My Year of Less, Chapter One
My Year of Less, for a Life of More
I’m 37 today. Technically in just under two hours I’ll be 37 (6:09pm), but the 14th of May is my day. I so love my birthday. I feel honored to have been granted 37 laps around the sun, as cliché as it sounds. It’s all true. There were times in my life when I wasn’t sure I’d see the next month, let alone the next year, and it’s just a delicious blessing to stand at the start of another year.
I’m far more contemplative on my birthday then I am on New Year’s. Sure, it’s fun to take off the starting line of a new year as collective humans, but there’s something more intense and personal about looking at my time—what’s come and what’s before me—and take stock and make plans.
For the first 8 weeks of the Coronavirus semi-quarantine here in Massachusetts I was in the spring semester of my master’s degree program. Yep, the entirety of my 2 8-week courses were in the context of a full house. Three children to be shepherded through learning at home and away from their friends, a husband working from home, and nary a library or coffee shop in sight to which I could retreat to plow through work or, you know, experience any form of quiet and solitude.
While forging through schoolwork outside the confines of my busy household was not in the cards this semester, I was able to craft the quiet and solitude early on via long drives alone a couple of days a week. I have several routes through the Pioneer Valley that offer breathtaking vistas and long, winding stretches of uncrowded road, even during non-pandemic times. For a while, I drove in silence, needing as little input as possible and as was safe while driving. Eventually, I returned to audiobooks and podcasts, which during normal times are my constant companions in the car.
One such audiobook, checked out through the Libby app (which connects to your local library and, thus, provides free material) was The Year of Less, Cait Flanders’ memoir recounting her year-long shopping ban, everything that went into the decision, and everything that came out of it.* I learned of Cait years ago when I first started following The Frugalwoods (Mrs. Frugalwoods wrote a lovely memoir highlighting their choices, as well. You can find it here.) and was waist-deep in the financial independence (FI) community. Cait’s moniker used to be “Blonde on a Budget,” where she highlighted her journey to debt freedom and beyond, so her name has always been on my radar.
What happened during these long, solo drives on which Cait’s voice accompanied me, was the bubbling over of a slew of things that have been fermenting in me behind the scenes for a couple of years.
You see, around 2014 my husband and I embarked on our own debt-reduction journey with the ultimate goal of paying off consumer debt in a radical fashion to increase our credit score and better position ourselves for the house we desperately wanted to buy. Not the house, as at the start of the journey we didn’t have any particular house in mind, but the house. Crammed in a 1,000sqft, 3-bedroom townhouse with 4 kids had run its course for us and we wanted more. The goal of radical (not complete) debt reduction and home ownership was realized in August of 2017. From August 2017 to today—May 2020—things have been all over the place. While we don’t use, and don’t even have credit cards, we lost some debt reduction and savings mojo along the way that can be attributed to a myriad of things that will undoubtedly be covered in future posts. Suffice to say, we’ve just been coasting, and that hasn’t felt right.
The ferment that came bubbling forth during my solo drives, however, was less about what I could ask my husband to join me in, and not what we could do as a family, but came forth in the form of What do I want? As a seminary student on my way to an M.Div, I spend a lot of time in the spiritual realm of the world and inside my head and heart. As I draw nearer to God and what I believe the plan for my life is, I must come face-to-face with the things that threaten that path. As I listened to Cait’s words, I began seriously wondering what I could do with less of in my life and why.
With my birthday on the horizon, all I knew for certain was I wanted to make this post and, on the advice of Cait, announce that I would be embarking on a radical journey. She advises to tell as many people as you can when starting something new, because a little accountability in the form of peer pressure (even just the pressure that comes from knowing that all the people know what you’re doing) can be a good thing.
I know I stuff my life full of things that block me from the deep, true things I want to experience. We all do this to some degree—it’s part of being human and always reaching for the low-hanging fruit of even the slightest whisper of gratification or satisfaction. I want less of the things I stuff myself and my life with, in search of more of what life trulyhas to offer me.
What does this all mean?
For the next year I will be embarking on a radical journey of less. Lightening the road of consumer-driven, sometimes addiction-driven consumption that steals from me the glory of God’s creation and His plan for my life. The “too-muchness” steals my joy, concentration, focus, attention, drive, contentment, commitment, and overall spirituality. I will chronicle here what I am offloading and how it’s going. One month it might be one thing, the next month three things, and one thing might take a few months to really sink in and get used to—I don’t know. You’ll be reading as I’m figuring it out and I hope this project helps you take stock of the things that matter to you and, maybe, the things that don’t.
Here are the things I’ll be tackling, though I suspect more will be added to the list as the experiment goes on and these are only roughly in descending order. The bounds of each of these things will be fully explored in their own posts:
- Internet/Phone/Social Media Use
As I look at this list, I know intuitively that some more will be added, and some will naturally pair with others, or flow to and from one another. The first thing I’m tackling, though, is spending. And, over the next two days, I’ll be developing my rules for that, and will share them by week’s end.
I’m happy and honored to have you on this journey with me, and ask that you cheer me on, root for me, and ask questions along the way. Stay tuned for my forthcoming “Spending Ban” post.
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