Why I’m Turning My TV Off for 31 Days

When I was a kid, my mom and I only had 3 television channels: 2, 5 and 13. Channel 2 was, and always will be, CBC. Channel 5 aired the news and other evening programming I wasn’t allowed to watch. And Channel 13 was where I could find cartoons, before and after school. We moved around a lot, when it was just the two of us, but somehow those channels never seemed to change. I can still remember the feeling of the dial clicking, when I turned it in a circle from 2 to 5, 5 to 13, and 13 all the way back down to 2. Two whole clicks.

This wasn’t that long ago – I’m talking 1989-1991, somewhere in there. And even though we only had 3 channels, I can’t ever remember complaining about there being nothing good to watch. (Mom, feel free to correct that, lol.) Fast forward to today, however, and most basic cable packages come with at least 30 channels, which still leaves the average consumer dissatisfied. You get this channel, but not that one, and that’s the one you really want. So you pay a little (ok, a lot) extra and the world of television becomes your oyster. Suddenly, you have 300, 400, 500 channels… but guess what? Even with all those options, there’s usually nothing good to watch.

I cancelled my cable package about 2.5 years ago now, and have never really missed it. Thanks to the power of social media and this wonderful thing we call the internet, I get my news from Twitter, Feedly and other websites. I do watch a few shows I like on individual television network’s websites, and I stream other shows, movies and documentaries through Netflix. So, I still consume this particular medium, just not through an expensive cable box – and it’s helped me cut down on some serious binge-watching time.

Or at least that’s what I thought.

When I reviewed my goals and recapped my list of accomplishments in 2014, I was happy with my progress. Unfortunately, there was still a little voice in the back of my head telling me all the other things I wanted to work on, which I made excuse after excuse not to. “I travel too much,” “there’s no time,” and “I’m too busy” were just a few of them. (Isn’t that last one the worst? I’ve only very recently realized that my life is not, in fact, very busy at all.) You know what I wasn’t too busy to do last year? Watch all 9 seasons of One Tree Hill, 6 seasons of Gossip Girl and the first 2 seasons of Gilmore Girls.

That’s 264 hours or 11 full days or 3% of my entire year. And they were all garbage, intended to be background noise. What the frick was I thinking?

The worst part is that it doesn’t stop there. I watched probably 6-7 hours/week of television this fall – not including whichever of the shows listed above I was binge-watching on Netflix on the side. My number is low compared to the 30 hours/week most Canadians are watching, but it’s still not something I’m happy about. Sure, it starts innocently: you sit down to watch one episode of a show, then 1 turns into 2 and 2 turns into 4. Before you know it, it’s 10pm and you’ve done nothing with your night. I can’t afford any more of those nights – not if I want to tackle more this year.

So, surprise surprise, I’m giving myself another challenge. On top of the yearlong shopping ban (which will be at the halfway mark on Wednesday!), I’m imposing a 31-day television ban on myself.

The rules are simple. I am not allowed to watch:

  • Television shows
  • Movies
  • Documentaries

I am allowed to watch:

  • Meditation videos
  • Yoga videos
  • 1 TED Talk/day

I’m also trying to avoid YouTube, for the most part, since it’s easy to be influenced by what you watch, or get into a flow and somehow watch 6 videos when you only meant to watch one.

I started the challenge on January 1st and have already felt a few pangs of annoyance. What they signal to me, however, is that watching television was a habit I’d built into my daily life. (And you know how I love discovering these triggers and changing my habits!) On Day 1, I felt the pang to watch television twice: when I sat down to eat lunch and dinner. On Day 2, it was the same; this is when I decided to replace my regular dinnertime show with 1 TED Talk (short, sweet and inspirational). On Day 3, I was too busy to notice. And yesterday, on Day 4, I was too busy during the day to notice, but did watch 1 TED Talk at dinner time.

So far, so good. Actually, so far, so great.

Do you want to know what else I’ve done in the past 4 days? Read an entire book from start-to-finish, and started another. Wrote 2.5 chapters of my own book. Had a meeting with a friend who is going to help me bring some of my ideas for this blog to life. Had awesome mentoring sessions with a couple of the women I’m working with. Talked on the phone and caught up with a few friends. Went to my first floatation therapy appointment. Went out for breakfast. Went for a walk. Saw my dad. Journaled every day. And the list goes on. So yes, I have been “busy” the last 4 days… but doing great stuff!

