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The Minimalists

Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus write about living a meaningful life with less stuff for 4 million readers. As featured on: ABC, CBS, NBC, BBC, TODAY, NPR, TIME, Forbes, The Atlantic, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and National Post. They live in Missoula, Montana.

Reasons I Don’t Own a TV

What? You Don’t Own a TV? Why? That’s a question I get quite often. And the answer is simple: Because I’d watch it. A lot.

You see, I really enjoy television. It’s easy to watch. It’s passive. It’s entertaining at times. And I don’t have to do much work (unless you consider pushing the buttons on the remote to be “work”). But there are many other important things I can do with my life, and so the costs drastically outweigh the benefits…

Money. Sure, there are the monetary costs associated with television viewing. There is the TV itself, which can cost up to a few thousand dollars. I have a friend who has eight flatscreen TVs in his house (I shit you not—he even has one in his master bathroom). There’s the monthly costs of cable or satellite (plus all the little extra fees for cable boxes, DVRs, HD service, premium channels, etc.). There’s the DVD or Blu-Ray rentals and purchases, many of which we don’t watch. (Come on, I bet you’ve done it before: you’ve rented a DVD just to return the unwatched movie a week later. It’s okay, we’ve all done it before. The trick is to stop doing it!) And then there’s all those fancy ancillary items we think we “need”: the surround-sound system, the Blu-Ray player, and don’t even get me started on video games, that’s an entirely different—and equally troubling—story (I know grown men in their thirties who play video games more than five hours a day). But TV costs us a lot more than money…

Time. TV viewing robs us of our most precious asset: our time. Even with the Internet, the average person watches more than five hours of television a day. That’s 35 hours a week. Yikes! If you get rid of your TV, you can reclaim this time for yourself.

Attention. TV robs us of our attention. Sometimes we think we’re “multi-tasking” if we’re doing other things—folding laundry, working on the computer, etc.—while we’re watching TV. Deep down we know this isn’t true, though. We know that TV distracts us from our tasks, which causes us to either: a) take more time to complete the task (look, TV is robbing us of even more of our time), or b) it reduces the quality of what we’re working on (e.g., have you ever tried to write something—a paper, an email, a work assignment—while watching TV and noticed that it just wasn’t that good? That’s because we aren’t able to focus our attention on several things at once and still expect the same quality in our finished product.)

Awareness. Awareness is the most precious kind of freedom. We should cherish it. But TV often makes us oblivious to the world around us. And thus, in a roundabout way, TV robs us of our freedom.

Relationships. If you’re watching TV—especially if you’re watching it alone—then you are taking away from your relationships with other people—time in which you could contribute to others.

Creativity. If we are constantly consuming, then we are not creating. Thus, TV has the ability to rob us of our creativity.

Sure, watching TV is easy. But is it worth it? That’s the question you must ask yourself. I’m not suggesting that you have to get rid of your TV to be a minimalist. You don’t. But you always have options:

  • Ryan disconnected his cable service during our journey into minimalism. He got rid of all his DVDs and video games, but he kept his TV. We still watch movies on that TV from time to time, which brings up another point…
  • If you get rid of your TV, like I did in 2009, you can schedule time to watch TV with other people. I don’t do it often, but if I want to watch a program or a movie, I can watch it at someone else’s house, and afterward, we can discuss what we watched. Such planned viewing is far less passive and helps us build and strengthen our relationships, rather than take away from them.
  • You can get the TV out of your bedroom.
  • You can limit your viewing to one day a week. Schedule it and don’t deviate from the schedule.
  • Or, if you need to take baby steps, try to turn off your TV for one week. Unplug it and put it somewhere out of sight if you can. Or cover it with a sheet and make sure you don’t turn it on for a week.

So, if you get rid of your TV (or drastically reduce your viewing), what are you going to do with all your reclaimed time?

The short answer is: you can do whatever you want. You can create something meaningful. You can exercise. You can focus on your relationships. You can contribute to other people in meaningful ways.

It’s liberating not to have a TV. Television sucks the life out of our lives. It takes our money, our time, our attention, our awareness, our freedom, our relationships, and our creativity. And in return it gives us a little entertainment—it pacifies us for the moment. For many of us, television our drug of choice.

Additional reading: Can I Get Him to Stop Watching TV?