12 STEPS to a Simpler Life
A 40-Day Guide for Lent or Anytime
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12 Steps to Recovery from the Addiction of Overconsumption**
The addiction of overconsumption is subtle. There are few support groups, no "war" on this addiction. In fact, it's promoted constantly... quietly through peer pressure and loudly by advertising. It becomes the tonic which many use to slack their thirst for life's meaning.
The addiction of overconsumption may not be as much a roller coaster as drugs, not as unmanageable as gambling and debting. Instead, overconsumption often seems like a nice, long, pleasant Sunday drive to members of the privileged class - virtually everybody in North America, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan.
However, overconsumption of natural resources is destroying our planet and endangering the Earth's population, especially the non-privileged 80%!
Denial lies at the heart of all addictions. This includes object addictions (alcohol, food and drugs) or process addictions (gambling, sex or shopping). These addictions can control one's life. When coupled with codependency in relationships, the lives and relationships of addicts can wreak havoc.
Recovery from overconsumption comes through recognizing its addictive effect on our lives and others. Its alternative is voluntary simplicity - choosing to live simpler lives. It's not easy to do it alone. We need each other!
Living simply is not simple. It takes constant vigilance.
How can we begin? How can we involve our families and loved ones without feeling the pangs of resentment toward the others who "don't have a clue"? We need a way to avoid both overconsuming and obsessing about simplifying.
This meditation/action guide encourages us to enter more deeply into the
process of being freed from the addition of consumerism. Let's take time
to reflect and renew. We listen to discern God's desires for our lives and
world. Suggestions for thought or action are offered for each of the 40 days.
Set aside time each day to consider the day's suggestion. Keep a daily journal.
Choose a project you want to support, and find an empty container to collect your offerings. After the 40 days, the organization of your choice will be pleased at your generosity.
1-Ash Wednesday. Read Matthew 6. What actions of mine still need to come under the reign of God?
1-Any Wednesday. Pray, "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference." - Rheinhold Niebuhr
2-Thursday. STEP 1. Confess, "We are addicted to the consumer lifestyle. We are powerless by ourselves to change." All addicts suffer a sense of powerlessness. Regarding consumerism, what makes you powerless, your life unmanageable?
3-Friday. Powerlessness can lead to a sense of indifference - "I don't care whether I overconsume or not. My buying habits don't make any difference. I'm only one person."
4-Saturday. Control is at the heart of all addictions. Addictions are insidious and powerful. Realize from the beginning that overcoming an addiction is more than self-control. We need the power of God's help and each other's help.
First Sunday in Lent. Read Mark 1:9-15. To what are we tempted to be given over?
5-Monday. STEP 2. We need God to help us as we face our culture's dominance. Commit this problem to God.
6-Tuesday. For Christians, living simply is an alternative to overconsumption. Through it we "walk our talk," we live together as disciples of Jesus.
7-Wednesday. STEP 3. We surrender ourselves and our problem to God. We are not alone! Little by little, step-by-step, day-by-day. Don't try to "go cold turkey." You'll get frustrated and may quit. Small, achievable goals. "This year I vow to... This week I pledge to..." Write the plan down. Post it.
8-Thursday. Realize that it took years, maybe decades to get conditioned to be an overconsumer. It will take time to make positive, less wasteful changes.
9-Friday. Overconsumption affects every aspect of our life - our clothes, housing, cars, food, entertainment, celebrations. Where do I find its effects in my life and core relationships? Does it have anything to do with tension and arguments in my home?
10-Saturday. Decide how much time, energy and money you may need to change. Set a starting minimum. Make a plan and work it. "I vow to spend at least ___ each ___ to simplifying my life by ___." That could be 15 minutes a day, a hour a week or a day every month. Remember that others will be joining you in this endeavor.
Second Sunday in Lent. Read Mark 8:31-38. Where does consumerism "set our mind" on human things rather than the divine realities?
11-Monday. The time you determine to help in your change will eventually include education (usually reading), self-evaluation, meditation and prayer, planning and action. How will you spend it?
