How Digital Minimalism Can Help You Reclaim Your Life
Decluttering your junk drawers, getting rid of duplicates, streamlining your closet, donating dusty knickknacks, and choosing to keep five instead of fifty sentimental items are all fantastic steps toward a simpler, more focused life. So is removing yourself from activities that just keep you busy rather than fulfilled, and leaving a little white space in your schedule.
But ask yourself these questions:
- Do you check email only to look up from your phone an hour later wondering where the time went?
- Does a visit to Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter wind up taking an entire evening?
- Do you have so many apps on your phone (or icons on your desktop) that you can barely see your wallpaper?
- Do you find it harder to pay attention and remember things?
- Do people keep asking you to put down your phone and just listen for a minute?
- Do you want hours of your life back every day?
If you nodded at one or more comments above, you may need to declutter your phone habits as well as your home, garage, yard, and calendar.
Courtney Carver at bemorewithless.com has written that "The biggest problem with spending more time on your phone is that you are spending less time in your life."
Our phones and computers can connect us to some really great things. After all, it's how you and I meet twice a week! They really are amazing tools. But are you losing meaningful minutes to your screens, and do you want to get them back? With a more thoughtful, minimalist approach we can enjoy the access our screens provide while reducing or eliminating some of the not-so-great side effects like dry, tired eyes, too much sitting, lack of focus and awareness, apathy, and more.
Don't let excessive screen time hurt your physical, mental, and social health. Here's how to take control.
1. Think about everything you can do instead.
Less time online means more time to:
- be creative
- pay attention to the loved ones around you
- get into nature
- stop procrastinating and get important tasks done
- have a meaningful conversation
- take care of home chores
- savor the beauties of life
Reducing screen time by 25% or even 10% gives you that much more time and energy for other, more rewarding activities. You don't have to give up your phone – just become more intentional about how you use it, and claim back what you've lost.
Apparently, 80% of smart phone users check their devices immediately upon waking. So thoughts, ideas, and focus are immediately hijacked by the messages, email, and notifications received.
In other words, our minds tune in to other people's agendas rather than our own. Instead of focusing on our own goals for the day, we start by reacting to other people's requests and opinions.
It's more beneficial to use the early morning to pray, meditate, write in a gratitude journal,* organize tasks for the day, think about personal long-term goals, exercise, and/or fuel your body with a healthy breakfast.
* This blog is reader-supported. If you buy through my links, I may earn a small commission.
3. Choose time slots for phone usage.
For example, check your phone between 8:00 and 9:00 in the morning, during your lunch break, and for an hour after dinner before putting it into a charging station. Alternatively, choose phone-free periods during the day such as when playing with your child, meeting a friend for coffee, while you're eating, or when relaxing with your spouse in the evening.
Some of us haven't been out of contact with our phones for years. If possible, keep your phone in a designated spot where you can't easily reach it rather than in a pocket or on your desk at work. I put mine on my dresser in my bedroom when I'm at home, or in my purse when I'm out of the house.
4. Change your screen to grayscale.
Instagram and Pinterest are suddenly much less enticing. So are videos, news clips, movie trailers, etc. Making your phone less "pretty" may help you use it for a specific purpose rather than as a time-filler or time-waster.
5. Turn off notifications.
Every time we're distracted it takes time to refocus on the task that was interrupted. A task that should take 10 minutes could wind up taking an hour if we're distracted by constant phone notifications. Go ahead and leave phone call and text message notifications, but remove everything else.
Notifications have one purpose – to get your attention and suck you into a website or app so you'll spend more time there, leading to higher profits for the company behind it. You don't need to be on the spot every time one of your contacts posts or likes something, or every time a business wants to sell to you. You should control your phone usage. Don't let it control you!
Playing a few rounds of Candy Crush while you wait for your son to finish his violin lesson may not be a waste of time. But when you use your phone to check email or text messages and "somehow" lose an hour to a game, then you need to think again. If you don't have a game on your phone, you can't waste time playing it. The same is true for social media apps, sports update apps, even weather apps if you're so inclined.
Try bringing a book along instead.
If you're really worried about apps you find important, at least put all of them into a folder and move the folder to a secondary screen. This will help you make your access intentional rather than automatic.
7. Don't take your phone to bed.
Move the charging station off your bedside table so you won't be tempted to check your phone when you should be falling asleep. Yes, that may mean you need to use a ringtone for phone calls rather than a simple vibration so you can hear a 2:00 a.m. emergency call (an extremely rare occurrence anyway, thankfully).
Choose to be human.
Our brains crave stimulation. We're always looking for new information, and we're distracted by anything colorful, unusual, loud, or in motion (it's a survival mechanism). But how we meet this need is all-important. Do we excite our brains by compulsively checking social media or killing digital zombies, or do we do it by reading a book, going outside, learning and practicing a new skill, being mindful, making something, or having face-to-face interactions with other humans?
A life spent online makes us less than human – passive, sedentary, unobservant, uncreative, and unskilled. Digital minimalism can help prevent that.
Updated July 2023