Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Life Without a TV. Or, How Mike Made us Amish.

Hi, my name is Ashley and I’ve been TV-free for four months.

If you would have told me six years ago that I would be living completely without a television, I wouldn’t have believed you. I was just starting college in the US after living overseas for a few years. Free cable in the dorms + American reality show = addictions to Survivor, The Bachelor, American Idol and every reality show on TV. It was out of control.

If you would have told me two years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you. I loved What Not to Wear, Top Chef, Monk, Project Runway, 10 Years Younger, Shear Genius and whatever else I got sucked into came on in the evenings while I was unwinding from work. It was glorious.

Our first little apartment: the cable was free and the times were good.

We moved from the apartment after a year. At the new place, we refused to pay for cable and ended up watching much less television. (Our reception sort of sucked, as did our TV. Mike spent the entire vice presidential debates with his foot pressed against the TV, as that was the only way to stop the snow and screeching. So odd.) We watched network shows most evenings, I watched The Tyra Show (no judging) when I came home from lunch and The View when I had the day off.

Sure, we could have paid forty bucks a month for cable, but our reasoning was: why pay for something that we don’t want to spend our time doing?

Then, as we got ready to move to our duplex this summer…our little analog TV was obviously ready for television hospice. The screeching, the snow, the cutting out – it was happening more and more often. So, we got rid of it and didn’t replace it. I’d be lying if I said it was my decision – I definitely wouldn’t mind some mindless television every now and then. Even in my joking with Mike about getting a new TV or cable, I know that I’m not my happiest when I spend a few hours watching television shows. In fact, it sort of makes me angry with myself for wasting time.

What we do instead:

  • Watch our favorite shows online – just a few of them. And I find that if it’s more inconvenient to watch a show, there are less shows I’ll spend my time watching. And I’m okay with that.
  • Record Project Runway on my parents' DVR and watch several episodes each time I go down. (I watch them with my little sister, so it doubles as happy bonding time.)
  • The library is our best friend. We can watch new (to us) TV shows on DVD without spending time with commercials or getting sucked into another show. We started watching Big Love, Ugly Betty, How I Met Your Mother, and Gilmore Girls because of the library.
  • Treat ourselves to a movie at a theater every now and then.
  • Craft, cook, clean, exercise and hang out. Honestly, I think part of the reason I had the time to start my Etsy shop last year was due to not having cable anymore. Which is pretty crazy and sort of sad.
The benefits of being TV-free:
  • I am happier with myself and how I spend my time.
  • More free time. I am already pretty busy as it is – do I really want to spend 3 hours tonight getting sucked into Bravo reality shows? Instead, I can watch just one episode on DVD and spend the rest of my evening getting my life together. (My life needs all the help it can get. I am a hot mess.)
  • Saving money. Always a good idea.
  • Mike is happier – he’s a simplify-your-life sort of guy and this makes him feel like he’s being who he wants to be. And making Mike happy? Is sort of awesome.
  • Getting my news via the internet and public radio makes me happy. And doesn't contribute to the crazy culture the 24-hour-cable news channels cultivate. (Woah there, unintentional alliteration.) Which is also awesome.
I don't know if this will last forever and I don't know if I'll always be this enthusiastic about watching less TV. But I do know this works for us now. And I am proud of us.


  1. This is great. I actually don't watch much tv but my husband is a sports fanatic so to get all the Cleveland games and Ohio State football games up in Canada we have a very expensive cable stings I tell you. Good for you guys!

  2. I'm proud of you guys, too! I've had a massive TV addiction since childhood (turns out TV makes a great babysitter) and now I have a DVR that records four shows at once. With my husband currently out of town for three months, I'm totally sucked in, but starting to realize I should spend more time living my life than watching others live theirs.

    Also, after reading this, I'm annoyed once again that I would have to pay several hundred dollars for a library card because of where we live (we don't pay property taxes to the library, so if I want a card, I'd have to pay them whatever I'd spend in taxes if I lived within the city limits). LAME.

  3. That's awesome! I could definitely see myself going TV-free easily, making the adjustments you've made. My husband, on the other hand, thrives on it. He especially loves watching all kinds of sports. It's his guilty pleasure, and I don't want to take that away from him.

