How to be a Digital Minimalist - tips for decluttering your virtual spaces

How to be a Digital Minimalist

While minimalism has become a buzzword when it comes our interior design preferences – or just clearing up our crap – often our most chaotic spaces manifest in the digital world. With hundreds of variations of social media notifications and a seemingly endless ways to store photos by way of hard drives and the Cloud, it’s easy to end up with online spaces that get increasingly untidy. How many people do you know who have a tidy house, or live out a backpack, but hoard every last photo they’ve taken, email they’ve received or file they’ve downloaded? And how many of us check our inboxes or notifications several times a day, only to find the information is totally unnecessary?

Okay, so none of this is doing most people any harm, unless your disordered file style is also affecting your professional life. But even so… Just as physical minimalism can help our conscious feel a little clearer, a tidy online world can also lead to a tidier (and less over-stimulated) mind.

Inspired by the year I spent off social media, here are my top tips for decluttering your virtual spaces.

SEARCH ‘UNSUBSCRIBE’ IN YOUR INBOX

Approximately once a month, I go to my email inbox and search one word: Unsubscribe.

This small tasks saves me so much time deleting emails (or checking my phone after it pings, only to be uninterested in opening the email). The search brings up all newsletters and companies you’re subscribed to at once. I’m pretty ruthless, as I figure – hey, if this is actually important to me, I’ll end up re-subscribing in the future.

On the whole, I try to not sign up to any newsletters (sorry, lovely blogger friends) as I never end up finding the time to focus on them. As someone with -diagnosed- concentration issues, the process of having LESS to sort through, makes the act of replying to emails a lot easier. When the inbox is crammed full, I feel very overwhelmed or anxious and don’t know where to start. So the Unsubscribe method definitely helps.

ALLOW OTHERS TO RESPOND TO MESSAGES IN THEIR OWN TIME

Ever noticed how entitled people get about receiving responses right after people read a message on WhatsApp? Some of us are just waiting to reply until we have time to really think about our responses. Other times, we might click on a message to make the notification go away, but not actually have time to reply yet because we are at work or dealing with other responsibilities. (Can I count me-time as a responsibility to myself too?)

If you struggle to wait for responses, you can hide when messages are read/unread. Similarly, you can hide when both you are others are active on Facebook messenger.

Remember, back in the days of letter-writing, we’d have way preferred that someone took time to respond as we’d have to wait days to continue a conversation. Sometimes taking care to converse when we’re mentally focussed on our mates is a sign of intimacy!

DELETE DUPLICATE/SIMILAR PHOTOS… Or take less photos

Once I’ve picked my favourite photos from a day out, I delete the rest. For example, when I went on a day out to Cathedral Cove recently, I selected my favourite photos for the blog post. There are already quite a lot! And then I deleted them from my phone.

Honestly, I have been quite bad with this lately and now have lots of photos from the past year that I don’t know what to do with haha. But on the whole, I’m pretty good at making sure I don’t have thousands of photos left after a trip.

I also regularly go to the screenshots folder on my phone and delete them. Most phones have some sort of file cleaner that will find duplicate photos for you, making it easy to delete photos you have two of.  We don’t need a hundred similar photos when we already know our favourite. 🙂

If this is too scary, you can also have two separate folders/hard drives: one with photos you DO definitely want to look through, and another for ones you want to ‘dump’ somewhere ‘just in case.’ A good rule to start with is ‘do I like this photo enough to put it in a hypothetical material album?’ If not, twenty years from now you might wish you had less photos to sort through and more time to relive the memories! Essentially, there is no need to back up photos we don’t want to see later.

MANAGE NOTIFICATIONS

I mean… This goes without saying, right? Mute notifications on Facebook posts you are no longer following. Go the Notifications settings on Instagram and be clearer on what you actually need to see during the day.

This also reminds me I need to unsubscribe to unimportant news bulletins… Yesterday my phone buzzed just to tell me the important headline ‘British people find the Kiwi accent sexy’. Like. Okay, mate. Simmer down.

USE ‘MUTE’ LIBERALLY

It’s OK to mute accounts you LOVE because you’ve identified you go down a rabbit-hole every time they post. You can still check out their content and support them at the weekend! If we really want to read something, we will remember even when they don’t come up on our feed.

Similarly, if someone’s account is triggering you, you can always mute for a bit and then go back to it later. This could be particularly useful to people who feel negative thoughts, such as jealously, when their feeds get filled with mate’s holiday photos and the like.

I am a big believer in mental health playing a bigger role in how we see social media etiquette… though I know a lot of people haven’t come around to this yet!

