After a full day of work, being mama to our babies, or obeying our to-do lists, 99% of us would prefer to veg out in the evenings rather than do anything else. And for 99% of us, “veg” means watching TV. Maybe not cable (we pride ourselves on being frugal, after all!), but definitely Netflix. Or Hulu Plus. Or the latest stack of DVDs and miniseries we checked out from the library.
But if every night (or even most nights), are TV night, I’m going to tell you straight up that you’re missing out. Because filling your precious leisure hours with TV is a narrow way to live.
Do you think I’m being too harsh? I understand the draw of an engrossing story, and TV offers stories in a highly accessible way. I’m enthusiastic about my favourite TV shows! I fully attest that TV and movies can be a medium for art and a springboard for imagination and lively discussion.
Yet something about this form of entertainment makes it too easy to be passive. After all, that’s why we often choose to watch a show in the first place!
Lately I’ve rediscovered how a little reading goes a long way in enriching my life. Reading more made me realise how much I’ve been missing. In my diet, I would never eat just pizza, or any of my favourite things. I need variety, both for enjoyment and for health. I don’t want my leisure time to be full of “pizza,” the hours measured by how many episodes I’ve watched.
Now, I know the biggest argument you probably have for watching TV is one that I’ve raised myself: you’re too tired to do anything else. If that’s true, then give yourself some grace and enjoy watching a show. But first try 20 minutes of a different activity. Or prove yourself wrong altogether and spend the whole evening TV-free. You’ll likely find that you have more energy than you think, and once you put in the initial effort you’ll be glad you did.
Here are 9 things to try instead of watching TV:
Pretend like you live in a pre-television decade and crowd around the wireless for some evening entertainment. In other words, listen to an audio book or podcast! For podcast recommendations, check out this list from The Atlantic, or follow The Timbre blog for regular updates and podcast spotlights. Your library likely has a good selection of books on tape or CD, and many libraries allow you to check out and download audio book files via their online catalog. You can also get two free audiobooks when you sign up for a free 30-day trial with Amazon’s Audible.
2. Do something mildly artistic
I understand that most of our brain juices are dried up by the time the clock hits 8:00 pm, so evenings might not be the best time to paint the next Mona Lisa. But you can still flex your creativity in some pleasant ways. I’ve taken up coloring recently, and I adore the intricate, whimsical coloring books by Scottish artist Johanna Basford. Currently she’s done Secret Garden, Enchanted Forest, and Lost Ocean. If coloring in the lines was never your style, pull out some blank sheets of paper and try hand lettering instead.
3. Write a letter
Evenings are the perfect time of day to resurrect the lost art of letter writing. Write to a family member who lives in another state or country. Write to a girlfriend you haven’t seen in a while. Write a thank you note. Make a card for a niece or nephew, complete with silly illustrations.
Your letters don’t have to be long or elegant; just put your personality into it and let the recipient know that you’re thinking about them. I recommend keeping all of your letter-writing materials together in one easy-to-access spot so you won’t lose steam when you go to gather pen, paper, and stamps from the far corners of your house. Purchase a few varieties of stationary and notecards and keep them in a box with envelopes, good pens, stamps, and a hard surface to bear down on when you write.
4. Play a new game
If you’ve played Settlers of Catan and Speed Scrabble to death, branch out! For a twist on a classic, try Monopoly Deal. It’s a card game that only takes about 15 minutes per round, and can be played with two people. One of my current favourites is Pandemic. It’s a co-operative game, which means that instead of trying to crush your spouse or best friend, you join forces and try to beat the game itself. Cool, right? If you want more “Euro-style” games like Settlers, try Carcassonne, Dominion, or Splendor. You usually won’t find this type of game at Wal-mart, but they’re available at sites like Amazon or We the Meeple.
5. Have friends over for dessert
If hosting guests for a full meal isn’t feasible, a low-key dessert might be! You’ll have to invite someone over who doesn’t have young children, of course, but you can enjoy some grown-up time with them after your own kids are in bed. Brew a pot of decaf coffee and make a pan of gooey butter cake or thick chocolate chip cookies bars, two desserts that aren’t labor intensive but everyone loves.
6. Read poetry
Don’t scroll past this one because you think you don’t have the mind for poetry! Granted, some poetry is obtuse. But much of it is less so than you think, and all poetry will communicate to you in one way or another, even if don’t fully grasp the facets of meaning in the first two or three read-throughs. And that’s part of the fun of poetry! You can read the same poem a dozen times and still discover something new.
Two of my favourite poets are E. E. Cummings and John Donne, but if you’re at a loss of where to start I recommend this: go to a used bookstore, browse the poetry section, and come away with a few volumes that pique your interest. And if you’re really nervous about not enjoying poetry, Billy Collins is a safe bet. He’s a contemporary poet who writes about everyday life in funny and imaginative ways, and I’ve found his poems to be very accessible.
7. Make headway in a novel
Evenings are the best opportunity for reading because interruptions are less likely, and the afterglow of dinner is the perfect time to go several chapters deep in a new novel. Here are six suggestions that will make you fall in love with reading again.
8. Look through your photos
If you have old timey, hard-copy photo albums, flip through them on your own or with your husband and have a good laugh about how you used to dress in the 90s. If you have hundreds of digital photos to go through, spend a little time deleting and doing light organizing. This might seem like a chore at first, but soon enough you’ll get lost in the memories and you’ll enjoy reminiscing–and getting your pictures in order!
Put on the kettle for a cup of tea, build a nest with blankets and pillows, and just talk with your husband. Fill each other in on what’s topmost in your thoughts these days, or discuss what you’re reading or what you want your dream house to look like. Very likely, one of the reasons you fell in love with your husband in the first place was because you found a kindred spirit in conversation. Talking is dating, and you don’t have to go out to eat to do that.
Besides cultivating yourself and your relationships, there’s another hidden benefit to pursuing alternatives to TV in the evenings. You get more sleep! I’ve discovered that if I’m not watching TV, I’m more aware of my body’s signals to go to bed. If I’m watching something, it’s easier to ignore my sleepiness and continue on in a vegetative state–until the time on the clock makes me inwardly groan!
I’m not saying to cut out TV time altogether. But try watching TV less often. I’m 99% sure you won’t regret it.
Actually, go ahead and make that 100%.