Notes From a Screen-Free Week

by Katy on May 11, 2014 · 35 comments

Today marked the official end of Screen Free Week, and I am both sad and relieved to have it over with. And in the theme of multiple sentiments, I both did kind of poorly and pretty damned well. Officially, I was the only family member participating in screen-free week, as my teenage sons and pushing-50 husband have bowed out of what they call my “blog stunts.” However, there is truth that “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world,” so they were part of the experiment whether they liked it or not.

Heh, heh, heh . . .

I was able to get my almost-16-year-old son to spend most evenings walking the neighborhood, playing cards, thrifting, shooting hoops at the park and cooking tasty desserts. This particular kid hardly watches any TV, although he does watch endless soccer games on the internet. I even got him to let me read aloud before bed one night. If asked whether he enjoyed screen-free week, his answer would be a resounding “No!!” But I know that he really enjoyed getting to hang out with me more, especially when there was a weekday chocolate cake to be baked.

Unfortunately, my eighteen-year-old son is very set in his routines, and hardly varied from his evening schedule of goofing around on the internet and watching his DVR’d shows (The Americans, Supernatural, Adventure Time, Glee, Once Upon a Time and Game of Thrones.) I gave him ample invitations to join in on our fun, but he chose to stick with his tried and true.

My husband hardly watches any TV aside from some DVR’d international soccer games, although he has developed quite the Facebook habit. He ignored the challenge.

I took Screen-Free Week more seriously. I’d be embarrassed to admit how much time I waste sitting in front of a screen. Yes, I blog, but it seems like every time I go on the internet for a legitimate reason, I end up succumbing to click-bait and a hour (or more) has suddenly been sucked from my day.

I call it crap-look-what-time-it-is-syndrome. (C.L.W.T.I.I.S?)

Day one definitely felt twitchy. Sure, I may have looked like I was serenely laying on the couch with a library book, but inside I was wondering what was happening on Facebook and had lots of ideas for blog posts that would have required hours in front of the computer. I was tempted to get up and do some deep cleaning, but I really didn’t want the week to be devolve into me acting the role of scullery maid/housekeeper. Not my goal.

I did work three days during the week, which means being away from home until almost 8 P.M. My usual routine is to plop down in front of the TV and complain about how much my feet hurt, but instead I read books, took baths, hung out with the kids and avoided eating cake. (I’m trying to make healthier food choices.)

How much did I read? I read three freaking books, while also listening to almost an entire audio book:

  1. Buying In: The Secret Dialog Between What We Buy and Who We Are, by Rob Walker.
  2. The Partner Track, by Helen Wan.
  3. Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession, by Julie Powell.
  4. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern.

Also, I arranged three social get togethers during my days off, and generally felt like the day had at least 2-3 extra hours tacked on to each day. I even spent one evening cleaning one of my mother’s guest cottages. Yes, I checked e-mail as well as did computer charting and education at work, but that was simply unavoidable. My goal was to stop all mindless screen-based entertainment, not go off-grid.

However, we always do a Family Movie Night on Fridays, which I felt was valued enough to keep. But rationalizations are a slippery slope, and I went ahead and brought home a Redbox DVD of Captain Phillips for Saturday night, as I had a code for a free rental that I didn’t want to waste. And by Sunday night, I was unable to resist watching my beloved Mad Men and Call The Midwife. And since I’d already broken the rules, what’s the harm in taking my Facebook Scrabble turns and looking at everyone’s Mother’s Day pictures?

Sigh . . .

But just because I wasn’t able to be perfect with my Screen-Free Week doesn’t mean it was a wasted effort. It wasn’t a contest with winners and blue ribbons, and I definitely feel that I can carry lessons learned into regular weeks.

Screen-Free lessons such as:

  • My younger son still likes to do activities with his mom, even when I have to be the one to suggest the activities.
  • I have more energy when I do stuff rather than sit still and goof around on the internet.
  • I can read an entire book in a 24 hour period, even when working a few days in a row.
  • An eighteen-year-old young man is not interested in my challenge based shenanigans.

Will the coming week be different from the one two weeks previous? Will I get sucked into Buzzfeed click bait and Facebook drama? I sure hope the answer is a resounding “No!” It was very freeing to not feel like there was stuff on the computer I needed to be keeping up with.

