Hello, my beautiful friends! My trip to the UK is already halfway over! I’m learning so many things that I want to share, but am going to keep exploring the topics until I return in June. For now, here’s another guest post—this time by my friend Rachel. It is open and honest and deeply personal. But I also think it’s something many can relate to—and it includes some great questions to ask yourself before buying clothing, at the end! x
Seven years ago, I was a brand new high school graduate incredibly excited to start my next adventure at university. I had decided to live on residence in my first year and tried to prepare myself for independent living. I couldn’t wait for a little sanctuary of my own. I thought I was ready to take care of myself. Unfortunately, like many first-year students, living alone my eating and lifestyle habits changed for the worse.
I couldn’t be bothered to find time to eat well between classes, papers and keeping in touch with friends both old and new. Over the next six years of my education, I found myself using food as a tool to procrastinate, a treat for doing work I didn’t want to do or as a comfort when I felt alone or stressed out. I was so focused on doing well in school that I didn’t take time to exercise or sleep. Self-care was put on the back burner while I focused on grades. Unsurprisingly, the pounds slowly packed on. When I graduated from my post-graduate program, I was 90 lbs. heavier than the girl who was so excited to start university seven years ago. I was about to embark on the next phase of life and I didn’t want my own wellness to come last anymore.
I’ve started a journey to focus on my well-being and I’ve found myself faced with something I never had to think twice about before: clothes. Let me preface this by saying I’m not an advocate for weight loss, weight gain or any sort of “healthy” diet. Instead I want to share my journey to mindfulness when it comes to shopping for clothes at any weight.
Shopping at My Heaviest Weight
When I was at my heaviest weight, I struggled to find clothes I felt confident in that fit my new body. I was also in a new phase of my life, starting my first “grown up” job as an intern at an insurance company. My current wardrobe of sweatpants and leggings wouldn’t work at this organization and I was in the mindset that so many of us get into—I felt I needed to look the part to feel the part, especially as an intern wanting to make a good impression. The week before my first day I went shopping looking for business attire.
It was an eye-opening experience.
I was kind of worried, as I headed to the mall knowing I had gained some weight, but I decided to grin and bear it. I ventured into stores I used to frequent and found a very limited selection of items that fit. Anything that caught my eye was typically too small or too tight, even in the largest sizes. In the change room I struggled to get clothes on, asking my mom to find a bigger size, feeling exhausted. The thought of spending even more time looking for things I liked that also fit and feeling embarrassed in change rooms was overwhelming. I started buying anything that fit, whether I actually liked it or not. I wanted to be done with shopping, so I spent money on multiple items of clothing that didn’t make me feel good, simply because they were the right size.
When I started my internship the following week, I may have looked the part in business attire, but I certainly didn’t feel the part. I was wearing clothing that didn’t give me confidence. I felt like an imposter playing dress up in clothes that didn’t express who I was or what I wanted to say about myself as a young professional woman. I’m not one who believes in following trends or that an abundance of clothes is necessary for happiness, but I do think what you put on your body should express who you are and give you confidence—not the opposite.
So here I was, trapped with a wardrobe I hated that I had spent money on, all because I was frustrated and overwhelmed with shopping for my changed body. Looking back, I wish I had taken more time to do research and find stores that carried clothes for women of any size, places where I could take the time to find pieces I actually liked. If I had invested time instead of buying the first thing that fit, I would have felt more confident in my changed body.
Resisting the Urge to Binge Shop
Fast forward to a year later and I’ve lost 23 lbs. so far. I’m finally taking the time I deserve to focus on my mental and physical health by eating nutritious, whole, plant-based foods. I’m working with a registered dietician at my doctor’s office and my number one goal is to be healthy. I’m trying to be more conscious of the foods I consume, why I’m eating them (am I hungry or bored?) and making space in my calendar for walks in nature and enforcing a semi-strict bedtime. I’m no longer an intern and I’m working at a great company that values work/life balance.
These have all been positive improvements in my life and I feel good to have gotten back on the right track. But I’m still stuck with the same old problem: clothes.
I’m at a point in my journey to health where my clothes are getting loose and I’m feeling the urge to hit up the mall and load up my cart, simply because things will fit better. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to where I was a year ago, when the only reason I bought an item of clothing was because it fit. Now, I want to buy things because I know I’ll have choices. This is a battle I’ve been having internally and I know as I continue to lose weight it will only become more difficult.
This entire journey has taught me the importance of mindfulness when it comes to making purchases. Looking back, I wish I had done things differently, but this was an important lesson to learn. I’ve always thought of mindfulness as an important part of gratitude, but I never thought to let mindfulness influence how I behave as a consumer.
At my heaviest weight, I was making purchasing choices out of fear and insecurity. I was spending money on clothes I didn’t necessarily like which also made me feel shame in my spending habits. I felt crushing negative energy from these choices when it didn’t need to be that way. There are retailers who sell clothes for plus size women, some with physical locations and many online. There were options I didn’t know I had, and if I had taken the time to do some research, I could have empowered myself to make purchasing decisions that I felt good about.
I want to change my mindset by taking a mindful approach to shopping now that I’ve lost weight. I’m doing my best to wear the clothes I have until they are too big to stay on. My boyfriend’s mom is a seamstress and can take in a few items so they’ll last longer. I know I’ll need to buy new clothes eventually, but I want to make sure I get the most out of these pieces. Wearing these now will give me more time to make mindful decisions when I have to buy clothes in the future.
It’s unbelievable how much there is to be mindful about when it comes to shopping! As I head into a weekend away, I realize I have almost no casual clothes to wear that fit. Working two jobs, 6 days a week means I’m almost always wearing business casual attire. Realizing this has helped me recognize a need in my wardrobe. Now when I do decide I’m ready to buy new clothes I know to look for a few casual pieces that are made well.
Another way I’m hoping to be mindful about shopping in the future is by looking at quality and construction. I’ve spent too much money on fast fashion that wasn’t made to last. I’m hoping I can find some quality, ethically-made hidden gems at thrift stores. I’m also going to ask myself four questions before I make a clothing purchase:
Do I actually feel good in this?
Am I only interested in this for a fast fashion trend?
Does it seem to be well made?
Will I get my money’s worth out of this piece?
