“The Year of Less” by Cait Flanders Book Review
I’m sure I’m the first person ever to mention that Twitter (or X) is both a blessing and a curse. For as much as I despise the discourse that comes from the platform, I’ve also met amazing friends from it as well. Furthermore, even though I’m not spending nearly as much time on the site as I once may have, I do occasionally see some nuggets pop up in my timeline. The reason I bring this up is that I recently learned about Cait Flanders’ 2018 book The Year of Less somewhere on Twitter — I don’t actually remember where or I would credit the person responsible for bringing this to my attention. Soon after seeing it, I purchased the book for myself and read through it over the course of a weekend.
I should mention that, for the first time in a good while, I actually read this book instead of listening to it. More specifically, I opted for the Kindle version since it was a steal of a deal at $1.99. Perhaps this pricing (in comparison to the $16 paperback) is meant to encourage readers to refrain from adding clutter to their homes. Regardless of the reason, I bought the digital version and read the book on my laptop.
Subtitled How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store, The Year of Less is partially about minimalism, a bit more about saving money, and has a small dose of career talk. However, the point isn’t just about how Flanders managed to save larger amounts of her income by avoiding coffee shops and online sales — it’s about how her life was impacted by these self-inflicted restrictions.
Speaking of her life, throughout the book, Flanders recounts numerous personal experiences, including those that occurred during the “year of less” itself, as well as many others from before that. This is perhaps most evidenced at the start of every chapter when the author notes how many months of sobriety she has reached. Moves, break-ups, blackouts, family matters — they’re all a part of Flanders’ story. And while you might doubt that all of these topics would fit into a book of this nature, that’s where you’re wrong.
Now’s a good time to mention that The Year of Less isn’t a “traditional” personal finance book (if it is one at all). Rather than being a “how-to,” the author simply shares her stories, including the ups, downs, struggles, and benefits. In fact, the book was adapted from her blog series at the time, although she’s apparently added in more personal details and background that she didn’t make public back then. Thus, I’d refer to the book more as a memoir than a finance book. That’s not to say this is a bad thing. On the contrary, it’s one of the aspects I enjoyed most about the book.
Even if the book isn’t a “how-to,” readers looking for insights will still be able to find them. In particular, one passage that jumped out to me was where Flanders writes, “The stuff I wanted the ideal version of myself to use was everything I had once bought in hopes that it would somehow make my life or myself better.” This revelation really resonated with me as did other conclusions that Flanders draws throughout her experience.
What’s more, following the epilogue, Flanders provides readers with a few tips for planning and executing their own shopping ban. This chapter is short but effective, boiling down what Flanders learned from her own trials while also offering points of customization. So, while it may be a little strange to keep reading after the core book’s content is complete, in this case, I’d definitely recommend that you do.
Even as someone who’s fairly familiar with concepts like shopping bans and decluttering, I found The Year of Less to be truly fascinating. The structure of the book coupled with Flanders’ storytelling abilities made for a book that was not only immensely consumable but also relatable. Many readers like myself may also find it to be aspirational as the author lays out plenty of solid reasons why such an experiment is an experience worth having. With that said, even if you don’t plan to take up your own shopping ban, I think reading about Flanders’ is worth your time — and, who knows, maybe you’ll find some inspiration along the way.