Wish me luck for the next 27, though! I think I’m going to need it…

How much television do you think you watch per week?


Flickr: briancweed

  • “Our idea or relaxing is all too often to plop down in front of the television set and let its pandering idiocy liquefy our brains. Shutting off the thought process is not rejuvenating; the mind is like a car battery-it recharges by running.” -Bill Watterson (creator of Calvin and Hobbes)

    I completely agree with what you are doing and maybe I will join you, starting today, the only thing I will allow myself is one episode of tv show which equals 20 minutes without commercials instead of a TED talk. I will allow yoga videos because I am trying to get into the habit of doing 20 minutes before and after bed. Power in numbers!

    • Yes! I’m so excited for you. When I write a recap post, please tell me what you discovered about yourself and did with all your spare time. :)

  • Good luck, Cait!
    You’ll do awesome :)
    I don’t watch a whole lot of tv…I started watching the Mindy Project on netflix but so far only 6 episodes over a few weeks and they are only 20 min each.
    As you know I cancelled my satellite at home…I think that was in August…and then I got rid of my tv completely (sold it) in October. But R has a tv with Netflix (no cable).
    In 2014 we did watch all 5 seasons of Breaking Bad, as well as both seasons of Orange is the New Black. Other than those two the the rest of my tv watching is negligable. I’d say 10 movies or less, and some bits and pieces of sporting events.
    When I am home alone I don’t miss the tv, I just read instead if I have time, and I always have the radio on. When R is at my house we miss it a bit, but we just find something else to do.

    • You have the radio on… I love that. I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately, but a little CBC would be nice. I’ll add it to the list.

  • Good luck with the challenge. I watch maybe 20 minutes of TV per day, if that, but I do play games which take up at least another hour each day. My wife has the TV on at all times for background noise. It is sometimes annoying since you cannot escape the noise in a small condo, but watching TV is a better way to spend your free time than going out spending money.

    • Yes, I suppose that’s true. I just want to rid the bad habit of getting sucked into marathons, as often as I have been.

  • I’m a TV addict, I’ll admit it. We haven’t had cable for years, but we’ve always had ways of watching others – whether it was a PS3 streaming netflix, watching network shows online, or using our new Roku now to stream netflix. And I love to binge-watch shows… I don’t like consuming media in the 1 hr segments it used to be… I like steam-rolling right into the next episode. I’ve acknowledged this, and I try to cut it down, but it hasn’t happened quite yet. I might have to try out your ban and see how much more productive I am. I’m still allowed to listen to music while I cook, etc, right?

    • You are absolutely allowed to listen to music! I’ve discovered a couple new artists recently, also a result of the TV ban. :)

  • Good luck! This is awesome, I would love to do the same and have been attempting to cut the cable for a while now. I have to wait for my parents to come back as we share. I find I turn on the TV on work from home days for background noise and it ends up distracting me way too much. And you’re completely right, there’s never anything on!
    I usually only watch 1 or 2 channels at most, Turner Classic Movies, AMC and City for Breakfast Television in the morning. Need to know about the Toronto traffic! LOL!
    TV is such a time waster.

    • Re: Toronto traffic… the struggle is real! You can probably stream BT, though – you can here!

  • Well Cait, I can’t say that I watch a lot of tv but I do watch a few favourite shows each week. That said, the tv is on a lot in our house (usually as “background noise”, to be honest, and usually set to all-news channels). I tend to spend more time on the net (reading blogs, browsing various online training sites, other various news sites, etc.) than I do watching tv. Being retired gives me that free time. I do, however, also get out of the house to keep active and not become a tv (or computer) couch potato! :-)

    • Yep, my dad has the news on a lot, too. Whenever I’m there, it seems The Exchange w/ Amanda Lang is on, haha. No complaints about that!

  • I’ve lived without cable for 5 years and I convinced myself that means I don’t watch that much TV. On the contrary! I put on the News every morning and evening, followed by the Wheel of Fortune. Typically followed by a movie! Embarrassing. That’s a lot of time in front of a TV!

    Thanks for the reminder to shut off the boob tube. Cheers to a more productive January!

