they are considering buying stuff. If my journey and the book can help prevent even a few impulse purchases, then it did its job.
HA: What is the biggest change you’ve seen in yourself after the shopping ban?
CF: First, I don’t browse anymore. If I could rename the shopping ban, I would probably call it a “browsing ban,” because browsing is what made me want to buy more stuff—and stopped me from appreciating what I already had. So I don’t do that. Instead, I’ve learned how to feel the need, and live without something for a while before making a purchase.
This means I only buy stuff when I’m genuinely ready to use it, rather than think I’ll use it one day and let it collect dust. Overall, I’ve learned a lot about who I am both as a person and a consumer, and to accept myself for who I am, rather than think I can buy/do something that will make me better. This makes buying decisions a lot easier and more transactional, rather than emotional in any way.
HA: What advice would you give anyone considering embarking on a shopping ban or similar practice?
CF: I would say that you don’t need to set out and do a yearlong ban like I did, right off the bat. In fact, I would probably discourage that. Part of the reason I was able to create this change in my life is because I tracked my spending for years and realized I wasn’t happy with where my money was (or wasn’t) going.
So if you’re looking for a place to start, I would suggest that: Challenge yourself to track your spending for a month, three months, six months. And don’t just look at the numbers; really ask yourself if you’re happy with where the money is going, and also pay attention to whether or not it feels like you’re achieving your financial goals. If you’re not, start looking at what you can change.
Can you relate to any of Cait’s experiences, either before or after her shopping ban? We’d love to hear from you.