I Went 30 Days Without Netflix — & Here's What I Learned

The CW, Netflix, HBO, Moviestore/Rex/Shutterstock.
Here at Refinery29, we love personal and social challenges. Whether it's wearing different lipsticks for 30 days or going a month without using credit and debit cards, we're never afraid to try new ways of simplifying our lives.

For me, it was a no-brainer what kind of 30-day challenge I needed. In all of my circles (other than the R29 entertainment team), I'm always the one who watches the most TV and is constantly pestering people to try new shows. (I'm still trying to get my parents into Broadchurch, and my fiancé to finish the first season of Superstore — we're working on it.) I stream TV shows in bed, at the gym, and sometimes for entire Saturdays at a time. I usually watch more than one episode of TV every single day.

So, it was only natural that giving up TV and movie-streaming services — Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, and the Comcast Xfinity TV Go app (I use my fiancé's login for that one) — would be a worthwhile 30-day challenge for me. I agreed to do it.

The fine print? I was still allowed to watch TV live, as it aired. I don't have cable, but I get public networks like ABC, so I could still watch shows like Scandal at their original air times. I could also still watch clips on YouTube.

When I first went over the assignment with my editors, I wasn't sure what to expect. Would I start reading more? See a ton of movies? Actually start having dinner with other humans? Some of these things did happen — but the whole experience was definitely different than what I'd anticipated.

Ahead, here's a breakdown of what I learned from my streaming-free month.
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Day 1

I started this challenge on a Friday. After leaving work, I took the subway into Brooklyn and got my first tattoo. One day without Netflix had made me a true rebel. (Not really — I'd been planning to get it before I knew I'd be doing the challenge.) It did keep me occupied, though, so I didn't miss streaming services yet.

When I started the no-streaming month, Shonda Rhimes' new TV show, The Catch, had just started. If I had been able to go home to Hulu, I probably would have watched the first couple of episodes (though I have to say, I wasn't terribly compelled by this trailer). I'm really into Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder, though, so…
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Day 2

I should note here that I'm a true introvert — social activities tend to require energy from me, rather than providing me with it. A few lunches, dinners, and phone calls a week are enough for my social needs, and the majority of the other times, I'm watching TV. That is to say: Day Two was a Saturday, I had nothing planned for myself, and not being able to stream anything was alarming.

My Saturday mornings are typically spent enjoying a leisurely brunch at home and watching Hulu or Netflix. Since I couldn't do that, I decided to see a matinee showing of The Boss. I won a fairly generous Fandango gift card in a contest last year, so I've seen a lot of free movies in the last few months.

When The Boss was over, I was dismayed to see it was still early afternoon. What was I going to do with the rest of my day? I panicked and used my contest gift code to buy a ticket for Zootopia at the same theater. The sad part was that my fiancé and I had already seen Zootopia a couple weeks earlier.

It didn't take much contemplation on the walk home from the theater to second-guess taking on this assignment. The "I Have Friends" song from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend came to mind. Was this article going to read as a cry for help from a TV addict so lonely she had nothing better to do than keep seeing a children's movie? (When I got home, I proceeded to fall into a rabbit hole of watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend songs on YouTube, because Rachel Bloom is a true genius.)
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Day 3

The Zootopia situation was a true wake-up call. I needed a plan for this whole month-without-streaming challenge. I realized I had been looking at it all wrong. I didn't have to become a social butterfly, per se — I could use the TV streaming time to pursue other entertainment interests.

I almost never read for fun these days, and actually working through some of the books in my bookcase sounded pretty satisfying. So, that morning, I started with a copy of How to Be Single that I'd taken off the free table at work. (It's not a great book or a great movie, tbh.)

