Simplifying Life: The Day My World Was Unplugged

There is one very important day in my path to living a simpler life. I don’t remember the date, but I do remember the day. Chances are, you have the same issues I did, and you don’t even know it. Allow me to explain… I was in my early 20s, married and didn’t have kids when I realized that I had more stresses in my life than the typical:

  • Mortgage is due.
  • Car is running funny.
  • What should I wear?

Things that I had never considered stressors, and in many cases I thought were actually positive things were causing me stress, and I didn’t even know it.

I Was Completely Plugged In

I was the go-to person about pop-culture. I looked forward to TV shows, I was plugged in and knew all of the latest references going around in the office.

I knew which movies were coming out and when, and I could not wait for them!

I knew which clothes were coming into fashion and which stores had sales on them. I was an amazing example of…

A totally normal person by today’s standards.

My World Came Unplugged

One day, my husband challenged one of my ideas about what’s normal for a household, namely, he asked this crazy question: “how necessary is cable?” What was next on the chopping block, the electricity? Perhaps the water?!

We made a deal: we’ll try two months without cable, and if it was unbearable, then he would get it turned back on. My mission was simple enough in my mind: let him know how utterly miserable I was each day without having my favorite shows available to me.

In lieu of cable, he got us Netflix. I began watching some shows on there, not the ones I really enjoyed (which weren’t available), but the Netflix ones were good; I actually enjoyed them. And when something happened in my household that needed my attention, I was able to press the ‘pause’ button (gasp!). Just shutting off cable was simplifying life in a big way!

2 Months Came and Went

The time passed by and I realized something: I was less stressed. I wasn’t “missing” shows that I enjoyed. They were there when I had time to watch them. I not only didn’t care about new movies coming out, I didn’t even know they existed!

Something else I realized because of Netflix: shows that were 1 hour long on TV were only 40 minutes long on Netflix. 20 minutes of every hour that you watch television is spent watching commercials. To put it a little differently: about one-third of the time you’re watching TV, you’re watching commercials.

We realized that without the pressure of a “TV schedule” to keep us at the visual feeding trough, we had a lot more time available to do things better than sit around in front of a glowing box.

Commercials Worked

I began to realize how many of my decisions were based around commercials I had seen – things I wanted simply because I was aware that they existed. I felt ashamed in a way because I realized how much power commercials had over me.

I would have denied it up and down then, but I can admit it now: commercials worked.

  • I went to stores because I knew they had sales… because of TV.
  • I waited for movies to come out so I could see them at the theater… because of TV.
  • I went to the newest restaurants that opened… because of TV.

All of these things cause stress in your life, for one simple reason: they demand, or it might be better to say command¸ your attention.

In order to see a movie on opening night, you firstly need to know the movie exists and when it will open (so your show was just interrupted by a movie trailer). Then, you have to make a mental note of the date. Then you have to continue to remember it as the date approaches. Once the date arrives, you have to find the time in your schedule to go see it.

Now, these are silly “problems” but if you have enough little things pulling at you like this, then the stress can be measurable. When we got rid of TV, the interruption of commercials was no longer an everyday stressor.

Dissatisfaction Disappeared

TV was no longer able to make me dissatisfied with the things I had in my life. I no longer felt compelled to go to stores to purchase clothing on “sale.” I no longer had to deal with the disappointment of something coming up and me missing my show. On top of all of this, we were saving an extra $100 each month.

That savings doesn’t include all of the times I might have gone out to a store to spend money simply because the store put up their “sale” signs. In fact, unplugging from TV helped me to understand new things about the world.

What I Learned About the World

After I unplugged, I noticed things when I went to stores. For example, I realized that JC Penney was perpetually running a sale. It became a joke in my household that we wondered if JC Penney’s was having a sale.

There’s one store in my local mall, the name escapes me, and they have a sign in the window that says “Sale” then under it, they put the percentage. After a few days of walking through the mall, I noticed that the sale is always going on; they just arbitrarily change the percentage for the day.

I also learned how truly intrusive and annoying commercials are. Have you ever stopped to listen to how truly absurd most car dealership radio commercials sound? The shouting, the repetitive words, the blatant “BUY, BUY, BUY”, it is astounding that it wasn’t more apparent to me sooner.

It’s all a façade. Everyone wants you buying stuff, and as long as they can keep you in the buying mindset, you’re completely oblivious to the games and antics that are being used to keep you in it. Commercials are one of the many tools used to keep you immersed in this mindset.

Unplug for a simpler life

I made this discovery accidentally. My husband just wanted to save a little money because we only watched about 3 – 4 channels out of the thousands available to us, which is also ridiculous. What we ended up getting in addition to the financial savings is a more content life.

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  1. I really enjoyed this read! You explain things very well. So many unsuspecting consumers do not even care to develop the ability or awareness to identify the power that advertising and the media has over them. I had my wake up call a few years ago after experiencing a series of panic attacks that sent my world in a whole different direction. I had to re-examine everything about my life. I had to really dig deep and find what truly brought me happiness and piece. I believe true freedom is not having to rely on these big institutions to fulfill our needs. We have literally been held captive by these institutions. No wonder everyone’s all stressed out; they feel trapped but they also feel hopeless to do anything about it. I think your blog brings a lot of clarity and direction for those looking for a way out. Great piece! Tanks for posting.

  2. I love this. I can’t say I’m willing to do away with cable just yet, but I have become very aware of the influence that media has on me. It’s not just TV, it’s magazines, other blogs, online ads, and other things that make me feel like I “need” to be buying, doing or making something at a certain time. I notice that on days when I’m away from media, I’m definitely more content, so I’m trying to make those days happen more often (although it’s tough when I’m online all day for my job!). I think just being aware is key…I’ll never be fully unplugged, but at least I can stop myself in my tracks when I notice myself being sucked in by marketing ploys.

  3. During the past four weeks that my partner of 24 years, Chuck Larsen, has been at Mayo Clinic recovering from the first of two surgeries–and an expected total of six months of recovery–to deal with an infection in his left hip, I have found that I have only turned on our television once! Literally just once! I just find so many more things to do than watch television, such as finally catching up on my books; reading the Sunday edition of the New York Times; cleaning the house; simplifying, downsizing, or donating things we never use; or simply just relaxing. I’ve always loved and followed Janet Luhrs and the whole Simple Living movement. And this article by Diana Smith just captured this notion of moving away from–or at least minimizing–watching television. Excellent!

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