No-Buy Year and Other Unconventional Life Choices: Notes on Cait Flander’s Books

Cait Flanders is a Canadian writer in her early 30s who, at 29, after paying off all her debts, decided to go a year without buying anything. Not because she needed to save much, her career was going well, she was stable, but she wanted to know to what extent buying things played a part in her life and documented this journey on her already successful blog where she talked about personal finance, getting out of debt, living an intentional, frugal, and minimalist life.

“If you don’t replace a bad habit with a new one, it’s likely you’ll ‘relapse’ and go back to your old habits.”

The challenge of buying nothing worked so well that she decided to extend it for another year, and her most intimate impressions are in the book “Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in Store“.

I took so long to write a review of this book that Cait released another one, “Adventures in Opting Out: A Field Guide to Leading an Intentional Life.” So, this post is a 2-in-1; here are my impressions of both of the author’s works:

In the first book, Cait outlines the rules of her year without shopping – she could buy food and hygiene items, for example – and narrates details of consumption desires that you and I have already normalized and that, when put into words, seem somewhat silly or even absurd, for example: “One way to spend money without thinking is to buy two books instead of one to reach a certain amount and get free shipping.”

How many minutes or hours of life do you spend paying attention to meticulous details and making completely stupid decisions about the purchase of material goods? (which, in the end, we don’t even use) I admit I’ve spent quite a few hours.


To stay motivated for a year without buying, the author remembered the things she already had at home and those she had parted with at the beginning of the challenge; many of those items were purchased for what she calls the ‘ideal version of me,’ and the things she wanted to buy probably served the same purpose.

In 29 years, the author says she bought and kept most of her possessions to fit the mold of the ‘ideal version of herself.’ Over time, she realized that she was happier when she didn’t focus on what she could have or what she should be. She decided that her values shouldn’t be based on the things she desired, began to find more value in herself as she was and internalized that she owed nothing to the world. Doing what she wanted to do was enough – I’ve heard that this issue is quite common for women, who never feel complete and feel they have to do more to be valid and accepted.

“The hardest part of not being able to buy anything else wasn’t giving up new things – it was having to physically feel the pull of my triggers and change my reaction to them.”

It’s clear in the book that Cait is reinterpreting many aspects of her memories; she believes that the stories we tell ourselves are essential for maintaining our goals. Changing your life or embracing minimalism or any other intentional lifestyle may lead to losing friends and feeling alone.


Another topic that is quite evident in this first book is the time when Cait stopped drinking alcohol. She wasn’t dependent, but she started drinking early and felt that she had made many bad choices because of this habit.

I identified a lot with these passages, especially with the negative reactions of people when she made the decision to become abstinent. Fumio Sasaki also comments, both in his book on minimalism and in his book on habits, on how, despite not being an alcoholic, he prefers to be totally abstinent rather than drinking occasionally.

“Quitting drinking taught me to listen to myself. How to do what is right for me. How to be alone in a crowded room. How to feel my feelings. How to trust that I am resilient and can handle any situation I find myself in. How to build more meaningful relationships. How to be self-aware. And how to let others express themselves too.”

Cait realized that she was taking out her anxieties and unresolved subconscious issues both in shopping and alcohol and, by stopping both, she noticed more clearly even the physical sensations that her anxiety brought and identified two other escape valves: overeating and watching TV.

The Second Book – Changing Life

The second book is a guide to “opting out,” which can be translated as ‘opting out,’ ‘unsubscribing,’ ‘choosing not to be part of an activity,’ ‘voluntarily stopping being involved’… and it doesn’t just tell the author’s story; it’s a compilation of accounts from many people who are willing to share how they took different paths from what was expected of them in their social circles. Questions that arise in this book: ‘having children or not – and at what age,’ ‘buying or renting,’ ‘staying or leaving,’ ‘starting a business or climbing the corporate ladder’…

“I learned several times that every small change you make pays compound interest. It helps you make another change, another paradigm shift, another decision to live in a new way.”

Two years after the first release, it’s clear that Cait doesn’t want to maintain the same blog-like atmosphere in the book, nor a confessional one: she often comments on the importance of protecting her privacy, setting boundaries, and going to therapy. Although she provides some context about her personal life, she does so with the intention of encouraging the reader to explore the nuances of her own story.

You may have heard an inner voice asking to change something, that idea that comes out of nowhere, ‘what if I did this?’. You don’t really know where it comes from, much less what the best path is to follow this ‘calling,’ but one thing is certain: if everyone around you is like you, none of them will have the answer or suggest you make a change; maybe people don’t even think about it, but you think you’d feel much better if you changed clothes or stopped drinking.