Later that day, I went to the Met Breuer, the Metropolitan Museum of Art's new space at the former Whitney Museum — something I definitely wouldn't have done had streaming been an option. While I was there, I saw Allan McLeod, immediately recognizing him as Paul from You're the Worst. I have no shame when it comes to celebrity sightings, so I asked him for a selfie, and he obliged. I couldn't rewatch any old episodes, of course, but seeing him in person was almost as good!
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Day 4

When I started this challenge, I honestly believed The CW was a cable channel. I usually watch Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend the Tuesdays after they air on Hulu. So I missed this week's episodes, even though I later realized I could have watched them on a local New York channel. I could have actually seen what happened at Jane's bachelorette party, after all! But alas, I did not.
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Day 5

The next day at work, I overheard a few of my coworkers debating whether "Oh My God I Think I Like You" was the best song to air on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, yet. I watched the video — and the one for, "I Gave You a UTI" — on YouTube later that night. I wish I'd seen the context of the episode, but it's a pretty great song. (My personal favorite, though, is still "Put Yourself First.")
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Day 6

I made sure I was home with plenty of time to spare so that I could watch Nashville live. I don't even consider this show a guilty pleasure at this point — the songs are legitimately good!

Having to be home to watch shows live is a real drag, though. I guess I'm just a spoiled millennial, but I can't imagine being alive at a time when you had to watch TV shows as they aired, or they were just…gone.
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Day 7

I am really interested in seeing The Path. The reviews I've read about it haven't been great, but I'm willing to give Aaron Paul and Hugh Dancy a chance. I only watched part of the pilot before the challenge started, though. Day seven was a slow Thursday — there wasn't an episode of Scandal that week —and I would have watched a few episodes of The Path if I could have.

I thought that without the thrill of binge-watching, I'd get more sleep during this challenge, but that wound up not being the case. On this evening, I stayed up until 1 a.m. talking to a friend. It felt like high school, only with a massive headache the next morning.
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Day 8

I knew when I started the challenge that this would be a hard weekend. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt's second season hit Netflix a week into my no-streaming month. I love this show as much as anyone, and all my friends were watching it.

Instead of being at home binge-watching, I spent the night at the gym. I recently switched over to Equinox, since Refinery29 has a corporate discount there. Before that, I was going to a budget gym that didn't have classes — hence, the constant streaming while I was there. But I decided that now would be a great time to switch over and to start enjoying the perks of classes while I couldn't stream TV shows. I went to a yoga class and did some strength training; it was fun, but not as fun as watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
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Day 9

I was back at Equinox the next morning, still not watching Kimmy Schmidt. I went to a spin class to see what all the hype was about. I couldn't help but compare the IRL instructor to the ones from TV — this one was more Trey from Broad City than Tristafé from Kimmy Schmidt — and the class was surprisingly fun. I'll admit, I worked a lot harder in that class than I would have if I were just watching a sitcom on a regular stationary bike. But I still would have liked to go home and watch TV after the class.

Instead, I started reading Michael Ian Black's latest book, Navel Gazing. It was a really well-written and interesting read about his personal life and family. I hadn't realized he was such a prolific author — I love him in Burning Love and, of course, Wet Hot American Summer, but now I'm definitely going to buy his other books after this challenge, too.
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Day 10

I did have one old-school work-around for TV-watching during the challenge. My dad gave me the first four seasons of Downton Abbey on DVD last year as a holiday gift. I'll be honest, I did not rush to watch them. But without being able to stream anything else, I decided to give the show a try. I'd already watched the first few episodes, so I started the second season on DVD.

After finally seeing some of Downton, I was even more confused. This really did not seem like the type of show my parents or friends would be obsessed with. Nothing ever happens! The fate of a rich family's house really did not compel me to keep watching. I was also creeped out by the fact that you're supposed to root for Mary and Matthew to be together, even though they're cousins with shared blood. Lesson: Sometimes no TV is actually better than any TV.
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Day 11

Now that I knew The CW was on public-access TV, I was able to watch the next episode of Jane the Virgin, and the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend season 1 finale, live. I was happy that I didn't have to add them to the ever-growing list of things I would need to stream after this challenge was over, but I missed the HIIT class I'd started going to so that I could be home in time to watch them live. The years before DVRs and streaming services existed were truly dark times.
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Day 12

After work, my coworkers on the Refinery29 news team and I were reporting on the New York state primaries. We talked to voters about what issues mattered to them this election season.

