We lost the TV and found bowling dates, sleep, and a travel budget

Guest post by Jen Hansard
“In present-day America, such self-denial is apt to require heroism. In practice it may mean giving up many or most of the luxuries which I have come to regard as necessities, at least until I have acquired sufficient self-control to use these things without being enslaved by them.” -Thomas Merton
By: Sommer PoquetteCC BY 2.0

In autumn of 2004 I married my high school sweetheart. Ryan and I were finishing our undergraduate work at CSU Long Beach and working insane jobs to keep student loans at bay. We had very little time to actually spend together as newlyweds and the time we DID have was spent watching TV because we were exhausted from the long days.

After a few months of this numbing routine, we decided to get rid of our TV. It wasn’t a radical decision at the time. We just knew that something had to give. So out went the television and in came books (lots of books), cooking, lengthy discussions, hiking, marathon training, Yahtzee tournaments, bowling dates, and much-needed sleep. Ryan even learned to juggle five balls and ride a unicycle. Life as we knew it slowed down and we finally caught our breath.

That was seven years ago.

Perks that have come from not having a TV in our home

1. No cable bill. We have saved over $5500 these past seven years by not having a cable bill (and that is a very conservative estimate). Not to mention what it would cost to buy a TV, speakers, DVD player, DVR, etc.

2. We don’t see commercials. This makes passing by the toy section in Target a walk in the park for our kids. And also hides a lot of the consumerism brainwashing from Ryan and me.

3. We don’t have to arrange our furniture with a TV in mind. It’s nice to choose what is the focus of the room— right now it is our hodge-podge wall of family pictures that dominate the living room.

4. We have become more creative. We listen to lots of music, do puzzles, board games, art projects, nature walks, cook together, ride bikes, read books, write books. We make elaborate snowmen when it snows, jump in puddles when it rains, and collect hundreds of leaves in the fall.

5. Oh, the places you go! With the money we have saved and our appetite for adventure, we have made traveling a part of our family mission statement. In the seven years, we have backpacked through Europe, took a month-long road trip from Los Angeles to Glacier National Park in Canada, three trips to Amsterdam for art shows and architecture admiration, spent a week driving to Denver, Taos and the Grand Canyon, and did many red-eye flights to NYC for art shows. We even drove across country from LA to Tampa, FL along Route 66 with the kids for 10 days. With that kind of traveling, people think we have tons of money. But we don’t. We just don’t have a TV.

Interested in going TV-free? Here are tips Ryan & I came up with to help the transition:

1. Be intentional. Have specific things to replace your time like reading some classic books (we have enjoyed Robinson Crusoe, The World According to Garp, East of Eden.) Ryan made a list of things he wanted to accomplish and when he was bored he would pull out the list and do one of them.

2. Do it together. For us, it was a team decision and I think that is why it was such an easy change. We both felt the same way and wanted to give it a try and it has definitely helped us grow closer together. (We honestly had no idea that it would be a seven-year TV strike going into it.)

3. Set guidelines. If you are going to use Netflix like we do, it helps to have a plan. For us, each child picks out a show to watch in the afternoon (after naps and quiet time). If they are sick or it’s been a crazy day, we bend the rules for sanity’s sake. But we are very intentional about how much time is spent in front of the computer screen each day.

4. Have a time frame in mind. Getting rid of TV forever is a hard pill to swallow (I am not there yet!). Why not set a goal of three months without it? Cancel your cable service, store the TV in the garage, rearrange your furniture so nothing feels missing and see how it goes. Take the money you save on your cable bill and buy some books, board games, and juggling balls to fill the time.

In 2007, our son was born and most of our time was spent infatuated with his bowel movements and babbles. When Jackson turned 18 months old and I was eight months pregnant, I cracked and bought a Netflix subscription for our computer. Sesame Street moved into the house and one month later, my daughter was born. We now use Netflix a lot — and let the kids each pick out a show to watch daily. This gives them commercial-free shows like Caillou, Dora and Sesame Street. And it gives us a much needed break.