  4. comcast told me today that it could be up to 30 days until they can get cable set up in the new house, i was a little giddy. poor matt though, he's freaking out at the prospect of a month without cable. ugh.

  5. I really like all those reasons! Especially the sister bonding time. I don't watch many TV shows to make sure the ones I see I actually want to watch and then I have more free time elsewhere :)

  6. you guys are awesome.

    I don't watch as much TV as I did during college and but now that I'm done? I'm slowly sneaking back into my old obsessive TV-watching habits (shame on me!)

    I do spend more time at the library and reading so that helps. I'm just working on moderation.

  7. I love this post. While I havent completely gone TV free I've cut back to maybe a few hours a week, I could very easily give it up all together. A few years ago I became tired of all the tv shows with no real plot and starting reading a lot more instead. I love watching tv series on DVD (Gilmore Girls, internet high five). A few other things I do without watching tv -- write notes to friends, play with my dog, hang out with friends.

  8. I made the decision to take the TV out of my bedroom at the start of the summer, and I have not missed it a single bit. I'm almost positive that next time I move and don't have my roommates' TVs to rely on, it will be the last thing on my priority list of Things to Buy.

    Good for you guys! I also hate 24-news channels and much prefer getting it somewhere I can read it or hear it on MPR.


  9. Jonathan & I stopped getting cable for the same reasons as you. I, for one, was tired of feeling like TV ruled my life. I was watching way too much of it, & the things I was watching was not at all enriching my life. Mainly, it was trash reality TV (The Real World, The Hills, Real Housewives of Orange County, crap like that). I hated feeling guilty, & I especially hated how many hours of my life I wasted on watching senseless shows like that.

    So when Jonathan & I moved, we decided to get basic cable. It was a shitty service, & in the end, we had it uninstalled & haven't gotten it since. It saved us about 40-50 bucks a month (which was Jonathan's plus), & it's given us our lives back. We now only get 7 channels that are local. & that's all we watch.

    It's been the best decision we've ever made.

  10. Chris isn't much into TV, and we basically DVR all of the shows we watch. So I think we could definitely do that. But..if I couldn't watch certain shows right as they air, I might cry a little.

    The Amish thing cracked me up a little, b/c Chris JUST said to me that he wanted to visit an Amish town. Well, we can just go to your house! HAH, jk :)

  11. I haven't watched much TV for about 6 years. I have a TV, but only for watching DVDs, and I too like to take advantage of the library and the internet! I love seeing peoples' mouths drop open when I mention I don't have cable. :-)

  12. Husband and I, though we pay for DirecTV, don't watch much television. It's on a lot in the background or when we watch Gilmore Girls on dvd, though.

  13. Hi my name is Mel and I think we (as a couple) have a TV addiction.

    We have a 100" projector in our family room and another flat screen in our living room our kitchen and outside by the spa. We are thinking of putting one in the guest room which also acts as my closet. We surprisingly dont have one in our bedroom. Which I think would make our addiction official. Oh and we had to have his and her DVRS and we have Netflix and I am thinking of getting the Netflix Roku. We rarely ever watch live TV.

  14. Very proud of you guys. I went through about 6 months of not having cable/internet recently (just got my cable hooked up this week) and all I know is for a TV-addict like myself it was torture. There was a lot of extra time spent at my boyfriend's place because of it.

    Now I don't know what to do w/myself, this DirectTV business letting me record multiple shows at once has me like a kid in a candy store.

  15. My husband and Mike and I are moving into our first house in like 2 weeks, and we've been talking about not getting cable (or internet) for all your reasons.

    It sounds like you've been successful with it, so it actually makes me feel like I won't shrivel up and die without it.


  16. While we were stationed in Germany, we didn't have any cable (except for German cable, which I was able to watch but my husband doesn't undertand German very well). Before that we lived in Seattle and didn't have cable as well. That added up to 4 years of no cable/TV. Now that we moved back to the States, we decided to get cable for just that reason: We wanted to have that feeling of sitting on the couch watching some of our favorite shows at night while snuggling and eating some ice cream. We really missed it... and being without it for so long, it had a different effect on us. We are saving much more money by not going out so much, by eating at home, not going to the movies and so on. It's interesting how it affects people in so many different ways.