I didn't do a great job at catching up on streaming before starting this challenge, and I've still never seen the Hillary Clinton episode of Broad City. If there were ever an evening to catch up on the current season, it would have been primary day. But as of now, all I've seen is this YouTube clip, which includes zero mentions of the word "kween."
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Day 13

With all the hype about Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, I barely remembered The Mindy Project was returning to Hulu after a months-long hiatus, until a friend mentioned it. I loved Mindy's first couple of seasons, but I'd been iffy about the show ever since season 3's episode, "I Slipped." (It also irks me that Morgan's once-funny character has slowly morphed into a version of Andy Dwyer.) Still, if it weren't for this challenge, I would have been checking out the new episodes. Instead, I was on a three-way phone call with two friends (the first time I'd ever used three-way calling since middle school), and I rushed them off when Nashville started since I had to watch it live.
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Day 14

I wrote Refinery29's Scandal recap on this day, since I could because of the watching live TV loophole. But Inside Amy Schumer's fourth season also premiered that day, and it was depressing to know I wouldn't be able to watch full episodes until after the challenge was over.
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Day 15

My fiancé was in town for the weekend, visiting from Boston. I really wanted to watch Man Up on Netflix, since we both love Simon Pegg and Lake Bell (although I'm skeptical of her British accent in this trailer). But, since I couldn't… I'm excited to watch this movie after the challenge is over.
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Day 16

I took my fiancé to the Equinox spin class I'd apparently started becoming a regular at, and we spent the rest of the day walking around Soho and trying a couple of new restaurants. When we got back that night, he watched an episode of Workaholics on Amazon Instant Video with headphones on. Since I couldn't watch with him, I played a game on my phone. It's the most I've ever felt like an old married couple.
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Day 17

This was a Sunday, and after Steve got on the bus to go home, a Sunday afternoon would normally have been the perfect time to stream a mildly bad TV show I'm not too invested in. I haven't watched most of Once Upon A Time this season, but I remember seeing a while ago that Neal would be back. I'm very confused by this scene why is Pan back? — but I imagine Neal and Henry just jammed to Yaz before he went back to, you know, being dead.
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Day 18

I had missed three episodes of The Last Man on Earth at this point, because I seemed to never be home when it aired live on Sunday nights. This was one of the shows I missed most during my no-streaming month; I absolutely love Will Forte and Kristen Schaal. I might even watch this before Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt when the challenge is over.
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Day 19

I normally spend Tuesday evenings streaming Monday night's TV. The day before this, I went to an HIIT class and went grocery shopping afterward. I almost skipped the Trader Joe's run so that I'd be back in time to catch Jane the Virgin, but I really needed food for the week. I missed the following week's episode, too. Again, I'm very glad not to have come of age in a time before DVRs and Hulu existed.
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Day 20

The Refinery29 news team had an after-work happy hour at a wine bar near the office. The only TV show that made its way into the conversation was Game of Thrones, which I'm sad to say I've never watched. But I do love HBO's other current masterpiece, Silicon Valley, which premiered three days prior. I'm very intrigued to see how Stephen Tobolowsky joins the show this season, and very disturbed to learn about the other shocker the show's third season apparently gave viewers.
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Day 21

I went to dinner with a friend in the city after work, and talked to another friend on the phone afterward. But I still rushed him off at 9 p.m. so that I could catch Scandal live. (Why are you still so bad, David Rosen?)
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Day 22

I went out to dinner with a coworker after leaving the office. (Well, technically, we went out for a drink, and I ordered a full meal at the bar! YOLO.) Normally, after this, I would have gone home and spent the evening catching up on a show I don't prioritize week-to-week, like New Girl.

Instead, I spent the evening texting with a group of friends from college about what the sitcom about us would be like. (I know this is weird! I was in true sitcom withdrawal.)
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Day 23

Full disclosure: I logged into my Netflix account on this day to view a few How I Met Your Mother clips. This didn't violate the challenge (in my opinion) because it was research for a different article I wrote about HIMYM. It was for work! I also wasn't watching full episodes — I was looking for specific clips in cases when I couldn't remember certain quotes.

If this show were on now, the clips would have been available on YouTube. But one HIMYM scene that was always on YouTube is the series finale — and it still turns me to mush even though I've watched it a lot of times at this point.
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Day 24

I am not proud to admit this, but I saw Mother's Day in a theater. The aforementioned Fandango gift card helped set the bar very, very low for what I'm willing to see in theaters, these days. This movie was not as bad as it looked in the trailer — it was worse. But I did go full Mindy Lahiri and bought all the food — an order of chicken tenders, and the "kid's pack," which included popcorn, a kid-size drink, and a package of fruit snacks. So, it wasn't a totally bad experience, after all.