Sometimes Ryan and I catch an episode of Grey’s Anatomy before bed or watch a movie. It’s something we look forward to and do on rare occasions. It’s like a date night— yet we can do it in our home without paying for a sitter.

To stay up-to-date on world events, we use cnn.com and npr.org. If there is a big disaster, our parents and friends call to let us know. If there is a big sports game that Ryan wants to watch, he heads to a friend’s house and they watch it together. Or sometimes we even head to the stadium to catch the real thing as a family.

We are definitely out of the loop with the latest TV episodes and new fancy products. Sometimes we kill the buzz on conversations that go “Did you see _______ last night?”, but that’s okay with us. The unexpected joys from not having a TV in our house trump any setbacks by a long shot.

Comments on We lost the TV and found bowling dates, sleep, and a travel budget

  1. My husband and I have this to a smaller degree. We do have a physical tv in our home, but we don’t have “tv”. We have our pc hooked up to it and use it as whole media center for both movies via netflix and for music and regular computery stuff. I love not having to watch the commercials and saving the money on a cable bill. We too enjoy a lot of board games and books.

    Maybe someday we’ll move away from having the tv dominate our living space too (I would like it but I think hubby would resist!).

    • Our situation is pretty similar- we have a TV, but it’s really only hooked up to the PS3. My husband uses it to play video games occasionally and we both use it for Netflix streaming. We have antenna (made from a tin can!), so we get the basic network channels, but literally pay nothing for it and only ever watch football games on it.

      • This is us too! PS3 and Netflix. Nothing else needed that way! We have saved so much money. The last time we did have cable we had it 6 months and watched maybe a weeks worth. We never turned it on.

    • This is exactly what we do too! We’ve been cable-free for three years now and don’t have any plans for starting cable again. We get to watch all of our favorite shows on our big screen TV that is hooked up to a laptop for Hulu and Netflix. What else would we need?

    • Same here. We actually even have a projector for the full movie experience, but we have not had cable tv for more than 5 years, and it’s awesome. All of our neighbors are amazed at how much we do; it’s incredible what you have time for when you ditch the average couple of hours wasted daily in front of the tv

  2. You know, I think this is going to be a MUCH more common thing than people living on their own today will realize. Nearly everyone I know in college just doesn’t use cable. They just don’t. Netfilx and downloading is jut what everyone does. Also, I’ve been living, unintentionally TV free since I came to college – and it’s not because I don’t own one! (I do, but I’ve turned it on maybe a total of 5 times)

    So soon, that social awkwardness will likely not be a problem.

  3. I grew up without TV. Your story is similar to my parents. When they married, they had a choice: go on honeymoon or buy a TV. They chose honeymoon (and are still telling us how awesome that was – in fact, when I got married, they paid for the honeymoon as a wedding gift. My dad said ‘As far as I’m concerned, the honeymoon is the best part of a wedding, so that’s what I will be paying for’!).

    When I was 12 or 13 they bought a TV. I think it was because they wanted to make sure we knew what’s going on in the world.
    I have to tell you – growing up without TV is not without consequences.
    On the positive side I would list many (happy) memories of playing games, drawing, painting and playing with my family. Also, lack of a consumerist attitude among me and my brothers and sister. From a young age I learned that merchandise grows old very quickly. Now, I am not tempted by it and I’m sure it saved us a lot of money.
    But there are downsides too. Whenever there is a 90s party, I’m lost on what it is about. No, I have never seen the Disney movies/the turtles/the A team/Sesame street. I do have a gap in my cultural upbringing, especially on pop culture. Sometimes that can be awkard, sometimes it makes me feel excluded. Overall, I would not say it was a negative experience, just not a mainstream one.

    (and yes, now we do have a TV. 🙂 My partner would not want to live without it, I guess. And it is really nice for when you are sick or tired).

