What I Learned From My Digital Declutter
Last week I wrote about my choice to do a 30-day digital declutter. A month-long period of cutting out the use of new technologies. To be completely honest, it was easier than I thought and it only got easier as the month went on.
During the first week I found myself almost compulsively reaching for my phone to open Facebook or Instagram. I wasn’t looking for anything specific, it was simply habitual. I didn’t have a desire to see something, I wasn’t wondering about a specific person, I just logged into social media for the sole reason that I had done it a thousand times before. When I first joined Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter there was a reason for it, a specific purpose I was hoping those apps could serve, but now, years later, the intentionality is gone. Those apps have ingrained themselves into my life in a way I hadn’t realized. There was nothing about engaging with social media that I missed, I just had to reset my habits. I see that for me, logging into social media is the digital equivalent of looking in the fridge multiple times when I’m bored (another bad habit I’ve had to overcome).
Before the digital declutter, if someone had asked me why I used Facebook I would have said something about how it’s so hard to stay in touch with people while living overseas and Facebook makes it easier. Now, after a month without it, I realize that’s not true. I have still been able to stay in touch with the people who I truly care about. Through WhatsApp and FaceTime I have chatted to them and sent photos regularly this month. The connection is much more personal than simply seeing a generic photo on Instagram. The truth (as harsh as it may sound) is that we are limited in the number of people whom we can have deep, daily relationships with. I can’t possibly care about all 657 of my “friends” on Facebook; certainly not with any sense of depth, and certainly not at a level of needing to know what they ate for lunch yesterday or to hear each individual’s latest political rant. Who actually has that kind of emotional capacity?! Can Facebook be used as a tool to help stay in touch with the smaller group of people I care about? Definitely. But that’s not the question we need to ask ourselves. The question is, “Is Facebook the best way to stay in touch with the smaller group of people I care about?” Digital minimalism is about making sure we’re optimizing our technology use so that we’re meeting our own needs and values in the most effective and intentional way without getting caught up in all the distractions that modern technology provides.
To be honest, I don’t know that I’ve gained much extra time in my day by cutting out social media use, but there’s something mentally cleansing about it. I’m not against using these apps, but I’m happy to no longer be using them out of habit. I may login now and again, but not for the purpose of simply scrolling through my newsfeed cluttered by whatever the Facebook algorithms have decided are important for me to see.
The one place where I feel like I’ve gained a lot of time has been by reducing the amount of TV I’m watching. I initially planned to cut out TV entirely. However, the reality of married life is I had to consider my husband, who was not doing the digital declutter with me and was not excited about the prospect of no TV for a month. He wanted to support me though so we both agreed that I could watch one episode a day if I was watching with him. If he wanted to watch something outside of that, he would wear his headphones. One of the first big improvements I noticed was how nice it was to start my day without the TV on. In the past, we would typically put on the previous night’s baseball game, some other sports highlight, or the news. Now, we both sat at the table and talked to each other in the morning (radical I know). I found that I really enjoyed the peace and quiet in the morning and found it made for a much better start to my day. It was similar at dinner time. In the past, my husband and I would often plop ourselves down in front of the TV to watch a show as we ate dinner (even writing that makes me cringe). For this past month we’ve eaten at the dinner table and again, did the old-school thing of actually talking to each other. There was no binge-watching, one episode running into another, we were much more intentional with our choice to watch TV and many days we didn’t watch any.
During this time I found myself really enjoying sitting and working on some of the DIY projects I’ve started for the baby’s nursery. It’s something I would have struggled to find time for before and I have found it so satisfying to be creating something. To be productive with my time, even if it’s on something as simple as arts & crafts. My husband and I have spent time playing cards instead of watching TV, or going for a walk around our compound. None of these things are especially radical, but when you add them all up together it has made for a lifestyle that I’ve really enjoyed.
The longer it went, the easier I found it. It’s now October 5, five days since the end of my digital declutter and I still haven’t logged into any of my social media accounts, downloaded any of my favorite games back onto my phone, or binge-watched any shows. However, in the past couple days I have finished two DIY projects, done some reading, and attended the IAAF Athletics World Championships. The compulsion to reach for my phone or just scroll through Netflix looking for something to watch is gone and though I was content to have the MLB NLDS Game 1 on in the background while writing this, I look forward to making many of these changes permanent. If you’re looking to break some habits, or simply want a shift in perspective, I highly recommend trying the Digital Declutter.