    • It’s not embarrassing – just something to think about! If you want an extra 30-60 minutes back, take ’em. They’re all yours! :)

  • Hey, if it wasn’t for TV I’d never get the ironing done.

    We barely use the TV but if we had to give up wandering aimlessly around the internet for 31 days we’d have nervous breakdowns: If I was you, I’d be very careful not to challenge yourself to that next!

    • Nice! Today, I actually discovered another habit is wanting to watch TV after a long day at work… so, will have to kick that one.

  • I need to do this. TV is such a time-suck. Even the educational programming does little good. Will you really remember much of what that documentary was spitting at you? The studies I’ve read definitively answer ‘No, you couch potato. Open a book,’

    Screw it. I’ll join you now. No TV – period. Only 4 YouTube videos/day equaling less than 40 minutes. This is a good start. I really the random things I watch on YouTube. Plus, they are good for watching if I’m eating a meal alone.

    • YAY WILL! Do it, do it. And yes, open more books. My goal is to read 5 books this month, and I think that might actually be possible… guess we’ll see. Good luck!

  • Awesome. I love this idea. We’ve reduced our TV watching dramatically this year and usually watch less than 30 mins a day. I really like the idea of giving it up entirely–such a good thing for the mind, body, and creativity.

    We do, however, enjoy a movie or documentary on Friday nights with our frozen pizza, and I must say I think I’m too lazy to give that up at this point. But, you raise such interesting points about the value of freeing up your time. I’m really looking forward to hearing your insights on this project throughout the year!

    • See, that’s a nice little ritual though. I could get on board with that, when this is over. Friday night movie night. Yep, sounds ok to me!

  • Good luck! We all have our vices and being aware of how they’re interrupting our lives is step one! Hopefully, after going cold turkey for a month, you’ll learn how to incorporate something you enjoy (tv watching) into your life without it taking over. I had to do this for social media a few years ago and it was definitely worth the struggle!

    • Yea, I imagine I’ll pick up some of my shows again, like normal… but maybe carve out 1 night to catch up on shows, and leave it at that. We’ll see!

  • This is something I have been thinking about for the last couple of weeks. I’m wondering if I should give myself a similar challenge. I just finished watching all 7 seasons of the Gilmore Girls on Netflix last night. That’s 7 seasons x 22 episodes x 42 minutes. This ate up time that should have been spent on housework, organizing, batch cooking, reading and just getting out of the house.

    I tend to go through spurts. Once I finish binge watching a show I take a break before I start another series. Before I started watching the Gilmore Girls I had cut my TV viewing to two shows a week (Vampire Diaries and Nashville). I’m not sure that I want to say no to TV altogether but perhaps I’ll put together some sort of schedule or weekly limit. I do feel that I need to concentrate on doing more things that add value to my life.

    • Scheduling time for TV sounds like a great idea, Trista. Perhaps if you knew you had a limited amount of hours to watch it, you’d only watch the things you really cared about – and not get sucked into too many loops of marathons, etc.! Let us know what you decide, and good luck!

  • Wow! This is an awesome challenge. I might try and do it with you as well, but the one thing that I might allow is live sports. I love watching my hockey and football.

  • I was actually thinking about the same thing last night when I realized I had wasted an entire weekend doing nothing but binge watching Glee. I may join you on this journey thanks for the motivation!

    • Would love to have a companion on this flight, Joh’nita! If you decide to take on this challenge, keep me posted on your progress. :)

  • Great idea! I only watch maybe 8-10 hours per week, but that is certainly time I could spend doing other more productive things, especially now that my time is at a premium, since I returned to work after mat leave today. I commend you on this challenge, and look forward to seeing how it goes for you. I don’t think I’ll join you right now, as I’m trying to avoid any major changes/resolutions until I get my routine figured out with 2 kids in daycare and working full time. :) I’m sure you’ll rock this challenge as you have so many others!

    • I’m usually a pretty firm believer that we shouldn’t try to set crazy resolutions in January, too (so totally support that decision). That’s why it’s just a monthlong challenge, to sort of kickstart the productive year I hope to have. Do consider doing it for even a week sometime this year, though! When your hands aren’t so full. :)

  • Wow. Your summary of how much time you spent watching TV this year was eye-opening. I suspect mine was much, much worse, and definitely included all 7 seasons of Gilmore Girls.

