Digital Minimalism - What is it? and How it can make you happier

Minimalism is very popular with multiple generations right now. We all seek to live a simpler, stress-free life when the world tells us we need more. It just happens that a simpler life occurs when we have less clutter in our lives. When you think less clutter, physical items in your home might immediately come to mind. But what about your digital life? Is there such a thing as digital minimalism?

A few weeks ago, my husband and I went to see Hamilton at our local performing arts center. We sat in the balcony (seats anywhere else were astronomically pricey) and were amazed at how many people below us were on their phones. Not just one or two people before showtime, but dozens upon dozens of people had lit screens before their eyes.

Some scrolled through Facebook, some took selfies, other checked emails and played games. It was just anything to pass the time on a Saturday night while waiting for the show to start. What if they had all taken those few minutes to look up at the stage awaiting performers or chatted with the people they came with? Would they have enjoyed a richer experience?

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What’s Digital Minimalism?

Cal Newport defines digital minimalism as:

“A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support the things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else”

Who is Cal Newport? He is the author behind the book Digital Minimalism. So he knows a thing or two.

In other words, to embrace digital minimalism you are using your screen time and time spent online wisely. You don’t get sucked into the blackhole of Facebook or Twitter. You optimize the tasks that you must perform online and ignore the shiny lure of everything else. The phone, laptop, and tablet are put away during important conversations and family time. The constant pull of checking your phone is non-existent.

Want more on minimalism? Check out The 8 Baby Steps to Minimalism!

Is digital minimalism even achievable?

Digital minimalism is achievable. How do I know? I detoxed from social media, news media, and even my blog for a while. The result? Happy, uninterrupted time that I spent focused on my son playing, working out, reading actual books, and other hobbies. I was able to talk to my husband again without feeling like we both had something better to do.

In order to achieve this distraction-free state, I had to take this digital minimalism thing seriously.

It takes commitment and a change of habit to break the addiction of being online. Yes, it’s an addiction. Some people are so addicted to social media that they can be diagnosed with Social Media Addiction (source).

The rush of “reward” your brain gets when someone retweets your post or likes your photo is much like what happens when taking an addictive substance. Yikes.

To break yourself from social media and digital overload, there are steps you should take.

6 Steps to Break Up with Social Media + How to Embrace Digital Minimalism

How to embrace digital minimalism

Checking your Facebook notifications or your DMs can be rewarding to your brain… and it can be a major time-suck. It can also leave you feeling unhappy because you didn’t get anything done in real life.

Here the the steps that I took to embrace digital minimalism:

#1 – Turn off notifications

Like a dog to a doorbell, I would grab my phone any time it buzzed. It didn’t matter what the notification was – I had to check it.

With notifications turned off, I was more likely to leave my phone alone and focus at the task at hand. To check if someone had responded to a comment or emailed me, I had to unlock my phone and open the apps individually. While it was more time consuming to check everything individually, I was able to spend time uninterrupted during the day.

Go into your phone’s settings and turn off notifications for all of your apps that aren’t crucial to your daily life (i.e. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, games, news, Weather Channel, etc).

#2 – Unsubscribe from email lists

This is great for minimalism in general and digital minimalism. If you unsubscribe from brands’ emails and social media notification emails, your inbox will be less full. You’ll spend less time in your email box reading and deleting emails. As a bonus, you’ll be less tempted to purchase the products those emails are promoting.

#3 – Install an app like Quality Time

Apps like Quality Time actively monitor how much you’ve been using other apps and features of your phone. How much data you’ve consumed and how much time you’ve spent in each application (like Facebook, Instagram, Gmail, Wordscapes, etc) is also recorded.

They categorize that data by what type of app it is (social media, phone functions like text and phone calls, GPS, email, etc) and create a report you can look at everyday. Once you’ve used the app long enough, you can see how long you spend on your phone over days, weeks, and months.

The app runs in the background on your phone or tablet so you do not have to actively do anything with it.

#4 – Turn off mobile data

I’m SO GUILTY of mindlessly checking social media while I’m waiting in line for anything. You know what we did before cell phones were popular? We just waited in line patiently – like a normal human.

With mobile data off, I don’t even have the option to connect to social media or read the news. Of course I turn it on when I need to use Google Maps. But when I’m just running errands or going to the park with my son, it is off completely.

Allow your phone to only connect to WIFI. So when you’re at home, you can check whatever you need to.

#5 – Set limits for yourself

When I first started my digital detox, I would set a timer on my phone for 15 minutes. I could use Facebook, Instagram, and check emails during that period of time. But when it was over, I closed out of all the apps and tucked my phone away.

Setting a timer still helps immensely. I no longer get sucked down the rabbit hole of Facebook or Pinterest. I use social media with purpose (for my blog).

#6 – No screens in bed

This sounds dumb, but it is the best thing that ever happened to us.

Several years ago we decided that we could not have our phones, tablets, or watch TV in bed. The exception was when one of us was sick (or on bed rest – me) or if the weather was bad and we needed to know if we were going to be sucked up by a tornado (mostly joking).

This changed our lives.

My husband and I talked more. We both started reading again. And we had more quality time together (if you know what I mean 😉 ).

We purchased alarm clocks so we wouldn’t even have our alarms on our phones. Our devices are now plugged in on our dresser across the room.

There were no more late nights and late to work days because we spent hours doing dumb stuff on our phones or watching too many reruns of Friends.

The result?

I’m a happier person. I feel that I am a better mom and wife. There is more time back in my day. Gone are the days of comparing myself to other moms, bloggers, and friends. I have my own life with my own family – why should I compare that to anyone else?

Of course, digital minimalism looks different for everyone. You might be able to cut social media out cold turkey or it can take you a while to get used to the idea. Be strong and focused on the end result – more time back in your days and a happier you.

Digital Minimalism - What is it? and How it can make you happier

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