“Digital Declutter” Reflections

How it went & the rules I’m keeping

At the end of January, I pledged to do Cal Newport’s “digital declutter”, a month-long reset of smartphone & internet habits — marking the beginning of my intentional foray into Digital Minimalism (I wrote about it here). Well, February’s long over, and the verdict’s in:

I loved it.

Never before have I felt so clear-headed about my goals and unbothered by negative or time-sucking stimuli. With my phone reduced to the bare-necessities and restrictions in place to stop mindless web-browsing, any time wasted was consciously of my own doing.

As it turns out, it is very hard for me to waste my own time.

During this month, I didn’t keep up with the news, yet I learned a lot about the world through responsible, long-form sources. Without Netflix, I hardly watched any TV shows or movies, but the few I did watched are stamped more distinctly in my memory. I turned off my text message notifications, resulting in more phone calls, which are always of higher quality than texts. I permanently deleted Twitter & Facebook, and now my social circle feels extremely small — but in my opinion, that’s for the better.

Before this experiment, I viewed the vast digital world, with its myriad magical promises, as something I had no choice but to engage with. I naively feared social alienation, ignorance of the worlds’ problems, and plain boredom if I abstained so majorly from them. What I found, however, is a new route to clarity — to lessened anxiety, to increased focus and intention.

Ironically, I like my digital devices more now. I appreciate their value since I’m more aware of what their true value is. That’s the curious thing about minimalism.

A Review of My Rules

I’ll reflect on which rules were useful, how they affected my mind and behavior, and how I’ll be integrating digital minimalism into my daily life. These are particular to my digital habits, but you might find them useful too :).

Social Media

No Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, or Snapchat usage.

This rule was the easiest to follow, as I was already a scant user of social media. But totally doing away with it for a month made me appreciate the quality friendships that will always endure such online departures. Also, without an endless buffet of other people’s thoughts and images to scroll through, I was able to focus on just… living my life.

In the end, I deleted my Twitter account and (finally) my Facebook account; I kept my tiny, private Instagram just to have an option, in case I get the urge to be internet-social again.

Messaging

No notifications or unread-bubbles. Limit to sharing information; avoid conversing via text.

I don’t know why I didn’t do this before. Not having a constant stream of ping-ping-PING was immensely helpful for my focus. Before doing this I had an issue with leaving people on read or barely participating in the conversation because it wasn’t a convenient time. Now, I open my inboxes with the intent to actually respond wholeheartedly.

During this period of less-texting, I had more phone calls than usual with friends — which was nice because those conversations are more engaging. But it was hard to abstain from texting altogether without being impractical and annoying. Since I’m hundreds of miles away from most of my friends, and in different time zones, light texting is a good way to imitate proximity, minus the hassle of scheduling calls every time we want to speak.

Still, I’m keeping the texting notifications off and looking forward to more phone calls.

News/Articles

No reading articles on my phone. No news or current events podcasts.

I recommend this rule to everyone. It’s clear to me that we have a poisonous culture of doom, hype, and misinformation. As it turns out, the world will continue chugging along just the same, regardless of whether I am stressed out and pretending to care about every minute, mostly negative breaking news story. Abstaining from the daily impulse to wonder “What’s wrong with the world today?” does wonders for sanity.

Of course, being informed about important things is a good idea. So, when curiosity strikes, or when something major comes to my attention, I sit down and do the research with clear intent. This makes me less vulnerable to the contagion of pessimism and ideological bias. Now whenever I look at mainstream news sources (think CNN, NBC, NYT, etc), I’m agitated by how twisted and irresponsible the reporting can be. But that’s a topic for a whole other article.

I don’t use news apps anymore. Typically, I’ll catch wind of breaking news on my YouTube feed and then do my own research about the story elsewhere.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Shows/Movies

No watching on my phone. No scrolling HBO just to find something to watch. No binging.

Okay, this worked too well. I honestly miss watching TV shows and movies; and without Netflix, I feel completely out-of-touch with the series, movies, and documentaries my friends will mention that they just watched last night.

An unintended consequence was that I started reading and listening to audiobooks like a fiend (shout out to Libby). I don’t think that books are superior to videos, but I’ve certainly missed the feeling of engaging with longer, more critical works.

This isn’t a rule that I need to keep; I never had problems binging anyways. But now I don’t even know what to watch. Suggestions, anyone?

Device Usage

No using my phone in the bathroom🚽. No using my phone as a distraction in social situations. No screens while eating, unless video-chatting.

I’ll rate this a partial success. Since my phone only has the essentials, I don’t have anything to distract myself with in social situations, or at the gym. Leaving my phone in the bedroom when nature calls is easy enough. However, when I’m by myself at home, it is excruciating to sit and eat a meal without some kind of stimulation.

I tried to read books, but flipping pages and staring at one spot doesn’t pair well with the physics of eating. Listening to books and podcasts is a step up — much more enjoyable. But really I crave the feeling of sitting across from a person and talking about something interesting while I eat. So halfway through the month, I caved in and resorted to watching vlogs or podcasts on YouTube. Oops.

Still, I don’t think anything negative has come of that habit. It makes me feel happy and less alone, so it can and should be incorporated into my digitally minimalist mindset.

Overall, this was a great adventure that revealed some of my long-held habits and attitudes toward technology, that had the much-appreciated effect of clearing my head and allowing me to focus on the activities and people I care about. And now I have new habits and attitudes that will serve me well for the future.

Remember, minimalism is not about having neurotic control over every aspect of your environment, nor is about having an arbitrarily small amount of things: It’s about choosing value over convenience — intention over status quo.

If that’s something that sounds appealing to you, then happy decluttering!

I used to build code, now I build fictional worlds ✍🏾. | My favorite word is ‘paracosm’.

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