    • I wonder if this will be better for todays kids growing up without a TV as alot of those cultural references are still avaliable over the internet without having to have a TV?

      Although I have a TV I don’t watch the soaps or alot of the main stream TV shows so I still quite often feel left out of conversations. Although my Mum loves filling me in on the soaps if I want to hear it or not. :-/

    • I grew up without a TV in the 90s (and after) as well, and I also felt out of the loop in conversations. I was also kind of known as “the girl without a TV”. However, it really doesn’t bother me, and even growing up, I enjoyed it: I felt special and different!

      In my opinion the benefits far outweigh the downsides. I credit so many things to my lack of TV: particularly my positive attitude towards my body (I should add that I went to alternative schools which I think helped with that too. Once I went to a regular high school and mainstreamed a little, my feelings about my body were a little more negative, but still much better than many/most high school girls!), my ability to always find things to keep myself busy…

      I’m actually a bit saddened to think of the internet replacing TV, because it seems even harder to distance yourself from the negative aspects of the media these days (without TV, the only thing lacking are those cultural aspects you mentionned. But we rely on the internet to do so much that not having the internet would, I think, be more noticeable), and I think the benefits of this distancing are huge for young children.

  4. This is something I dream of doing. I hate TV, cable, the lot of it. We didn’t grow up watching much TV. But my husband grew up with a TV in every room of the house and literally every one was on, all the time, whether people were watching it or not. And he comes home from work and heads straight to the TV. I can’t stand it. It feels like such a waste of our precious, precious time.

    • I feel you on this one! This morning was one of the rare mornings where my fiance and I both worked day shift so we were both up together before work. He turned on the TV as soon as he went downstairs so instead of eating breakfast together and having a little chat before work he stared at VH1 music videos and I silently stewed.

      The TV was never on when I was growing up and I didn’t have one as an adult until he moved in. I feel like I have to compete with the box for attention.

    • i know how you feel Jess. You just need to talk it through with him and realize that it could change your life for the better. Best of luck with this— I was there years ago and we came through it closer. I wish you the same outcome!

  5. My fiance and I are trying to come to a decision over this at the moment. I spent the last four years without cable during college, and while I did have a TV, I only used it on very rare gaming occasions. Now that he’s living with me, we have a full-on electronics center.

    To be honest, I don’t really care for it. We still use it primarily for gaming, and the shows we like to watch are all on Netflix. I just don’t see the point in continuing to have cable when we don’t watch it, there are more commercials than actual content, and most of our favorite shows are no longer running.

    Thankfully, my fiance has finally agreed that as long as we pay a little extra to get DVDs by mail, we can ditch the cable. I can’t wait for the cable lady to come and disconnect us!

  6. We have TV, but not cable. We watch things on Netflix and watch DVDs. We’ve stopped watching most TV during the week, except for Thursday which is comedy night on NBC. We used to watch TV all the time, sitting next to each other at the table during dinner, mindlessly eating and watching TV. Now, we sit across from each other and talk about the day and then clean up together after dinner. It’s been nice.

  7. I disagree about it’s usefulness when you are sick or tired. I think that’s the worst time to use tv as a matter of fact. Being stimulated by television does not let you rest and most people stay up far too long to finish a show or fall asleep watching tv which is not restful at all.

    Resting or healing should occur with full attention and calmness and that doesn’t happen in front of a tv.

    • I agree Shannon— reading books, sleeping and just resting are much better choices when you are sick. It actually let’s your body and mind rest. Yet I know how comporting it can be to get sucked into a show or a movie—somedays I give in and do that with Netflix. But it doesn’t really help…

    • Audiobooks are great for use while sick/tired, too – you can close your eyes and rest, while someone reads you a story! I got really ill while travelling, and listened to Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter – it was something to focus on while I was awake, but not so distracting that it kept me from sleeping. Immensely comforting.

