Ditching the TV: An Experiment

Yep. You read it correctly. This marathon-watching, accomplished Supernatural-fanfic-writing, former aspiring television screenwriter has decided to get rid of the TV.

At least for a while.

My attachment to television has been bothering me for a long time. You see, I don't like to do things half-heartedly, and watching TV is no exception. When I get into a show, I get into a show. I watch it obsessively until I'm caught up. I'll stay up later than I should to watch one more episode. Sometimes I'll end up watching an entire season in a day (like I did when Heroes first appeared on Netflix or when I initially discovered The Walking Dead). And when a show is especially gripping, I catch myself ruminating about it even when I'm away from the screen, thinking about the characters as if they're real people, deeply analyzing the plot, and speculating about what might happen next.

Basically, I become obsessed.

I've gotten better about this as I've grown older, but I still get sucked into Netflix binges from time to time (most recently, Stranger Things- a perfect example of a show taking over my thoughts).

The thing that's been weighing on me lately, though, is that television is always my default. It's my go-to way to spend time. In the evenings, after dinner (or sometimes, unfortunately, even during dinner), Matt and I always seem to find ourselves plopping down on the sofa and flipping on Netflix. Whether we're in the middle of bingeing a juicy show full of rich, layered characters and unexpected plot twists, or we're simply turning on an episode of Chopped for amusement, we continually spend our free time in front of the glowing box.

My biggest issue with this? There are so many other things we want to do. We both have hobbies that we want to pursue but don't because we "never have time." Personally, I want to read more books, write stories and maybe even an e-book, play guitar, write new songs, work on DIY projects and make some crafts. I want to play board games with my husband. I want to devote more time to building this blog. I want to sit down with Matt and read the Bible as a couple, taking the time to thoroughly study and discuss it.

When I think about personal goals, as most of us often do at the start of a new year, these are the kinds of things that come to mind. I think about all the things I want to be doing, then I think about the things I actually doAnd I keep realizing that I spend nearly all my free time watching TV.

I've tried to cut back on TV in the past, but it's never worked. The screen is always there, lurking, waiting in the center of the living room. It's easy; it requires no exhausting physical movement and usually very little thinking. Plus, it's free, too, which is good for us Dave Ramsey folk.

But I've been reading this little book I found for $0.75 at McKay's used bookstore in Nashville called Organized Simplicity by Tsh Oxenreider. The book is all about focusing your life on the things that matter; identifying your/your family's values and rearranging your home and your life to reflect these values. It's minimalism at its purest. Getting rid of extraneous stuff that prevents you from living the life you want to, or even feel called to, live.

One extraneous thing Oxenreider discusses is mindless TV watching. She calls it "a horrendous time-sucker" and even cites a study from Nielsen that states, in an eighty-year lifetime, the average American will have spent over thirteen years watching TV.


She goes on to pose this question about the living room:

Do you want all your furniture to point at it [the TV], as though it's an altar of worship? What is one of your main purposes as a family? Perhaps the showcase of this room should be your family library, or perhaps the fireplace, which would embody a spirit of hospitality or good conversation...It will be easier to cut back on TV time if your furniture doesn't bow in adoration in its general direction (Oxenreider, 130-131).  

That whole 'altar of worship' line was a tad dramatic, but at the same time...I think she's got a point. I've often felt convicted over my TV-bingeing, how I spend more time meditating on fictitious characters' lives than I do on scriptures, how I've introduced more people to The Doctor than I have to Jesus. And as much as I hate to admit it, nearly every show I watch contains elements I wouldn't be too proud of if, say, Jesus himself strolled in and sat down on my sofa to watch alongside me. So, all this considered, haven't I made television an idol?

Oxenreider's words were right along the lines of what I was already thinking, but it was also an a-ha! moment. If my husband and I want to spend our free time doing other things, and we know that we constantly falter against the wiles of the television, maybe we should...get rid of it.

Getting rid of TV in 2017 is crazy. I'm pretty sure everyone but us has multiple televisions. My parents have two; my mom watches everything from Murder, She Wrote to Law and Order while reclining in bed. My in-laws have flat-screens galore, even one in the bathroom. I mean, it's the height of the Netflix era. Everybody's binge-watching. I'm not sure we could make it without a television.

Or could we?

Following the advice in Organized Simplicity, Matt and I discussed what things we want to spend our time doing in the living room, and it came down to these primary things: reading books and playing guitar.

Between the two of us, Matt and I have four guitars. Four. And four is about how many years it's been since I picked one of them up, too. Why? I forget about them, honestly. We keep them stuffed in a corner of the spare bedroom we rarely visit, where they do nothing but collect dust. After considering Oxenreider's advice, we thought we'd experiment a little and make a swap.

We moved the TV out of the living room and brought in our guitars.

We didn't throw out our TV, because that just seems too radical this early on. But we did shove it into the same unfrequented space that our guitars once occupied.

As you can see from the photos, we also did a lot of rearranging, decluttering, and minimizing in an effort to utilize the space for an actual purpose: a guest bedroom/slash office/spoon-only movie night theater. 

Back in the living room, we also brought in more books to put on our bookshelf.

You might notice in the photo on the left that I had more decorative knick-knacks and "showy" books than books that are actually for reading. In fact, my husband pointed out that I was using it as more of a curio cabinet than a bookcase. Which was quite true. So, to better suit our reading goals, I put several decorative items in a yard sale tote and moved armfuls of 'to-read' books into our main living space.

It's weird. I've never had a living room without a TV.

But I'm loving how, with the removal of this device, the room has immediately become turned inward.

Visit pretty much any American living room and you'll notice, unsettlingly, that the television is always the focal point. We arrange our furniture around the TV. But what if we all got experimental and turned our focus away from our screens and toward more productive things? If we removed TV as our go-to option, what would we do to occupy ourselves instead?

That's what I'm about to find out.


Lacey said...

I LOVE THIS! Just yesterday I set a recurring reminder on my phone for me to turn the TV off at 8 PM every day. I've done well not watching too much, but I tend to agree with you that perhaps even a little can be too much, particularly if it's your default method of entertainment. My sister, Laurel, went a year without TV when she and her husband got married, in an effort to focus on enjoying the first year together without TV distraction. I like that a lot.

I guess, living alone, I'm more hesitant to toss out the TV. Sometimes I need noise to stay sane. I also use my TV to amplify my music when I'm cleaning/drawing, so there's that too. But anyway, I love that you are doing this and am excited to hear how it goes!

Jessica said...

Little book that your sister, Jessica, found at McKay's****

Leslie said...

Oh i love that you guys did that. I don't watch a lot of tv but if i do have it on it's for background noise or the I.D Network. I love Netflix mywelf, everythibg i could want to watch is right there.