Shhhh…do you hear that? (Wednesday’s Wisdom)

Last night, I sat in my living room and for a moment, I couldn’t figure out the sound I was hearing or where it was coming from. From my vantage point in the dining room, I could see everyone, including the furry animals. My husband sat in the big, comfy recliner in the living room, reading a book about Celtic history. Next to him, A stretched out on the couch, reading a book about mythology. (Shocking.) Her sister was across the kitchen, in the school room, writing a compare & contrast paper for her World Religions class. The beagle and all three cats only periodically shifted in their locations. Everyone was accounted for, and still there was an unfamiliar sound in the house, or rather an unfamiliar sound that is becoming more familiar every day.

It was sometime after 9 that I realized it was the unfamiliar sound of silence that piqued my attention. The TV wasn’t on. It hadn’t been on all day; not even for the morning news. We didn’t “schedule” last night’s quiet evening. There was no big discussion during dinner nor reading edict issued. Well, not last night, anyway. However, the quiet didn’t just happen, either.

Several weeks back, we did have a family discussion during dinner. It was prompted by a question my Kansas Ya-Ya asked during one of our weekly chats. After keeping the TV off until 8, sometimes 9, for several nights in a row, I realized I was accomplishing much more in my evenings. Upon sharing this realization, my girlfriend asked me how many hours I thought I could reclaim if I/we continued to keep the TV off in the evenings. Though math is not my strong subject, it wasn’t difficult for me to calculate the number of hours we spend in front of the TV. “Too many” is the short answer, but the more accurate (and embarrassing) answer would be at least 15. I’ll break down the math:

The TV typically goes on after dinner, around 7. It then stays on until shortly after 10. (Just long enough to watch the weather, which, unlike all my years in the Bay Area of California, serves a purpose. When there are high winds or snow coming in the mid-west, you need to know.) Therefore, 3 hours  X 5 weeknights = 15 hours of TV (+ an unnamed number of hours possible on the weekend. ) Fairly simple math, right? Though the math may be simple, changing habits isn’t always so easy, especially where teens and fatigue are involved.

I’ll be honest, I’m  probably the biggest TV junkie in the house. It’s my pacifier. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you already know I get up in the wee-dark-hours of the morning because I love the quiet solitude. However, those wee-dark-hour mornings and long days homeschooling usually leave me brain-dead, droopy-eyed, and in search of a “mental check-out” by 7 in the evening. On goes the TV. It doesn’t matter what’s on, it’s the “white noise” that can put me to sleep within 20 minutes. And, I know my family will be sitting there, watching along with me, as soon as the set is turned on. They’re supportive like that. It all starts in my big, comfy recliner (the same one my husband sat in, reading, last night.) Under the guise of sharing some viewing time with the family, I grab my blanket, the TV remote, curl up in my chair, and shut off my brain. My family isn’t fooled. They know what I’m up to and they know I’ll be asking “Who did it?” after they wake me to head up to bed, even if it’s a re-run. (And, without cable, odds are good that it is and that I slept through the big reveal the first time it aired.)  Like I said, habits can be tough to break. Which is great if it’s a “good habit” like regular exercise, and not great if it a “negative habit” like going comatose in front of the TV.

Nonetheless, I believe the first step to changing any behavior is identifying it. Within only a  few short days of turning off the “one-eyed monster” (as my father-in-law used to call it), it became obvious to me the amount of productive/family time I was “losing” in my evenings. When I put a number to it, 15+, I could no longer ignore the harsh reality of my habit. I used the TV like an evening “fix”, and if our family evenings were going change, it had to start with me.

At dinner a few weeks ago, we each listed our top 5 favorite shows that we looked forward to watching each week. (Aside from the cost savings, another perk of “life without cable” is the ease of this task.) Ironically, none of us had 5, and there were several overlaps among us. From there, we each narrowed it down to our top 3, and further to our top 1. I then placed those programs on a roughly sketched out grid. There was one program per evening on Monday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. None on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday. And, that was it, our first step in weaning our TV habit. Like finding money in a coat pocket, we found an extra 10+ hours of family time in our week. Each evening, before grabbing a remote, we check the grid to see what, if anything, is on that we watch and the time it airs (because it’s still easy to leave the TV on once it’s on.) Thus far, it has worked well, even when we have chosen to throw an extra hour or two in here and there. Or, in the case of our recent discovery of Downton Abbey, Season 1, on Netflix, several extra hours last weekend. In any event, we are making conscious choices when we turn the set on; Is there really something we want to see or are we (am I) turning on the TV to “just veg out” and unplug from life, from my family? What else could I do with this time?

The TV stayed dark last night. We didn’t need to check the grid. It’s quickly becoming a new habit to leave the TV off on Tuesdays, and I have stayed awake to witness it all. Pages turned quietly, a pen scratched on paper, keys were tapped on the computer, and the beagle snored. And, for just a bit last night, I was stumped by that odd, unfamiliar, pervasive sound in our house. Shhhh…do you hear that? It’s silence. Beautiful silence. Silence we’ll enjoy again tonight because there’s nothing we choose to watch on Wednesdays, and the TV will stay off.

