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My Year without TV by Valerie Cheffings

Valerie works as a Senior Analyst, is a mother of two, a partner and an artist in her spare time. Valerie turned the TV off for a year! Oh my goodness! How did she cope and what did she do with all the extra time?

Valerie Cheffing

Written by Valerie Cheffings

My Year Without TV – Valerie Cheffings March 2019

Do you feel there’s never enough time to do everything! No time to exercise: no time to learn a new skill or language: or play with the kids. I complained of the very same thing, of being tired and time poor. I asked myself how high functioning people can achieve so much in the same allocation of time – that’s 86,400 seconds allocated to each of us every day.

Frustrated with the perception of not enough hours in the day, I set myself the challenge to go TV free for a year. Now, this is going back some years to a time when screen time was either a monitor at work or the home television. Still, even then Australians spent 16 ½ hours per week watching TV. Since then, that number has increased to a whopping 46 hours per week screen time (50 hours in the US).

Filling the void

I’d liked to have removed the TV physically but at the risk of high marital fallout, it was me who was removed from the lounge room.

Forget the 'to do' list. First and foremost, as I stressed to my husband, just because I'm not using leisure time watching TV doesn’t mean this time should be spent doing household chores and other stuff.

Here are my top 4 alternatives to watching the screen 2½ hours per day.

1. Clear the backlog of reading

For me, I started by reading the Harry Potter journey from the Dursleys to final battle with Voldemort. With a young family I’d never actually gotten to watching any of the Harry Potter movies in its entirety, with only snippets here and there, each movie over the years interrupted by little people needing attention. As an example, while watching one movie on the cruise to Tasmania, with husband who has poor sea legs sent to bed with the kids, I settled in to watch the Harry Potter movie, within ½ hour a little voice seeking ‘’Mummy” came through the theatre, Dad was too ill to look after them– foiled again.

On the TV diet I read the whole series. It took a while but reading cover to cover I revelled in the literacy treats hidden by JK Rowling – starting from the very first page.

2. Improving brain power

Become a whizz at juggling and other circus tricks. MRI images have been used to show how juggling increased grey matter in just 3 months training. Juggling and other tricks such as Diabolo and devil sticks take time, requiring practise every day to get anywhere close to proficient.

3. Time to get out with the pouch

Particularly in summer months, warmer longer evenings could be spent walking the dog. Our heeler cross-breed Molly had a great deal of energy. Our favourite, and most efficient, way to ‘walk’ Molly involved attaching her lead to the rear axle of a bike. She’d pull so hard she’d propel the rider, even more so when there was another dog to chase. A side benefit of no TV increased the dog’s health as well as mine.

4. Build a house.

In the weekends over this period, my husband and I embarked on building our future home. We were so chuffed with the outcome of landscaping the garden at our previous house; with no building experience we thought we were equipped to build a house. This was a kit house, not dissimilar to constructing a kit aeroplane (except 1:1 scale). The correct number of pieces, cut to shape were supplied, you ‘just’ had to stick it together and paint it! (or so it said on the box). Fortunately, we were not the first novices the kit supplier had experienced. For those 12 months coinciding with the TV diet I was the mortar queen: we returned to our desk jobs on Monday morning for a rest. It was a great achievement both to complete the house, and to do so with marriage intact.

Was there any downside?

Be ready to be out of the touch with water cooler chatter… I greatly missed being up to date with the latest TV show. Without daily dose of TV updates, I struggled to keep up with the strategy and who’s who of Survivor and other reality shows. Not a big loss in my life I must admit (compared with the non-TV achievements) but still socially isolating.

Also, I love watching football, and, while my husband could keep up with league I fell out of touch with the lead players and teams. Again, now years later, not a great loss!

In the end did I go back to watching? The answer is yes.

Outcome of the 12 months was to spend great deal of time with my partner, kids and dog as well as expanding my knowledge and skills. What’s more, I have a great advantage at those work brain boosting juggling workshops.

What could you do if you gave yourself the gift of time, if you could leave the device face down for an hour or so, what would be your top projects? If cooking’s your thing: get to it, get down to the gym or catch up with a friend – in the flesh. Be kind to yourself, sometimes mindless TV or scrolling is just what’s needed to unwind; to defuse anxieties from the day. But I feel choice is the key. Even now, many years later I ask myself when choosing to watch on screen (or continue with the Netflix binge) do / will I feel satisfied by spending this time watching. I find my choices are more curated, choosing shows (YouTube, Netflix and TV) that enrich my knowledge or give me pleasure.

It’s becoming evident from study after study that our sedentary lifestyle is detrimental to our health, with minimum 8 hours at work then at least 1-hour travel each way; how we spend the remaining 59 hours per week leisure can be the difference between good or lousy health.

As Americans (and no doubt Australians are close on their heels) approach 90% of their leisure time on screens, and as similar rise in rates of obesity and diabetes, how will you spend the next 89,600 seconds?