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Day 25

I started reading Orange Is the New Black. I love the show (who doesn't?), so now seemed like a good time to catch up on the true story that started it all. Piper Kerman's writing is very moving and captivating. I'm excited to finish the book, but more excited to see the next season on Netflix in June.
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Day 26

I watched another episode of Downton Abbey. By this point, I was still in the second season, and still not loving the show. I definitely won't be in a hurry to keep watching this when the no-streaming challenge is over. For most of this challenge, I've gone without TV entirely, rather than watching the Downton DVDs.

It still creeps me out that Mary and Matthew are blood cousins. I mentioned this to a Downton-loving friend, who said they're distant cousins — but they can't be that distant if he was ever the next in line to inherit Downton. Ick.
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Day 27

On the average Wednesday, I might have spent my pre-Nashville hours watching something mindless that I'm not totally invested in. Right now, for instance, I'm months behind on the hit-or-miss Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I'll catch up on the current season this summer, though, if only for Gina and Charles.
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Day 28

I saw the Nashville concert at Madison Square Garden (I'm a superfan of the show), and, honestly, it was directly because of this challenge. I bought the ticket during the previous week's episode of Nashville, because I had seen a commercial advertising the local show. If I hadn't been watching live, because of the no-streaming challenge, I wouldn't have even known about the concert.

I went into the concert thinking Chris Carmack would be the evening's star. And he was great, but I was blown away by Jonathan Jackson's cover of U2's "Love Rescue Me," which he's also performed at the Grand Ole Opry. I'll definitely be downloading any future songs from Avery on Nashville. This concert was a true success that directly resulted from my Hulu detox.
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Day 29

I took the bus up to Boston this weekend to visit my fiancé. I wouldn't have normally been streaming too much during these few days, since we're usually out exploring the city and trying new restaurants.

While I was in Boston, we got a drink at David's Tea, and Edie Brickell & New Bohemians' "What I Am" was playing in the store. Naturally, this sparked a conversation between us and the employees about this gem from the third season of Girls. On another day, I might have gone home and watch the episode again, but on this day, all I had was the conversation — and it was kind of enough.

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Day 30

The end was finally in reach. I missed that week's Scandal since I was at the Nashville concert. My fiancé and I would have streamed it together, but it was still the last day of the challenge. Instead, we saw Keanu with his roommate. It was as good as you'd expect Keanu to be from the trailer — not great, but still good for a laugh.
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Photos: Smallz & Raskind/ The CW, Eric Liebowitz/Netflix, John P. Fleenor/HBO, Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock.
In the end, giving up streaming wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be. After a week or so, I (begrudgingly) accepted a TV-free life. In some sense, it was less stressful not to worry about keeping up with TV shows, because that just wasn't an option anymore.

At the beginning of the challenge, I thought I would start reading and visiting museums more than I had been. And that was true — I read three books, and, to be honest, in the average month, I read zero books. I was also more proactive about having dinner with friends in the city.

But what surprised me the most was how much contact I made with old friends during this month. I think I spent more time on the phone during this challenge than I did in the entire past year, excluding calls with my parents and fiancé. I thought that not watching TV would lead me to develop more relationships with friends in New York, which it did a bit, but I also reconnected with college friends this month that I'd barely spoken to in the last few years. I spammed the heck out of multiple group texts — before this challenge, I was in zero group texts — and used three-way calling for the first time since I was a teenager. Going forward, I will start watching TV shows again, but I'm also excited to better maintain these relationships with people I'd lost touch with. (And I'll start pestering them to watch more of these shows so we can talk about them together.)

I missed my favorite shows, and I "spoiled" myself a lot of the time by reading recaps of episodes I'd missed. But I don't watch TV shows because of the plots; I watch them because I like the characters and want to relate with the emotions they're feeling. So, in that sense, giving up TV wasn't as bad as it could have been, because the end was still in sight. The episodes of Jane the Virgin and Silicon Valley that I missed are still around now that the challenge is over…
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