Is the TV making too much noise in your house? Please share what you would do with an extra 10 hours of unscheduled time in your week.

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25 thoughts on “Shhhh…do you hear that? (Wednesday’s Wisdom)”

  1. We very seldom have the TV on here. (If it is on, it’s for a Mickey DVD, WALL-E or Lilo & Stitch.) When I’m having a hard time sleeping, though, I do look to Hulu for distracting from unceasing thoughts. That distraction enables me to fall back to sleep. I’d say this happens 2-3 times a week.

    My real problem? The internet. Last night, at least, I went 20, 25 and 30 minutes consecutively without peeking at anything. I’m going for the same or better tonight, thanks to your thought-provoking “hands-free” share!

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    1. I actually had to retrain myself to get back to sleep without the TV or any other noise. My husband cannot sleep with the TV on and though he was tolerant of me turning it on during the night, he really didn’t like it. I took the TV out of our room several years back and have resisted the urge to bring it back because I know how slippery that slope is for me.

      ♥ You inspire me so often, and you have again. I stayed off the internet most of the past weekend to regain some of the time I lose to “surfing.”

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  2. I admire this so much! I want to be someone who turns off the tv more. I’m working towards that too! It does become a white noise in the background way too often. I’ve probably been in denial about how much time it eats up.

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  3. Oh, good for you indeed!! I love the idea of making it a conscious choice and not just a reflex. We don’t have a t.v., but our laptop (the internet, really) is *my* one-eyed monster. It’s definitely my pacifier, the tool I use to veg out, at the expense of my family, housework, and actual work. It’s devious, because I definitely do productive things online, but I am not entirely honest with myself about where the all-too blurry line between productivity and wastefulness is.

    You have motivated me to sit down and calculate just how much time I waste in the guise of “being productive.” And then time to chart out a schedule for when I’m going to pop online. With my free time I will keep the house neater, play more music, write more music, maybe more prose (though that would require opening the computer, a risky venture), rad more books, spend more time with the kiddos, maybe go outside more when the weather permits.

    Thank you for sharing this inspiring post; I’m going to share it around everywhere…and then close my laptop. 🙂

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    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, commenting, and sharing, Rivki!

      I, too, struggle with the laptop-zone. I “jump on just really quick to check _________” only to find I’ve lost 2, maybe 3 hours of my day.

      This past weekend, I stayed off the computer and the internet almost the entire weekend. It was amazing at all the things I got done. I read–an actual book, completed 85% of my vision board, and even enjoyed a nice long soak in the tub. All 3 things are best enjoyed without the intrusive world wide web. However, I had to regularly pull myself back from that “quick check.”

      And, as long as I’m on here today, I’m hopping over to visit your blog next.

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  4. TV is a blessing and a curse when you have young kids. I have to say that sometimes I use it when I need time for myself, like right now.

    The times I am more determined and shut of the TV, I realize we get a lot more family bonding time. I think I will turn of the “one eyed monster” for most of the day.

    Cheers,
    Louise

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  5. Great blog and a great reminder, especially useful for a tv addict like me 🙂 But for some reason, I always thought the “one-eyed monster” referred to something else and, in that case, I agree. I don’t think it should be turned on every night, either.
    I’m going to start cutting back tonight. Wish me luck!

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  6. Very good, Transitioning Mom! My daughter and I went without TV for many months over the past few years. I quickly realized I didn’t need it, nor did she. With our schedules, we don’t have time to turn on the tube for hours at night, but I do allow her to watch a 30 minute program before bed if she gets all of her homework done early (she’s 8). As for me, I enjoy the occasional veg time watching HGTV, and I do enjoy watching the Lakers (more so when they are winning) games. Either way, TV is completely overrated in my book, a brain drain, and I’m happiest when I’m doing other things. I probably spend about 5 hours a week with the tube running, and that’s only if a basketball game is on! Thanks for sharing and enjoy all of that new quiet time-love it!

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  7. I loved the simple honesty of this post. I do not watch the TV that much anymore, and I really don’t miss it. It seems the more a person does not watch TV, the more meaningful things he/she finds to do with time. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful maternal wisdom. I hope that families with children still at home will take your message to heart, and that they will use the added time to spend quality time with their children. Blessings, Connie

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  8. Over Christmas break we also had the same discussion . . . why don’t we turn off the TV more during the week? There’s really nothing on, and I, like you, love to veg out after a day of being “on” (at networking events, meetings, teaching yoga, etc.). I love your idea of taking a look at what we REALLY want to watch during the week, and then turn off the TV the rest of the time! The shows we love are ones we typically watch as a family, so even better! Thanks for the great tip. Let’s see, it’s Wednesday . . . is Idol on? (I know, it’s a disease . . .)