I hope by approaching each purchase with these questions in mind, I will feel good about the money I’m spending. In preparation for when I do need to buy new clothes, I’ve been cleaning out my closet and getting rid of items I’ve had around since high school that have been taking up physical and emotional storage in my life. I’m ready to move on from the past and embrace this next journey, with the help of empowered purchasing decisions.
At 25 years old, Rachel is still figuring life out. She currently works a 9-5 as a marketing coordinator at a charity, with a side hustle in real estate. She’s passionate about animal rescue + putting her hands to work by creating. She lives just outside of Toronto with her rescue dog and two rescue cats. Her number one goal is to move to the country. As for a blog—she’s working on it.
I’m a first-generation American. My mother was born in Hong Kong and she came to America with my grandparents when she was just seven years old. Like many immigrants, my family came in search of a better life and they were willing to work very hard to make it happen.
And work hard they did.
By the time I was born, my grandparents had opened a small Chinese restaurant, where they worked from open to close every day, 365 days a year. Almost every childhood memory I have of my grandparents is of them in the restaurant, my grandfather cooking in the back and my grandmother serving in the dining room.
There were no vacations and no holidays for my grandparents. They would even work on Christmas Day; I remember watching them get up from our family dinner to cook and serve the paying customers seated nearby. To this day, I’ve never known anyone to work as hard as my grandparents—except perhaps my mother, who raised three children while going to school and juggling two jobs.
With these role models, it’s probably no surprise that I learned the value of hard work early. By age 10, I was spending most of my free time at my grandparent’s restaurant, and by age 16, I’d picked up a second job while studying full time (a trend that continued throughout my college years).
I was proud of myself and being a hard worker became an important part of my identity. I was always the first to volunteer for extra work and the last to leave the office each night, and I lived this way for most of my adult life.
I’m sharing all of this because I want it to be clear: I know what hard work looks and feels like.
But as I’ve grown older, I’ve started to question the way our society values hard work. Too often, it’s not viewed as a means to an end. Instead, it’s considered a virtue in and of itself. Those who work hard are “good” and those who don’t are not.
Many of us, myself included, have prioritised “hard work” over our relationships or even over our own health and as a new mum, these beliefs don’t feel right anymore. My daughter is only seven months old, but of course, I’ve already started to think about her future.
Here are four things I won’t teach my daughter about hard work and what I want her to know instead.
I won’t teach my daughter to always “give it your all.”
There was a time when I would write “I’m a hard worker and I put 100% into everything I do” on all my job applications. I thought it was an admirable quality and from the positive nods I used to get from recruiters, I’d say I wasn’t alone in thinking so.
But a lot has changed and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that always “giving it your all” is not sustainable. We have limits to our time and energy and we must be intentional about how we invest ourselves, or we risk unintentionally sacrificing the things that matter most.
Instead of teaching my daughter to put 100% into everything she does, I’ll tell her that everything in life comes with tradeoffs. (As the saying goes, you can do anything you want but you can’t do everything.) She’ll need to learn to prioritise and make mindful decisions about what’s really worth the investment of her time and energy, and not blindly devote herself to every task or project in the name of being a hard worker.
I won’t teach my daughter that being busy and exhausted is normal.
Growing up, all the adults I knew were busy and exhausted, so I thought this was simply part of being a successful adult. I actually couldn’t wait to be “busy” and once I started working two jobs at 16, I’d tell people how tired I was with a smile on my face because I thought it was something to be admired.
Of course, the novelty wore off pretty quickly, but I continued to take on as much as possible and push myself to the brink of exhaustion. (I remember driving home at 1 am, after working two long waitressing shifts back to back, and physically holding my eyes open with my fingers to stay awake.)
As ridiculous as this sounds to me now, I had normalised this lifestyle. I truly thought it was the only option (when in reality, I was a victim of lifestyle inflation and could have easily worked less by reducing my cost of living).
Unfortunately, working less never crossed my mind because, as an impressionable young adult, this isn’t what I saw others doing. No one I knew was choosing to intentionally slow down but I’ll make sure my daughter knows this is always an option.
I won’t teach my daughter to “work hard, play hard.”
One of my biggest gripes with how our culture views hard work is the implied message that more is always better. The expression might be “work hard, play hard” but let’s face it — the underlying message might as well be “work hard, so you can afford to spend more.”
I’m not anti-spending and if my daughter wants to own or do nice things, that’s up to her, but I’m going to teach her to be a mindful consumer. I don’t want her to be an emotional or reactionary spender as I once was, buying expensive shoes after a long day because “I deserved it” or splurging on expensive holidays because I was desperate to escape my life.
Instead, I’ll tell her it’s ok to prioritise rest and self-care when (or even before) she needs it. She doesn’t need to push herself to her limits before she deserves a break.
And finally, I won’t teach my daughter that hard work leads to success WITHOUT also having a conversation about defining “enough” and what it means to be successful.
I know this post might lead you to believe that I’m against hard work, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. I truly believe hard work is necessary for success, but I take issue with the way we spread this message.
You can’t have a discussion about hard work leading to success without also talking about defining “enough” and what it means to be successful. Without this balance, you are setting yourself up for a lifetime of discontent.
I’ve been there myself; in my twenties, I had a good job, I owned my own townhome, and I lived a comfortable life—but I never felt satisfied. A voice inside of me kept telling me to work harder and whenever I stopped to rest, I felt guilty.
Looking back now, I can see I’d set myself up for failure. I’d never defined what success meant to me, so it didn’t matter how hard I worked, I was never going to achieve it and this is the problem with how we discuss hard work. I want my daughter to know that hard work is a means to achieve something that matters to you, not a constant state of being.
On a final note, I couldn’t end this without acknowledging how grateful I am for how hard my grandparents and mum have worked to give me a better life. Of course, it’s a privilege to be able to consider the role hard work plays in our lives and for some, it’s a case of survival, not choice.
Just make sure you’re not giving away your choice when you don’t need to.
The first time I truly interrogated the idea of abundance was when I was in graduate school in 2012. At this point, I had stumbled across tiny houses and the minimalist movement and it all made so much sense to me. Maybe it was being saturated in a higher education environment that urged critical thinking, but when I projected forward to what I thought my life would look like in 20 years, it did not include the traditional markers of success.
But when you tell your family (who generously helped pay for a portion of your education) that you want to essentially abandon any call to a high-powered (i.e. high-paying) career and want to build a tiny house, you can probably imagine what their reaction was like.
