MilSpouse Sydney reading and drinking coffee

No Screens Challenge

For a few reasons, over the last couple of years, I’ve challenged myself to a “no screens November,” taking a strict break from mindlessly scrolling social media and binge-watching television. I thought I might share this idea with my community of readers in case anyone else is also feeling a recent unease about the consuming nature of technology in his or her own life.

I thought what better timing than the month before Christmas to reorient my heart to the present moment, taking time with family in preparation for the celebration of Advent. I have completed this challenge the last few years with the goal of resetting old habits and becoming more intentional with how I spend my time.

In general, I do try to monitor the amount I use technology, especially in the presence of my children.  So often, I feel sucked into screens more than I’d like to be — picking up my phone every few minutes to check notifications, mindless scrolling on social media, doing too much online browsing and shopping, and spending the majority of my downtime staring at the television. Everyone has their own comfort level with technology, and I frequently far exceed my own.

In no way do I mean to suggest that anything is wrong with phones or social media or shopping or television, but all in moderation. But it is too easy to let screens interfere too much with life, as well as my roles as both a mom and wife. The many screens I keep as close companions take away from my ability to soak in the present moments that are so fleeting with my babies. They take away from evenings with my husband when I choose to scroll or zone out to my shows on streaming services instead of interacting with him after the kids go to sleep. The constant temptation of screens distracts me and keeps me from enjoying other hobbies I always mean to get to, but never do, such as reading, journaling, working on puzzles and baking.

It takes roughly 30 days to both make or break a habit, which is why I chose an entire month to complete this challenge.

In committing to any sort of lifestyle change such as this one, I have found that it’s important to set clear boundaries and rules to set yourself up for success. I wanted to share the rules I’ve created for myself for every November, and I challenge anyone else who is reading this and feels inspired to join me to make your own set of rules catered to your own targeted outcomes:

  1. No social media. Other than posting to my Etsy Instagram as I do routinely for advertising purposes.
  2. No television shows. No Netflix/Hulu/etc. Nope, not even the Bachelorette. I always get a little nervous about this one because watching TV together is how my husband and I often like to end the day after the kids are asleep. It’s weird at first, but it has forced us to get creative with how we spend time together. We end up playing board games, sitting outside by the fire, and talking and connecting more romantically.
  3. No online shopping (exception: buying Christmas gifts for people). Using my computer only for email, things related to running my Etsy shop and working on writing assignments.

One of the exceptions I do make with technology usage is basic communication such as responding to texts, checking emails and video-chatting with family members here and there. Just like any challenge — whether it be a diet or another significant lifestyle change — it is important to be realistic with the expectations you give yourself.

To fill the time I normally spend on screens, I fill my evenings with reading, writing, baking, doing puzzles and just trying to be more present in all areas of my life. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t slightly dread November’s arrival each year, but it also excites me to think about reshaping the ways I spend my time as the holiday season approaches. It is a good feeling to know that when my heart is not where I want it, I can redirect it to better places by just removing a few small things from life for a short while. This experience has been so rewarding for me over the last few years, and I hope I might inspire others to try it out for themselves this year.

Written By Sydney Smith
Army Spouse

Sydney has been an Army wife for four years and has two children. She often writes on the raw experiences military spouses face during challenging times, striving to be a voice of encouragement and validation among the military spouse community.

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