When it comes to making resolutions, you could say Cait Flanders sits on the extreme end of the spectrum. Not just because the former shopaholic banned herself from buying for non-essentials for a year (which she then extended for another year on top of that), but because she actually went through with all 730 days.
In that time, she saved almost $30,000 and got rid of 70 per cent of her belongings (she decided to declutter at the same time), but the most important thing she learnt was how little all that stuff really mattered. Which, when you think about it, pretty much goes against how most of us measure our success.
“Years ago, I would have had that same definition of success. My self-worth was attached to my salary and the stuff in my home. But then I did this challenge, gave away most of my belongings and realised the ‘stuff’ never mattered,” Cait says. Here, the author of the upcoming book The Year of Less honestly chats about how she used to shop “for the ideal version of myself”, how she coped with money anxieties and her suggestions for those of us wanting to take control back of our own lives.
For those of us who feel like 2017 took a lot out of us – financially, physically and emotionally – how could making 2018 our own “year of less” help? The best place to start is to pay attention to what your body and mind are really craving. Are you feeling anxious? Stressed? Tired? What do you think is causing some of those feelings, and what would help lighten the load? I don’t think everyone has to tackle both of the projects I did: decluttering and doing a shopping ban. Maybe you want more time back, so 2018 could be the year you “lessen” how many commitments you take on. Or maybe it’s time to find a way to do “less” of the work or projects you don’t enjoy, so you can do more of what you love. Listen to what your body and mind are asking for and make a plan from there.
What was the most surprising thing you learnt when you decided to ban shopping for two years?
Oh my gosh, there were so many things. But the most surprising was I used to have a really bad habit of buying things for the ideal version of myself. I had clothes I wanted Grown-Up Cait to wear, books I wanted Smart Cait to read, and so on. I never used any of it, because the real me didn’t want to. So during the shopping ban, I began the hard work of figuring out who I really was and accepting myself. Now, I refuse to buy a product simply because I think it’s going to make me an idealistic version of myself.
What were the biggest changes you saw in your life?
The biggest, without a doubt, was the change in buying things impulsively. One example is that I basically bought a new book whenever I heard of one that sounded interesting. It didn’t matter how many I owned that I hadn’t read yet. The book then usually collected dust for months, before I read it. During the shopping ban, every time I found myself in a situation where I wanted to buy a book (or anything else), I had to pause, pay attention to what was happening and change my reaction. It took about six months before I finally felt like I had changed those habits, but it was so worth it.
The second biggest change, of course, was what the challenge did for my finances. I finally got out of the cycle of living paycheck-to-paycheck. Before the year of less, I had never been a good saver. I needed every paycheck I earned, and I always felt anxious about whether or not I could pay my rent and bills. The ban changed that in a big way, and I finished it feeling comfortable with my finances for the first time in my adult life.
Do you have a shopping-ban lite version for those of us who can commit to the full ban?
Yes, and I actually love the idea of starting small! I think most of us know what our biggest vices are: coffee, clothes, books, games, that kind of thing. If you’re not comfortable with how much you’re spending on your usual vices, cut those out for 30 days. Journal about it before/during/after, and figure out what role you want it to have in your life when you’re done.
Finally, what have you decided to focus on in 2018? Any new challenges?
Such a good question! For 2017, I completed a year of slow living experiments – so things like slow mornings, slow evenings, slow food, slow travel, etc. [For 2018] I’m feeling drawn to the idea of spending time at home, doing more things with my own two hands, and being part of my local community. I’m particularly interested in getting to a place where I cook/bake everything I eat, so I’m not consuming anything packaged or processed. Not only will this be better for my health, it will hopefully help me reduce the amount of waste I create.
For more on Cait, visit caitflanders.com