Of course, a high-powered career and living in a tiny house are not mutually exclusive, just look at the CEO of Zappos. But, in my case, I knew I wanted one because I didn’t want the other.
On the whole, or on the surface at least, my family is supportive of my ‘alternative’ lifestyle aspirations. Sometimes though, small comments here and there make me wonder if my dreams are good enough.
“You’ll get sick of each other in that small a space.”
“I don’t think you realize how small it will be.”
“It’s not going to be a good investment.”
“Do you even have plans or designs for it?”
My quick rebuttals to these comments are normally “No, we won’t”, “Yes, I do”, “That’s not why I want one” and “Exhibit A: My Blog”. I could write much more detailed posts dedicated to refuting each of these questions and comments, but that’s not a meaningful use of my time (nor would my family read them). If you have any sort of dream that is counter to the mainstream (a simple life, early retirement, a nomadic lifestyle, etc.), you probably know at least one person who has a knack for making your dreams feel small and not quite good enough. Even if, and sometimes, especially if, they mean well.
For me, ‘enough-ness’ has been something I’ve struggled with for years (or at least since elementary school). If there is a society upheld ideal, I’ve never quite felt like I’ve achieved it. I’ve never really felt smart enough, fit enough, strong enough, pretty enough, etc. This isn’t a pity party, it’s just the truth. I don’t really know where the feeling of lack came from, and, at this point, it honestly doesn’t matter.
Actually, that isn’t entirely true. I know exactly where my lack of enough-ness came from. My childhood, while wonderful in many ways was, oftentimes, filled with parental alcoholism and mental illness. As a young child, it’s hard to process those situations in the moment. I’m 27 now and I’m still coming to terms with all of it. And I’m sure I will be processing it for years. However, I’m not looking to lay blame. Ultimately, that won’t get me anywhere. What my childhood did leave me with was the sense that you might as well believe in your dreams, because no one else will. Obviously, this is easier said than done. Especially when there are entire industries that have been designed to make money off your sense of ‘enough-ness’.
It will likely come as no surprise to you that consumers in North America are sold the same version of what success and abundance look like. There may be some variation, but the general recipe looks something like this:
big house + fancy car + high-powered job = happiness/success/abundance
I want to make it clear that there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things. If they are what you truly desire, that’s great! I think everyone should have a chance at the life they want, whatever that looks like for them.
However, since you’re here, on Cait’s blog, you are probably questioning this formula for abundance. Something about it might not sit right with you. You might not be able to put your finger on it, but you know it’s not for you.
What is more problematic than this equation, is the mindset that we are supposed to buy into. If we don’t want the ‘things’ in the equation, we’re not good enough (or we are made to think we’re not good enough). Our dreams don’t matter if they don’t fit into that narrow view of what abundance looks like.
But where does that leave you? If you aren’t buying (figuratively and financially) into this equation, what’s the next step?
Redefine it for yourself.
A dear friend and mentor of mine gave me this question to ponder during a retreat a couple of years ago. I think it sums up the idea of enough-ness perfectly.
“Others will tell you who they think you are, but if that doesn’t align with your gut or internal truth, how do you proceed in a way that is healthy for you?”
‘Others’, in your reality, can be family, friends, colleagues, or society as a whole. If any of what I’ve written so far has resonated with you, you can probably think of at least one person who imposes their idea of who you should be, onto you.
I can honestly say I’ve been pondering this question for years. What it has led me to is a reworked understanding of what abundance means to me (and no one else).
In my mind, ‘abundance’ are the things that bring you joy in life. I’m sure that’s different for every person reading this. It could be family, friends, experiences, health, etc. But, the fact remains, we can redefine it for ourselves if we want to —if our current definition no longer serves the view of what we want in our life.
What would an abundant, successful life look like to me?
Being able to contribute something meaningful to the world.
A modest home, filled only with things I truly love.
Being able to spend my time doing what makes my heart feel full.
The bottom line I’m trying to get at here is that your dreams matter. Period. Whatever you want for your life, I promise you that it’s good enough. Not ‘good enough’ in the sense of settling. No, I mean ‘good enough’, in that your hopes and dreams are important.
No matter how big or ‘tiny’ they are.
Britt is the blogger behind Tiny Ambitions—an online space dedicated to documenting her journey to simplify her life with the ultimate goal of building her very own tiny house!
PRE-S: If you’re in London, I’m doing an event with Psychologies Magazine on May 8th and would love to see you there! This will likely be the only event I do while I’m in the UK, so I will happily stay to hangout afterwards. :)
Well, my friends . . . the time has finally come. This afternoon, I’m getting on a plane and flying to the UK for six weeks. That’s right: SIX WEEKS!
This trip has been a long time coming. I’ve been wanting to go to the UK since I graduated from high school, but immediately started my post-secondary education, then dropped out, moved out, got my first credit card—and you know the rest of that story. I had debt for most of my twenties, but started travelling (solo) as soon as I finished paying it off. Since 2013, I’ve gone on a lot of small trips. But aside from the road trip I did throughout the US in 2016, I have never gone on any BIG trips. After the girls passed away last May, I did a short 30-day shopping ban that helped me realize I needed something to look forward to. So I decided to save up and go to the UK for 4-8 weeks in 2018—and that’s exactly what I’m doing now.
I arrive in London on May 2nd and fly back to Victoria on June 13th. I don’t have much of an itinerary yet, because I prefer to travel with intentions rather than strict plans. That’s not the cheapest way to travel. Sometimes, it also causes more headaches or stress, because you don’t always know where you’re going to be (or where you’re going to sleep lol). But it gives you the flexibility to travel slow and say yes/no to whatever opportunities come up, and that’s usually my intention for most trips: to move slow and do what feels good. So I don’t know exactly where I’m going or what I’m going to do . . . but after pushing through the busiest 5-6 months of my life, I’m really looking forward to not knowing what my every move has to be.
Some other things I’m looking forward to:
enjoying slow mornings (sip coffee, read, and journal in new cities)
exploring bookstores and reading some books written by local authors
walking + hiking everywhere my feet can take me
but also, driving a car on the other side of the road! I’m determined to do this!