    You have me intrigued, and I may need to join you…

    • It’s crazy, right? Now, I can say that I didn’t actually sit and watch every episode… many times it was just on for background noise. But STILL! It’s too much, and I can fill the new silence with other things.

  • This is a great idea.

    I’m actually on season 5 of Gilmore Girls… and loving it because I’ve never watched the whole series straight through before. But the TV is definitely on too much in our house and I’ve definitely been questioning whether it’s taking away too much important time.

    We only have Netflix, so not too many options, but it’s easy to get suckered in to a great show. I also love keeping up with Shark Tank and Master Chef… but obviously I wouldn’t count any of this as the “best” use of my time.

  • LOVE this! I actually have a post about how TV is an unhealthy habit being published on Wednesday on my blog. It’s a topic that has been bothering me lately because I know that I watch way too much TV. I tend to work with it on in the background, and I have way too many favorite TV shows. AH!

  • I think I could easily do this. I never turn the TV on when I’m home alone, ever. I do however watch TV, I love hockey so in the evening that’s almost always on but I really don’t think it’s consuming my time since 99% of the time I’m doing other things while it’s on. If we watch TV it’s usually jeopardy. If I’m not at work or with my kid/husband/friends I’m blogging. I don’t need a TV and would GLADLY give it up but I’m married and we make compromises. My husband loves TV, and that’s totally fine, I didn’t marry him to make decisions for him, if he wants it thats cool. I enjoy TV but don’t need it.

    • This is kind of off topic, but it’s funny how many people say they watch Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. I remember those being on when I was a kid! Who knew they were still so popular?

      Also, GO CANADA!

  • No shopping AND no TV?! *dies* I don’t know how you do it, girl!!

    We never had cable growing up either and definitely don’t now. I recently acquired my mum’s Netflix password (YAY! FREE Netflix!) and have to confess I watched 12 episodes of Gossip Girl this weekend. Yup, 12.

    But on the bright side…….I was so busy watching TV this weekend that I didn’t spend any money!!! So that’s a big win in my books.

    • Haha, I know, I’m crazy. But there are so many books to be read, Jacquie! You should know this ;)

      Congrats on the no spend weekend!

  • The truth is in those numbers… 1 turns to 2, 2 turns to 4… And it adds up to a lot of hours wasted. I’m guilty of TV and Facebook. It’s a habit I need to break. This year I’m at home raising a little one and while time is spent on the couch feed, there is much more I can do besides pointing and clicking.
    Read books, write, craft a little, make a to-do list and act on it, call a friend spontaneously and chat.

    Great post to help motivate myself and many others to live a great life. As my grandma told me before she passed, life is too short. Live a good live!

    • I never thought about that, but I can see how having to feed often could quickly result in many hours of television-watching. Hmm. Well, I wouldn’t beat yourself up over those hours… but do other things during the hours where your hands are free.

      And I literally woke up this morning and said, “life is too short for this” out loud. Your comment was very serendipitous (and your grandma very smart). :)

  • I grew up in a house where the TV was always on but no one was really watching it. It is often background noise in my life.

    As an adult, I go in fits and starts. I can maybe watch 1 hour of TV a week for several months and then watch 20 hours a week for 2 or 3 weeks. It really depends. My husband probably watches 40 hours a week, so sometimes I get sucked into TV to spend time with him. I am laughing as I write this because we got a Chrome cast and are currently trying out NetFlix for 30 days (to see if I can give up that very expensive cable package we have, I can, but can hubby). In the 3 days since I hooked it up I have watched one movie and 6 episodes of Downton Abby. {Hey it was my last few days of vacation, I also got a lot of stuff done around the house, read an entire book, wrote a lot, read a couple hundred blogs, registered for a course and braved -20 to take the dogs for a walk -so I think at least for the rest of my vacation it hasn’t impacted my life too badly!]

    In grade 6, I gave up TV for 3 months. I did it with a friend and we were allowed to watch one movie on the weekend (giving that up too would have given up the main weekend social get together our friends had and that didn’t seem cool). It was tough (and this was the 80s before the internet). When I lived in res, we didn’t really watch any TV, but there was always so much going on, one didn’t need TV!

    I wish you luck with this challenge. I would never totally give up TV living north of Ottawa in January!

