Sunday, 6 September 2009

Electronic Sunsets

by Kate
Living the Frugal Life

Lately I've been realizing how much of my time and my husband's time is dominated by electronics. We don't even have a television in our home, and haven't for many years. But we have laptops, and he has a cell phone. Far too much of the time we should be spending together, doing either productive or non-productive things is being eaten up by these tools that supposedly make our lives better. In my husband's case this is partly down to the fact that he telecommutes, so having a phone meeting at 8 pm with a company in Japan is the price we pay for his ability to work from home. Still, I'm bothered more and more by the amount of time we squander on the computer, or through other electronic gadgets.

I don't know where I first came across the electronic sunset idea, but I loved it right away. The idea is that you pick a time each evening when all the electronic attention-stealers and time-sucks get turned off. This would include blackberries, televisions, gaming devices, computers, cell phones, etc. So from 7 pm, or whatever hour you decide, the rest of the evening is spent interacting in some way with your actual physical environment. For most of us, that could simply mean everything is turned off at dinner time, and not turned back on until the next morning.

So many of us complain that we have no time, that we're exhausted all the time, that we'd love to do X if only our lives permitted it. Yet we fritter away enormous quantities of time on electronic distractions. What could we do with several extra hours per week? Certainly some of that time would be spent "catching up" on tasks that we feel guilty about neglecting. We could use that time to do many of the frugal things that we say we have no time for, such as preparing extra meals for busy nights, or packing lunches to save eating out the next day.

But what's of more interest to me is the bonding that can occur when we make the choice to limit the electronic intrusions into our family lives, even for a brief period. I can speak from some little experience in this because we've had electronic hiatuses over holiday breaks. We've taken turns reading books out loud while the other one does some manual task, such as knitting in my case, or tool sharpening in my husband's. We've put jigsaw puzzles together. When we have company, playing cards is a great entertainment. More gets done around the house. We talk to each other more, and more substantively. The kitchen is neater. Most importantly, we feel calmer, less rushed, better rested, and more involved with one another. All because we cut a few distractions out of our lives for a brief time.

Here's a list of things I would love to do during an electronic sunset:

Read out loud to each other
Crack and shell the gleaned nuts we've collected
Clean out closets, junk room, and garage
Identify and set aside useful things to be donated/sold/recycled/repurposed
Discuss future plans
Maintain the garden and the garden tools better
Learn to operate the sewing machine and make a few gifts
Complete more knitting projects
Several small house projects
Get to bed at a decent hour

What do you think? Have you ever done something like this? Would your family benefit from a daily electronic sunset? Does the idea seem daunting to you? What would you most like to accomplish with a little "extra" time? Is the irony that you're reading about electronic sunsets online just a little too much for you?