12-Tuesday. Choose an initial guide, preferably an experienced
mentor, like an understanding, sympathetic, sensitive pastor. *Or choose
a book, such as Living More with Less by Doris Janzen Longacre or 'Tis
a Gift to Be Simple or Six Weeks to a Simpler Lifestyle, both by Barbara
DeGrote-Sorensen and David Sorensen, which touch on most aspects of our lives.
You will discover your next helper along the way. Start somewhere and start
Living More with Less aids -- audio video, text, etc.
13-Wednesday. Keep a progress journal in a notebook or on a computer - thoughts, feelings, plans, successes, setbacks.
14-Thursday. Get support. Talk to someone about your progress and shortcomings. Consider starting or joining a book study group or simplicity circle for learning, sharing, support and accountability. Guidelines are available.
15-Friday. STEP 4. Make a searching and fearless inventory of your life as a consumer. Look at your assets and liabilities. As we make new changes, we bring the previous ones along with us. Recovering from addiction is a cumulative effort.
16-Saturday. STEP 5. Admit to God, to ourselves and to at least one other person how our consumer lifestyle has hurt others - family, the poor, workers in sweatshops, the environment. For every negative, wasteful habit, there is a positive, constructive, less wasteful one. The seven deadly sins are countered by the four cardinal virtues plus faith, hope and love.
Third Sunday in Lent. Read John 2:13-22. What needs cleansing in our lives, our temples, our structures?
17-Monday. Living simply means wrestling with trade-offs. We can't do what's right 100% of the time. But we can wrestle. We consider options. We read labels. We do what we can without letting it consume us, without going about automatically doing what we've been taught and are being continually pressured to do by the media.
18-Tuesday. STEP 6. Are we ready to let God remove our addictive tendencies? Removal of them helps recovery. Become willing to have God remove our shortcomings.
Focus on self-care. Recovery is not about deprivation. Yes, we take care of our needs. "Living More with Less" means that simplicity leads to more joy. To aid the process of recovery: eat well, exercise, get enough rest, meditate, pray, do affirmations, keep a journal, read.
19-Wednesday. Focus on education, lifelong learning. Investigate the resources from *Alternatives, whose mission is "to equip people of faith to challenge consumerism, live justly and celebrate responsibly." How can these tools help me and my family/loved ones be free of the addiction to "things?"
20-Thursday. STEP 7. Can we humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings in the ways we overconsume? As a counterculture movement, voluntary simplicity is seeking change, not going backward. We are seeking modern ways to beat overconsumption. We do not glorify the past. Alternatives' logo, for example, is an arrow with a bend in it, a new direction. What direction do I need to go to be freer of the consumer lifestyle?
21-Friday. STEP 8. Make a list of those whom my consumerism may have hurt and may be hurting. Become willing to correct it.
All three parts of social change are necessary. They may happen all at once. If millions of US citizens were to follow this plan, things would change... for the better! (*For details & examples of each part, read Guidelines for Change.)
Part 1. Inward, spiritual change... talk, worship, educate - all symbolic activities. Though they don't feed the hungry, they change us! Where has such "learning" helped me change my consumer patterns?
22-Saturday. Part 2. Outward, active change... small acts of kindness - influencing others, giving time, money and energy to help others, locally, nationally, internationally. Where can I do more? It can be hypocritical to try to change others without having our own attitude adjustment first.
Fourth Sunday in Lent. Read John 3:14-21. Focus on "God so loved," rather than issues that divide.
23-Monday. Part 3. Systemic change - working to change governments, communities, businesses defined by the culture of consumerism through letter writing, lobbying, boycotting, demonstrating. Where can I make greater effect on societal transformation?
24-Tuesday. STEP 9. How can I "make amends" to others - persons and the planet - for my past behavior? Make amends to those we have hurt by our overconsumption in the best way we can. Others need our help, our time, our money. Alternative giving, for example, is a way to share more with the needy and spend less on ourselves. "Live simply that others may simply live." It's a matter of justice. What can I do in this area?
25-Wednesday. We're conditioned to think that our only option is economic "growth." Such growth is deceptive; it feeds more consumption. As greed fuels economic growth, it becomes less responsible to the community and the Earth. Don't think of poor countries as the Developing World but the US as Overdeveloped!