I felt free.

Did you participate in Screen-Free Week or even just try to decrease the amount of time you spend in front of life’s various screens? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Charlena's May 12, 2014 at 2:54 am

We did a tv-free week for my son this week. Stopped on Friday so he & his dad could have “boy’s night” & go to a movie. We definitely scaled back & had more playtime, which was fun.


Linda in Mass May 12, 2014 at 3:25 am

I did not participate in the screen free week because I need my computer for work. But, I did greatly reduce the amount of time the tv was on in the “back-ground”. I found that I like the quiet without the blaring tv. I will definitely keep it turned off for most of the day.

I also reduced the amount of time on Facebook. I really think I did gain hours in my day which leaves me to the conclusion that I do spend much to much time in front of the tv and the computer screen. I am going to consciously reduce that time and shut the background tv.


Robin May 12, 2014 at 3:32 am

Alas, this is finals week for me (I’m a college student). I think I’ll have to do my screen-free week in the summer. I waste way too much time on the internet!


Rachel S. May 12, 2014 at 3:55 am

Nope. I don’t watch tv, but I help to run a dog rescue that requires constant email communication and Facebook page monitoring. And since I communicate with my friends and family around the world via FaceTime, email, and Facebook, it just doesn’t make sense to go screen free unless I want to be a hermit. And as a mom, I value an hour of quiet time while the kids play video games


marieann May 12, 2014 at 4:23 am

I didn’t do screen free week. I’m not on Facebook or any other social media and I use my computer an aid to gardening.
I have arthritis in my back which limits my time in the garden. So… dig and plant for about an hour and surf the computer for 30 minutes and it’s back to the garden. Frequent breaks work well for me so I can keep doing what I love.
In the evening I knit and I put on my old DVD’s to keep me company.

Good for you for cutting back on your screen time, even without the help of your family.
I did miss your blog.


Lucy May 12, 2014 at 4:32 am

Unfortunately screen-free week also coincided with get-rid-of-my-gallbladder week, and I had a screen-free-for-all week.


Trish May 12, 2014 at 4:48 am

what did you think of Cleaving? I loved Julie Powell’s first book, but Cleaving got terrible reviews!! I didn’t participate in screen free week, too addicted!!


Diane C May 12, 2014 at 9:57 am

Hi Trish,
I wondered the same thing and hope Katie does chime in with her views. I hope you don’t mind if I share a few thoughts.

I read it soon after it came out I should tell you up front that I’ve been a vegetarian for over twenty five years. (Gad – how did that happen?)

I’ll say this carefully so as not to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it yet. I think part of why the reviews were so scathing is because we had all seen the movie and “knew” that she (i.e. Amy Adams) lived “happily ever after”.

“Cleaving…” is about what happened next in Julie Powell’s real life. Yes, I questioned many of her choices, but it is her life to live and they are/were her choices to make. It is not the fairy tale that her first book and the “Julie & Julia” movie made it out to be, but it is a sequel so it tells you what happened next. In her search for a meaningful life, she did not choose to sit back, relax and coast on the success of her first book. You may or may not approve of her choices, but it is an interesting read.

No, back to my previously scheduled comment: Katie, you made me laugh. I kept logging in to see what you were up to this week! I guess I failed the short-term memory test.

We are so busy getting our house ready to sell that I didn’t have much time to spend in front of screens anyway. I don’t normally do FB or Twitter, etc, so I can’t take any credit for stepping away. When my friends were giving it up for Lent, I decided it would just be easier not to start at all. So far, so good, except that perhaps that’s the cause of my faulty short-term memory. Hmm…


Trish May 12, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Hi Dani
thanks for the review – I figured it must be poorly written, etc. i didn’t realize that the reviewers were objecting to her choices. I find flawed people more interesting (at least those who are aware of their flaws), and easier to relate to. I was very interested too in her experiences as a butcher. I have, at 49, suffered a setback in my own life and need to get out and change things, so maybe it will be therapeutic for me.

and I kept checking the blog too for updates during ‘screen free week’, and then laughing at myself


Katy May 12, 2014 at 10:00 am

I did enjoy “Cleaving,” because it was very honest even though it was not a flattering view of the author. I appreciate honesty from my writers. Ruth Reichl is another author whose memoirs are honest to a fault, and I love them. At times the book was hard to read, as Julie Powell is very self destruction to herself and cruel to her husband, but I’d rather read that than a sanitized version.