      They’re also brilliant for winding down after a stressful day, or ‘switching off’ before bed (my partner can sometimes hear the little voice coming out of my headphones and thinks it’s funny). Local libraries have a lot of hidden treasures in the audiobook section 🙂

  8. Our experience was less extreme, but along the same vein. About a year and a half ago, my husband and I got rid of cable after having it since he moved in with me in 2001. We also got rid of the gigantic TV, five of seven surround-sound speakers, the DVR, and the huge console we had to custom-build to house all the stuff. We bought a much smaller TV and use it to watch Netflix, stuff on the computer, DVDs, and a few network TV shows on digital rabbit-ears if we happen to be home. Our living room is no longer centered around the big console (the little TV just sits on a side table) and the TV is never just on to be on anymore. It’s so freeing not to be stressed about watching all the shows saved on the DVR before it fills up, or turning on cable DIY shows to keep me company while eating a meal and then just mindlessly watching that channel for the next four hours.

    I’ve been mostly unemployed the past eleven months, and I don’t even want to imagine my days home alone if we still had cable. Without it I’ve learned to knit, read some books, made some art, sewed some dresses, organized my house, listened to the radio, etc, etc…

    • It’s amazing how freeing it is to get rid of the bog black box. It really is strange to me when I walk into a house and it is mounted above the fireplace, like a trophy. Congrats on your productivity— you should sell your art on Etsy!

  9. Ahhh! This is so well timed thank you! This coming weekend is D-day for us! We are moving our boat off our mooring with electric hook up that we’ve been on for nearly 4 years with one without electric. The only way we can make electric is by running the engine so the TV is going to have to be a special occations only item. I’m really looking forward to it. I get into such a rutt of tv watching and neglect all sorts of things from cleaning to crafting and to a certain extent my relationship. When we’ve gone without TV before i’ve always felt better, some how… healthier, more lively. We do go out a fair bit to watch bands etc and spend alot of time outside in the summer but i’m also guilty of lazy days where I spend all day doing stuff from the sofa and never get out of my Jim Jams.

    We’ll still have the laptop for watching DVD’s. This can be charged at work in the day but that will be it and the TV will only go on for things we really want to watch like Dr Who, Big Bang Theory and Sherlock. 🙂

    EEee! Its all very exciting!

  10. I hardly ever watch TV, but it wasn’t a concious decision. For whatever reason I gradually lost interest over time. Even as a kid when I’d come home and watch Pokemon ever day it was mainly something to do whilst playing Pokemon. (As much as I love those games they do get repetative.)

    There were exceptions of course – I only ever missed one episode of Buffy (and caught it on the first repeat), but they were few and far between.

    These days I’ll eat my lunch with the news on, but I’m always on the computer at the same time. I can’t remember the last time I actually sat down and watched a show.

    The funny thing to me is how defensive some people get when I tell them I don’t watch/have never heard of whatever show they’re talking about, and especially if I say I don’t really watch TV. I’m not anti-TV and I don’t think I give that impression, but as soon as I say it they launch into how they “never watch much TV”, “only with the kids”, or “just caught that one episode”. Whatever we were talking about gets derailed for 5 minutes or so whilst they assure me, for some reason, that they too don’t watch TV. Even if I both don’t care and already know it’s not true.

    • I know what you mean about the conversation that come since you tell them you don’t watch TV. I’ve had quite a few people say “is that part of your religion.” And no, it’s not. 🙂 I think they are just curious and have no clue what to say…it’s kinda fun.

  11. I spent a good twelve years without a TV and the six or so years before that very TV light. In college, I didn’t have a TV but could watch it in the dorm lounge. In grad school, I didn’t have a TV either. My husband came to our marriage with a TV but since we could never agree on where to put it, it ended up in the basement (I wouldn’t have it in the bedroom, he didn’t want it in the living room.) After about a year in the basement, we just sold it. It was okay though. The only thing worth watching during most of the 90s was the X-Files. I think it was a valuable thing to have not had a tv for those years.

