It is a rainy weekday morning, and writer Cait Flanders is sitting at a table at The Ledge, surrounded by friends.
She looks the part of a longtime Squamish local, dressed in a comfy sweater, leggings, chelsea-style boots and a toque. A steaming mug of coffee is cupped in her hands.
You would think the 30-something was born and raised here, but the Victoria native just moved to the district in March.
Flanders first book, the non-fiction The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store, was recently launched around the world.
On the surface, the book chronicles Flanders first year of her self-imposed, two-year shopping ban — she only bought things to consume such as groceries and gas — but flip a few pages in and it is much deeper than that. Inspired by the ban and other traumatic events in her life that year, Flanders writes about her unhealthy habit of using alcohol, food, and shopping as comfort. It is an honest and insightful account that almost everyone can relate to.
The Chief sat down with the down-to-earth and disarmingly open Flanders for an hour-long chat about what led to her book, managing money, and what brought her to Squamish.
What follows is an edited version of that conversation.
Q: You are a longtime blogger, so writing for public consumption is not new to you. What is it like having your first book published?
A: I think for the first time the word, surreal, actually means something. Blog posts are so different. They are just these things you put out, and they kind of disappear.
Q: On one of your social media posts, you talk about being truly vulnerable in the book. Can you expand on what that is like for you?
A: In the book, I go a lot deeper than I ever have and share a lot of things I had never shared before, even stories I didn't share with friends. I talk a lot about drinking. I quit drinking five years ago, and I talk about how I started when I was 12 and what that looked like. I will say, it is very early feedback to the book so far, but the most common response I am getting is people saying that they see a piece of themselves in the book, whether it is the stuff about the drinking or shopping or whatever.
I know that memoirs get like a 50/50 response, so I know not all reviews will be good, but if it is helpful for some people, that is OK.
Q: How have your parents responded? They are in the book, so that could have been tough.
A: I talk about my family in the book because a big thing that happened halfway through that year was that my parents announced they were getting divorced. It was very shocking. My brother and sister and I did not see that coming. We didn't grow up with parents who fought.
My family has been so supportive since 2011 when they first knew I was blogging.
I started blogging anonymously because back then I was financially maxed out with a bunch of debt, so I just didn't want anyone I knew to find out. I didn't tell my parents for a year and a half after I started to blog. I was almost done paying off the debt and told my mom and dad about it. My mom eventually said I should tell people what I had done to get out of debt. I said, "Well, actually I do tell people. I have a blog."
My parents read everything I write. It has been great.
Q: Why did you start blogging at all?
A: I was maxed out with credit, like completely. When I added it up, it was $28,000, and it was all consumer debt. It was credit cards, a line of credit, etc. I wasn't prepared to go and ask the credit card company for more. I had no choice but to start paying it off. From the time I had gotten my first credit card at 19, I had used them like they were free money. I was "responsible" in the sense that I always used my income to pay my rent and my bills and groceries, but for anything else, I put it on credit. As long as I could pay the minimum, I thought I would be fine.
At first, the blog was just me tracking what I was spending and saving.
Q: You hold yourself so responsible for getting into debt, but do you hold the bigger structure of our society responsible? I mean, as you said, you were paying the credit card minimums. Where's your anger toward the system?
A: I think it is fine to acknowledge that — we are given more credit than we can handle. But it still comes back to the fact it is on us to make the right decisions.
Q: Where are you at now regarding money?
A: I used to buy all these things to create the better version of myself. For example, I used to buy classic novels thinking I would be a much more interesting person if I were a person who read those books. But I didn't read them. So learning lessons like, it is OK if I am not someone who can get through the classics. Or, if I ever want to read them, I can go to the library. I don't need to put that pressure on myself. Then you look around your home, and you have all this stuff you don't even use. I think I really learned how to stop buying stuff for this other version of myself that I thought was better or more interesting. Now, I buy stuff when I need it. I do like buying books, but I don't need to go out and buy 50 of an author's books. Instead, I will see if the Squamish library has the book I want to read, and if they don't I will buy it, but when I am done reading it, I donate it to the library.
Q: Does it feel a bit ironic to say that and yet, you are selling your book?
A: As an author, it is really good if libraries have your book. Also, knowing how many books have changed and shaped me, then I am OK putting a book out there. If you think buying my book will help you, that is amazing, but also look at the library or share it with a group of friends. Some people ask me – when they see the subtitle of the book, Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store — why they should buy my book then. I think, if reading that line is the first time you have ever thought about not making an impulse purchase, that is OK with me. That is enough.
Q: How did you end up in Squamish?
A: A few years ago, I was living in Port Moody and I would always come up here to go hiking. I didn't really have friends or anything. I just loved coming up. Then I moved to Victoria for a couple of years after my parents split up, but I continued to come back here. I was super nervous to move here. I had no idea if I would make friends. I am always nervous as a non-drinker cause I don't go out in the evenings.
But I wanted just to try it here. I now have a couple of friends and it helps to come to coffee shops — you get to know people.
I feel very grateful because I came here for exactly what Squamish is. I love the smaller community; I love that I know people at the farmers' market and the values of the second-hand economy that are so strong here and all the creative women I have met. I feel very lucky to be here.
For more on Cait or her book, go to caitflanders.com.