What I Learned From My Digital Declutter For 40 Days

As a practicing catholic (somewhat), the lent season has always been a period I’ve grown to cherish. A predefined timeframe, every year where I can take some time to reflect, take stock spiritually, and perform a personal sacrifice for the prescribed 40 days.

Over the last few years, I’ve given up things like ‘Not eating fried food’, social media, ‘No sweets’, ‘no alcohol’, etc. However, earlier this year, I read the book, Digital Minimalism, and the idea of a digital declutter was planted in my head. Lent provided the perfect opportunity to go through with my digital declutter at a time that I’ve grown accustomed to already. Perfect timing.


What My Digital Declutter Consisted Of

My digital declutter consisted of getting off all social media apps and any other applications deemed “optional.” This essentially meant that any applications or websites that are not absolutely required for me to function in 2020 had to go. For me, that meant I left all social media platforms (except LinkedIn) – Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram. In addition, apps like WhatsApp, Facebook messenger, Netflix, EPL, Bleacher Report, News apps, Sports apps, photo apps etc were all uninstalled. I left my bank apps, my kids daycare app, and NikeRun for my running exercises.

That meant I was going in almost cold turkey but not entirely. I’ve heard some instances where others simply switched from a smart phone to an older device. Some others include tv watching in that as well. It’s all what works for you while being honest with yourself. Now let’s get into what I learned from the experience (besides a better battery life for my phone).


A Lot of Apps Are Trivial Time Wasters

Probably the biggest and most obvious lesson I learned from my declutter is that a lot of apps are absolute time wasters. Whether it’s endlessly scrolling through a feed of dozens of trivial information & images, or engaging in arguments that add little value in the grand scheme or just clicking through headline after headline after headline, the theme is consistent. I could’ve spent a few hours a day just roaming around different apps/social media sites and achieved little to nothing of note.


Overall Productivity & Focus Increased

With a lot of internet time wasting cut out, my productivity overall increased. Without the constant sounds or vibrations of notifications, my focus was much sharper. I realized, in just about a week, that a large percentage of the reason I was procrastinating work I needed to do was simply because something else was chewing up my time. Within the first few weeks I was able to do a lot more than would’ve ordinarily taken me months to get done.

I’m not necessarily advocating for a social media ‘cancellation’ because I do see some of the value in it. Connecting, information sharing etc are all nice things to have. However, it became apparent to me that these apps are designed to keep you engaged endlessly while returning very little value. Cutting those out gave me a lot more time to do more rewarding and productive activities including (but not limited to) creating this site we’re on right now.


Important People Actually Called

Another thing that struck me within a few weeks is somewhat twofold. My closer friends and family started calling more, and those that didn’t really matter probably didn’t even notice I was AWOL. It also worked in reverse as well. Instead of assuming someone was doing fine because “they just posted a selfie smiling while lounging my the pool”, I actually took the time out to call and talk to friends. Find out how they’re doing, catch up on memories etc. Those turned out to be much more fulfilling than sending heart emojis on a picture or a 6 sentence “check in.”

I joked with some friends that called me after they realized I was off the grid that they’re now in my book of life. But all jokes aside, the lesson here was we swapped numerous trivial connections for less but more valuable in-depth connections. In a weird way it gave me the insight that overall we’re just not that important to a lot of people we think are worthy of our time and energy.


Mental Health and Anxiety – No Notifications, No Worries.

What you don’t know wont bother you. Without endless newsfeeds and hundreds of notifications I was less anxious overall about anything. I realized that I really didn’t need to know of the person in Wisconsin who fell ill and died from flesh eating bacteria or the right wing politician making noise in Chile. I can’t do anything with that information and all it’s done is occupy my mental space and increase my anxiety while offering me no solution. A lot of what is in the news I found to be either unnecessary or just an overload of information. Same can be said with social media especially in the era of COVID-19. Everyone apparently has a story to tell.

I resorted to reading 1 news item a day (generally from BBC or Aljazeera), and not bothering with anything else for the rest of the day. I’m not any less aware of current happening, and in these times it’s been a savior. I’ve felt better about things. Even when it seems like everyone is freaking out, I think I’ve been relaxed about it all.


The Art Of Being Present

It was something of a bad habit with me (and a lot of us). Being somewhere, but not really being there. I would be at dinners, or hanging out at a friend’s, or at the playground with my daughters, and about 50% of the time I’m checking my phone. It could’ve been an argument on twitter, or a meme on instagram, the scores, family chat, responding to an email. Whatever it was, it was denying me of the ability to be present in my current activity.

Making that conscious decision to declutter gave me the ability to be without my phone for hours, and also enjoy the present moment. I paid more attention to what my daughter was doing or saying, engaged more with the people around me, or just enjoyed the beauty of nature without feeling the need to show the internet world that I’m enjoying nature. I can enjoy activities and people wholly and not worry about the perception of what that fun activity looks like to others.


Better Social Interactions

I added this point because prior to the Covid-19 shutdown, this was one of the best things I was able to gain from this experience. When I didn’t have the option of mindless likes or dead end banter online, I naturally resorted to interacting more with the people around me. I planned out game night for every few weeks to get friends together, I talked to my neighbors more, and spent some time really getting to know some of my coworkers. Even conversations with family was much better.

Too bad Covid cut most of that short, but the lesson was learned. Post Covid, we’ll take these habits with us.


Conclusion

While I’ve done many “I’m leaving social media” pledges, this declutter was quite different. Previously, I simply replaced one digital tool with another, and didn’t get true value from the experience. Even though my 40 days are up, I’ve come up with an outline of what social media apps I’ve return to, and how frequently I’ll be using them. Some once a week, and others once a day for 30 mins. For some other apps, I’ve decided I can actually do without. There was absolutely nothing I missed about them when all was said and done.

That will allow me to continue some of the habits I learned in these 40 days. Calling close friends more, having more events where people actually interact (after Covid), take more nature walks without my phone, be in the present with my kids, and ofcourse be more productive with even less time.

Inner peace, being present and less time spent arguing on twitter about which politician is lying more? Yep. I can live with this.

Image credit: https://www.inc.com/

8 Comments

  1. interested poimts you make.

    possibly because i am u healthily into myself, i have always used most of the social media apps on my mobile Firefox browser, away from chrome which actually has my Gmail account and everything else. The only social app i have installed is Instagram and there is basically two things i post, kids and cars.
    i realized a long time ago the powers notifications have on our brains, so I’m a no notification person, even with my email. except it’s a really important email that somehow makes it into my primary inbox, I’m not seeing it until i intentionally open gmail.

    i do need to reduce the intentional check on some days of boredom, but overall, the healthiness of unplugging is very refreshing

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