  17. I'm in the same boat! I moved into a new apartment and didn't want to pay for cable. I do get some channels over the air but for the most part watch Netflixs. It has been an awesome change. I never thought I'd do it either. Nice work!

  18. I cut off my cable 2 years ago and haven't looked back. While you get a lot of strange looks, you also have a lot more time to get stuff done and spend with friends! I just moved in with bf and he loves his TV, and I've watching more than I like to admit. Time to start weaning off it again...

  19. I've not owned a TV for 3.5 years.

    Good for you for "becoming Amish" (at least in regards to TV).

  20. I lived without a TV (AND internet AND a cell phone) from about the age of 20 until about 25 or 26. Prior to that, I felt kind of the same way you did. I grew up in a house where the TV was ALWAYS on (though we rarely had cable, there were still a ton of shows I was addicted to) then college w/ free cable. It was just so hard to imagine missing all my favorite shows. Not to mention no internet...Internet was how I made it through college-- especially in terms of being able to keep up with all my friends who moved away.

    Cell phone was easy, because I'd never yet had one. (Got my first/only at 27, I'm now 29)

    But really, I adjusted SOOO quickly to being TV and internet free. I got the internet at school or at the public library. And we rented/checked out movies occasionally but just watched them on the computer. I really quite liked it.

    In the last year and a half or so, we've started watching so much TV and we're usually on the internet at the same time. It's pretty crazy, and we don't even have cable. (But do watch our fave cable shows online.) I keep thinking about getting rid of it again, but have once again found myself in the "how will I live w/out it frame of mind." But you remind me how easy it would be considering how much you CAN get on the internet and from libraries...but in that case, are you really TV free?

    I suppose considerably less TV because it's all being watched on the computer is a good start.
    It's a pretty crazy cycle, that darned television!

    Anyway. I'm rambling. I think my point was, isn't it amazing how easy it actually is once you've done it?

  21. Funny that you write about going without TV just as we're getting back into having one again. We had basic basic cable for a while, just the standard network shows since in the hills we don't get any air antenna reception. We actually really broke our TV addictions during that time. Because really with only network TV we rarely were around to watch anything. Now that we're back up with HD DVR, we really only use it to record shows that we used to watch online and through netflix (The Office, Dexter, etc.) I'm glad we had our break from it, but I'm also glad to have it again.. and to be able to watch it in moderation. It's painful to think of the hours and hours of my childhood I wasted watching Real World marathons. LOL.

  22. This is a good example of something that people easily become addicted to, start to feel that they "need" to function in life, and then find that they are healthier and happier once its gone. I often make this same point, only replacing 'TV' with 'car' and 'watching my favorite shows' with 'driving everywhere'.

  23. We're exactly the same - no TV, we just watch online or DVDs. We watch less rubbish than we would otherwise and spend more time talking to each other and being creative and productive with our time. It took some getting used to, there is one show in particular I really miss but overall I love being a TV free household!

  24. I'm actually really glad I got to read this today, because my boyfriend & I are canceling our cable in the next week or so. We realized how much time it's taking up and how much extra money we spend on it, it's not worth it anymore. I'm glad I got a sneak peek into what life will be like without!

  25. No TV is awesome!! Good for you guys! I'm with you on the library - I get tons of DVD's there. (Added bonus: my library has comfy, cushy reading chairs and a massive bin of free magazines, so I still get my fashion/celeb gossip fix).
    I went TV-free six years ago when I moved into my condo and could barely afford a shower curtain, never mind a tv. It was summertime anyhow and my rationale was that not having a tv would make me do more things outside, more socializing, etc. It worked for that summer and I *still* don't have a tv. With the exception of occasionally feeling left of water-cooler conversations, I do not miss TV AT ALL. I get my news from radio/newspaper and my celeb gossip fixes from magazines. Not having a TV has inspired me to cook more, read more, take classes, go to museums, get to know my neighbors, have actual conversations with my friends, host dinner parties, and actually get to bed at a reasonable hour. Plus, I feel kinda smug when I think of how much money I'm saving every month....
    Good luck to you guys!! Enjoy!!