Oddly enough, I’m also looking forward to being outside of my comfort zone. Being able to travel by yourself is an incredible gift, but it also comes with unique challenges. I’m prepared for there to be a few tough days, or at least tough moments. I’ll probably get lost or lose something, crave normalcy/routine, and even get homesick once or twice. And knowing me, I’m sure I’ll cry a few times too. It always happens, so I’ve learned that’s just part of the experience. But if the road trip taught me anything, it’s that I also feel like my best self when I’m travelling. I feel lighter and more open (to new people + opportunities)—and I always come home feeling like a new person. I don’t know what the UK holds for me, but I’m excited to find out.
For those who live there, or who are simply curious, I do have a few plans/ideas:
I don’t really have any plans from May 9th-18th yet, so I think that’s when I’ll map out a road trip (maybe to South West England? or Wales?)
After that, I’ll start heading north and visit friends in Manchester, the Peak District, Leeds and York.
I think I’ll rent a car and do another road trip to the Lakes!
. . . and then I still need to figure out where Scotland and Ireland fit into this. (And yes, I know Ireland isn’t in the UK. I just want to go, while I’m there!)
As per usual, I’m still travelling with just carry-on luggage. In fact, for this trip, I’m somehow packing even lighter than I did for a road trip last year. Everything fits into my Gregory Compass 40L backpack. And that was really important to me for this trip, in particular, because I won’t have regular access to a vehicle and don’t want to be weighed down at all. So it’s just me and my backpack. :)
I still have a few work tasks to complete at the airport today, before I sign off and get on the plane. However, the closer I get to my departure time, the happier (and more emotional) I start to feel. I booked this flight on January 9th and have used it as motivation ever since. Whenever I felt like I couldn’t keep working at the pace I was, I reminded myself that I only had to push through for a few more months or weeks—now hours—until I could go on this trip. It then became the marker for things I could say yes/no to. And it all worked! The Year of Less is out in the world! It was a WSJ bestseller! I have done 101 interviews about it and connected with so many incredible people this year! And now it’s time to take a break.
So I’m signing off, friends! I have a handful of incredible guest posts to share this month. (Think: incredibly honest and vulnerable. I’m so grateful to the writers for wanting to share their stories with us.) I will also pop in when I’m inspired to write. If you don’t hear much from me, though, you can always check my Instagram account and see what I’m up to! And know that I’ll be back this summer with new posts, new ideas, and a NEW PODCAST!
For now, I’m curious: Is there ONE thing you would recommend I do while I’m in the UK? I’d especially love to hear from locals, because I would much rather do something a local would do. Visit a certain coffee shop or bookstore, walk a particular trail, and so on. Just one thing. Thank you, my friends! I appreciate you all. :)
This is a follow-up to Chelsea’s initial post reflecting on her six-month spending cleanse. Based on the title, I can tell you it’s not quite the story you might think it will be. You can read the backstory here.
My first real temptation came six weeks into my six-month shopping cleanse. The first weeks were simple. Smooth sailing. Then came July, and Amazon Prime Day. This was it, I thought. My first test.
In the days leading up to the big day, I ignored the banner ads following me around the internet (damn you, cookies!). On the day itself, I didn’t falter. I didn’t even look at what Amazon was offering. I took advantage of the beautiful weather and took a book up to the rooftop of my co-op. Good job, I thought to myself as I settled into my lounger. Amazon who?
A few minutes later I looked up and—no joke—there was an airplane pulling a flying advert for Amazon Prime Day streaking across the sky. I had never seen that before, and I haven’t seen it since. But I didn’t cave. I laughed, and kept reading.
My next real temptation came in September, when I was back in New York City. I had spent six days in the city in June and departed with my resolve intact. But this September Sunday, I found myself on a subway car completely skinned with Madewell advertising. Madewell—home to my favourite jeans. A U.S.-only retailer that I visit religiously on visits to the States. But I didn’t need to!, I reminded myself. I had resisted in June, and I would resist again today. I stepped off the subway, walked up the stairs to the street, and was immediately confronted by a Madewell store, right in front of me.
Did I go in? Heck no! I marched right past, and carried on with my day in the Big Apple. And then I breezed right through the rest of the summer—no slips, no justifications, no problem. This is easy, I thought and said many times. I got this!
But then winter came.
Months of sunshine, barbecues, camping weekends and road trips behind me, I entered my annual season of hibernation. The Vancouver rains arrived, days got shorter and I found myself spending more time on my couch with my dreaded trifecta of consumerism—Netflix + wine + my computer.
In October, a boy disappointed me. Within an hour, I had ordered myself a shirt from Madewell. Just one! Not the end of the world. I shook it off and kept going. But by November, I’d slipped a couple more times. And on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it was game over. I bought two white sweaters, and raised the white flag.
I realized that it had been so easy to avoid shopping for those warm, adventurous weeks and months because I was happy, active and fulfilled by my life. There were no holes to try to fill with stuff, no spirits to lift. That, I realized, was the real root cause of my idle online shopping habit, and my occasional junk food habit, and my binge-watching habit, and probably some other habits too. I was using all of them as therapy, but inevitably ending up feeling worse, not better.
I don’t think I’m an addict, but I do know that I’ve continuously, despite my best efforts to change, behaved in a way that’s neither made me happy nor gotten me closer to achieving my goals—not unlike like an addict. And effective addiction treatment addresses not just the problematic habits and behaviours, but the psychological issues underlying them. That’s what I’m doing now, and that’s why I think this time, finally, something’s actually going to change. In fact it already has.
So, given my slip-ups, was my truncated shopping cleanse a failure? Absolutely not. As many people who have done a shopping diet, ban, cleanse—whatever you want to call it—will tell you, it becomes about so much more than money and stuff. Through this challenge I’ve achieved for the first time in a long time a level of genuine clarity about what I really need and want in my life. And guess what? None of it is available on Amazon.
I want less clutter—in my home and in my head. I want to feel in control of my finances, and my career, and my health. I want to feel well and balanced and strong again. I want to take a year-long round-the-world trip. I want to spend less time looking at screens and more time looking at people’s faces. I want to read more books, and finally write my book.
