25 Practical Digital Minimalist Lifestyle Tips
Looking for Steps You Can Take Today to Start Digitally Decluttering Without Totally Disconnecting?
We need to be online, right?
We need to be able to connect with friends and family of course.
But even more, we need to be connected online for work.
Our kids need to be connected online for school tasks.
Often, we even need to be connected to specific social media platforms to be sure our kids are connected to their online school lives and we’re remembering to bring the cupcakes to the school party or turning in the field trip forms before the deadline.
No one can really argue with this. It’s just the world we live in today.
HOWEVER, our time spent online seems to negatively affect us. It can completely destroy our attention spans and in extreme cases, even begin to take over our entire lives. Technology addictions are rampant, but because it is so socially acceptable these days to be on your phone (or any form of technology: tablet, computer, etc.) in just about any setting, it seems fairly innocuous and innocent.
Don’t be misled: it’s a common problem, or “Catch-22” if you will, that we ALL face and that we ALL need to address. Ideally, ASAP.
This can feel so overwhelming to tackle- for me personally, I knew I had a problem, but I certainly didn’t want to admit it to myself or anyone else. I was a stay at home mom, who was at least mildly addicted to technology, yet my online life was completely disorganized- like having 24,376 unopened emails, numerous unanswered texts, completely disorganized online photos and videos, and constantly forgetting my usernames and passwords to various sites and subscriptions.
Not to mention, I absolutely did not (and do not) want my children growing up watching me with a phone glued to my hand. It’s the opposite of the example I want to set for them for healthy technology usage. When my stress level finally peaked and my “real life” as well as my “digital life” began to feel like they were spiraling out of control, I knew something had to change. I knew I needed to take some steps in the direction of minimalism in our home and in my online life.
The problem was I had no idea where to start. So I spent lots of time researching online as well as asking friends how they managed their digital lives. I even read books on the subject of digital minimalism, as well as minimalism in general. And finally, through this research and my own experience, I’ve come up with a curated list of 25 tips for digital decluttering.
You can approach digital decluttering in several ways. Initially, you can ease in to digital minimalism by simply taking just a few of these tips and applying them to your daily life. Or you could even start with implementing a single tip and then move on to another once you’ve mastered the first one. Or you can go totally “cold turkey” and unplug from everything online (with the exception of work and necessary bills, etc.) and then determine which favorite apps or social media platforms you truly enjoy and can use in a healthy manner and simply add those back in.
Regardless of how you choose to approach these new digital minimalist lifestyle tips, be sure to take some time to analyze just how distracted you have been with your digital clutter and how some or all of these practices may improve your mental and emotional health.
Tips for Digital Decluttering
- Start time blocking. This means that you should start setting aside blocks of time for checking texts and emails, as well as social media and dm’s. You’ll be more productive when focused on only one task at a time, so developing a time blocking schedule that works for you is imperative.
- Turn notifications off. All of those dings are incredibly distracting. And ultimately, they are pulling you away from your work, your family and friends, and whatever you enjoy doing in your free time. If you create a block schedule for yourself (see Tip #1), then you’ll be sure to respond to all of those notifications at the designated time instead of allowing them to interrupt whatever it is you are currently working on.
- Limit your engagement on social media. Do you REALLY need to have an account on every single one? Cut out the ones that you aren’t using often. Better yet, cut out the ones that leave you feeling stressed or disenchanted with your own personal life. that you rarely use. Keep those accounts that you use for work, school or for fun. Cut out the rest.
- Deep clean your follower list on social media. Are all of these people your “friends” in real life? Are they necessary business contacts? Have you ever even interacted with them on the given social media platform? Be smart with who you choose to follow on social media and unfriend / unfollow anyone you don’t know. It’s really not wise to share your information (a lot of it personal) with a bunch of strangers.
- Decide what type of news you want in your social media feeds. Political rants, all manner of negativity or news that goes against your beliefs can deeply affect your mood and serve to distract you from what’s in front of you. You are in charge who you view in your feed so don’t hesitate to unfriend or unfollow those who negatively impact you.
- Declutter your email. Certain email providers, such as Gmail, make life easier with their labels system and tabs, but you still need to implement systems and processes to manage your inbox properly. You can set up filters to send certain types of messages straight into folders and remember to check those folders daily. There are other services that can help you organize all of these incoming emails- a quick online search will help you find the one that works best for your needs. Allowing your inbox to get out of control with unread emails will only cause more stress in the long run, so get on this one sooner rather than later.
- Implement a “act, save, delete” system for your email. Read your emails and immediately make the decision to: take action, save it, or delete it. No more navigating out of the message and then just letting it sit in your inbox forever. This is just clutter. Take an action right away by either answering the email, moving it to a folder, or simply deleting it.
