TV-Free and Loving It: Reflections on Nearly Three Years Without the Magic Box
“The television, that insidious beast, that Medusa which freezes a billion people to stone every night, staring fixedly, that Siren which called and sang and promised so much and gave, after all, so little.”
Last week, Courtney over at Be More With Less announced that she had canceled her cable and was starting down the TV-free road. As I wrote to congratulate her, it made me reflect on the nearly three years that our family has been without television. The tale and the lessons learned are worth sharing.
Going TV-free was not a conscious decision – at first. Mother Nature forced it upon us.
It was June 1, 2007. As I pulled in from work a massive thunderstorm raged overhead. My wife was in the kitchen making dinner and (at the time) our two kids were huddled on the couch relishing in that half-scared half-excited feeling that the big thunder booms brought with them. All in all, it was your normal spring thunderstorm.
Then it happened.
A flash of light surrounded the three sides of windows in our kitchen. The loudest CRACK! you have ever heard seemed to hit us from overhead. The TV and lights went dead. The kids were crying. Within seconds I smelled the trickle of smoke.
When the dust settled we discovered we avoided a direct hit, but that a bolt of lightening had come close enough to the house (likely it hit the huge silver maple just feet from our foundation) to wreak major damage: Our two TVs were fried; the phone lines and modem were baked; the smoke detectors and dish washer bit the dust too.
We fixed everything EXCEPT the TVs. With summer starting we figured we would be outside a lot and wouldn’t need them. Well, summer passed. Then fall. Then the first winter of cold and snow… Twenty-two months went by with no TV.
Then we caved. My wife was two weeks from giving birth to our third child and I was headed over to China for twelve days as part of my MBA program. A distraction was needed. So we bought a new TV, ordered the most basic package of cable we could and re-joined mainstream society.
Within six months we ditched the cable again. The tipping point came when my then 4-year-old daughter looked at my graying hair and emphatically stated, “Daddy, don’t hide it, solve it.” Clearly, the Marketing Machine had infiltrated her young and impressionable mind. We weren’t going to let it happen again.
So what has nearly three years without television and/or cable given our family?
- The Freedom of Time. The average American watches five hours of TV per day. Not us. Mornings, afternoons after school, and evenings after dinner—those prime TV-watching times—are no longer sucked up by mindless programming.
- The Freedom to Pursue Other Interests. I read and write more; I am learning how to grow more things better in our garden; My wife taps her creative flair with everything from cooking to making really cool clothing for our kids. The kids are outside all the time having loads of fun doing all sorts of things that let their imaginations run wild.
- The Freedom of Choice. The Marketing Machine no longer influences us in a major way (it’s so completely unavoidable, no matter how hard you try). We do or buy things based on what we need or what brings us joy. Nowadays a Netflix membership allows us to watch programming from time to time that we find to have value (entertainment, educational or otherwise) without all those mindless commercials.
- The Freedom to Use Our Money in Other Ways. Going TV-free can save you some serious cash. Even the most basic cable package cost us $65 per month. That’s $780 a year! And don’t forget what you’re saving in electricity costs too. That money is better spent paying down debt (if you have it) or something else that brings you joy.
- The Freedom to Have Really Interesting Conversations. When we tell people we don’t have cable, the reactions range from supportive to utter disbelief. “That’s fantastic!”, “We don’t watch much TV…”, or “I wish we could do that…” are typical phrases we hear. Guess what? You can.
- The Freedom to Make a Difference. While we make sure not to over-extend ourselves, we do recognize the value that comes with getting involved in your community. From coaching sports to Scouting to helping with the schools and other organizations, the gift of our time can help so many others. Sure you don’t have to go TV-free to do this, but it sure helps.
Think you might want to join our family, Courtney’s family and the 800,000 other Americans who have gone TV/cable-free? It’s easy and not as painful as you might imagine. Once you fill that time you would have been watching TV with other more enjoyable things, you realize how TV is a waste of time and brainpower.
Go slow at first. Start with one TV-free day per week and commit to it. Make it a weekend day or some other day when the whole family can be together. Support each other through that Digital De-tox time. Think ahead and plan out alternative activities to help you back-fill the time at first. Give that a month or two and then up the ante. Go TV-free for two or three days a week. Reduce your cable package to the bare minimum (and have fun with that cable company conversation!).
Then just do it. Can the cable. Walk away from the time-suck and the Marketing Machine. Pursue all those other things you’ve wanted to do. If you can give it a month, I bet you’ll be hard pressed to go back.
To help you in this journey, this Saturday’s post will be all about the awesome things our family is doing instead of watching TV. Hopefully you can take away a few things to jump-start your own Road to TV Freedom.
And don’t forget to read about Courtney’s reflections on starting the new TV-free chapter of her and her family’s life. She is one week in and going strong! Keep it up, Courtney!
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