Real personal growth occurs when meaning in life comes from relationships, not from things. It doesn't come from burdensome debt, fear of theft and stresses that arise from acquisition. Instead it comes from solidarity with those who are victims, especially victims of my/our consumer choices.
26-Thursday. STEP 10. Continue to take personal inventory and when we are off course, promptly admit it. Focus on maintenance and personal growth.
27-Friday. STEP 11. Continue to pray and meditate. All aspects of our lives can be involved in simplifying - physical, mental, spiritual. We may need to simplify our activities as well as our stuff.
28-Saturday. STEP 12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we seek to carry this message to others. In dealing with family, initiate a weekly family meeting to talk about activities, expectations, disagreements related to money and consumption patterns. Take minutes, especially of decisions.
Fifth Sunday in Lent. Read John 12:20-33. What in our lives needs to die?
29-Monday. Share feelings and techniques about the simplifying and invite others to join in. Brainstorm, don't argue. Only agree on those principles and plans that can be agreed upon by consensus. For those who disagree, ask, "Can you live with the majority sense?"
30-Tuesday. In dealing with friends, avoid any self-righteousness. Always be ready to share a principle of voluntary simplicity or a simple tip that works for you. As with the Gospel, we invite people to come along. We are called to be living testimonies, not bones. Our joy at having the burden of stuff removed may be caught by others as the time is right in their lives.
31-Wednesday. To avoid frustration while dealing with others, realize that there are four groups or types of people. Group A. The openly self-indulgent are those whom make no excuses for being overconsumers. Their overconsumption declares their social status. Appearances are very important to fad-followers. If voluntary simplicity is "in," they may try it, though their efforts may last only until another self-help trend comes along. Where does Group A have power over my life?
32-Thursday. Group B. The asocial or escapists do most of their overconsuming in private. Where am I a "closet consumer?"
33-Friday. Group C. The indifferent don't care about their impact on the Earth or on others near or far. They may be unaware of their impact or they may be morally dulled. Do I really care about the effect on others - people or planet - of my consumer choices?
34-Saturday. Group D. The receptive. For those who are ready to simplify their lives (or at least curious), give a talk at Bible Study or your club. Then be prepared to lead a series or a study circle. Alternatives has numerous study guides and workshop guidelines to help you.
If this guide is used during Lent, the last week is Holy Week. If used at another time, the final week is ideal for review. Review two steps per day.
Sixth Sunday in Lent (Palm/Passion Sunday). Read Mark 11:1-11 (or John 12:12-16) and Mark 14:1-15:47 (or Mark 15:1-39 (40-47)). In the Gospel the Lord "needed the colt." What does he ask of us?
35-Monday. Read John 12:1-11. How does our "costly perfume" affect the poor?
36-Tuesday. John 12:20-36.
37-Wednesday. Read John 13:21-32 aloud over dinner tonight. Whom do we betray by our actions?
38-Maundy Thursday. Read John 13:1-17, 31b-35. Wash the feet of someone with whom you feel a need to be more intimate.
39-Good Friday. Read John 18:1-19:42. If we were asked to testify to Jesus, would our lifestyle have anything to say - pro or con?
40-Easter Eve. Read Exodus 14; Mark 16:1-8. What needs to be "rolled away" for us to discover resurrection?
! Easter Sunday Morning. Read John 20:1-18. Does our faith enable us to SEE or where does hidden consumerism still blind us?
! Easter Sunday Evening. Read Luke 24:13-49. Does consumerism keep us from recognizing him in the breaking of the bread in broken people?
**Inspired by the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, this resource is a broadly-based interpretation, not a model of AA's 12 Step Program.
12 STEPS to a Simpler Life: A 40-Day Guide for Lent or Anytime (12 Steps to Recovery from the Addiction of Overconsumption)
©Creative Commons (originally 2000, Alternatives for Simple Living)
This 40 day calendar, based on liturgical cycle B: Mark, is also available in Spanish.
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Page updated 2 Jan. 2014
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