When my wife and I purchased our first home two years ago, we faced a decision we'd been dreading ever since the early days of our marriage: could we live without television?
At the end of our engagement seven years ago, Jess and I decided that we didn't want to spend money for cable TV. Maybe we were young and naïve, but we just couldn't justify that expense in relation to our income. Not that it was an easy decision—and I certainly tried to come up with some creative accounting solutions. (I even offered to forego all my makeup purchases if my wife did the same, but that didn't go over so well.)
That's why I was tickled when we moved into a parsonage with another young couple six months after the wedding and discovered that they already had a cable subscription—which meant that we could watch our favorite shows without spending any extra money. And watch we did. I think that was actually the year I started my short-lived campaign to become the first Irish winner on American Idol.
Then we lived with Jess's parents for three years in order to pay off school loans and save money for a down payment. Again, her parents already had television in the house, so we didn't feel wrong in partaking of a little Discovery Channel here, a little Food Network there—plus a little ESPN every now and again, for me. We weren't paying for it, so we weren't violating our agreement.
But when we finished unpacking the last box in our two-bedroom starter home, we knew we could delay no longer. The pressure only increased when we realized that our new neighborhood received no broadcast reception, which meant that rabbit ears weren't an option. It was cable or nothing, and the decision had to be made: TV or no TV?
We decided no TV, and this time money wasn't the major factor. I was doing 10 hours a week of freelance work in addition to my day job, and Jess was taking care of a little girl in our home three days a week. Oh, and we had a high-energy two-year-old running around the new house, several ministries at church, and extended family living close by.
With all that going on, Jess and I decided that we just didn't have room for another major commitment.
Here's Why We've Been Okay
It's been two years, and I know we made the right decision—as much as it still surprises me to say that. Looking at our lives now, I can see that saying goodbye to television has uplifted our marriage and our home in a number of exciting ways. Here are five of the best:
1. The hook is out of my brain. When we lived at my in-laws, I was constantly aware of what I was missing on TV—like someone had hooked a fishing line from the television to my head and was gently tugging, tugging, tugging me toward the couch and the remote. Now that TV is no longer an option, I don't give it a second thought. I'm off the hook, literally.
2. We control our schedule. On any given night, Jess and I—not TV producers or networks—decide what we want to do and when we want to do it. We used to say things like, "We can't go out with the Petersons on Thursday; we'd miss Survivor." Not anymore.
3. We have better control over the content that enters our home. Whenever I do catch a television show at someone else's house, I'm always amazed (and more than a little uncomfortable) at the amount of negative content that pours out of those pixels. Whether it's sex, language, violence, drugs, or hateful speech—I don't miss its presence in our home.
4. We've eliminated the default time-cruncher. The insidious thing about television is that there's almost always something at least semi-interesting to watch. That used to make TV a default activity for Jess and me when we didn't have immediate projects or plans—and it explains why we watched all of those King of Queens reruns.
5. We don't have to give up television shows. I don't want to give the impression that Jess and I don't follow any TV shows—that's not the case. We just watch them on DVD, or sometimes online. Renting a season of a good show on DVD is great because it cuts out the commercials and lets us watch whenever and wherever we want. And more and more programs are showing up online for free.
Here's What We Do Instead
Because television is no longer an option, Jess and I have found other ways to spend our free time.
1. We take walks. We purchased our home in a quiet neighborhood within walking distance of a lovely riverside park. So we feel spoiled that we get to take long walks together most evenings after dinner. And I feel thankful that we don't have television to anchor us at home.
2. We play games. I used to love playing board and card games as a kid. Even in college my buddies and I would get into some serious Monopoly competitions. And do you know what I've found? Those games are just as fun to play with my wife. Battleship, Connect Four, Scrabble—there's no end to the quality games out there that can spark both conversation and competitive juices.
3. We talk. After we put our kids to bed, Jess and I spend half an hour sitting on our living room couch before getting ready to hit the hay. It's a time I look forward to every night, and I'm thankful that I get to interact with my wife, rather than a TV screen, during those moments.
4. We spend time with friends and family. Because we have extended family who live nearby, we get the privilege of visiting with them on a regular basis. It's nice not to worry about coordinating those visits with our TV Guide. And if our family or friends stop by unannounced, we don't feel inconvenienced because they interrupted something we were watching on television.
5. We go out. Our family budget is still tight, which means we don't have a ton of money to spend on eating out and entertainment. But we have some, and it's nice having the freedom to take a spontaneous trip out to a coffee shop on a weeknight, or to grab a bite to eat without rushing back to catch a show.
Let me make a couple things clear: I'm not saying that watching television is wrong. I'm not saying that paying for television is bad stewardship. The choices that my wife and I made were based on what was right for us in our specific time and place, and they aren't automatically transferable to other homes and other families.
At the same time, I do feel like many of the benefits we've experienced over these past two years are transferable. No matter where you live or what you do, welcoming television into your home represents a serious commitment—one filled with both blessings and curses. And letting go of television would be painful, yes, but it could also be more positive than you may realize right now.
I hope that's at least something worth thinking about.
Sam O'Neal is managing editor of SmallGroups.com. He and Jessica have been married seven years. They have two children and live in the Chicago suburbs.
Copyright © 2011 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
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