Whether you’re a cable addict or someone who eschews cable in favor of Netflix, I think that most of us can agree that we could all use a little less television in our lives. Speaking from my own experience, the more TV I watch, the more down-and-out I feel; I berate myself for being lazy and find myself surfing Netflix looking for the next best thing to watch. It is only after not watching any TV for a week or so and then settling down after a busy, active day to watch a movie with Sean that I find myself actually enjoying the show instead of looking for a bigger, more entertaining fix.
So, whether you threw away your television a long time ago or are looking to cut back on boob tube time, here is a little list I made for myself to help me when I’m feeling like crashing on the couch and surrendering to the allure of the black box.
15 Things to Do Instead of Watching TV
1. Read a book: Sometimes I get in a rut where I feel like there is nothing to read. The solution? Ask a friend, query Facebook, wander the stacks at your local library, re-read a favorite, peruse your own shelves, keep a stack of unread books handy. So tired that you feel like you can’t be bothered to use your brain? Try graphic novels or “twinkie” books. Nobody has to know you read Twilight just because you were trying to avoid watching 90210 (although, honestly, I’m not sure of the benefits of reading Twilight versus watching TV ).
Some recent books I enjoyed: The Omnivore’s Dilemma (I know I’m a little behind the times on this one), State of Wonder, Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, The English Patient, and Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology (which may have gotten me really thinking about my TV consumption, even though the book was a little lacking).
2. Go for a walk: It is amazing how mind-clearing a stroll can be. Fresh air and pumping blood cure many evils – evils which could otherwise make you blot out your brain in front of a screen.
3. Meditate: It’s about as active as watching TV, but your brain will feel far better afterwards, particularly if you tend to have trouble sleeping. I can’t watch TV before bed without suffering horrible restlessness (due to the backlit screen, the studies say), so this is a big helper for me.
4. Cook: Rather than consuming junk food on the couch, you can mix up a batch of cookies, start a loaf of bread, make some hummus, pack your lunches for the week, you name it. Immerse yourself in cookbooks, experiment with different cuisines – pretty soon, the time required to eat healthfully and assemble less-packaged meals seems less like a chore and more like entertainment.
5. Craft: Pick your poison: Do you like to knit? Quilt? Sew clothes? Tie flies? Make furniture? Refurbish old tables for resale? Make scrapbooks? Take artistic photos? Paint? Draw? Make play dough sculptures with your kid? There are endless possibilities for crafting if you only know where to look (Hint: Pinterest helps).
6. Clean and declutter: This can be a one-time deal or a year-long undertaking depending on your lifestyle. You can participate in internet challenges such as 40 bags in 40 days, tackle a room a week, scrub the oven, polish the sink, clean the catbox – okay, maybe these aren’t all that entertaining. Certainly scooping poop is not preferable to watching the latest Walking Dead, but these things can be neglected if you have the tendency to binge-watch all nine seasons of The Office over the course of a few months (yes, I’ve been there). For me, decluttering became a hobby when I realized how much stuff I have spilling out of closets (and contrary to popular, i.e. my family’s, belief, I do not intend to get rid of cherished gifts or household decorations – I simply no longer wish to have my life cluttered with unnecessary belongings).
7. Engage with animals: We have a bird feeder on the porch that offers a lot of entertainment during the day, particularly when the cats notice the birds (Have you ever heard a cat bark at a bird? It happens). If you have pets, they will benefit from play as much as you do. Find a toy that they love (cats, dogs, birds, mice) or take them on a walk (dogs…and cats?) or gaze longingly at them (fish?). If you live in the city, I’m sure there is entertainment to be had in watching pigeons and squirrels. If you live in the country, there are probably deer. They can be pretty to watch as long as they aren’t eating your garden. Speaking of which…
8. Start a garden: Of course, this is a seasonal endeavor, but you do need to plan the whats, wheres, hows, and whens of your garden. There are myriad seed catalogs as well as location-specific guides, tips and tricks, planning calendars, compatibility ratings, and other helpful sources to be found online. Just put your fingers to the keyboard and do some googling OR patronize your local library and pick up some books. Once you have your garden planted, there can be a decent amount of upkeep to keep you entertained during the summer months.
9. Learn/practice a musical instrument: This is one of those things that I’m always telling myself I’ll eventually do, although I already lost patience for learning guitar, and I live with a man who plays both drums (seriously) and guitar (recreationally) far better than I ever will. Perhaps when we live somewhere where we don’t have neighbors, I’ll learn how to play the harmonica or the fiddle. But maybe you have more gumption than I do – and having a musical skill is always handy, particularly when the power goes out.
10. Play games: Once you learn cribbage, you’ll never stop playing (confession: we play during dinner sometimes). Sometimes, we have epic Taboo or Cranium battles with our friends on Friday nights (yeah, we party hard). Fancy starting World War III? Try out Scattergories, Risk, or Monopoly. Surprisingly, game stores aren’t too hard to find nowadays, so you can always look for new, interesting games to play (like Fluxx – check it out, it’s super weird), but there are also just about a billion games you can play with a plain old deck of cards.
11. Listen to music: I feel that, in our ADD culture, we rarely actually listen to music. We’re usually driving or working or otherwise splitting our attention. When Sean and I first started dating, we used to just lay side-by-side and listen to whole albums together. And if your thought is, “Pfft, who has time for that?” the answer is, “You, if you stop watching so much TV.” Explore new artists. Reawaken your passion for old ones. Try to pick out individual instruments. Go to local music shows. Sing along.
12. Dance: Whether you’re dancing solo, waltzing with a partner, stepping on arrows with a wiimote in hand, going out to a contra dance, or taking continuing ed classes, there is no denying the fun in shimmying your booty to some tunes…and nobody will fault you if you have to have a beer or two before you start.
13. Find an active hobby: Bike riding, cross country skiing, running, gym training, yoga, climbing, barre class, you name it. Instead of just plodding home after work, go work up a sweat. Sure, you’ll have less time at home…so you can focus on things like not watching TV.
14. Do a crossword/sudoku/word search: Depending on the difficulty, this could be mindless or mindful, but the big plus on this one is that it’s portable. For example, if it’s a beautiful day but you’re too tired to be active or absorb a story, you can bring this outside.
15. Learn a new language or polish unused language skills: Since my many years of Spanish language class, I have unfortunately lost most of my knowledge – this in spite of the fact that I would love to go back to Spain and explore Central and South America. People who insist that you can travel without learning new languages are slaves to American arrogance; from my brief experience in Spain, I learned that people are far more likely to treat you with compassion if you first attempt to speak their language instead of demanding that they speak yours (seems like it would be logical, doesn’t it?), so if you wish to travel or expand your cultural experience, learning a new language seems like a good place to start. One caveat to this: it can be helpful to watch TV in a different language to help you learn your new skill.
Do you have any tips for things to do instead of watching TV? Leave them in the comments below!