2014: The Year I Discovered What Matters Most

December 29, 2014
statues in bali

Since launching this blog, I’ve written a post that recaps everything I’ve done and accomplished, at the end of each year. In 2011, it was 100% finance-related. In 2012, I divided my achievements into categories, and announced it was the year I had changed my life. And I kept those same categories in 2013, but deemed it the year of possibilities, instead.

Right from the start, this year took on a different tone. I’ll be honest and say I felt a little lost back then. Perhaps because debt repayment was no longer a top priority, and I’d never been a good saver, I wasn’t confident I’d be able to meet my savings goals. And I had some idea of what I wanted to accomplish, but no idea how I’d make any of it happen.

So, rather than set hard goals and deadlines, I decided to live by a mantra in 2014do good, feel good. I wrote it on a note that sat in my wallet all year, as well as a piece of paper pinned to my cork board. Partway through the year, I scratched it out and changed it to: do better, feel better. And I think I’ve managed to live by those words…

I was good at my job. Rather than set unrealistic expectations of what I could accomplish and then work insane hours to prove I could, I created calendars for all the big projects I took on and set (mostly) reasonable deadlines to complete them. Setting realistic expectations and being able to meet my deadlines allowed me to work smarter, not harder, so I never felt too burned out. This year, I also built real breaks into my hours, didn’t work on weekends and even took a few short vacations. All of this made me a happier employee and a better editor.

I was good to my body, and I was good at listening to my body. There’s no denying this hasn’t been an easy year for me, physically. I hoped and prayed I would kick the residual pain from my car accident to the curb, but unfortunately that hasn’t been the case. I still have trouble sleeping, I still can’t run, and I still need to ice my back and hip all the time. But I did get back into the gym, this year, and discovered a workout that allows me to break a good sweat and doesn’t hurt for too long after. Hopefully the MRI I got a couple weeks ago gives us some answers, so I can do better soon.

I was a good member of my family, and I was a good friend. Maybe it’s the warm fuzzies from the holidays talking, but I like to think I achieved this. I paid multiple visits home to Victoria, where I spent a lot of time with family and my friends there. Mom, Baby Bro, Baby Sis and I also went on a road trip to Edmonton this summer, when we moved him out for school. I got better about spending time building the friendships I’ve made with people in Greater Vancouver. And then I took every opportunity to Skype, text, write and send care packages to long-distance friends.

Finally, I did some good in my community. I volunteered with the YWCA’s high school mentorship program, donated blood for the first time and made charitable donations a priority (thanks to monthly contribution plans, I donated $700 in 2014). I’d planned to do more – and even started working on a special project with Sarah – but shifted focus this fall. I’ll try to pick that up and do better in 2015.

Aside from the mantra, I also set and crossed off a few goals this year:

  • boost my Emergency Fund to $10,000
  • contribute $5,000 to my RRSPs (will before the 2014 deadline)
  • travel wherever my budget allows (Cabarete, Tofino, Whistler, Edmonton, Columbus, Portland, New Orleans, Denver, New York, and Victoria and Toronto multiple times)
  • purchase a new bed, as well as a desk and chair (the desk and chair were gifted)
  • finish the Canadian Securities Course / pass the exam (extended to 2015)
  • start communicating offline more (thanks to our meet-ups this summer)
  • read 24 books (I deleted my Goodreads account, but I think I read 20)
  • incorporate yoga into my workouts (mostly restorative for chronic pain)
  • donate blood at least quarterly (anemic, can’t)
  • give back whenever, wherever, however possible

I accomplished most of what I set out to do – and that feels good. What I couldn’t have planned for back in January of this year, however, was my decision to embrace minimalism – or how you’d all respond to it. That post received more comments than any of the others published on this blog. And then the decluttering posts that followed received more shares than I could’ve imagined. It’s been nearly six months since I started this journey, and I’ve already removed 56% of my belongings (530 items) from my home… and there’s more that will go next year.

To go along with my plan to embrace minimalism, I also put myself on a yearlong shopping ban, which started  in July. The decision was so innocent, at first, but has changed my entire life and the way I think about so many things. I’ve figured out what triggers my desire to spend money, as well as some of the bad spending habits I’ve built up over many years, and have maneuvered my way around them. One slip helped me see what the toughest bad habit to kick would be, but I’m still confident (or just determined) I’ll stick to the rules for the full year.

Overall, this year, I discovered what matters most to me (being in good health, spending time with people, travelling and saving for my future) and what doesn’t (owning more, consuming more or needing the newest of anything). And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve learned how to live a good life with less “stuff”. My debt repayment journey taught me what matters most in life, and I promise you it can’t be found in a store. Since I’m only halfway through the shopping ban, I think there’s a lot more to explore and learn about myself in 2015… and that’s only the beginning of the challenges I have planned. But we can talk more about that next week.

First, tell me how you’re feeling about the end of 2014 being in sight. Was it a good year?

  • Mrs. Frugalwoods December 29, 2014 at 4:42 am

    Sounds like you had a wonderful year! I really like your mantra of do better, feel better. What a perfect encapsulation of living a good life. 2014 was great for us and I think 2015 will largely be charted as staying the course. But, we really need to pull our numbers for 2014 first ;)

    • Cait Flanders December 29, 2014 at 1:39 pm

      Ahhh yes, me too! I’ve been adding up a few numbers already for my December budget recap, to include amounts I spent on certain categories all year… holy jeez, dollar signs! But it’s been a great year. Onto the next! :)

  • Aleksandra Sagan December 29, 2014 at 5:14 am

    Congratulations on a great year! It’s nice to read a post that isn’t 100% financial based, but also takes into account other aspects of life. I love your do better, feel better mantra – and it looks like it worked out well for you this past year.

    My year was pretty good overall. It was the year I finally paid off my +$28K of student loans and had to shift towards aggressive saving rather than debt repayment. Definitely a learning experience :)

    Looking forward to reading about your goals for 2015.

    • Cait Flanders December 29, 2014 at 1:40 pm

      Defffinitely a learning experience – but a great position to be in. Thanks, Aleksandra!

  • Michelle December 29, 2014 at 5:32 am

    Congrats, you had an awesome 2014! 2014 wasn’t a great years in terms of the goals I set but I learned a lot and achieved a better understanding of who I am and what I want out of life. 2015 is going to be the biggest challenge for me yet and I’m excited for it. I want to change, am ready for it and looking forward to a feeling of liberation from debt!

    • Cait Flanders December 29, 2014 at 1:40 pm

      Woo hoo! I’m excited for you, Michelle. :D

  • Sarah December 29, 2014 at 5:42 am

    Sounds like it was a great year!! I like your mantra of “do good, feel good.” I think we sometimes set too high of expectations on ourselves and wind up not getting anything done. I’ve sort of taken a more relaxed approach to life lately and I’ve never been happier. I recently started blogging a few months ago and wanted to post 5 x’s per week. With two kids ages two and one, I quickly realized this was not going to happen. Now, instead of stressing about it, I blog when I have time and when I have a good idea! I hope to get more organized with it next year, but for now…this is what’s working. Life is short!! We have to enjoy the days that we’re living!

    Great post – thanks for sharing! Happy to be following along :)

    • Cait Flanders December 29, 2014 at 1:42 pm

      Man, if you *could* blog 5 days/week with two kids, I’d feel ashamed – so thank you for not making me feel bad about myself, haha. In all seriousness, blogging is so much more enjoyable when you let bursts of creativity inspire you. Write when you can, and when there’s something you really want to say. Happy New Year :)

  • Tonya@Budget and the Beach December 29, 2014 at 5:50 am

    Great year Cait! I like the goal, “travel where my budget allows me.” Instead of declaring where and when I’m traveling next year, I’m sort of writing out the same thing. I have no idea what my budget will dictate, but I’ll probably end up doing something. I just have to play it out month by month. Like your mantra of last year, mine is “Screw Limiting Beliefs.” :) Hope 2015 is great for you!

    • Cait Flanders December 29, 2014 at 1:43 pm

      Yea, I’m thinking I’ll keep the same travel strategy for next year! But then I actually plan on travelling less (at least in the first half of the year), so we’ll see where my budget ends up taking me…

      And I love your mantra! It’s kick ass. Happy New Year, Tonya!

  • Cassie December 29, 2014 at 6:01 am

    Crossing 7 items off your list for 2014 already is pretty darn good, especially considering the fact that two of them appear to conflict with each other (building up emergency fund vs. massive amounts of travel) :)

    Overall, 2014 was a good year. I know I made a slew of New Years resolutions back in January, but one of them rose to the top as being the most important for me: get 8 hours of sleep a minimum of 5 nights a week. As someone who used to run on 3 or 4 hours of sleep because I was too lazy to close the computer and just go to bed already, it has made a considerable difference. I don’t feel like I’m constantly running on an empty tank nearly as much as I used to.

    • Cait Flanders December 29, 2014 at 9:28 pm

      And I’ll still hit $5K before March, and read 20/24 books this year, so that’s not bad, eh!? :) If I hadn’t picked up one great freelance client (which I forgot to mention in this post), I wouldn’t have been able to save/travel nearly as much… so I have that to be thankful for too!

      I love that you focused on getting more sleep this year; that’s one of the healthiest things we can do for ourselves. :)

  • Travis @EnemyofDebt December 29, 2014 at 6:16 am

    I’m not a “looking back” kind of person. My vision is squarely focused on the future, and what I want to accomplish in 2015. It’s going to be a great year. :)

    • Cait Flanders December 29, 2014 at 9:28 pm

      Yes, it is! :D

  • Kassandra December 29, 2014 at 7:20 am

    I am happy that 2014 was a truly fulfilling year for you! I experienced a beautiful year that brought about positive changes and my DH and I saw the efforts of our dedication and perserverance bear fruit. All the best to you for 2015 Cait.

    • Cait Flanders December 29, 2014 at 9:29 pm

      Sounds like 2014 was good to you, Kassandra. Cheers to 2015!

  • Giulia December 29, 2014 at 9:10 am

    it sounds as a very good year for you so GOOD JOB WELL DONE!!!

    • Cait Flanders December 29, 2014 at 9:29 pm

      Thanks! Happy New Year, Giulia!

  • Danielle December 29, 2014 at 11:15 am

    Sounds like 2014 was a pretty good year :) Hoping for your health in 2015!

    I need to do my wrap-up, SO MUCH happened in 2014 it’s hard to keep my head on straight!

    • Cait Flanders December 29, 2014 at 9:31 pm

      Funny you should say that, because health is going to be my top priority next year. And I hear you re: the wrap-up being tough to write… it took me a while to think of all I’d done! Good luck. :)

  • Gretchen December 29, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    The fact that you were able to travel as much as you did and still save so much is amazing! I can’t help but think that your no-spending and minimalism helped, and the fact that you just seem really happy with where you life is at right now :-) Our 2014 was awesome, in that we paid off our personal loan, but as I was reviewing our entire year’s finances, I realized that our auto payment was the single largest expense we had – and that’s despicable. As a result, we set a huge goal for 2015: Pay of $30,000 in debt. We’ll see how it goes!

    • Cait Flanders December 29, 2014 at 9:36 pm

      That’s amazing, Gretchen! If you map out a plan, I have no doubt you’ll be able to pay off that amount. Just try to imagine how good it’ll feel, and hold onto that all year. I used to daydream about writing the blog post where I announced I was debt-free, and used that as motivation to keep going. Good luck! :D

  • Dayle December 30, 2014 at 3:42 am

    2014 was a great year for you!
    It was for me as well…so many good things happened!
    I didn’t hit all the goals I’d set but I made some important progress and learned a lot – the main thing!
    So excited for the future… Happy New Year, Cait! xo

    • Cait Flanders December 30, 2014 at 10:15 am

      Yes, 2014 was a fantastic year for you – and I think 2015 is going to be even bigger and better! Happy New Year, friend. :)

  • ARBM December 30, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    It sounds like you have had a great 2014, and I know I’ve really enjoyed following along with it. My 2014 was pretty great as well, but I am excited to move forward in 2015 as I am just joining the blogging world. Your mantra “do better, feel better” is awesome and I think I may include that in my philosophy for next year. Thank you for sharing with us and being a part of the collection of blogs that have inspired me to start my own journey.

    • Cait Flanders December 31, 2014 at 8:16 am

      Do take on the mantra. It was a lovely reminder to try harder and be better than I was the day before, but without too much pressure. As a result, I’m leaving 2014 behind with nothing but good thoughts. Thank you for following along. Happy New Year!

  • Kristen December 30, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    I would say that overall you have had a fantastic year. I must admit 2014 was not my favourite year, it had some amazing highs, but overall it it was just mmmhhhhhh. 2015 is shaping up to be an interesting year. I plan on following your lead and setting some goals formally tomorrow. I have been playing with them in my head for a couple weeks and now it is time to put them to paper.

    You should add to your list of accomplishments, inspiring other people.

    I wish you the best for 2015.

    • Cait Flanders December 31, 2014 at 8:20 am

      Yes yes yes, write them all down! Just remember that they don’t need to be set in stone. We have to change our goals, with whatever life brings us. So just write down whatever will inspire you to move forward.

      And you are very kind re: your last point. Thanks for reading and commenting, Kristen. :)

  • Stacey December 30, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    It was an amazing year! We finally had the baby we have been waiting 7 years for. I also paid off a good chunk of my debt. Owed $25000 at the beginning of January and only owe $7500 now. Will be debt free by July! Can’t wait for 2015! See you next year lol

    • Cait Flanders December 31, 2014 at 8:23 am

      7 years!? That IS amazing, Stacey! I hope you’ve been enjoying every minute of it (minus the possible lack of sleep, hehe). Debt-free in 2015 has a nice ring to it, too. Can’t wait to hear when you cross the finish line. Happy New Year!

  • Meg December 31, 2014 at 4:04 am

    It has been a pleasure to read along with your year, it has been very inspiring! Also, thank you once again for your lovely tips about Vancouver – that trip was a personal (and professional) high point for me this year and I really appreciated you taking time out to give me some recommendations! I definitely want to return to Vancouver soon and explore everything else as it was such a whirlwind trip.

    Wishing you all the best in 2015!

    • Cait Flanders December 31, 2014 at 8:24 am

      Ahhh, you are most welcome, Meg! Next time you come, hopefully there’ll be time for us to actually enjoy a meal together! I’d like to come to the UK in 2015, so maybe you’ll be able to give me some recommendations, when that time comes. Until then, Happy New Year!

      • Meg January 1, 2015 at 1:22 am

        Yes, that would be marvellous! If not in Vancouver, then hopefully in the UK!

  • Dawn January 2, 2015 at 3:21 pm

    Thanks to your blog – my husband and I are trying a shopping ban for the month of January. Nothing but essentials – and we are going to “live” out of the freezer and pantry as much as possible. I have to admit, it’s only day two, and there are a few ideas floating around in my head of items that I want to buy…(is postage considered an essential? Canada Post will raise the price on January 12, and I’m thinking to stock up on a few stamps before then…) But if nothing else, it’s making me THINK about my purchases, which I know is the point. I love your blog – you are such an inspiration to me (and obviously, others!)

    • Cait Flanders January 2, 2015 at 4:59 pm

      This makes me so happy, Dawn! But first, stamps are going up AGAIN!? How is that possible!? I just Google’d and it says they are staying the same: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2014/12/31/tax_benefits_and_new_legislation_ring_in_the_new_year.html

      Unless you mean international stamps or something else? Anyway, if you send a lot of letters, I’d say those are essential. I don’t stock up on them, but do buy packs when I need them. I run out every few months and buy another. And so it goes. :)

      Wishing you so much luck this month! Honestly, just try to enjoy shopping for the things you are allowed to buy (like groceries) and tell yourself they are little treats. That trick seems to work for me.

  • Lisa January 5, 2015 at 10:22 am

    I love that your focus was do good, feel good! Last year, I had a ton of goals. This year, I just want to embrace being happy with less. And I owe a part of that to you! I love your blog and how you are openly embracing minimalism. I want to embrace it, too! Here’s to 2015!