    Fast forward to about five years ago and I discovered that TV didn’t suck any more. I kept hearing about cool shows. Mythbusters. Battlestar Galactica, Futurama, House, etc. I heard they were rebooting my childhood love Dr. Who. I started out simple and rented discs from the video store to play on the DVD player of my computer. Then came along Netflix. Then YouTube and instant streaming Netflix. And them I had the realization, I was watching TV, only on a poky little screen. I went out and bought me the biggest TV I could afford and haven’t regretted it for a minute.bSeriously, we live in the golden age of TV. There are shows being made right now that are so good.

    I pay for cable now and kind of hate that expense, but it seems to be the most convenient way to get the shows I want to watch. If instant streaming/ on demand/ pay for content ever gets to be as painless and convenient as it should be, I could happily dump cable, but I will never again give up my TV because it is awesome.

  12. Also, the money you save on movies. When you aren’t exposed to every preview to hit the air, you discover there are a lot fewer movies you HAVE to see when they come out. The really good ones will garner enough hype that you’ll hear about them anyway.

  13. this is so inspirational – I’d LOVE to bring this up to the boyfriend…maybe not loose the TV completely (I LOVE movies and have no shame about it) but move it to a less used room and re-arrange more commonly used spaces for talking, games, and reading.

  14. I probably wouldn’t have a big fancy TV if I wasn’t married–I’d had the same crappy little TV since 1998, when we got married in 2009. We don’t pay for cable, just netflix streaming and HuluPlus, which is still too much. There are definitely better shows on right now than when I was a teenager and basically stopped watching TV for 15 years, but I have a hard time resisting the flickering glow of the giant rectangle.

    On the one hand I agree with Rosecampion–there are fun shows on and it’s great, and I feel no guilt about enjoying television. But on the other hand, it’s easy for us to get in a rut of defaulting to TV when we’re home. We’re working on that.

    • Hi Christy— I think your outlook is so healthy regarding this. You can have a tv and be happy. For us it just wasn’t helping our marriage or the life we wanted for our family. Remember, I do watch Netflix (only show we follow is Grey’s Anatomy, and we finally caught up). So now we are taking a break…any suggestions for another good quality tv show?

      • Netflix is bad for old tv, but Dr. Who is fun. They also have Psych and Dexter, all of which are very, very different shows. None of which I have ever seen NOT on Netflix, so there you go.

  15. I have cable, a DVR and several HDTVs in the house (not that we are rich or anything, but we follow shows together and are big movie buffs). Besides TV, I am a big reader and writer (and teacher of writing), and he prefers gaming. He hates to read and if I ever suggested we ditch cable in favor of books, he’d probably want to institutionalize me and spend more on games.

    Sure we hate commercials and I sometimes fantasize about playing board games together or developing some sort of awesome hobby, but, more often than not, commercials annoy us into not buying a product and we do all those other things too.

    He plays the drums and is learning upright bass while I am writing erotica and playing with poi. At night, we like flipping on the TV, watching a DVR episode of Fringe, Once Upon a Time, or House–whatever we want to catch up on, and we laugh and talk about stuff on screen or, in that stream-of-consciousness way the mind works, life and deep stuff. Sometimes the stories are compelling, sometimes just a backdrop to our conversations. Both are awesome and we like spending time together like this.

    People who choose not to have TVs or who don’t have cable for any of the reasons above, that’s awesome/interesting/cool, but for the way we live this life, it’s probably not something we would want to do unless we had to. I just spent 2 weeks vising a friend down south who had given up his cable in favor of HuLu Plus, Netflix, and Amazon steaming, and that looks like an interesting possibility. Nothing beats being able to fast forward past commercials on the DVR or stream past seasons of shows on Netflix though. When streaming gets there, I will be on board. Till then, it keeps down his gaming budget!