The people around you have already gotten used to your ‘current version’ because humans prefer predictable things, both to save energy and to build trust.

The question of taking action regarding the desire for change is kind of difficult; people take a long time to build what they already have, and they don’t know what might happen if they move things around. However, Cait argues that, as long as you make a small plan within your budget, many adventures are not as risky as they seem. “Just adjust the change according to your tolerance level.”

“We keep busy with our routines, go with the flow, do what we always do – in all areas of our lives – and believe the stories we’ve been told, or that we tell ourselves, about how and why things are supposed to be. By sticking to these routines and stories, we don’t give ourselves the time and space to hit the ‘pause’ button, look objectively at our stories, and ask ourselves if this is really what we want.”

Types of Changes

The examples in the book weren’t so radical; there was the case of the guy who wanted to do something different with his business – he didn’t totally change the business plan but decided to test new products.

There was the case of the girl

who, like Cait, stopped drinking, not because she had already been thinking about it as a problem, but simply because someone asked her if she had tried it, and suddenly, it seemed like an interesting challenge.

Sometimes it can be kind of difficult to tell people that you don’t have a specific goal but would like to change one thing or another in your life. The fear of judgment from others is almost tangible, “That would make me look boring, or average, or mediocre, or lazy,” but the idea of **”Opting out” that the author brings is much more an internal decision than an external one: it doesn’t necessarily need to be announced, you don’t need to prove anything to anyone, and the thing to be changed doesn’t need to be something incredible, grand, or phenomenal.


Changing old habits or trying new possibilities can be quite difficult to do alone. “You want someone around who will help you stay on this new path and do what you feel is right,” it’s good to find people who seem to understand what you’re trying to do; they don’t need to be your best friends, and you don’t need to be the one who understands them in return. These people aren’t always very much like you; they just see value in the change and respect your decisions.

Throughout the book, Cait tells about her colleagues who like to hike in the mountains with her, those who are writers too, and many other cases; many of them have routines and lives totally different from hers, but they are good friends and good company for the activities they both have in common – which can be just having coffee and chatting.

“Sometimes you’ll meet someone once, and it will be enough. And sometimes you’ll meet her a second or third time, each meeting better than the last. But not necessarily.”

The author says that the more authentic the path you choose to follow, the more you discover that, no matter how different people are, they may have things in common and can see value in each other. What unites people can be precisely the fact that they value differences.

Things Change

The book emphasizes that things are ephemeral, both the relationships we have and the conditions of the decisions we make. Letting go, trusting the process, observing changes—these are messages that Cait conveys in various ways. Here are four examples of how things inevitably change:

It may be that you’ve tried something many times without success. After years of trying, you’re almost giving up and lamenting that this isn’t for you. But then, one beautiful day, it works! That was the case with her and alcohol; she tried to quit drinking for years, even told people she was going to quit and couldn’t do it, but at some point, it worked! And now she’s abstinent. She didn’t try anything different from the previous times; the commitment was the same, but this time, it ‘worked.’

It seems like you’re not going anywhere, that your decisions were wrong, or that life doesn’t make sense, but after a few months or years, you realize that everything is fine just the way it is. “Opting out is not a race. You don’t need to prove anything to anyone, and it doesn’t have to be a continuous struggle. You have the reins to continue at every step of the way.”

There’s a conception, which she considers Western, that you should think about the next steps: what will be the next goal and what will be the next measure of success… she doubts a bit about the usefulness of this progressive and Cartesian view “there’s no ultimate goal. You’re doing it because you want to and because you can. This is your life.”

She puts self-knowledge as a continuous process:

“It may take years for you to discover who you are and what life can be,” and something that doesn’t always need to make sense and be explained all the time “as if you had to justify that you’re changing your path and tell every detail of your new plan.”

And what seems to be a key point of the book is the question that a successful relationship doesn’t have to be one that lasts forever. “Instead of being afraid, maybe we can try to remember that our time together will always be temporary.”

Cait Flanders

If you liked Cait’s ideas and want to know more, both the first and the second book have book flow, it feels like a blog or a friend talking to you.

Currently, the author no longer has a blog (in fact, she deleted all the content she had), but she maintains a conversation on her podcast, “Opting Out.

An Insight into Fumio Sasaki’s Journey into Minimalism and the Power of Habits

Fumio Sasaki, a Japanese a single salaried editor in his thirties, embarked on a transformational journey into minimalism that not only reshaped his life but also captured the interest of a large audience. His story is a testament to the liberating potential of a minimalist lifestyle.

Fumio, like many of us, accumulated an array of possessions over the years, including notebooks, musical instruments, cameras, games, books, and more. He held onto various items for “supposed future hobbies,” but these items collected dust as he rarely engaged with them. Instead, he would come home from work, crack open a beer, turn on the TV, and the cycle would repeat.