- Clear out the photos from your phone on a weekly or monthly basis. This was one of the things that overwhelmed me most when I first started my personal digital declutter. As a mom to four kids, I have a zillion photos and videos on my phone. It felt totally overwhelming to address how I should save these. Be sure to back up those photos to the cloud automatically on a regular schedule so you don’t end up losing them. Not only will you salvage those precious memories but you’ll also free up tons of space on your phone.
- Unplug over the weekends. Your work can wait, and your mind and body will benefit greatly from the break. Go further towards extreme minimalist status in your digital life and unplug every evening so you can focus on time with your family, enjoying with a new hobby (starting a family garden maybe?), or even simply learning how to relax and enjoy the peace that comes from less digital noise.
- Create a social media calendar. If posting to social media is vital to your work or if it’s simply super important to you, come up with an editorial calendar and get those posts planned out well ahead of time. If this is business related, consider hiring a VA (“virtual assistant”) to help create your social media content calendar, as well as actually scheduling the posts for you. Then, all you will need to do is respond to any comments or questions after the post is published.
- Avoid technology at bedtime. Shut off all electronics at least one hour before bed to get better rest- the blue light rays from all of your devices can really mess with your sleep patterns. Reading a book is much more relaxing, and goes much further to help you decompress from your day by allowing you to turn your brain off from your to-do list, social media feeds, that email you need to send, etc. We are becoming chronically overstimulated and this is one super simple way to combat that and fight for a good night’s sleep for yourself.
- Deep clean your hard drive. Do you really need those files from 6 years ago? Chances are high that you don’t. Delete any out of date files you no longer need or want. A cluttered hard drive also decreases your productivity because you can’t find files quickly, as well as eating up your storage on your computer. Create a system for filing your digital documents so you can access them quickly and easily.
- Learn to delegate tasks to a team member or virtual assistant. If you spend endless hours on the computer for your business, find a way to pass off the tasks that can be delegated to others to save yourself precious time in your day. This may be a work associate or even a virtual assistant. This will not only up your productivity level as it frees you up to focus on other tasks, but it will likely get you (and your business) more organized.
- Substitute real life activities for digital activities. Remember how nice it is to go for a walk? Or to spend time with friends and family at night and on the weekends? Try cutting back on your online social “connectedness” for some face time with your people, you know “IRL.” Reduce your time at night on social media to start a new hobby or read that book that’s been sitting on your nightstand. You’ll soon be reminded just how wonderful these real-life activities are and how much you miss out on them with your face buried in a screen any more than it has to be.
- Replace texting with live conversation whenever possible. It is often said that the generation growing up today with this level of technology as a norm are lost when it comes to having real life conversations with others- they have anxiety about making “grown-up” phone calls and even avoid meeting others in person for fear of awkwardness; however, it’s only when you’re face-to-face that you are able to make eye contact or hear someone’s inflection. These subtleties are lost over text. While texting is super convenient, opt for interactions over the phone, video chat, or even better, in person over coffee whenever possible.
- Delete any unused apps. We are all guilty of downloading apps and letting them sit on our phone, never to be used beyond that initial download. You likely will never use them again and if you find you do need one of them, you can always re-download it at that point. Delete any apps you no longer need, especially all of those free games your kid downloaded when they had access to your phone. They are slowing your phone down and all of these extra brightly colored squares are only serving to overstimulate and distract you. The same can be said for any desktop icons or “shortcuts”- delete what you don’t need. Your brain will thank you!
- Set a limit on the number of browser tabs you open. Just because your computer CAN open 19 tabs at once doesn’t mean it should! Your computer is likely working more slowly or even crashing from the strain of keeping all of these tabs open. Limit yourself to a set number of tabs (maybe 4-5 tabs to start) to limit possible distractions and then be sure to close them when you’re finished. This sounds like me telling my children to play with one toy at a time and when they’re finished, to put it away. The same goes for your digital life. When there are too many options, digital distraction is a real thing. Don’t worry about forgetting all of the URLs of those closed tabs- simply bookmark them in your browser or save them in your notes app or a document on your computer for later use.
- Utilize cloud storage. Both Dropbox and Google use cutting edge security technology to keep their platforms secure, honestly much safer than your own hard drive. Put these services to use by saving files, photos, and other projects to a cloud storage system. You’ll prolong the life of your computer, as well as improving its operating speed.
- Forward all email addresses to one inbox. Instead of checking multiple emails on various platforms all with different passwords, save yourself a ton of time and mental energy by forwarding all of those emails to one inbox. You should still be able to organize these messages into files and some email providers (Gmail for example) automatically crafts your response from the email address used on the original message- no need to worry about responding to one type of email from the wrong account.