None of us are perfect.



Diane C May 12, 2014 at 1:05 pm

Oh, I love Ruth Reichel, too!!! I always feel like I’ve been on a journey when I finish one of her books.


Trish May 12, 2014 at 1:47 pm

i am now looking forward to reading it – from the reviews I honestly figured it was poorly written.


Linda in Mass May 14, 2014 at 4:10 am

I did not read the second book but I did read Julie & Julia and hated it. I found her very depressing and not appreciative of everything in her life.


K D May 12, 2014 at 5:19 am

After reading your blog post I did cut back on my screen (computer) time. I spent more time outside, working in the yard and reading, I also saw more of my friends and neighbors than I normally would. I also crocheted a few hats for charity while reading (my Kindle works great for that). I did still follow my favorite bloggers but only checked email once in a while and did not do random surfing. I plan to continue this and use some of the time to do more healthy cooking/baking as well as more socializing. I did not try to involve my family in this endevour.


Gina May 12, 2014 at 6:58 am

I participated in my free time (work requires computer use). I didn’t surf the net or watch TV – except to use the free Redbox rental that I didn’t want to waste. It was liberating. I worked in my yard and flower garden, planted a vegetable garden (which is already sprouting – Mother Nature is awesome!), met up with friends, did yoga outside, read outside relaxing in my chaise on the deck while breathing in the sweet nectar of Honeysuckle which is so fragrant and full in the air right now and watched a pair of cardinals build a nest in the tree branch hanging over my deck. It was nice to be present and follow my own life – instead of the lives of others on the web. It certainly gave me more free time to fill with meaningful and purposeful activities – much like cutting out junk food frees up your appetite and stomach space for healthy food choices. I will continue this lifestyle throughout spring, summer and fall. And I will use the web for reference when I need to know something for gardening and cooking especially.


Kelly in MA May 12, 2014 at 9:42 am

” It was nice to be present and follow my own life”

I felt similarly. It was a good feeling to watch less TV, listen to the radio more (more dancing with my 4 year old!) and to just be in my own life. My house is a big step toward more organized and I have an entire car load of stuff for donations! And the garden took some big steps this week. Less TV is going to be the summer theme in my house!


cathy May 12, 2014 at 7:23 am

I didn’t challenge myself to go completely screen-free. I rarely watch TV (except when there’s a new season of Sherlock!), don’t do social media, and didn’t think I was spending that much time surfing the net or checking email. But it just so happened that my schedule was such that I barely used my computer last week and, in fact, went 3 days without checking email. Um…I guess I’m usually on more than I thought! I had “extra” time to read, to garden, started getting out of my dinner cooking rut, and–at last–was able to get to bed at a decent time! I definitely learned a lot about my screen habits.


cathy May 12, 2014 at 7:44 am

This video, “Look Up,” was just posted on Apartment Therapy. Wish I’d seen it at the beginning of last week! It’s really well done.


WilliamB May 12, 2014 at 8:17 am

I don’t participate in these things but I’m 100% with you about having more time when I don’t plop down on the couch, surf all night, and then wonder where the hell time went and what did I accomplish with my evening?!?

I’m still working toward having productive screen time (talking with friends, saving money, reading news) but not nonproductive screen time (including but not limited to repeatedly checking sites as a way to delay getting up on my poor feet again).

FYI: the above is my definition of productive/nonproductive screen time. It isn’t meant to apply to anyone else or pass judgment on anyone else’s preferred screen use.


Megan May 12, 2014 at 8:50 am

Thank you Katy for your honest takeaways from your week! For me, I had an epiphany that I am going to deactivate my Facebook account at the end of the school year. (Like many, I have to use it for now because of some volunteer work.) It is too addicting and to annoying at the same time. (If I am so annoyed why do I feel the need to constantly check it?) Technology is necessary and wonderful in many ways but for me, it prevents me from being the mom, wife, friend, daughter and domestic diva that I WANT to be!!! (I highly recommend the book I am reading: The Hands Free Mama.)