  16. Don’t have Netflix or Internet or video games or cable. Just an old tv hooked up to rabbit ears hooked up to a PBR can so I can watch Raising Hope. I never got cable once I moved out of my parents house 9 years ago and never missed it.
    It’s interesting to see how many people don’t have cable!

  17. I’ve had pretty much the same experience, except that we watch a few netflix movies per month. I get so antsy when I visit people who keep the TV blaring constantly and talk over it – I’m just not used to the constant visual/audal stimulation (and people wonder why they’re so exhausted and their brain races at night so they can’t sleep!). It’s hilarious how people’s jaws drop and they say “but what do you DO?” You made the perfect list to answer that question.

    Anyway – Life is to be lived. Not watched.

    • I am in the same boat, Heather. I haven’t had tv or cable for six years now? It’s been a whole, I’m not actually sure how long. It drives me nuts now when we go to my future-mother-in-laws house and the tv is constantly on! Turning it off is not an option for the ffil. Half the time we’re trying to have a conversation and the tv is blaring in the background for no reason. I also now find it really stressful to watch a lot of the shows that are on, I can’t handle the suspense. We do watch a few shows, mainly Project Runway and Mad Men, on Netflix.

  18. I know what you mean, Heather. The buzz of electronics makes me crazy. I love going out reenacting and hearing zero electronic buzz. Just the subtle hum of a Panzer in the distance 🙂

  19. My husband and I have both been without cable since we graduated from college (for him, 7 years, for me 5). We discussed getting cable when we moved in together, but didn’t and still don’t want the expense.

    We still have a lot of screen time though. We have a TV and use it for our vast movie collection and Netflix. We both have shows we love, and we love to watch them together and talk about the characters and plots. Mad Men, Breaking Bad, the Wire, Arrested Development. All pure gold. It’s just a matter of moderation in all things.

    If we get really into a show, we’ll watch it and enjoy it, but when we’re through the season or series, we take a break for a few weeks and make sure we spend time away from the screen doing other things.

    The only down side is special events that we’d like to watch. Husband is a big sports fan. He listens to a lot of it on the radio, but there are many times he’d like to watch his teams and can’t. For me, I miss seeing the Oscars every year.

  20. The biggest thing for me is arranging the room. My wife and I have a tiny TV and no cable – it really only gets turned on for the occasional movie. For awhile, the TV actually lived on the floor between the couch and my desk, but it’s now on an end table – still really tucked away. So we got to plan our living room, and then see where we could stick the TV. I love not having cable, because I know it would be a HUGE weakness for me. I already zone out in front of a computer. And, when we go away for a relaxing vacation, we have this awesome box that plays all sorts of shows at all hours, standard everywhere we stay! 🙂

  21. My boyfriend and I moved in together we never hooked up cable and use Netflix and the internet. We don’t miss it at all! Over the holidays we spent time at both of our parents’ houses who have huge cable packages, and nothing was on. When we finally did find something worth watching it felt like a constant commercials, not enjoyable. Watching is so much more intentional.

  22. When the Mr. and I first got together we didn’t have cable. Then we moved into an apartment and got it and have had it for several years. We’ve been talking about turning it off again recently as we find ourselves watching it just to watch and not really enjoying it. Plus with all those channels there never seems to be anything good on anyways and we have Netflix for movies/shows. I’d love to have a tv free living room but he needs it to play XBox so that’s not possible.

    This post has reinspired me to shut off the cable. I’ll be discussing it with the Mr. tonight.

  23. Growing up there was a one-TV-in-the-house rule, and no cable. That way my folks always knew what we were watching, and there weren’t many options anyway. My current TV has no cable, but I admit that I’m hopelessly addicted to Netflix.

  24. This is sooo inspiring. I would LOVE to get here some day, but for me, I think I would have to ditch the computer first. I spend more time on that then I do in front of the tv. VERY interested in going unplugged sometime this year for a short while…

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