“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
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.