TV: Now Just Half Dead To Me

image from JetCityOrange

About a month ago, I wrote about how Dave and I were turning off our TV for the month of May to participate in the Whole9Life Kill Your TV program. The changes in our habits were significant but not dramatic. Turns out, we weren’t as attached to the devil box as we thought and real life has way to much going on to miss the TV (too much).

What We Learned

1. I didn’t have more time – but I had better time.
When I committed to turning off the TV, I expected to find myself with all kinds of free time. I made a giant list of all the things I could do with this new-found bounty: completing my Prague scrapbook, purging cabinets, drawers, and closets, etc. Those things didn’t happen. Instead, Dave and I lingered at the dining table after dinner, then slowly cleaned up the kitchen, and meandered around doing little odds and ends of stuff or – in my case – writing blog posts, then generally crawled into bed to read side by side. I didn’t feel like my free time increased, but it expanded. Our activities were more human and engaged in our lives, less passive.

2. It is possible to get sick of sitting in the same chair.
Dave and I have a dining room table that I love because we can squeeze 8-10 people around it for a dinner party. It’s a dark, red-brown rectangle with lots of nicks and scars that demonstrate how many fun meals have been eaten on it. There are tall-backed chairs on three sides and the fourth long side has a bench where we squish in small-boned friends. Dave usually sits at the head of the table, and I sit to his right in “my” chair. I have to admit there were times in May, especially on the weekends, when I got sick of eating in my chair. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and possibly a snack or two were eaten in this chair. (I’m sitting here now, in fact.) That sensation, however, also reminded how totally, utterly wrong it now feels to me that we ate dinner on the couch in front of the TV more often than I want to admit.

3. Sometimes we should just go to bed.
Previously, before no-TV month, I would sometimes struggle to stay awake, insisting I wanted to finish watching a show. During May, some evenings, when post-dinner order had been restored to the kitchen, I’d be tempted to do something productive or creative even if I was tired. Instead, I often opted to wash my face, brush my teeth, brew some Natural Calm, and hit the pillow with a book. This kind of “rest when tired” behavior – somewhat new for me – is not a bad thing.

4. I like reading a lot more than watching TV.
I think you’re already familiar with my deep affection for books, and now that I’ve gone a month without the blue box, it’s even more apparent that books are more enjoyable for me than even a great TV show. I like series like Modern Family and Law & Order because of the recurring characters rather than the plot points – which is exactly why I enjoy authors like Daniel Silva, Lee Child, Elizabeth George, and Dick Francis who write book series with recurring characters who grow, stumble, fall in and out of love, suffer, and thrive over the course of many novels. With books, my imagination is fully engaged, and I’m transported into the world of the novel in a way a TV show can’t touch.

5. Meditation is a practice.
Along with turning off the TV this month, I was tuning into a new meditation practice. I didn’t do it every day, but it is slowly becoming a habit. There’s a reason it’s called a “practice.” Whew. I don’t have a hard time with it once I get started – I’m pretty good at focusing on my breathing and quieting my mind chatter – but some days it takes a lot of self talk to get myself into position. Practice, practice, practice.

6. I had less of a TV addiction than I thought.
I thought I was going to have a really hard time with this no-TV challenge, and mostly, it wasn’t bad. During the last week or so, I’ve said to Dave – very petulantly – I’m sick of not watching TV. What I meant was: I’d like to snuggle in a lump with you and watch a fun movie. I didn’t miss watching American Idol or Dancing With The Stars or Burn Notice, but in the last few days, I have been craving the combo of an immersive movie and my sweetie close by.

Our New TV Guidelines

1. TV is always the lowest priority option for entertainment.
TV will no longer be our default entertainment. It’s last on the list, and the list includes “doing nothing but sitting here,” so there are plenty of other options that we’ll continue to explore in an effort to choose to watch movie/TV entertainment, rather than having it mindlessly happen. [This should sound remarkably similar to how I approach eating treats; it’s effectively the same thing. Quality nutrition (entertainment) most of the time, with a treat (Modern Family! NCIS!) thrown into the mix once in a while.]