  26. Wow you are amazing to do this and have done it for so long. Seriously. I love TV, i can't go without it and I would sacrifice other stuff so I could have it. But I agree that I would be shocked by the amount of free time I would have. Boggles the mind!

  27. Eric is already TV free, and I will be in 17 days. We finally got basic internet, which takes a little while to buffer shows, but like you said, if you REALLY want to watch it's worth it. We started renting $1 movies, reading, talking, playing games, cleaning, cooking fun meals, and working out. And it's once less piece of furniture to have in our tiny apartment :) Once we have money I think we'll get a small tv for movies/Wii so we don't have to huddle around my laptop (as cozy as it is)

  28. Nice work. We have been cable free so far in our marriage- and to be honest I don't see us ever going there. But we do have a T.V. To be honest- I wouldn't mind if it was gone- but the husband really likes his T.V. so for now- it stays.

  29. Oh man, I just love television... I think it's cool that you don't have to pay for cable, but still get to watch your shows. Pretty slick there, m'dear :)

  30. I've been cable-free for about a year, which I thought would be a huge adjustment, since I always had cable, but it really wasn't. Most shows are online and the ones that aren't I can pick up through network television. The only things I miss are Top Chef and Shark Week, but I can live without those if it means one less bill. Plus the number of books I've read so far this year is double last year- excellent perk. :)

  31. What a fantastic experiment turned way of life- I'm picturing you with a little bonnet making your own butter already ;)

    I was TV free from when I was 7 - 14 and while then it sucked (kids talk SO MUCH about pop culture) I would be completely happy without it again... if I lived in the US. Because of the copyright law differences all those cool services you have like Hulu don't work in Canada so I can't watch almost any TV online and I know that every now and then I would like to watch a show.

    As good as movies are, in the Dark Of Winter here I love having a little escapism when it's too cold to go outside ;)

  32. Go, Ashley! We've been cable-free for almost 4 months also. It was my idea, and now sometimes I regret it, but your post just made me remember why I didn't want cable. We can't watch TV without cable (it's a fancy schmancy HD plasma monstrosity), so we do watch movies. Still, we hardly ever spend more than 2 hours in front of the set in any given day. Sadly, I still don't do the things I wish I did more often in the time I'm not watching TV, but I'm working on it.

    Unexpected bonus this week: because we don't have cable, some friends invited us over all three nights for Dancing with the Stars. We got to know them better and had a really great time!

  33. Thank you for this post! I just moved to NYC and will not have a TV or cable for the first time in a long time! I was getting slightly nervous about the fact that I might have to watch the Office or 30 Rock online, but reading your post has made me realize just how much more time I will have at home sans DVR.

  34. I've been TV-free for 10 years!

    You are doing an awesome thing!

  35. i don't think i could go without tv, i'm way too addicted. but good for you guys. and way to discover how i met your mother, that's how i actually started watching it too all the seasons at once, it's sort of fun that way, no waiting involved, haha.

  36. I find that TV, for me, like a lot of things, goes in phases. Like, if I'm watching a lot of it for a while, I really want to keep watching it. I get super addicted to tons of shows, etc. But if I just stop watching, I grow out of it.

    And yeah, TV on DVD is the BEST.

  37. I've often thought of just watching my shows online. Most of ABC and NBC post the shows online shortly after. When my DVR fails, I always rely online.

  38. Dude, I SO want to quit TV! I'm down to Glee, Grey's Anatomy, and So You Think You Can Dance. In a way, I look forward to when they all end, because then I will be freeeeee!

    That said, I know I'll always have a TV because Andy can't live without his sports.

    But props to y'all!

  39. It's hard to imagine life without tv. And yet, the thought of having one less distraction is quite enticing. While I doubt I will be convincing my other half (and if I'm completely honest, myself) that tv is unnecessary, I do intend to try and limit myself to watching recorded shows only. Bypassing commercials is definitely a great way to give myself a few more moments.


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