2 years of no shopping helps author overcome debt for good

In a journey to overcome debt, Cait Flanders, author of The Year of Less, went on a shopping fast for two years, buying only fuel for her car, groceries and toiletries.

No clothes, no lattes, no candles, no nail polish

Cait Flanders is the author of the memoir The Year of Less, a self-help book about her journey overcoming debt and undertaking a two-year shopping fast. (Cait Flanders)

Cait Flanders bought nothing but basic necessities like food and toothpaste for two years — now she's written a book to help others break their spending habits and overcome debt.

"I was so programmed, many of us are, that we do things habitually and we don't really question it," Flanders told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Monday. "My hope with other people is that they find what they value and spend money only on what they value."

The B.C. author wrote about her two-year shopping fast in a new memoir called The Year of Less. She's currently on a book tour across Canada to share her journey, and her latest stop is in Ottawa. 

Flanders also got rid of 75 per cent of her belongings, she said. (Cait Flanders)

Cycle of consumerism 

In 2011, at 25 years old, Flanders found herself nearly $30,000 in debt, most of which was consumer debt. She was stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of consumerism, buying clothes she would never wear and books she would never read. 

Three years later, she managed to pay off her debt.

Once the payment was made, she underwent a two-year shopping fast, buying nothing but groceries, gas for her car and toiletries, to avoid sinking back into binge-shopping and debt.

Those things sat around my house and they collected dust and I really had to learn to let go of that aspirational version and just be myself.- Cait Flanders, author

She also got rid of 75 per cent of her belongings, she said. And although the fast ended in 2016, she said she still leads a life of minimalism. 

"I would buy things for a more ideal version of myself or this more aspirational version of myself," she said. "Those things sat around my house and they collected dust and I really had to learn to let go of that aspirational version and just be myself.

"You buy clothes for a more professional version of you, or books for a more interesting version of yourself," she said. "But I was never going to use those things."

Flanders' own self-help book hopes to inspire others to find what they value in life and to recognize their spending habits.

'Happier life'

Flanders documented her journey in a blog where she writes about life with and after debt. She speaks of a "happier life" with more time, energy and money now that she is debt free.

"I was a mindless consumer," she said.

"It [the shopping ban] taught me that I used to live out of habit so much and I was not consciously deciding that, 'Yes, I want to spend my money on these things.'" 

Flanders will be in Ottawa Monday evening at Octopus Books and will travel next to Edmonton. 

CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning