Why I Focus on Simplicity (and How You Can Simplify Your Life in 2016)

October 21, 2015


I just got home from a 5-day trip to Toronto, where I attended the Canadian Personal Finance Conference. It was my third time attending the conference and my first time speaking at it, and it felt great to be in a room with so many friends again. I like going to FinCon in the U.S. every year, but that conference keeps getting bigger and crazier. This year, with more than 900 attendees, I truly felt like it had lost its community feel; fortunately, the Canadian conference has maintained it.

With just 125 of us in one room, the conversations were longer, went deeper and were more authentic. We shared successes, discussed plans for the future and politely offered to help each other wherever possible (as Canadians do). Still, I occasionally feel as though my blog doesn’t quite fit into the personal finance niche anymore, since I’ve embraced minimalism and found so much joy in a life with less. A few people actually asked me why I’ve decided to focus on these topics, and the answer is easy:

When I was in debt, that was all I could see. Paydays, due dates and outstanding balances – all I saw was numbers and they caused me nothing but stress. I attached my self-worth to my negative net worth, and couldn’t see past all of my mistakes. I simplified my life out of necessity, cut out all of my “wants” from my budget and sometimes felt as though I was depriving myself… but I paid off my debt in two years, and have enjoyed the benefits of a life without it ever since.

Obviously, getting out of debt changed some things for me, but it was just the beginning of my journey to live a more intentional life. Since then, I’ve embraced minimalism, gotten rid of 75% of my belongings, challenged myself to do a two-year shopping ban, and truly changed my relationship with money and “stuff”. I’ve also created healthier routines, taken better care of myself, nurtured my relationships, been more mindful of my digital life and travelled everywhere my budget has allowed.

Getting out of debt was a good first step, but breaking down every part of my life (including my personal finances) and simplifying it is what has truly changed me and made me a happier person. One additional bonus is that it has allowed me to connect with another community of bloggers, all of whom share the belief that simplifying is the answer to many of our problems. So when Courtney Carver asked if I wanted to contribute to an online course on this subject, I jumped at the opportunity.

A Simple Year

If you want to simplify your life in 2016, A Simple Year can help. Each month, you’ll tackle a new topic pertaining to your life, such as clutter, busyness, self-care, food, relationships, work, travel and, of course, money. Our contributors will guide you through written content, homework, live webinars and other resources. I’ll be guiding you through the topic of money, and will be including a few new worksheets + a copy of the Mindful Budgeting Program.


There’s a full course outline on our website, where you can review the list of topics and lessons we’ll cover throughout the year. While I’m only guiding you through one topic, I am personally looking forward to being a participant every month, as there is so much wisdom in this group. From now until November 20th, we’re offering this yearlong course for $180 (25% off the regular price and only $15/month). In January, registration will open again at the full price of $240.

I hope you’ll consider joining Leo Babauta, Courtney Carver, Jules Clancy, Brooke McAlary, Rachel Macy Stafford, Erin Somerville, Tammy Strobel, Colin Wright and myself, as we try to help you make 2016 a joyful, thoughtful and simple year. :)

  • Tyler October 21, 2015 at 4:43 am

    I think it is awesome that you are doing this course, and it is something I know I need, however my finances are stretched to thin right now to participate. I hope you the best though and look forward to in the future hopefully being able to participate in a course like this.

    • Cait Flanders October 21, 2015 at 8:20 am

      And I would never want it to stretch anyone’s finances further, Tyler. I appreciate all your comments and support here! :)

  • Penny @ She Picks Up Pennies October 21, 2015 at 5:14 am

    Such a cool idea. Living with focus makes simplifying much easier. The idea of slowing down is nebulous, but when it’s tied to different particular aspects, it seems more manageable…and important.

    • Cait Flanders October 21, 2015 at 8:23 am

      You’re right that it’s both important and manageable, Penny. I sometimes look back and think about how I wanted to be someone who could “do it all”. Now, I want to do what I can and only what matters most to me. Slowing down helps me make every decision under that umbrella. :)

  • Terri October 21, 2015 at 5:18 am

    So glad to hear you have teamed up with such a powerhouse of bloggers and individuals – you have arrived!! I’ve used your free mindful budgeting tool and like it for its simplicity – too complicated spreadsheets scare me!

    I’ve listened to your interview with Brooke McAlary a few times and you super inspire me with it and everything you did to get out of debt. Thank you so much.

