Consumer Detox: Less Stuff, more Life – review
Mark Powley, associate rector of St George’s, Leeds, is the founder of Breathe, a Christian network for simpler living. With Consumer Detoxhe has written a book that takes addictive consumerism seriously, yet manages to be vibrant, funny and thoroughly
engaging at the same time. I found this an unstoppable, can’t-put-down read – a must-
have book for Christians who care deeply about discipleship and stewardship and our
relationship to God, people and planet. I started to read the book before the recent
riots and finished it just afterwards, when there was much debate centred on our ‘broken society’. It was a timely and reflective reminder of just how damaging and divisive our consumer-driven, materialistic culture has become. The review of this book also coincided with a report from UNICEF on the damage such values are imposing on our children and on family life.
Mark has written the book as a three-part journey – ‘a book by a consumer for consumers’ – where we move with him from unthinking consumption to thoughtful generosity. He begins by defining consumerism as an all-pervading force moulding our society; a lifestyle centred on shopping and choice, not just in the most obvious of areas, but in every aspect of our lives, including our relationships. Mark shares with us his own biography as a recovering consumer, something he does with humility and tremendous humour, avoiding the usual guilt trip induced by many authors. He shows that laughter and a light
touch can often enable us to see much more clearly the direction in which we need to travel.
In the first part of the book (‘Breakout’), Mark analyses how consumerism has taken such a tenacious hold on us and our society by examining topics such as consumer tribes, trophies and how our personal identity has become mixed up in it all. He also provides the antidote by encouraging us to consider our real wealth, use our power to decode the system and refuse to maximise our lives, thus going against the prevailing wisdom of our age.
In the second part (‘Rhythms of Life’) we are opened up to new possibilities for living through reclaiming the idea of the Sabbath as the ‘power of stop’ as opposed to the 24/7 life that many of us have succumbed to. He also explores the concept of living life in high-definition, which he defines as being aware of the true reality that surrounds us rather than the technological one. This reality is heightened by our ability to be either truly present with others or absent when alone to seek quietand stillness. Modern technology has blurred the distinction and led to constant distractions in our lives whereby we have become incapable of achieving either. In the conclusion to this section, we are reminded that life is to be lived deeply (‘the deep yes’) rather than shallowly and that it is ultimately about connection and relationships.
The final part (‘Adventures in Generosity’) is the most theological section of the whole book and also the most challenging to individual Christians. Mark guides us through the biblical injunctions concerning money and possessions and their rightful use and reiterates Christ’s invitation to put him and his kingdom first in our lives. Only then can we live a life of outpouring and generosity. Grace and self-giving are shown to be at the heart of the universe and if we live by them we can experience a level of joy and freedom hitherto unknown to us. However, we are very wisely warned about over- seriousness and its obverse side, self- righteousness. As Mark rightly points out, ‘joy is the hallmark of the simple life’. Also, to enable us to live out this alternative vision we need others to make the journey with, in other words a community.
At the end of the book, Mark has produced what he calls a ‘Detox Diary’ for those who want to take the vision further. This follows the outline of the book and encourages us to work through a series of ideas and questions, either individually or with others, but preferably both. As someone who had already begun to embark on the journey of disentanglement from consumerism some time ago, I greatly appreciated Mark’s insights and encouragement, but above all his humanity and humour. Buy it, read it, read it again and share it with others. This is one person who will definitely be joining the Breathe network after doing so.