And the best part is that all of that is entirely available to me—not just some day, but by the end of this year, if I keep my eye on the prize. That realization has become a source of inspiration, and—even better—gratitude. I am so very, very, very fortunate to have the life I have, and the opportunities that open up to me on the regular. On January 1, I started a daily practice of writing down at least one thing I’m grateful for: big things, little things, sometimes material but mostly intangible. My promise to myself is that in moments when I feel like there’s a hole that needs filling, or my spirits need lifting, I will refer to my notebook of gratitude, not madewell.com.
Before I Leave You: A Few Pearls of Wisdom
It feels like a flip has been switched for me—something deeper has shifted that I’m confident will curtail some of my less functional habits. But I’m not relying solely on willpower.
Here are some things I’ve learned, and tactics I’ve adopted, to act as back up should my willpower ever falter, or in case I’m ever disappointed by a boy again (I will be).
For 2018, I’m no longer banning shopping. But I’m not online shopping for a full year. I’ve decided to make an exception for a few functional items. I had to order a new battery and charger for my camera, and knock-offs on Amazon are way more affordable than going to a camera store. I can buy gifts online. And though I’ve resolved not to buy any more books until I’ve read the stack of unread ones on my bedside table, I’m making the odd exception (like, when your friend Cait writes a book, obviously you’re going to order that). But absolutely no clothes. A big problem in my previous life—you know, way back in 2017—was idle online shopping and ordering clothes that maybe would look good on someone’s body, but definitely not mine. I ended up spending way too much time (and I bill by the hour; time is money!) going to Pacific Centre and to the bricks-and-mortar shops of my favourite online retailers to return clothes, only to end up getting other stuff while I was there. Even worse, for stores like Everlane and Madewell that don’t have locations in Canada, I would convince myself that the clothes were ‘good enough’ and keep them, even though I didn’t particularly like them, just because returning them by mail was a (sometimes expensive) hassle. This year, I can shop for clothes, but only if I go to a store and try them on. Since I despise malls, chances are I will only go when I really need something.
Adding to my ability to shop idly was the fact that Google Chrome knows my credit card number and would AutoFill it anytime I wanted to purchase something. I didn’t even have to get up to grab my wallet—a moment that may have shaken me out of my hypnotic consumer state. I’ve removed my credit card number from Google Chrome.
But why not go even farther? I’ve used a Chrome extension called StayFocusd to block the sites that are my kryptonite. I literally can’t visit those sites on my Chrome browser. I can visit them on Safari, but having to switch to a browser I never use will definitely serve as a reminder that I’m going out of bounds.
I got rid of well over half my wardrobe—another (somewhat counterintuitive) Cait Flanders suggestion that has proven so helpful to me. It’s amazing how much easier it is to get dressed when everything in your wardrobe is something you like, and that fits you.
I’ve never been a thrift shop person. I’ve admired other people for their ability to find great things in thrift shops, but I’ve never been so lucky. But consignment stores are a different story. There’s a great consignment store within walking distance from my flat, with a style that’s very aligned with my own. When I wanted something pretty to wear for my Christmas party, I found a sparkly sequined top from Club Monaco (something I would never want to spend CM prices for, given that I do not have a sparkly-sequined-top life 364 days of the year) for $20. And you wouldn’t believe the compliments I got! I told every one of them that it cost twenty bucks, cause that’s just the kind of person I am.
In 2015, Chelsea (somewhat impulsively) quit her agency job to be a freelance writer/strategist/digital nomad, and she hasn’t looked back since. Her home base is Vancouver, but that’s just where she gets her mail. You can read more of her work at chelseaherman.com.
In the first quarter of this year, I did 85 interviews about The Year of Less. By the end of April, that number will have crossed the 100-mark. More than 100 interviews in four months about one book. First, let that sink in for a minute. Take a deep breath and imagine talking to more than 100 people (most of them strangers) about your book and your personal life. How do you think that would feel? Strange, right?
Now, imagine if you were asked the same handful of questions in the majority of those interviews. It’s actually not surprising that it happens! People naturally want to know a few things: What was the hardest part of not shopping for a year? (Changing habits.) What did your family/friends think? (Most people didn’t care.) Did you regret getting rid of anything? (Nope.) And I’ve shared all of that stuff here with you before.
But there’s one question that keeps coming up that I don’t think I’ve written about. It’s asked in a few different ways, but essentially comes back to this: What is it like to shop now, after not shopping for two years?
I almost always start by saying that I hate it. I hate shopping. I don’t like any part of it, even when it’s for something I need. The only thing I like about buying stuff I need is how it feels to actually start using that thing once it’s in my possession. But I don’t like having to physically make the purchase. And that’s not because I hate handing over my money (I don’t mind spending money). It’s because I simply don’t find any joy in shopping.
Before going further, let’s break this down a little and discuss what my definition of “shopping” is. And this is actually fun for me to write about finally, because I’ve also found myself saying another thing over and over again in interviews, which is that I wish I had called the shopping ban something else. If I could rebrand it, I would probably call it a “browsing ban,” because that more accurately describes what it was. The goal of the shopping ban wasn’t to buy nothing and spend no money for a year. It was to stop mindlessly buying things I didn’t actually need and become a more mindful consumer. In order to do that, I had to stop browsing.
If you choose to browse, you will almost always find something to buy. Click To Tweet
Browsing, as an activity, can be done in person or online. It’s easy to describe why I hate in-person browsing so much now: it is physically exhausting. When I enter shopping malls and/or most stores, my senses feel overwhelmed. There are too many lights, too many people, too many smells, and too many sales signs and promotions. It’s simply too much. (Case in point: I nearly had a panic attack at the Toronto Eaton Centre, while trying to find a shirt to wear on TV.) And if I have to spend time trying things on or testing things out, I’m usually ready for a nap after. So, we’re all clear on why I genuinely really dislike browsing in stores now, right?
The feelings I have around online browsing are a little trickier to describe, only because it can sometimes be more difficult to notice that’s what you’re doing. Choosing to not browse stores in person is easy. You literally just don’t go inside. But we are connected to tools at almost all hours of the day that make it so online browsing is always at our fingertips; that makes it a little more difficult to walk away.
I’ll take one step backward and share what online browsing looked like for me before the shopping ban (which began in July 2014). It would usually result from hearing about a book, product, or brand that piqued my interest. From there, I would either click through the links placed in articles I was already reading or do a Google search, then find myself scrolling through a website for the next 10-20 minutes. This almost always resulted in making a purchase (at least, with books). And if I didn’t buy something right away, I often bookmarked it and looked at it a few more times, before finally entering my payment information and clicking “submit order”.
