What can you live without? It's the question two families faced that struck a nerve with millions more. "We tapped into something that more and more Americans are yearning for—less stuff and more meaning in their lives," Oprah says.
Now, Oprah's challenging two more families that say they're ready to slow down, scale back, disconnect from technology and get back to basics—for one week.
Oprah says the challenge will do more than just declutter your homes. "The whole purpose of it is to bring a new state of consciousness," she says. "We hope you're now inspired to go into your own closets, garages, cupboards and start to ask yourself, 'What can I live without?'"
The Haynie family—Pam, Ron and their kids, Kristina and RJ—are so plugged in to technology they're disconnected with one another!
The moment school's out, Ron says the kids start texting. Once home, Pam says everyone heads to separate rooms to watch TV, play video games or work on the computer—they even text each other instead of talking! "I might text Kristina and tell her to bring me a glass of water or to go put the clothes in the dryer or different things like that so I won't have to get off the computer," Pam says.
They also don't eat dinner as a family. "When my husband brings the food home, everybody just runs in here, grabs their food and then they go back to their room," Pam says.
Ron says he's ready for a change. "The TV, the computer, the cell phones—it's just tearing us apart."
After accepting Oprah's challenge, Pam and her family watch producers confiscate every gadget and gizmo in the home. "Everybody went to sleep early because there wasn't anything to do," Pam says.
As the week progressed, the family grocery shopped together on a budget and ate dinner together. Ron started to teach Kristina how to drive, and the entire family attended RJ's baseball practice. "We're trying to be a family again, and we're going to keep trying and trying until we get it right," Ron says.
Pam says tackling their technology addictions has brought them closer together. "There was a moment when we were eating dinner that Kristina just really just opened up and let us know what's going on, what's going on at school," she says. "That was an aha! moment."
After seven days of going cold turkey, the Haynies are eager to get their electronics back—until they are thrown a curveball. "We would like to propose that you extend the challenge for another seven days," a producer says.
The family takes a vote—and Pam is the only one who resists. "I was outnumbered, so then I had to just kind of go along," she says.
Week 2 begins with more family fun like cooking lessons and walks to the park. "The first week was just like a learning process," Ron says. "This week, we really, really get to connect because I think the hard part is over."
As the week progresses, Pam says she's glad her family kept her from old habits. "We are a stronger family," Pam says. "I feel like I know my kids better than I did before. As they put down their technology, they allowed me to come into their world and see what's going on with them."
Now that the challenge is over, the Haynies got back their gadgets but say they don't depend on them like they did before. "We put the TV on one day and we watched for about maybe an hour," Pam says. "Then we were like, 'What do we do next?'"
Family dinners have continued, and Ron says he and Kristina have reconnected during their driving dates. RJ even started a gratitude journal—and one thing he doesn't list in it is technology! He writes: "I'm grateful for my loving and caring mom. I'm grateful for my fun and role model dad, Ron. I'm grateful for my kind and playful sister, Kristina. Last but not least, I'm grateful for my active and energetic dog, Coco."
It's an important lesson Ron says the entire family has learned. "We don't have to have all of this stuff," he says. "If you have family like the family I have, nothing else really matters."
Michelle and Bill Ladwig are a busy Wisconsin couple with demanding jobs and three kids. Between work, school and activities, Michelle says her family is overscheduled and overwhelmed. "It's so chaotic," she says. "I just feel like I'm flying by the seat of my pants a lot."
Michelle took on a full-time job at a local radio station two years ago, and her long hours often keep her from family dinners. "If my mom was here at supper with us, it would make us more a family and we could talk and laugh together," says their son BJ.
When Michelle does get home, her family has scattered. "Everybody's off in different directions. We've got five TVs. We've got four iPods. We've got four cell phones," she says. "Sometimes we're watching the same show in different rooms."
Michelle says she works such long hours to be able to provide more for her kids. "Growing up, I remember how I felt when I didn't have all the stuff that everybody else had, and so part of me just wants to do whatever I can to provide all of those things," she says. "Yet I feel like the price is pretty high because I'm missing so many things."
Even if the kids have a video game system, Michelle says she feels pressure to get them the latest model. It's time to make a change, she says. "They should maybe be happy with what we already have," she says. "More importantly, I want them to be happy with themselves."
At dinner the first night of the challenge, Michelle realizes the toll her family's lifestyle has taken on everyone. "Back in the day, we used to do everything together," her son Dylan says. "Now I guess we don't really do much of anything together."
Michelle says it's hard to hear. "When the boys were talking about how our family is different and it's grown apart, it actually really hurts," Michelle says. "It breaks my heart."
Still, the family comes together during the challenge with trips to the park and learning how to give back. Oprah asked the Ladwigs to give away at least 10 things they could live without, and the family decides to start by cleaning out their pantry.
Their seven days aren't over yet, but the Ladwigs say they've already seen a shift. Michelle is still having trouble making it home by 5:15 for dinner, but the family has decided to hold dinner until everyone's home.
Since starting the challenge, Bill says he's surprised at how relaxed his home has become. "After the kids were home from their obligations and supper, [I was surprised at] how quiet and peaceful it was in the house," he says. "It actually felt like, 'Hey, this is the time of day where we wind down.'"
Living without distractions, Michelle says, has taught her and her family an invaluable lesson. "All of the time that I had without all the distractions made me think about the reasons why I was having all those distractions in my life—and made me consider that I needed less technology and more time with my family," she says.
In Oprah's first live with less experiment, we met widowed mom Candice, who lives in California with her sons, Derek and Darrien, in a seven-bedroom home. Their closets were full of clothes they don't wear, and Candice had $500 Jimmy Choo shoes she never wore. And, even though Candice and her sons were eating out most nights, she still spent $400 a week on groceries—much of which expired before they could eat it.
After taking Oprah's challenge, Candice realized the stuff was just covering up her grief. "My husband was taken away from me, but nobody can take away my stuff," she said.
After a week of living with less, Candice discovered what she really needed. "I don't need the stuff. I know my children don't need the stuff," she said. "All I ever needed was them, and all they ever needed was me."
Since that show, Candice started simplifying her life. "I am very proud to say I have not used a credit card since the challenge," she says. "I make a list before I go to the store. I'm not throwing away 20 pounds of food anymore. There is no waste."
She also cleaned out those closets full of stuff—some still with the tags on! Ready to say goodbye and start paying down her debt, Candice got some help from the folks at eBay, who carted away her old items and helped her set up an online auction. "I'm really feeling good about it," she says. "It's like layers coming off, and it's so much lighter."
In all, Candice makes $2,000 off the forgotten items that were cluttering her closets! But that's not all...to help Candice and her family stay looking toward the future, eBay is donating $10,000 to a college fund for Candice's sons! "Oh my God," Candice says. "Thank you."
In the spirit of living with less, Oprah went through her own closet to see what she could live without—and asked her audience members to donate 10 things from their own homes. "Now more than ever, we all need to think about those who have been hardest hit by our economy, and the extra stuff in our lives might be something that somebody else really needs," Oprah says.
Everything will be donated to Community Clothes Closet, an Menasha, Wisconsin–based organization that gives gently used clothing to struggling families at no cost. "We have about 11,000 clients," says Diane, a volunteer. "They can shop twice a month for up to a year. Can you imagine the amount of money they save if they don't have to purchase clothes for the family?"
"Keep up the good work," Oprah says. "From our closets, the audience closets, my closets, our staff's closets to yours. We hope it helps."