2. No broadcast TV.
Except for, say, a real-time speech from President Obama or other breaking news, I can’t think of a good reason to watch live, broadcast TV – and I have plenty of reasons against. Commercials are tedious or boring or designed to make me feel like I’m inadequate or my life isn’t exciting enough or I haven’t done enough to prepare for retirement. F*ck you, marketers! As Dave said, the ratio of content to commercials is really low so it’s like paying a giant emotional tax for just a little bit of entertainment. We’ve been without cable for two years and now we’re swearing off what we can pilfer from the airwaves with our antenna. The only way we’ll be watching a TV show is on Netflix or DVD. By choice not happenstance. And only occasionally, because…

3. Minimal TV time during the week, if at all.
I’m making a concerted effort to keep the TV off during the week. I’m giving myself a little wiggle room for days that are marred by monthly cramps or particularly tedious weather. On those occasions, I give myself full permission to watch Jane Eyre or When Harry Met Sally… or Gosford Park.

4. Only one episode of a TV show or one movie per sitting.
There have been times when I’ve gotten sucked into watching back-to-back (to-back-to-back) episodes of TV shows on DVD. No more. One sitting, one episode. The end.

5. No meals in front of the TV unless it’s a dinner & a movie theme night.
Generally speaking, it’s a terrible idea to eat in front of the television. If I’m watching TV while I eat, I forget to savor my food and engage with my dinner companion. But again, I’m leaving a little wiggle room here for theme nights. I love theme nights! My mom and I spent a lovely evening once eating homemade linguini with clam sauce while watching The Godfather. We talked and laughed and ate and drank wine, and it created beautiful memories… so I don’t want to say I’ll never eat in front of the TV again. But it will be rare and it will be a choice, not habit. And there might be costumes or props involved.

And finally, all of these guidelines are moot if I have the flu. When I have the flu, I’m watching Law & Order in bed, on my laptop, back-to-back, all day long, in a half-asleep state until I feel better. And then I promise to turn off the blue box.


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  • Dana says:

    Great timing for me on this — after months of trying to convince my husband we should cancel cable, he’s agreed. I think we’ll find we don’t even miss it. (except for sick days when it’s so lovely to watch bad daytime tv all day. I like your flu rule!)

    • Mel says:

      Being cable free isn’t too bad – I bet you’ll weather it just fine (except for sick days, but that’s where Netflix Instant Watch comes in handy 🙂

  • Jude says:

    I think we’ve ended up in similar places after this challenge.

    The nice thing is that I think I needed to take it away so that I could clearly see how little I valued it.

    I’m not sure I could have reduced or moderated my tv viewing – but remove it and it’s easy to work out what gets added back in.

    PS your dining table sounds like such a warm, inviting place! Not surprised at all :))

    jude xo

    • Mel says:

      JUDE! You have to come to dinner!

      Some day, we will make that happen. And we won’t watch TV the entire time you’re here 🙂

      • Jude says:

        I’m coming to Texas in May next year to go on the Low Carb cruise thinger (w/Robb Wolf etc) – leaves from Galveston.

        Anyway – I could totally swing past for a Penzey’s date! Not until May 2012, so plenty of time to move interstate ;p xo

  • Like a few others, I feel as if our “endings” have found us in similar places. It’s amazing what physically moving the TV out of our living room did–we actually can LIVE now! We have loved sitting at our dining room table as well and have had so many wonderful conversations that probably would have gone unsaid.
    After traveling this past weekend, we arrived home yesterday to a few projects that really needing tackling–namely, mowing the lawn, washing our cars and meal planning. The beau and I are certain that if we had the TV downstairs, we would have found ourselves watching a movie rather than doing those things. We also got some reading in and a self-pedi for myself which is always a treat.
    Thanks for sharing your journey!

    • Mel says:

      Congrats on killing your TV! I agree: there were definitely times during the month when I WOULD have just plopped in front of the TV and did other stuff instead. Wish me luck holding on to my new balance — I think it’s going to be tricky. That TV can be so seductive!