I want to riff off that last sentence and say this is one of the reasons I don’t save bookmarks anymore and it’s also why I don’t use Pinterest: because the more times we look at a product/offer, the more times we think about buying it. And the more we see/hear about something, the more we believe we either really need it or might get value from it, and then we will ultimately make the purchase. (Likewise, the less often we see/hear about something, the less likely it is we will ever think about buying it!) So, no to online bookmarks, too!
Now, I avoid visiting online stores unless I actually need something (and we can talk about what that looks like). I also avoid reading articles that I know are filled with lists (and links) of things I could/should consider buying. Product reviews? No, thanks! Makeup tutorials? Never. Haul videos? I wish these didn’t exist. I won’t even look at lists of which books I should read in a season anymore (but that’s mostly because I have enough at home + more on hold at the library). And that’s not to say any of these things are bad! Every product has a purpose. But if you spend your time learning about the purpose of each object, it’s easier to talk yourself into buying anything.
Unfortunately, even though I avoid visiting online stores, I still see ads all over the internet. The trick is to look past them, and that’s also easy (after lots of practice). I think the one thing that still “gets me” is seeing friends share pictures of the books they read/loved on social media. I always add those to my “want to read” list. But I don’t feel bad about that. As a writer, you should read—A LOT—especially in the same genre you want to write books in. What I have changed is my habit of buying books the minute I hear about them. That doesn’t happen anymore. I only buy a book when I know I’m going to read it right away, and only if my library doesn’t have it. (I’m also really good at decluttering my “want to read” list, which is a lot cheaper when it’s just a title written in a notebook vs. an actual book that I paid money only to let it collect dust on my shelf.)
So, those are some of my general thoughts on what shopping looks/feels like now, nearly four years after I started this journey to become a more mindful consumer. I’ve realized “shopping” could be swapped for the word “browsing,” and removed that from my list of hobbies. I don’t go into physical stores, unless I absolutely have to buy something. And I only visit online stores for the same reason. It’s never to browse. It’s always to buy a specific item. If I could sum up what the shopping ban did for my actual shopping habits, I would say that’s it: it taught me how to take the emotion out of it, so shopping is strictly a transaction now (as it should be).
The reason I added “as it should be” is because I want to make sure that when we talk about shopping bans, we acknowledge that we still have to buy things sometimes. And that’s ok! We don’t need to add more shame around buying stuff or spending money (there’s enough of that elsewhere in the world—and holy moly has there been a lot of it during this press tour). So, buy your stuff! I don’t care! I want to be really, truly, and crystal clear on this: buying stuff isn’t bad and spending money isn’t bad! So you are allowed to buy stuff and spend your money on whatever you want. I have just learned that it feels so much better to only buy stuff when you’re actually going to use it. Because the value of an object comes out when we actually use it—not simply because we own it. And that is how I shop now.
Since the shopping ban ended in July 2016, I have bought lots of stuff. Are you shocked!? Don’t be. That’s life! I bought some camping gear, a couple backpacks, snowshoes and poles. When I moved, I bought a new couch and rug for my living room (but I’m still living without a coffee table lol). I also bought a coat rack, and then got all the parts and put together an awesome DIY standup desk. I’ve bought lots of books! And I’ve even bought a few candles, along with an essential oil diffuser. The difference between the way I used to shop and the way I shopped for these things is that now I wait until I have genuinely felt the need for it. (And I’m a firm believer that something you want is also a need, if it fits in your budget.) So I have learned to live without things—and then when I’m done “living without it,” I buy it. No questions asked. No shame. I just buy it and start using it.
What does “living without it” look like? Well, sometimes it means living without a couch for three months or a desk for six months, while figuring out what you really need and want. Other times, it means living in a new home for four months, and eventually seeing that it’s not setup to give you easy access to a front closet, but a coat rack would help you get your wet rain jacket off the floor. And I just realized I haven’t said anything about clothing. In the past year, I have bought exactly five pieces of it—and only two were for regular daily life (a sweater + new hiking shoes). The other three were for a wedding + something to wear for TV interviews/book tour stuff. So, to this end, I don’t stockpile or buy multiples of anything. I simply buy what I need, when I need it.
The beautiful thing about the way I shop now is that I genuinely appreciate all of the things I buy. It was really easy for me to write that list of things I’ve purchased since the shopping ban ended, because I can look around my home and see everything—and that’s because I use them regularly, and am grateful for what they do for me/help me do. Old me didn’t appreciate most of the things I bought, because I did so for all the wrong reasons. The most common mistake was that I used to buy things for a more aspirational version of myself, but then never used them because the real me didn’t want to. In waiting to feel the need for an object, I know it’s something worth buying—and when I have the money, the real me buys it and uses it. There are no justifications and no shame. I just buy it and use it. Transaction complete. :)
What’s your relationship with shopping/browsing right now?
Happy Friday, friends! And I am feeling extra happy this morning! Of course, I’m here to share my first giveaway of the month with you. But I have to tell you the incredible news I received last night: The Year of Less hit the Wall Street Journal Bestseller list! Ahhhhh! Even in my wildest dreams, I didn’t think that would/could happen. I am so grateful to everyone who has read it, shared it with others, and supported me throughout this journey. It takes a community of people to make this type of thing happen, and I’m so thankful you are part of mine!
Since we’re on the topic of community, I have to tell you that this giveaway feels like the most important one I’ve ever done here. Over the years, I’ve given away more than a dozen books through the site, but this bundle is special because they have all been written by women I know in the personal finance space. Erin paved the way for us last year, and then Chelsea, Lauren, Liz and I released books earlier this year. I’ve just been anxiously waiting for Kristin’s book to come out, so I could put us all together + share our work with one lucky person!
All you have to do is answer the question below and enter your info to sign up for my newsletter! And you can get some extra entries if you follow me on Instagram and/or share the giveaway with friends. :)
While the messages within these books are fairly universal, I’m limiting the giveaway to North Americans only—partially because of the financial content, and also because shipping is expensive y’all!