UNDERSTAND THE PURPOSE OF EACH SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNT

After spending a year off social media, I was initially reluctant to start a new Twitter/Instagram account. But I’m so glad I did! I wanted to find a community of travellers, so I specifically followed interesting travellers online. I also posted openly about my own experiences in order to establish real connections, and these days take care to limit the amount I post. This way, each time I go on social media, I have time to chat.

I also wanted to join Facebook groups, but didn’t want to join Facebook… In the end I made an account but have ZERO ‘friends’. This means everything on my timeline will be from one of the four groups I follow, and I can’t get distracted.

And similarly, you don’t have to sign up to every existing social media platform. Trends come and go… But your time only gets smaller. It’s okay to treat sign ups sparingly. 🙂

BE MINDFUL ABOUT YOUR PURPOSE EACH TIME YOU CLICK A SOCIAL MEDIA ICON

I have a rule that if I find myself mindlessly scrolling on the Instagram app, I have to click off it until I have the mental focus to log on with intention – for example, to catch up with travel buddies and read interesting POVs on captions!

USE A PRODUCTIVITY APP OR AN APP THAT TRACKS HOW MUCH TIME YOU SPEND ONLINE

Although it can be a little uncomfortable to see how much time we spend online, this can also be the wake-up call we need. You could also set time limits on how long you should spend on social media each day. It can be suuuchhh a time-sucker if we don’t watch it.

USE THE CLEAN UP FUNCTION ON YOUR PHONE

Usually there’s a clean up files function built into our phones, but you can also download an app for this. I mentioned before that this is a good way to find and delete duplicate photos. Often you can also search your files by size and, upon realising you have some long videos of nothing but the inside of your bag, delete them. Yay.

You can also get similar software for laptops and other devices.

DON’T APOLOGISE FOR TAKING SOCIAL MEDIA BREAKS

I mean, we don’t apologise to our material realities each time we flick through pixelated photos on Instagram, right? Taking days both on and off social media should be seen as no big deal. If anything, people should expect and respect our time off social media, rather than being surprised by it.

AND FIND HOBBIES THAT DON’T REQUIRE A SCREEN

Drawing, doodling, painting, stretching, cooking… Even just listening to music and closing our eyes to appreciate the sound. Ah, so simple, yet weirdly hard to do without our phones within reach.

OK, and since I move country too much to own books, I recently purchased a Kindle… which technically this DOES have a screen, before this I was using the Kindle app on my phone. There are simply too many distractions on my phone for me to focus on reading.

My flatmate and I also make sure we spend sometime chatting together without the TV on in the background so we can focus on getting to know each other. Slow Saturday mornings are the best time to chat and put the phone aside for a bit – find a time that works for you. 🙂

I’m also trying to put my phone in a different room when I’m writing/blogging.

USE ONE DIGITAL CALENDAR & NOTE SYSTEM AND SYNC IT

Ah how much more simple my life has been since I began using OneNote and synced it to both devices. But whatever works for you.

And some people might prefer a physical notepad, calendar or diary. Or writing lists up their arm with a biro, though that one’s not recommended.

It’s also a good idea to delete unused apps off your phone.

USE A PHYSICAL ALARM CLOCK

Using our phone as an alarm is a great excuse to keep it next to our bed when we sleep. Charging our phone in a different room and instead using an old-fashioned alarm clock helps us separate sleep-time from screen-time.

Read more tips for better sleep here

GO OUT WITHOUT YOUR PHONE ONCE IN A WHILE

Even if it’s just for a walk around the park, or to go meet a mate for coffee!

Since I use PayAsYouGo, I NEVER use data. It’s WiFi only and the credit is there for necessary calls. This means when I go for walks – such as my daily walks to and from work – my phone is just there to enjoy pre-downloaded Spotify playlists.

It’s good to have some time where you won’t get distracted by any notifications and appreciate the world – and people – around you.

Related posts you might like:

A Mental Health Guide to Self-Isolating

How to Easily Practise Gratitude During Hard Times

How to Practise Self-Compassion (and stop being so hard on yourself)

What it’s like to Solo Travel with Social Anxiety

Which of the above Digital Minimalism tips do you think might work for you?

And are there any more tips you can add? I’d love to hear them!

2 Comments

  1. These are all good suggestions and I follow most (but not all) of them. I do the unsubscribe to emails whenever I run into an email from an organisation I’m not interested in (why wait till once a month although it may be more efficient). I use a separate calendar and cloud organisational software to manage my time; one does not do it all. Hopefully, you have been able to do a bit in NZ as you arrived at an inopportune time.

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