The Digital Declutter

Published by Thriving Erin on

My First Step Towards Digital Minimalism


Recently, I wrote about the concept of digital minimalism and what I learned from Cal Newport’s book with the same name. I don’t know about you, but the idea of digital minimalism really resonates with me, especially since it lines up perfectly with my goal of thriving intentionally in every area of my life. As a reminder, digital minimalism can be summarized as: being intentional with the way we use digital technology so that it supports our deep values and a life well-lived.


This sounds great, but also intimidating. What Newport calls “new technologies” have invaded every area of my life. These new technologies include “apps, websites, and related digital tools that are delivered through a computer screen or a mobile phone and are meant to either entertain, inform, or connect you.” So that includes the regular suspects like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, or Twitter, but it also includes things like Netflix, Google News, Spider Solitaire, FaceTime, or Call of Duty on my PS4. Daily habits of use are hard (basically impossible) to permanently break with tricks and hacks, this is why Newport recommends the more extreme ‘digital declutter.’


The digital declutter is a 30-day period of cutting out everything at once. Instead of trying to determine whether something has value while still using it, the idea is that after going without something for 30 days, I will be more able to accurately determine whether the value something brings to my life is worth the cost. When the habit is broken, when the emotional connection has been severed, I can more objectively assess value and purpose.


Everyone’s digital declutter will look different. For example, I live overseas and so cutting out FaceTime, my main form of communication with my parents and my sister, is not realistic. The purpose here is to be intentional with my time, not become the estranged daughter! For my digital declutter I completely cut out Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Movies, PS4, and any games on my phone. I continued to use WhatsApp, FaceTime, Gmail, and my Kindle. As a concession to my husband, I also allowed for one episode of a television show per day if I was watching with him.


In “Digital Minimalism” Cal Newport discusses how the main reason people fail to complete the digital declutter isn’t a lack of commitment or dedication, but rather a lack of planning for what to fill the extra time with. This again, speaks to intentionality. Thinking of what I wanted to fill my time with helped me remember why I am doing this. What do I want to be doing more of? What have I been struggling to find time for? After some though, some of the things I planned to fill my time with are:

  • Completing a DIY baby mobile project for my new baby coming in December
  • Being more regular at practicing yoga
  • Reading more
  • Writing more regularly
  • Finishing unpacking and organizing our new house
  • Trying some new baking recipes


I have just entered the last week of my month-long digital declutter and have been loving it so far. Make sure to check back next week when I’ll write about what I’ve learned during my digital declutter.


Categories: Musings


Helen Lim · September 24, 2019 at 2:24 pm

Hi Erin, nice reflections here. You’re a great example for living with intention and then thriving. I enjoy reading your posts! I’m curious, what changes, if any, do you notice about your ability to be present?

Ted Lemon · September 24, 2019 at 12:22 am

I like this, but two things I didn’t see there that has been a huge problem for me in my decluttering are:

1. What happens when I give up on facebook and all those connections? This is what ultimately prevents me from leaving: there are people on facebook with whom I want to remain in touch, and if I quite facebook entirely, I won’t be able to stay in touch with them. Actually, it’s mostly one person. Because I want to stay in touch with her, I remain on facebook, and suffer the consequences.

2. The email problem. Are you just going to stop email? What I did, and this was a long and systematic process, is that whenever I got an email message that I didn’t need to have gotten and that made me feel bad, I unsubscribed. I get almost no political mail now. I realized that it wasn’t my job to read that stuff and suffer the angst that they, perhaps with the best intentions, decided I needed to suffer in order to motivate me to send them money. After I just dropped that guilt trip and decided I’d support change on my terms, email got a lot less stressful. Have you already done that?

Rachel · September 23, 2019 at 4:50 pm

This is a really interesting exercise Erin. Your digital declutter is far more rigorous than I would have imagined (I thought it was going to be about getting to inbox zero!).

Is there any expectation that you will use any of the platforms you have excluded for work? How have you dealt with people’s expectations of being able to get in contact with you via those means?

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