    • So many good stories in there! I, too, would probably not give up television entirely if I lived somewhere that was extremely cold. No excuses in Vancouver! You can still go outside in the rain. (Although reading a book inside is pretty nice on those days, too.)

      Good luck trying to convert your husband to Netflix!

  • Cait,
    Television is one of the few things in which I, the only female in my house, my two sons and husband disagree. The television is on constantly even when everyone is on another electronic device… iPad, phone, etc… I try to be sneaky and turn it off only to hear, ” Hey, I was watching that!” The other day I found myself home alone all day. This never happens with teenagers. I went the entire day with NO television. All I can say is ahhhhhhhhhh… I listened to quiet music and read. Love my boys dearly , but it did make me think about what life will be like in four years;) Learn to enjoy the peace and quiet. Embrace being still. Kind of ironic that the Bible verse in my devotional that day was ” be still and know that I am God.”

    Good luck

    • I’ve honestly started to wonder if the television being on was some sort of sign that I was uncomfortable in the silence. I don’t think so… but it’s tough to say. Anyway, thanks for your kind words. May there be peace in four more years ;)

  • Growing up, the TV was always on in my house. From the time my dad got home from work to the time he went to bed the tv was on (plus weekends), so we grew up watching a lot of TV. Even now as an adult I find myself getting sucked in to the waste of time that TV is. My husband and I were just speaking about this on the weekend and the possibility of getting rid of our cable, especially since shaw has just increased our bill. I applaud you for going on a 31 day tv ban, that is admirable. One of my goals for 2015 is to decrease my tv time, and I think you have just convinced me to cancel our cable!

    • Please ask your husband first, so I don’t get hate mail from him! Teasing ;)

      It’s interesting how those conversations come up when bills increase by a few dollars, isn’t it? Although, many people accept the new number and just pay it, without thinking. But they are important conversations to have! I’ll be curious to hear what you guys finally decide to do.

  • I cancelled my cable at Christmas…again. I cancelled it in 2013, had a momentary lapse at the beginning and ended up with another 12 mth contract. Oh boy, by month 3 I was counting the days till I could cancel and was so happy I did in December.

    Netflix is still a regular, and I binge watch for sure :(. BUT, to avoid all that, last night I put a second coat of paint on my laundry room walls, and painted the bathroom and bedroom in the basement with their first coat. I can’t remember the last time I felt that accomplished on a Monday night!

    Going for round 2 today – 2nd coat of paint for the bedroom/bathroom tonight.

    But I did start the day with 1.5 Friends episodes on Netflix…but while running 5km on my treadmill! YA BABY!

  • This is an awesome post!! We also don’t have cable but we do have Netflix. My husband and I watch about 30 minutes to an hour of TV per night right before we go to sleep (bad, I know). This time could absolutely be spent more productively, but it’s one of the ways that we relax together so I’m OK with this amount for now. In the morning, I have Good Morning America on in the background while reading emails.

    To free up more of my time, I actually deleted Facebook for the month of January. So far, it’s been incredible!! I’ve been SO much more productive!! It’s absolutely crazy how many time-wasters there are out there. I think up to an hour a day is fine since we DO need downtime, but anymore than that is just unnecessary!!

    Great post!! Thanks for sharing!

  • Yes! This is a great idea – I think I’m going to challenge myself to this as well! I spent all of Monday and Tuesday night binge-watching House of Cards. I got NOTHING done. And I felt horrible and disappointed in myself for derailing my week’s goals. Tonight, I came home and instead of watching TV, I got to work on all the things I’d been putting off. I feel so much better now that I’ve been productive. The wasted time watching TV is just not worth it. Thanks for the inspiration and good luck with your challenge!

  • This is such a good idea. Thankfully, I don’t watch much TV nowadays. I only really watch TV/films etc when I’m at my boyfriend’s house. But the problem is, when I’m left to my own devices I spend all my time faffing about on the internet. Sometimes this will involve blogging, which I consider productive, but I also waste so much time mindlessly browsing Facebook and Twitter. Definitely two things to cut down on! I’d love to spend more time reading books instead.

  • Oh man… I don’t even want to calculate how much time I’ve wasted watching TV! I have definitely cut back, though. Or if I do, I make sure I’m doing something productive like folding the laundry. Good luck, Cait!

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