“Unplugging” for a Week – With a Teen!

We are BACK! Not from Outer Space, but from, ohhh, I’d say 1970.

My family and I spent the last week at an “unplugged” cabin between Lutsen and Grand Marais, Minnesota — the majestic Lake Superior North Shore.

That’s right, for a whole week we had:

— No internet
— No phone service (had to go into Grand Marais to get a signal)
— No cable TV
— Heck, no TV!

For a solid week. On the shore of Lake Superior. If you’re familiar, that means no swimming either.  We brought books, drawing supplies, and games.

Dan and I are both 53.  We remember how to do “unplugged.”  Still, it was a process to move through, even at our age. We’ve grown so used to having infinite entertainment possibilities in reach 24/7.

Going into this, I was really interested in how my daughter would do, because she is 15, and — for those of you my age, wrap your head around this — she does not remember a world without the internet, cell phones, iPads, and all that that implies.  I was concerned that it might be a bit rough for her, although we have gone camping in the past and had shorter times without some tech, but never to this degree.

For myself and my husband Dan, who seems to never sit down and just relax, I was interested in how we would adjust to a change of pace. Gandhi said, ‘there is more to life than simply increasing its speed,’ and I was curious about how we would discover, individually and as a couple, that ‘something more.’

How’d we do?

Here are my Top Ten Observations from an Unplugged Week:

  1.  Inventiveness and creativity require temporal space (some people call that boredom).  The first part of the week, I think we were all casting about for how to fill the gap. We’re used to having our minds engaged about 100% of the time. The mind reaches for what it already knows, and it takes time for it to stop trying to go back to it’s same old honey pot and start being inventive. By the end of the week we were inventing games and being much more creative than at the beginning of the week.  “Well, that’s to be expected,” you might say, but this is very much an experiential thing and until you’ve moved through it, there isn’t really a learning.
  2. Decompression from modern life happens by degree. This kind of goes with the first one.  If we hadn’t done a full week, we would not have had the same experience. Each day was different. I could feel myself moving through resistance, especially days 2 through 4, with things loosening up on day 4.  Shedding the business of everyday life, to which we are, I think, to some degree addicted to, takes time.
  3. Attention to detail improves when you get away from so much input all the time. By the end of the week we were noticing things so much more — little things, that were undoubtedly there before but escaped our attention. It’s like we got more bandwidth in our “noticer.”  I took far more photos the last two days, and photos of smaller things. We were calling each other’s attention to little experiences. It’s like we weren’t so numb anymore; our senses woke up.
  4. Adjusting to a slower, tech-free life may be more personality driven than generation driven. I don’t think Grace had any more difficulty adjusting through the week than Dan or I had. Going into the week, I wondered if this would be harder for her, but it didn’t seem to be.  Which could mean that I’m WAY more dependent on my tech than I like to think I am, or that she isn’t. Or it could just be personality.
  5. There is a deep contentment that you have to wait to reach. The later we got into the week, the more the contentment built.  A sense of “there’s nothing to do and that’s OK” is a much different experience than “there’s nothing to do and I’ll have to live with that.”  It even went beyond “that’s OK.”  It moved into “there’s nothing to do and that’s a good thing” — but that isn’t even true.  It’s not that there was nothing to do.  It’s that doing simpler things — talking, reading a book, sitting on a rock and watching the waves — took on a larger sense of satisfaction and contentedness. But it took time to get there.  The first day was “wheeee! Yay! Isn’t it pretty!” and the first day takes care of itself. The second day was a little less “wheee” than the first.  The third and fourth days were the days I personally struggled a little. I found that when we were out and about I was ok, but those days in particular I felt a concern about coming home to an evening where there was “nothing to do.” The fifth day that turned around. That evening I was perfectly content to just read and relax and the thought of TV or internet didn’t cross my mind at all. I didn’t feel any sense of lack. The sixth day was a continuation and deepening of the 5th; truly delicious.  And of course the 7th day was about packing up and leaving — just when it was getting good!!
  6. We really can live well with so much less. OK, we weren’t really “roughing it.” I had a dishwasher. But there was so much less than we have every day, and yet all of our needs were met. Gives me new perspective on being content with what I have.
  7. Energy increases with less input. This one blew me away. The day we got home I was so rested that when bedtime came, I just couldn’t sleep.  I stayed up reading until 3:30 AM.  I expected to be super tired the next day, but that never happened. I feel like some deep well has been refilled. My energy is better and lasts longer and this I REALLY want to hang on to!
  8. Staring at a screen really does make you crabby.  My daughter was much crabbier more often before our trip, when she had access to watching videos, playing games, etc. Getting off the internet was good for her mood.  I would have expected her to be crabby up at the cabin because she couldn’t have her internet, but it’s really the internet that MAKES her crabby (when she is crabby. She’s really a pretty even-keeled kid.)
  9. This should be done for at least a solid week, probably twice a year.  It’s a good “re-set” for your nervous system, for sure.  As you know I’m a strong advocate of daily, habitual stress management (self hypnosis and/or meditation being my favorites), but this is different. And it really does take at least a week. If we’d only had 3 days, I probably would have come away from the experience saying, “I wouldn’t do that again.” Because it took 5 days to really get to the best part.  Would 2 weeks be better? Or would that be too long? I don’t know.  I’m sure there are a lot of variables to consider in that — who are you with, what’s going on in your life, etc.  But I think most of us can and should do a week.  Even if you just “fake it” and pretend that you don’t have internet, cable, phone, etc. for a week. That would be harder, for me, because I would know it was really there — sometimes you have to “force” the issue by truly escaping.
  10. And really the most important thing:  we connected.  For the Locher’s, life is a lot of me working on business things, Dan always being busy with this, that or the other. Grace is usually with one or the other of us, not with both of us, at leisure, for an extended period of time. As the week went on, we got to know ourselves better as a family, and I believe that is a learning that will pay dividends for ever.

When it was over, we all agreed that it was a great experience. We enjoyed ourselves, saw new sights, spent time as a family in a more connected way and found that sense of “simpler is better.”

We agreed to have “unplugged” time as a family on a regular basis. We are still working out what that means, but one lesson I’ve taken from this is that it can’t be just an hour here or there. To have a meaningful impact I think it needs to be a full day, at a minimum.  Otherwise you just start bargaining with yourself. “Oh, I WAS unplugged, for that whole 20 minute while I drove to work,” and so on.

Have you unplugged like this?  What were your learnings? Do you do this on a regular basis? Would you do it again? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

Here’s a gallery of some of the pictures from the week!

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