I could go on and on, and gush more about each of these ladies . . . but I know you want to get to the giveaway, so I will leave this message to them: I am so grateful for your friendships. Our blogs/websites/freelance work helped us connect for the first time, and our books have taken those connections to another level. (Because omg, how does publishing work!? I’m so confused/stressed out. Please send help!) Thank you for sharing what you’ve learned, opening up about your struggles, and putting your best work on these pages. xo
If you haven’t listened to our latest season of the podcast, Honest Money Conversations wrapped up again last week. In the final episode, Carrie shared a question she had been grappling with, and I have been thinking about it ever since: what would you do, if you weren’t already doing this?
What I love about the question is that you could apply it to so many different aspects of life. What you do for a living, how you budget your money, what your habits are, and so on. If you weren’t doing it this one way already, and had the chance to start over, would you still do it today? Or would you do something different?
Personally, I have been applying the question to my work. Carrie’s question is what sparked me to write this post and document what I’ve accomplished since I started this blog 7+ years ago. It felt really important for me to take stock of this stuff, before making any big decisions about what to do next. And that’s not to say a single blog post is what helped me come to any conclusions! I’ve been asking myself “what do you really want to do?” since last year, and have more than enough messy notes in my journal to prove it’s taken many months to figure it out. But that blog post felt like the last page of one chapter, and this post is the start of a new one. :)
Going back to Carrie’s question, here’s what I know: if I started a brand new blog today, it wouldn’t be a personal finance blog. I don’t have $30,000 of debt anymore. I’m not doing a shopping ban. And I don’t have any big financial goals that I’m working towards (just retirement). I will always care about my own personal finances, and I will also always want to create space for us to have open and honest conversations about money. Have a question? Ask me anytime! I mean it. Because I know that the more we share, the more we can all learn from each other—and the better off we will all be. So I will always be open to having those conversations.
But I’m not a personal finance blogger anymore. I have known that for a long time, and thought making the switch from “blondeonabudget.ca” to “caitflanders.com” was enough to prove it to myself. But I was still working on Rockstar Finance, which sometimes made me feel like I was (or like I should be). And the fact that I was working on Rockstar also meant that I was basically only consuming personal finance content. I love that my job was to simply read your blogs and find the gems we could share with the world. Without that job taking up 6+ hours/week, though, I’ve been able to spend more time thinking about what’s next.
If I started a brand new blog today, it would probably be called something like “themindfulconsumer.co” (and yes, I own it, lol) and that’s a lot of what I would write about. I am completely obsessed with the topic of us, as humans, being consumers of everything. And I love talking about how what we consume affects our lives, our work, our mindsets, our habits—and yes, our wallets too. This includes thinking about our digital lives vs. analog lives, finding information + inspiration from spaces outside of the ones we work in, and so on. I am simply OBSESSED. (Want to hear a bit more about what I mean by this? You might enjoy this episode of our podcast.)
And I’m not surprised by this. I completed my BA in Communications in 2012, and some of my favourite papers and projects were on this exact topic (specifically, social media and technology). But then I found myself maxed out financially, and my only priority was getting out of debt. We all know where things went from there. :)
So, that’s where my interests lie, and what the blog will be about going forward: a space where we can talk about how to become more mindful consumers (with a big focus on digital vs. analog). And I actually don’t think this is too far of a stretch from what I’ve been moving towards, anyway. At first, I was worried that writing a memoir about a year where I didn’t shop would pigeonhole me into that space. But when I really think about it, my intention for that book was to start a conversation around how to stop binging and start being a mindful consumer—and that was a great place for me to start.
Now, the beautiful thing about having a blog with your name as the URL is that you can write about anything, and I also see the topic of adventure coming up a lot too. Specifically, I want to bring the outdoors into my work. If you look at my Instagram account or read this post, this should come as no surprise. I want to talk about what the word “adventure” means to me; that includes tiny adventures (like my Adventure Tuesday’s) and big adventures (like my trip to the UK next month). It also includes the topic of challenging myself, both outdoors and in all the ways I have attempted to create change in my life.
I’m still working out some of the details of what all of this will look like, including a new project I want to launch alongside it this summer. The best part (for me) is that nothing really needs to change on my blog, aside from my “about” page. My URL will stay the same, and I already have a logo that fits with this new direction. :)
Before officially “signing off” as a personal finance blogger, I want to go out with a bit of a bang. Since it’s Financial Literacy Month (in the US), I thought I would spend it sharing every last bit of personal finance-goodness that is currently bottled up inside me. I have a handful of money-related posts in my drafts folder that I would love to publish, nearly a dozen personal finance books to share via giveaways (woo! multiple giveaways!), and a tiny course to release. Rewild Your Relationship With Money will open for registration on April 25th! It will be available for one week (or until it sells out) and then that’ll be it.
I don’t think it’s possible to show you just how excited I am about these changes, especially the new project I’m going to launch this summer! I was afraid to say “I don’t want to write about money forever” out loud, because a hard pass or “no” always feels like you could be closing a door and losing out on opportunities (including money). But since doing therapy last year, I have slowly been adding more and more boundaries into my life. And after opening up and being honest with a group of women (at one of Nicole Antoinette’s events!) in Seattle last weekend, I knew I had to give myself permission to do what I REALLY want to do—and this is it. :)
So, that’s it for now, friends! The first book giveaway will be on Friday, and then I’ll be back next week with two money-related posts. Until then, I’m curious:
What would you do, if you weren’t already doing “this”? (Whatever “this” means to you, right now.)
I started this blog (for the first time) on October 1, 2010. I say “the first time” because I also deleted it once—in March 2011, when I was temporarily living in Toronto, wasting away the last few thousand dollars I had. But I started it up again in June 2011, shortly after coming home and realizing I was maxed out.
If we use the original date, I launched this blog 2,736 days ago. That’s:
7 years + 5 months + 28 days, or
390 weeks + 6 days, or
You get the idea. It’s been a long time! And since The Year of Less came out, I know there has been an influx of new readers stopping by to say hi or sign up for the newsletter. I haven’t done anything like this before, but I think I’m going to take an idea from Jillian and share some of the highlights from the last 2,736 days!
I’m going to attempt to put these in (semi-)chronological order, but I also want to have some fun with this! So you’ll find links to old posts, notes about what I was thinking during a few situations, and maybe even a song or two to listen to. I will also share some thoughts about “what’s next” at the end.