But Fumio decided that he wanted to make a change.

Introduction to Minimalism

He initiated the process by decluttering his home, parting with unused possessions, and working toward a healthier life, which even led him to quit drinking. This personal transformation journey took over a year, as he had many items to sell or give away, and changing habits was no easy feat. Of course, he documented this transformation on a… blog., the blog, attracted a significant following. Fumio ended up speaking to the Japanese Society in New York in 2017. During his talk, he showcased before-and-after photos of his minimalist journey.

Matt D’Avella is always around anything minimalist related 😂

Fumio believes that parting with unused items goes beyond simplifying housekeeping—it’s a philosophy of life. He authored two books to explain his philosophy: “Goodbye, Things” and “Hello, Habits.

In “Goodbye, Things“, Fumio shares the methods and techniques he used to become a minimalist, encouraging readers to explore minimalism as a liberating lifestyle. The book offers a step-by-step guide with many tips for decluttering.

“Minimalists can distinguish between what they need and what they want for appearances’ sake, and they’re unafraid to cut out everything in the latter category.”

Besides addressing material possessions, the author emphasizes the importance of reducing distractions. He points out how the internet is a source of information overload, leading people to buy unnecessary items and make poor decisions. In the past, without newspapers and rapid news updates, people lived with limited information. Is living in the “here and now” easier?

Understanding Human Nature

Fumio reminds readers that human beings still possess a nervous system similar to that of hunter-gatherers, with brains that haven’t evolved much in 5,000 years. The overwhelming influx of information can interfere with daily activities and unknowingly affect emotions and decision-making.

“We can buy anything online, from anywhere in the world. We can watch shows from foreign countries, not to mention overseas radio. It’s as if all my friends have become article writers, gourmet reporters, or perhaps foreign correspondents, given all the global news they send me via Twitter, Facebook, and LINE.”

Constant connectivity leads to continuous comparisons between countless references, ideas, possibilities, people, and personalities. After Fumio started minimizing these external stimuli, he noticed: “I don’t have an apartment with a high city view. I don’t have any of the things I always thought I wanted.” Once he began questioning himself and feeling his own emotions, with fewer external interferences, he realized he didn’t want everything he thought he did. He managed to distinguish between his true desires and external influences.

This newfound clarity brought him peace, and he began to assert that, even if people conform and follow trends, they will remain unsatisfied. For instance, many individuals opt for botox injections, silicone implants, spending thousands, and still wanting more. Fumio’s point is that seeking external validation doesn’t lead to lasting contentment.

“You’re not the only one concerned about your appearance—we’re all aging.”

How to Achieve This

Fumio believes it’s essential to value oneself for who they are and appreciate their current life, without adding or subtracting from it. This perspective reduces the desire for more and more, as well as the need to seek new things to alleviate boredom.

“We can do anything without a dose of narcissism. It’s not wrong to think we are valuable. In fact, it’s necessary. The problem lies in how we convey our value to others.”

Nurturing a sense of being enough and believing that one’s existence is inherently valuable reduces the impulse to consume. Consuming to fill a void created by what’s lacking in the present opens the door to a deeper personal and global transformation. It’s not about having but about being. It’s a shift in the understanding of reality, departing from the modern capitalist cultural logic.

Danshari, the art of decluttering, is the tool Fumio found to save money, foster a healthy body, enhance relationships, discover new hobbies, and heighten awareness of thoughts and energy.


Decluttering wasn’t easy for Fumio, similar to Cait Flanders, who noted that the fear of regret often prevents people from parting with items. The fear of regretting letting go. To mitigate this fear, Cait photographed all the possessions she decluttered at the beginning of her challenge. If she ever missed something and contemplated repurchasing it, she had photographic evidence. However, she asserts that she never needed to revisit those photos.

Another fear was the judgment of others. Fumio states, “I no longer feel embarrassed about doing anything. From now on, I simply do what I want.” Cait Flanders also addresses this in her book, noting that the fear of people thinking you’re downsizing because you’re broke or that you’re a bore because you won’t go out for drinks, for example.

“Clinging to things of the past is the same as clinging to an old image of yourself. If you’re even slightly interested in changing something about yourself, I suggest you be brave and start letting things go. Keep only what you need for your next move.”

Fumio noticed that he stopped judging others based on their possessions or jobs. It became less challenging for him to explain that he was “experimenting with new ways to be happy” and that he respected their choices, even though he was on a completely different path.

Second Book – Habits

About two years after his first book, Fumio wrote “Hello, Habits“, an excellent introductory book about forming habits. It provides numerous real-life examples and descriptive accounts of overcoming mental and physical difficulties when establishing new habits.