    • Cait Flanders October 21, 2015 at 8:25 am

      Thank YOU so much, Terri! And I loved loved loved that interview with Brooke. She is truly one of the best podcast hosts I’ve ever chatted with. :)

  • Kate @ Cashville Skyline October 21, 2015 at 5:19 am

    It sounds like you had a great time at the Canadian Personal Finance Conference. And the course looks fantastic! As I’ve mentioned, decluttering / embracing minimalism will be my next goal once I’ve lost more weight. Best of luck with A Simple Year, friend! :)

    • Cait Flanders October 21, 2015 at 8:26 am

      Thank you, friend! I do like the idea of tackling one thing at a time, and think you’ll be very successful with decluttering/letting go, after you’ve achieved your first goal. It’s all about momentum, right? :)

  • Alyssa @ Generation YRA October 21, 2015 at 6:42 am

    Fantastic! It’s so wonderful to hear how far you are branching out and how you are embracing minimalism more. It’s amazing how our corners of the internet begin to evolve as we connect more, learn more, write more, etc. The A Simple Year course sounds wonderful, and way to go for getting invited to create the outline for a topic! I always look forward to coming here to find out what new challenges you’re taking on. :)

    • Cait Flanders October 21, 2015 at 8:38 am

      I’m so incredibly honoured and excited to be part of this course, Alyssa! I’ve thought about creating an online course for a while now, especially because I spent the first 5 years of my career doing exactly that… but collaborating on something big like this is exciting because it brings in so many people’s areas of expertise, rather than just mine alone. I can’t wait to go through all the material myself. :)

  • Kate @ GreatestEscapist.com October 21, 2015 at 7:08 am

    What a cool idea! Unfortunately, it’s not one I can afford right now, but I would love to participate in something like this in the future.

    • Cait Flanders October 21, 2015 at 8:41 am

      This is the third year they’ve held the course, Kate, so maybe it’ll be available for you again next year. :)

  • Maggie @ Northern Expenditure October 21, 2015 at 7:09 am

    You are doing such exciting, amazing things. Look how far you’ve come! Simplicity is the key to so many things and the course sounds fabulous. Good luck. (PS – I want to be you when I grow up!)

    • Cait Flanders October 21, 2015 at 8:42 am

      You are awesome, Maggie! I want to come visit you one day. :)

  • Janet October 21, 2015 at 7:39 am

    I have signed up for this and I’m really looking forward to it. Hopefully, at 60 years old, I can bring more peace and less clutter into my life. Every month relates to something I need to be working on in my life.

    • Cait Flanders October 21, 2015 at 8:44 am

      I can’t wait to see you in there, Janet. :)

  • Jenn October 21, 2015 at 7:57 am

    Oh how I wish I could take this course! We are trying with all our might to get to a better place financially. We have things we want to do really badly (like move across the country) that require us to get to a better financial place. As a result, I can’t justify spending the money on this course – as much as I would LOVE to participate. $180 (and especially $240) will go a long way to helping us get to our dreams of living near the coast. In the meantime, I’m simplifying as much as possible. My kids are only in a couple of sports each year, we’re asking for experiences for gifts instead of things, and we’re decluttering the house like we’re moving next week. Thank you for all you do to help us get to where we want to get. :)

    • Cait Flanders October 21, 2015 at 8:47 am

      Oh yes, you must get closer to the coast, Jenn. As someone who has always lived near a body of water, I have to say there’s nothing like it. It sounds like you guys have mapped out your goals, and your kids are on board with it. Please let me know when you’re able to make that move :) good luck!

  • Kristen October 21, 2015 at 9:30 am

    wishing you great success with your course!

    • Cait Flanders October 21, 2015 at 9:36 am

      Thank you so much, Kristen!

  • Daisy @ Simplicity Relished October 21, 2015 at 11:07 am

    What an amazing list of simple living writers! I’ve experienced many of the same benefits by focusing on simplicity– it’s so much more than frugality. It’s intentional and leads to a richer life!

    • Cait Flanders October 22, 2015 at 7:12 am

      It’s about so much more than being frugal – you’re right about that, Daisy!

  • Maggie @ Creative Clarity October 21, 2015 at 11:46 am

    Way to go, Cait! It’s so fun to watch you succeed. Love the idea of bringing 9 experts together to share their perspectives. This course is going to be HUGELY beneficial. Hope you’ll still share your simple living journey here :)

    • Cait Flanders October 22, 2015 at 7:14 am

      Of course, Maggie! I’d never leave you in the dark :)

  • Manda | musicalpoem October 22, 2015 at 7:23 am

    Oh, this sounds like a course I would love to take (and need!) but… we’ll see. Drafted up a rough budget yesterday for my upcoming January travels (be proud, I’ve never done that before!) and I was a little alarmed to see how fast all the numbers added up, haha. Hopefully I’ll be able to swing this course, but if not I’ll budget for it next year ;)

    • Cait Flanders October 22, 2015 at 4:42 pm

      I *am* proud of you for creating a travel budget! How long are you gone for again?