Highlights from the Last 2,736 Days
started/restarted this blog (haven’t stopped since June 7, 2011)
got my first freelance writing job + first (unpaid) editorial assistant job (at LearnVest) in 2011 (wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t writing about my own personal finances here)
decided to stop writing anonymously and share my real first name with readers in 2011, so I could actually share some of these new articles I was writing elsewhere
finally decided to tell my family and friends about this blog in 2012, for some of the same reasons (looking back, this post is so dramatic—but that’s how I was feeling)
got a full-time job offer that I promptly said yes to and moved to Toronto three weeks later (behind the scenes: my heart had just been broken by my best friend of 14+ years, and there’s part of me that knows I was trying to run from my problems)
When I wrote my first post in October 2010, I was just a blonde who wanted to be on a budget and get my financial life on track. I wrote anonymously (as “LC”) because I didn’t want anyone in my real life to find this blog. All I wanted to do was track my spending and stay accountable throughout my debt repayment journey. That’s it!
It’s wild to look back and see how different my life was 2,736 days ago. If you had asked me then, I would have told you that my goals were to pay off my debt, continue working for the provincial government, save up a down payment, buy a place and continue to climb the “corporate” (public service) ladder.
We could curl up with tea and blankets, and talk about all the little things that made some of these big changes in my life possible. But honestly, I know that a lot of it comes back to three things: tracking my progress on something, asking myself how I’m feeling about it, and being willing to try doing things another way.
There were also a lot of big decisions + calculated risks that made some of it happen. Opportunities that surprised me and I felt “lucky” to get, but ones that required me to give up some stability and/or came up with no promise of a payoff. And don’t forget: it’s been a slow burn (think of a candle that lasts for 65,000+ hours).
I joined the personal finance community 2,736 days ago. In that time, I have:
published more than 600 posts on this blog (and countless more via freelance work)
worked for two financial startups for over 4 years total
I know it’s not “mindful” to always be thinking about what’s next, but that’s exactly what I’ve been doing this year. Because something happened in January that I can’t quite explain. I got that same feeling you experience when you start the last chapter of a great book. You know it’s going to be good, but you still don’t want it to end, so you try to savour every minute. Admittedly, I wasn’t savouring every task I had to cross off the list. But now, as things are settling down and I’m starting to prepare for my trip to the UK in May, the feeling is getting stronger. Like one book is about to end, and then I can walk over to my bookshelf and pick out the next one I want to start.
I know that’s an incredibly vague way to end this post, and I’m sorry for that! I also don’t want it to sound like this is the end of the blog, because it is absolutely not. I just know that I’m ready to make a shift. I feel like I’m finally settling into myself as a writer and creator. And something I’ve been reminding myself a lot lately is this:
Just because you’ve done something for a while doesn’t mean you have to do it forever. Click To Tweet
So instead of this being a post about the last 2,736 days, maybe it’s about the first 2,736.
When was the last time you listened to yourself and paid attention to the words that were coming out of your mouth? Have you ever noticed a pattern? Is there one thing you talk about (or complain about) most days of the week? Maybe it’s a concern about money, or trouble in a relationship, or an annoyance at work. I can look back and think of examples for all of these things, at various points in my life.
A few days ago, I finally noticed I was saying the same few words over and over: tired, exhausted, blur. I was managing the tired/exhausted feelings for a few weeks. It didn’t feel good, but I knew it was temporary. However, “blur” was a new one—and that is the opposite of why I live a slower lifestyle. I prefer to act with intention, so I can create (and actually remember) the life I want. This lifestyle is also a preventative measure for me, because I know what happens when I am tired/exhausted/feel the blur for too long (increased anxiety + panic attacks).
My anxiety hasn’t crept in too much lately, but I do feel like I’ve been operating in a way that is not sustainable for me personally, so I know it’s time to change what I’m doing. And that’s something I have learned many times now, after paying attention to what I’m saying and how I’m feeling: if it’s within your control, you should absolutely make a change and move yourself in the direction you want to be going.
Personally, I know I want to get back to work—slow, intentional work—the work I love doing, and the work I want to remember doing. After listening to this episode of Hurry Slowly, I wrote down my list of work priorities, then matched it up to my existing calendar and realized I wasn’t doing any of them. I wasn’t writing or creating anything. I also had no time to do either. Instead, my calendar was full of things that were draining my energy, and taking up more time than I could afford to spare (think: 3 hours out of the house for a 4-minute interview).
I will never regret taking a step back from work and doing all of those interviews. If anything, I’m starting to see that it was short-term work for long-term success of the book. So, I won’t regret it, and I am extremely grateful for the opportunities. But I genuinely want to do some real work. I want to write and sketch and create! Not so surprisingly, I’ve decided to setup a challenge (with some intentions/rules) to make this happen.
I’m calling it the Season of Work Challenge!
It starts today and ends on April 17th. For the next 30 days, I’m going to:
write every day (this is my top priority)
work Monday-Friday and attempt to take weekends off
track how many hours I work (and how many per project)
try to work 40 hours/week or less, including:
20 hours of writing/creating (4 hours/day)
no more than 5 hours of interviews
and complete at least one new project!
I wish I could say that I thought this was going to be a walk in the park. Every part of this challenge feels like . . . well, like it’s going to be a challenge. I have journaled a little this year, and wrote 750 words/day for about two weeks. But I don’t have a schedule, and I don’t know how many hours I’ve been working. I also haven’t created—much less completed—a new project in months. So yes, this is going to be a huge shift.
Even though it won’t be easy, I haven’t felt this excited about work in a long time. I’m excited to write! I’m excited to have a schedule and structure! I’m excited to attempt to take weekends off! My intention for the weekends is to have 1 adventure day + 1 full day off. This feels sooo exciting! (Are you excited yet or sick of the word? Sorry! Too excited to care!) Spring is here, and I am ready for a change.
Aside from committing to writing one blog post each week, I don’t know what the new project I start/complete will be yet. All I know is that I’m done with the words tired, exhausted and blur—and I’m ready to take back control of my calendar and my work life. I want to finish this challenge and find myself saying three new words over and over: creative, energized and accomplished.
Is anyone else itching for a season of work?
PS – I’m going to stay accountable to this challenge by sharing updates via Instagram Stories! Every day, I will show you a behind the scenes look at whatever I’m working on. I will also tally up the number of hours I have worked each day, share the final number on Fridays, and let you know how my weekends off are going. ;)