Monday, April 16, 2012

Simplifying Our Lives/Home: Tech

 “I do not accept excuses. I'm just going to have to find myself a new giant, that's all.”

There's something to be said for the ever-growing trend in simplification. The idea intrigued me when I first began reading about it, but it seemed so far-fetched, like it might work for other people, but never for us. After all, we are a tv-watchin', internet-browsin', Dorito eatin' bunch. We have so much stuff in our little bitty house that the thought of trying to unclutter and simplify the whole place was just overwhelming.

And it still is. But the thing I eventually realized is that all the reasons I had for not simplifying were actually the reasons we should be giving it a shot. I tend to see any undertaking as all-or-nothing, something that must be done perfectly and without compromise, or it's a colossal failure. That mindset has held me back my entire life, and the more reading I've done, the more I've come to realize that most of the overwhelmed feeling I carry around is rooted in the overwhelming way we live.

So what are we going to do about it? There is no one right or wrong way to commit to simplification. My family will never be total minimalists, nor will we ever be paragons of financial virtue.

No, our approach (like anyone's approach) must be custom-tailored to suit our unique family. This is the first post in a series about some of the specific steps we've decided are manageable and helpful in our family's efforts to cut down on the physical, mental, and emotional clutter.

Limiting tech

Too much tech is bad, m'kay?
Okay, I'll admit, we've mainly only done this with the kids so far, but eventually I'd like to cut down on some of mine and Husband's screen time, too. And we firmly believe in zero-to-near-zero screen time for children under two, as recommended by the AAP. So no screen time for Babydactyl as much as we can possibly manage.

The revolution sort of started with Spazz, though. One evening she threw a colossal tantrum while in the shower and, in a terrific example of a classic parenting "don't," I engaged. At first I told her that the tantrum had cost her her technology for one day. But the more she kept going, the more I added on until I had banned her from her DSi, the computer, and any and all tv for a solid month.

Over the top as a punishment? Probably. But it turned out to be a proverbial blessing in disguise. It's likely that, after a week of good behavior, I would have reduced the length of the banning somewhat in an effort to be a rational person. But after only one week, Husband and I saw a side of Spazz we hadn't seen in a very long time. She was bored and whiny for a few days, sure, but for close to a year she'd relied on her tech for the bulk of her entertainment. Yet once that initial period of discontent passed, she began pulling out toys and games she hadn't touched in forever. She finished an abandoned latch hook project that had been in a drawer for over a year. She asked to go outside, and she started re-reading favorite books.

It was fucking awesome.

Husband and I talked and decided to let the irrational-but-surprisingly-excellent punishment stand. She asked for a reduction a few times here and there, but she didn't freak out when we said no. I felt like I'd gotten my daughter back because I was seeing her in a way I hadn't realized I'd been deeply missing.

So Husband and I talked, and when her tech was reinstated, it was with new guidelines in place. She is now limited to 30 minutes per weekday of any kind of tech (aside from her Kindle—she can read all she wants), and 60 minutes on weekends. If she wants to watch a movie on the weekends, we do let her watch the whole thing, but that's it. No extra tech time.

And you know what? Half the time (if not more), she forgets to even use her time. It's not cumulative, so once the day is over, the time is gone, but she hasn't even missed it. So those of you who were gasping and hollering, "Why, I do declare!" as you fell gracefully to your fainting couches when you saw the tv in my kid's room can suck it. It doesn't even get any channels. It's a DVD or VHS (yep) set-up only, with major limits.

If you're feeling like your kids are too plugged in, I honestly cannot recommend some sort of enforced limit highly enough. It's worked out great for our family, and it might be worth a shot for you, too!


  1. Excellent post, Jen. I completely agree with setting tech limits---when the summertime sets in, my niece becomes a utter zombie! And wow, I didn't know your firstborn was prone to such a tantrum.

    What we did with my niece was try to create incentives to use her tech less but smarter. Over the summer, she's not allowed to use anything electronic until she's read a current events article, an encyclopedia entry, and has written a paragraph about each, subject to grading. And, you know what? This might sound anal, especially coming from me, but she LOVES the structure and is proving to us that she can do it. The tech has lessened and she comes over asking for books to read, art projects to undertake, and she even begs me to write her quizzes to take in her free time.

    We still have to monitor the TV and video games, but I don't mind her doing something relevant on the computer---99% of employers nowadays expect kids to come from the womb with full Word/Excel/Access/script abilities and the ability to navigate social media, but we'll cross the latter bridge when we come to it.

    1. Is this someone I know? The ID is a weird bunch of numbers that frankly I am not comfortable clicking.