- Consider using a password manager for all of your online accounts. With rampant identity theft threats, the need for creating unique passwords is even greater these days. The problem tends to lie in keeping up with all of these passwords safely. Raise your hand if you’re always the one clicking “reset password?” when logging into your various online accounts. I’ve been there often. There are several good password manager services out there now, such as LastPass, which has a computer and mobile app for linking your accounts so you can have access wherever you go. No more notes on your desk or in your purse or worse, on your phone, with all your personal information and passwords available for access by anyone.
- Discard any stray electrical cords. Do you know where all of your chargers are? USB cables? Take a few minutes to gather all of your electrical cords and match them to their corresponding device. If you have no idea what a cord if for, especially if it’s been sitting there for some time, go ahead and throw it away or at least put it away where you aren’t looking at it daily. A final step to take once you match the right cords to their respective devices, is to label each cord with the name of its device so you won’t waste time ever again looking for its match. Even physical clutter can greatly affect your productivity so fight to keep it at bay.
- Backup your data regularly. Always create a backup before deleting information off your computer or phone. You should store these backups in the cloud and be sure to perform them regularly, especially after you’re finished with your digital decluttering. Keeping a backup of your important information is super important, in case your device is ever lost, stolen, or broken.
- Re-learn the art of being quiet. Have you ever accidentally left your phone at home? Did you get that anxious, twitchy feeling without it? Did you keep reaching into your pocket or your purse for it every five minutes only to repeatedly member it wasn’t there? If this is the case, make an effort to intentionally spend time without it whenever possible. Even if just leaving it in another room while you’re at home. Learn how to redirect your attention to something else- something non-electronic. Read up a book; bake your favorite dessert; listen to some music or that new podcast; or simply close your eyes and rest. Being quiet and alone at times is healthy for slowing our minds and calming our souls.
- Eliminate any subscriptions you don’t use. Search through your bank account as well as your PayPal account for ongoing monthly and annual subscriptions. Obviously, some subscriptions you can’t do without, but I have no doubt you’ll find others that you’ve forgotten about or simply don’t have a use for any longer. Cancel them immediately so you can free up that brain space (and those dollars!).
- Embrace an intentional lifestyle. When you live with intention, you learn to prioritize the things that bring you joy, excitement, and peace. Intention also brings with it purpose and a laser beam focus on the task at hand. Does mindlessly scrolling through your social media feeds at night while “watching” a show bring you peace and contentment? Are these digital distractions benefiting you? Or could you try choosing a quiet biblical meditation, journaling, or simply reading a book instead? I was super guilty of the “nighttime scroll” and it drove my husband crazy. I didn’t understand it at the time, but it is really hard to be present in the moment as you scroll through other people’s moments. I have found that being more aware of my patterns, especially those that are a part of my bedtime routine, has been instrumental in helping me shift my mindset and develop new, healthier habits. Many times we simply continue on in life with bad habits or negative patterns that we’ve set in the past, often unintentionally, simply because we fail to recognize that we have a choice. Choose something better for yourself than chronic digital distraction.
Please take your time going while through each of these digital minimalist lifestyle tips. This goes without saying, but there is no right or wrong way to approach this list; progress over perfection, right? This applies to our digital minimalism as much as any other area of our lives. Completing these steps sooner rather than later is better, because digital clutter impacts your productivity (and on a deeper level, your mental health); however, making yourself crazy over completing each task too soon is counterproductive. Give yourself grace as you make these simple changes- developing new habits takes time and discipline. Just don’t give up- you’ll get there!
Once you’ve made progress with these digital minimalist tips, try implementing their counterparts in your “real life” as well. Start decluttering all areas of your life and you’ll be amazed as the calm it restores in your home and your family. I didn’t realize just how frenetic life felt until I began slowly making these changes in my life. I’m certainly not an extreme minimalist, but I’m finding so much peace and joy in simplifying life in any way I can.
I enjoyed this video from Matt D’Avello on YouTube about digital minimalism- please excuse the bad language (he uses a couple of words that make me cringe but the content is super helpful as far as showing a real life example of digital decluttering.)
I also found this article reviewing Cal Newport’s book, Digital Minimalism, to be super insightful and is worth the read if you are considering buying the book off of our recommended minimalist lifestyle books list. The author speaks specifically about the conundrum so many millennials face, where their professional use of technology and social media so easily bleeds into their personal use. A challenge for many of us, especially those of us who find ourselves working online.
Starting with these digital minimalist lifestyle tips is a great jumping off point to quieting the extra digital noise and clutter! Any other tips I’ve missed? I’d love to hear any additional ideas for digital decluttering in the comments!