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    1. Thanks, Marsha.
      Netflix is our Tivo, even though they are not truly the same. However, the younger teen thinks she should be able to watch more than one episode of a Netflix program since it doesn’t have commercials and she has “leftover minutes” versus a broadcast episode of the same show. Seriously. Since you know her, I’m sure the negotiation comes as no surprise.

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  9. Wonderful, wonderful post. I could almost hear the joyous quiet, the pages turning, the pens writing…as a matter of fact, part way through reading your post, i got up and turned the TV off. I tend to leave it on after everyone leaves in the morning. We have it on in the morning for traffic reports and news. Great post and wonderful strategy.

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    1. Thanks, Kate! It’s rare I have an empty house, but I’ve done the same thing. I turn it on in the morning for news, weather and traffic, and on it stays. My husband started a new job several months back, which has him much closer to home and eliminated our/his need to check traffic in the morning. Unless weather is headed in, we leave it off.

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  10. My husband is the TV junkie in our house. Growing up, his parents had the tvs connected to the light switches in the bathrooms, so when you turned on the light, the tv came on, too. (Scared the beejesus out of me the first time I went there.)

    I, on the other hand, embrace silence. I’ve never been a serial tv watcher. These days I watch about 8 hours a week (The Office, Modern Family, The Good Wife and some news) — less than some folks watch in a day.

    When Mr. Wonderful was in Iraq for a year, I took advantage of that time, and reprogrammed the kids. The downstairs tv would stay dark and silent for several days at a time occasionally. We use Tivo to capture the things we want to watch, and then watch it when our schedule allows. We control the programming, instead of it controlling us. I’ll watch a little HGTV or the news in the kitchen when I’m doing big cooking, but for the most part, they stay off. The kids have tvs in their rooms, but rarely use them.

    As I sit here now, just me and the dog, the house is quiet. The wind chimes are tinkling outside the kitchen window, with some distant construction noise for rythm. Oh, and the dryer is buzzing. Ahhh.

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    1. TV’s coming on when I turned on a light would have scared the beejesus out of me too, Lisha! If my grid/schedule method doesn’t work, that might just be the weaning tool I need!

      8 hours in a week is certainly less than many people watch in a day. I know that even at 3 hours in a day, we were watching less than many, but I also knew they were MY 3+ hours I was losing each day. And, yes, there are programs I miss seeing, but I’ve been amazed at how little I’ve really missed them. (The Good Wife made my short list, too. However, it was trumped by my new found love of Downton Abbey. When both go into re-runs, I’ll swap my choices.)

      I took the TV out of our room several years back because I was using it to fall to sleep and, when I would wake up in the night, I would turn the news back on. My husband, the NON-junkie in the house, hated it. Our kids have never had them in their rooms for the same reason. As it is, the older teen listens to her music, and that I can deal with.

      “As I sit here now, just me and the dog, the house is quiet. The wind chimes are tinkling outside the kitchen window, with some distant construction noise for rythm. Oh, and the dryer is buzzing. Ahhh.”

      BLISS! You forgot to include the sound of your own thoughts. 🙂

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  11. This is the perfect post to read today. I was just telling my husband we should turn the TV off more. We’ve been doing that slowly weaning ourselves. To be honest, there’s only a handful of shows I actually enjoy watching and we use the TV more as background noise sometimes. I think we could get away with less TV for sure. Now as for the computer, that is another HUGE challenge! My goal is to not go on the internet for an entire week. Sounds doable, but for me, it will be like withdrawing from a drug.

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    1. Ooooh, a week without the internet would be a tough one on me, too. I think back 18 or 19 years when my husband and I went to Europe for 3 weeks and I wonder how I did it. I left my ever so fast 386 laptop, that I called a lugable, and my field weapon cell phone at home before boarding the plane. There was no Wifi, and the internet was not used in the same way it is today. (It was mostly email.) I was so, so glad to leave both behind. I traveled “un-tethered” for 3 glorious weeks.

      Fast forward to today, and I’ve been known to actively seek out Wifi hotspots. Yep, got some weaning to do there, too.

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  12. Good for you! We canceled our cable completely (we only had basic) a few months ago and do not miss it at all. We realized we weren’t watching enough TV to justify having it. If we do watch anything, it is usually after 9:00PM when we may put a DVD in and watch part of a movie or an episode to a show. No commercials, we decide what we want to watch and we feel more in control. But my favorite evenings are just like the one you described…just reading with no sounds at all.

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    1. Thanks, Bliss! We canceled cable many years ago. I think we had cable for a total of 2, maybe 3 years out of the last (almost) 18. And, truth be told, TV is a very slippery slope for me. I’ll tell myself I need to cut back, but gradually fall off the wagon. Having a program spreadsheet has helped avoid those “I’m just going to see what’s on” ploys and we are back to enjoying quiet evenings once again.

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