  • Barb says:

    I didn’t do the challenge because my husband wouldn’t have any part of it. But I am also not a huge t.v. watcher either. Not doing the challenge did make me realize that I do tend to crave background noise – be it from the t.v. or even music/radio. I rarely have total silence. So for this month I made sure that I didn’t have all that background noise going on. There was a 2 1/2 day period when hubs was in Florida, so I had no t.v. and no radio. I tried listening to music half way through the weekend and it just annoyed me as I was trying to get some art done. I turned it off….. Interesting experiment.
    As an aside, my parents once punished me by banning me from watching t.v. for the entire summer vacation. This only proves how little my parents knew of me. It was probably the least effective punishment they could have meted out to bookworm me. 🙂
    A truly interesting experiment would be one suggested in the book The Artist’s Way – no *reading* for an extended period of time. I haven’t tried that one because it scares the heck out of me. I know, for me, reading can’t be a way for me to “self medicate” and can be just as ad as too much low quality t.v. The fact that it scares me indicates that it is a problem that needs investigating. *sigh* More self-work.

    • Mel says:

      Interesting… I actually crave silence when I’m cooking. It always weirds Dave out that I don’t have the radio blasting. But most of the time, when I’ve got multiple pots going and I’m reading recipes and chopping and such, I love the quiet.

      Dave and I read The Artist’s Way a few years ago. He did great with it! It started a daily journaling habit for him (brilliant!) and he did the no-TV thing… but I have zero interest in a no reading time. I can’t make vices of EVERYTHING 😉

  • What a great challenge! For me, TV is the very last thing I do in the evenings… if I have any time left. This means I usually end up watching a 30 minute show on Hulu before falling asleep (Parks and Rec = best ever). I haven’t had cable in ten years and I don’t plan on ever getting it back – I’m fine without it and all of my TV watching is a conscious decision, not the result of channel surfing.

    Now, as for wasting time on the Internet? Oy. I don’t know if I would survive a Kill Your Internet program. But it might be fun/terrifying to try!

    • Mel says:

      Dave and I talked about how to limit our internet time. The biggest challenge is that we both work in the industry — he’s a programmer so online research is a big part of his job, and I’m a Content Strategist at a web agency, so I’m literally online all day long at work — and I have must be for my job. Then my blog requires online research, too…

      What I tried to do during this no-TV month was to be really aware of when I was just kind of screwing around online (I wonder what my site traffic was today? What’s up on Twitter?), I shut down and grabbed a book.

      Last night at dinner, we talked about trying to have a screen-free day: no TV, no computer, no phone… but my recipes are stored on my computer, so I’d really have to plan if it was a big cooking day. It’s fascinating how much digital screens have become an integral part of our lives.

  • I don’t really use the Internet for a living, though it definitely helps pass the time at my boring job. And I blog as a hobby and write as a passion, so being screen free would be difficult to say the least. I do try to have a “no Internet after 8:00pm” rule, or keep my mindless browsing to short increments – fifteen minutes of screwing around and then it’s time to shut off my wireless connection and work on some real writing.

    I like the idea of a screen free day. Even writers could benefit from letting their thoughts do their own organic thing, instead of being guided by other people’s Internet ramblings. Thanks for giving me something to think about!

    • Mel says:

      If you decide to do a screen-free day, let me know! Maybe we can do it on the same day and report back to each other after. It seems really hard to me, for some reason.

  • Mary says:


    One great point you alluded to is the connection between “snuggle time with the hubby on the couch” and watching TV (specifically, Hulu.)

    Watching TV is the only time my husband and I are awake and quietly snuggling PG-style. When we go too long with out some Hulu, I miss that physical contact.

    I know we could theoretically snuggle without TV, but that seriously never happens (unless you count the 20 seconds that may occur if we get in bed at the same time and don’t immeditatly fall asleep.)

    • Mel says:

      Mary… I feel like we should have a solution to this, but I’m not sure what it is. Yes, snuggling in bed either leads to sleep (pretty quickly) or adult-time fun, and I really do have a need for that snuggle contact. Dave and I have been working on being snuggling when we read, which works pretty well when he uses the Kindle and I have book — but fails when we both have books — too many arms to manage!