In the book, Fumio challenges the prevalent notion of successful people having a specific set of habits. He believes it’s crucial to create your own habits. Instead of prescribing a ready-made list of good habits for readers to follow, he encourages them to ask questions and reflect, guiding them to discover their own habits that align with their unique circumstances.

The author emphasizes that every person has a unique value system and a highly individual starting point. Therefore, their life experiences determine what brings immediate pleasure and what they are willing to wait for or make an effort to achieve delayed gratification.

“People find it challenging to imagine that others have different ‘reward systems’ than they do.”

Fumio’s point is that forming a habit is about overcoming the initial awkwardness. The time it takes for this phase can vary, spanning days, months, or even years. Habit formation means consciously repeating an action until your memory acknowledges the reward that follows. It’s about educating the brain that it’s not a promise of a reward, but a certainty.

For instance, when you haven’t exercised for a long time, the process is uncomfortable. Your body aches, you sweat, your heart races, and it feels exhausting. How do you become accustomed to exercise? Fumio provides examples, even mentioning professional athletes who, despite years of practice, sometimes think, “I don’t want to train today.” Yet they train anyway.

Establishing a habit means rewriting the reward system in your brain. As long as the immediate sense of satisfaction and euphoria surpasses the subsequent one, you’ll postpone challenging tasks in favor of easier ones. Repeated actions result in the dendritic spine, connecting synapses in the brain, growing larger.

“It’s not that attractive things in front of you vanish. But when you keep getting bigger rewards in the future, the reward in front of you (the one that comes faster) becomes boring.”

The same applies to breaking habits. The less you engage in a particular behavior, like watching pornography, the weaker the reward synapses for it become, entering a dormant state. The urge for immediate rewards is linked to the primal nervous system, and as you cultivate habits—one at a time—you rely less on your instincts.


Fumio highlights two primary motivators: social acceptance and self-identity, the stories we tell ourselves about who we are. It’s essential to utilize these factors to your advantage. Instead of fearing how people might react to your changes, focus on those who embrace your choices. Recognize that someone out there will appreciate what you’re doing, just as someone else won’t want it. Concentrate on the positive side of the equation.

To maintain her motivation during her year of not buying, Cait remembered the possessions she already had at home and those she had let go of at the beginning of her challenge. Many of the items she bought were for her “ideal self,” and the things she desired to purchase likely served the same purpose.

In 29 years, Cait says she bought and kept most of her possessions to fit the mold of the “ideal version of herself.” With time, she realized that she was happier when she didn’t fixate on what she could have or what she should be. She decided her values shouldn’t be based on material desires, began to find more value in herself as she was, and internalized that she owed nothing to the world. Doing what she wanted was sufficient. Women, in particular, often grapple with the feeling of never being enough and the belief that they must do more to be valid and accepted.

“The hardest part of not being able to buy anything else wasn’t giving up new things—it was physically feeling the pull of my triggers and changing my reaction to them.”

The book makes it clear that Cait started to reinterpret many aspects of her memories. She believes that the stories people tell themselves are vital for maintaining their goals. Changing your life or adopting minimalism or any other intentional lifestyle may lead to losing friends and feeling isolated.

Dangerous Habits

Lastly, as Fumio noted, he doesn’t provide a standard list of habits. He argues that eating healthily, exercising, and sleeping well are key habits that ensure the smooth functioning of other aspects of life. He doesn’t prescribe a specific diet or exercise routine but contends that basic physiological needs are often neglected in our work-oriented culture.

He points out that there is a stereotype of writers or artists as unhealthy, unathletic individuals who indulge in excessive drinking and smoking. He questions whether it’s worth sacrificing fundamental aspects of life. Fumio also highlights the corporate culture that encourages people to work excessively, resulting in inadequate sleep and unhealthy eating habits. For these individuals, he says:

“People who are encouraged by companies to work excessively may experience a euphoria from self-sacrifice. Working too much is acknowledged by peers, so their pain becomes its own reward (social approval). Even if they want to get out of this situation, it can be difficult to isolate themselves from the corporate community.”

Fumio Sasaki

If you found Fumio’s ideas appealing and want to read his work directly, his first book is an excellent guide to revisit, here are the Amazon links: “Goodbye, Things” and “Hello, Habits.“.

In addition to his books, Fumio occasionally posts on his blog,, which he maintains with a friend. You can translate the entire page from Japanese to Portuguese using Google’s translation tool by pasting the link into the translation area. (Please note that the translation from Japanese might seem a bit peculiar.)

“When given too many choices, people tend to worry that there’s something better out there than what they decided on.” – Fumio Sasaki