This is a story about desire, willpower, and self-control, although I’m pretty sure none of those words appear anywhere in the book. Cait Flanders has written a brave yet quietly modest account of her personal battle with addictive urges. While The Year of Less is an outstanding work about minimalism and financial independence, these are almost tangential to the struggle for self-mastery. Flanders makes a strong case that if she can do it, anyone can.
The Year of Less shows what happens when someone develops a bias toward action and plunges into something. Flanders sets a challenge that she won’t shop for a year, except for a few predetermined categories such as food. This is a process goal, rather than an outcome goal. Part of the magic of process goals is that it’s really hard to predict what will come of them, what will happen when we actually stick to the plan. Almost always, it far exceeds the original expectations. That certainly happens here. There’s something of a surprise ending.
There’s also a surprise middle. Flanders is partway through her experiment when she is poleaxed by some major family drama. She shares her anguish, and how it sends her into an emotional tailspin. It’s very impressive that she managed to stay on track with her project, and it’s also helpful to see how she did it, being honest and accepting support from some trusted friends. There’s also the deep hook of that public commitment to write about her progress on her blog, a commitment that eventually led to the publication of the book.
The insights that come from a long-term project of this nature tend to be of a different quality than the occasional sudden epiphany. Flanders realizes that she’s never thought of herself as a spendthrift because she’s not a fashion victim. Yet she’s able to cut expenses and earn enough from selling off her extra, unneeded purchases to fund a replacement bed. She winds up getting rid of about 80% of her stuff and saving $17,000 on a fairly modest income. Where was it all going in the years before? Living a default, everyday lifestyle probably never would have provided the answers.
An inside-out version of this book could be imagined, a version in which Flanders emphasizes the results of her Year of Less, with a few footnotes about the emotional component. There are dozens of books of this type already, training manuals for the DIY crowd. This book is special because it’s so personal. It’s about learning to face difficult circumstances and dwell in difficult feelings. With this, a handbook for emotional resilience, you could do anything.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.