Karen May 12, 2014 at 10:39 am

Good golly, am I ever glad THAT’S over! Missed you all week!


tna May 12, 2014 at 4:08 pm

I was out looking at what is suppose to be the wilderness. I never saw so many HUGE homes lining the streams and lakes, and campsites along the waterways lined with huge air conditioned and heated luxury campers. Good grief. There’s too damned many of us. Lol….one trout stream was full of boats of fishermen, fishermen standing out in the river and lined up along the shore. You could hardly kayak through without getting hooked yourself. Its nice to do stuff to try to help the earth and it makes us feel better…and I think the earth will survive…but only after we’re gone. Geesh i never saw so much trash and dead fish guts. But the raccoons are thriving!


kathleen May 12, 2014 at 4:25 pm

I’m SO glad you are back! Thank goodness that is only once a year.


Jennifer May 12, 2014 at 6:07 pm

I did not participate but I do appreciate many of your lessons learned. I have figured out that I do have more energy when I’m not sitting around in front of some screen (funny how that works, lol.) My oldest son, who is four, also acts out less to get attention when I’m not glued to the computer (even if I’m still not paying any attention to him, go figure!) Even if you weren’t perfect I still say you did a great job and remained true to the overall purpose of the challenge.


Lori May 12, 2014 at 8:38 pm

Katie, what did you think of the first book you mentioned? Sounds interesting…


Rebekah Jaunty May 13, 2014 at 4:53 am

I was just about to ask!


Katy May 13, 2014 at 5:35 am

I liked the book, even though it had a tendency to get a bit academically dry in spots. Of course, the subject matter was right up my alley!



Rebekah Jaunty May 13, 2014 at 8:17 am

It’s a great alley.


Andrea A. May 13, 2014 at 6:48 am

I think even a reduction is better than nothing! Our daughters received iPads from school this year and it has become an ongoing issue with our younger daughter. Way more time spent on games/FB than when she only had use of desktop at home and we are esp frustrated by that taking priority over the necessary things to be done (such as homework, chores, etc.). iPad must now be used in living room/kitchen to help us monitor use and devices will have to be turned in for the summer soon. Yay!


Mrs. GV May 13, 2014 at 7:30 am

I did not participate in screen-free week. I’ll admit I sit in front of my computer more than I should. The subject did make me think of my 6 year old nephew, however. I know we have all heard the studies stating how children shouldn’t have lots of screen time, and he could be the poster boy for that.

It doesn’t take much screen time for him to develop an attitude and behavior problems and show signs of screen addiction. I care for him 3 evenings a week and sometimes he is allowed to watch an episode or two of an animated show on Netflix, under an hour total. And every now and then we rent a movie and have family TV time. He is not allowed to play on my computer and he doesn’t have internet or cable at his house. He does have a DS and a LeapPad that he is allowed to play on long car rides and if he maintains a good attitude and has no problem giving them up when asked.


NMPatricia May 13, 2014 at 3:38 pm

For what it is worth. Your blog “shenanigans” aren’t really that. They are experiments in a life. And seeing what comes up/out. And I think you succeeded because you tried. You learned some things and that is all that matters.

Somehow I missed it. Email I can limit. However, you all are right. FB does such an enormous amount of time, as does on line game playing (like Solitaire, KenKen and Sudoku).

I was also pissed off at the computer/Internet in general because I had to open a new checking account on account of mine being hacked. And I have had a difficult time resetting up my online banking and credit card payments. Sigh. Both a blessing and a curse.

Thanks for letting me vent a bit.


Marcella May 13, 2014 at 6:29 pm

Thanks for sharing your experience Katy. I’m ashamed to say that I am too scared to try a screen free week. I know it would be very, very hard for me.

One of the barriers I face, besides the fact I am honest about my own level of ‘screen addiction’, is that I work in front of a computer all day. I am struggling to see how I could do a meaningful challenge when I have unfettered internet and email access all day. Any tips from fellow desk bound people?


Starr @ The Kiefer Cottage May 16, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Cleaving was one of the worst books I’ve ever read. The subject matter was disgusting. Not the butchering, but the author being a despicable person. I can’t enjoy someone else’s honest downfall. There was no redemption. How terrible.


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