  • Amanda October 22, 2015 at 2:25 pm

    I cannot wait to get to the point where I know that tackling my debt is just the first “step” into a new existence. I’m still in step one, and admire what you’ve done. I admire how you can look back and see what made a difference (and what didn’t.) That clarity is enviable:)

    • Cait Flanders October 22, 2015 at 4:44 pm

      But you’re already setting great goals for what’s next! I can’t wait to see what comes after $0 for you :)

  • Peter October 22, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    Simple is the way to go, the only way. all the best of success with this new direction!

    • Cait Flanders October 22, 2015 at 4:44 pm

      Thanks, Peter!

  • Sara Oss October 22, 2015 at 3:30 pm

    That’s a great group of bloggers! Does your participation in the course mean that BOAB is returning to more traditional personal finance topics?

    • Cait Flanders October 22, 2015 at 4:44 pm

      Hmm what topics might those be? I don’t know if this has ever been a “traditional” PF blog (at least not since I paid off my debt). :)

  • Sarah Noelle @ The Yachtless October 22, 2015 at 5:23 pm

    Your observation about the stress of being in debt and the temptation to attach negative numbers to self-worth really resonated with me. To me, the emotional and psychological ramifications of being in debt can be worse than the actual impact of the debt on one’s finances, and this is something that I wish people talked about more. Feelings of stress, regret, panic, low self-worth — these all have such a detrimental impact on health and quality of life. For me, getting rid of these feelings (or ideally transforming them into something positive) is perhaps the biggest debt-related challenge of all.

    • Cait Flanders October 24, 2015 at 3:32 pm

      I can understand that, Sarah. I know I didn’t start to feel good about my situation until I hit quadruple digits (below $10K of debt). Once I got there, I started to feel really good about how much progress I’d made, which helped boost my self-confidence. But there was so much stress and so many regrets, in the beginning… I lost sleep over it, many nights. More people should talk about that part, indeed – and all the benefits that come from being debt-free (besides just the financial benefits).

  • Amanda @ The Whiskey Diaries October 23, 2015 at 1:06 pm

    This is so exciting! Congrats on the course and I’m looking forward to hearing all about it!

    • Cait Flanders October 24, 2015 at 3:32 pm

      Thanks, Amanda!

  • Mira October 24, 2015 at 9:17 am


    I miss the weekly and monthly goals and financial updates you used to provide. It is the personalized posts that kept me inspired and on track :-)

    Best wishes

    • Cait Flanders October 24, 2015 at 3:35 pm

      Hi Mira,

      Thanks for the feedback! I still do the monthly updates, but won’t be bringing back the weekly ones (at least not anytime soon). I found that not many people commented on them, and lots of people unsubscribed after I sent them out, so it didn’t feel like they were beneficial for anyone anymore. Something for me to think about, though. Appreciate the comment!

      • mira October 26, 2015 at 10:28 am

        Oh Cait,

        If we don’t comment on a post, it doesn’t mean we didn’t like the post. It only means we are busy following the ideas you provided in that post…too busy to respond to your post. It is like if you are eating a delicious meal, the odds of starting a conversation with the host are minimal. :-)

        If people unsubscribe, then it means they weren’t meant to read it. The Universe has it’s own way of balancing things. Tell me, How many people have you helped with your blog.

        Take care

  • Sandra October 25, 2015 at 12:00 am

    This is a great idea, love the fact that the course tackles all these different areas. I live in Europe and I sometimes feel the online courses are very US/Canada oriented and that many solutions or advices do not apply for the region in which I live. Do you think this will be the case for A Simple Life? Just thinking before committing in this kind of expense. Thank you again, love your blog. You are a great inspiration.

  • giulia October 25, 2015 at 3:26 am

    It sounds a very good course and I love the image with a monthly focus, however what you did and are still doing is very inspiring:D

  • Shelly October 25, 2015 at 6:49 pm

    Bravo on another exciting endeavour! So happy for you with all of these wonderful opportunities! I look forward to all of your updates.

  • Stephen October 28, 2015 at 8:02 pm

    Good luck on the simplified year! Sounds interesting

  • Jen @ Frugal Millennial November 8, 2015 at 11:44 am

    This sounds like an awesome class! Unfortunately, I am paying off over 100k of student loan debt in only three years, so there’s no extra room in my budget. I definitely would be interested in taking a class like this in the future though!

  • Shyla November 9, 2015 at 6:12 pm

    Looks like a great course! Is the price in Canadian dollars? The exchange is so brutal, that if the price is in US dollars there is no savings :(