I recently read the book Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, which inspired me to do a 30-day digital declutter. As I write this, I’m almost halfway through the month-long process (+ seriously gaining so much from it!), and I thought it would be valuable to share how it’s going in real time and outline the 10 steps I’m taking to successfully complete a digital declutter.
I highly recommend Cal’s book (you can check out my other favorite books here!). The idea behind digital minimalism is that digital clutter is dangerous and costly. It’s easy to get sucked into various apps/technologies and forget about their cost in terms of our most valuable, non-renewable resource: the minutes of our life.
“Digital Minimalism: 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 things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.” —Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism
The “digital declutter” is different from a “detox” or “social media break”— it goes deeper and a bit more minimalist than that. The 30-day digital declutter is a way to wipe the slate clean and curate the technologies you use from scratch.
I wasn’t sure why this was so crucial at first, but now that I’m a couple weeks in, I’m experiencing the benefits of this more…. shall we say, “extreme” approach. I promise it doesn’t feel extreme though. Uncomfortable at times, yes. But mostly, this process feels freeing. It’s giving me a perspective I haven’t had since….. I joined Instagram back in 2013 (??!). Woah. Anyway, the point is: a 30-day digital declutter might seem extreme, but more than that— it’s eye-opening + deeply impactful + so worth doing.
“Digital minimalism definitively does not reject the innovations of the internet age, but instead rejects the way so many people currently engage with these tools.” —Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism
Why digital minimalism?
Cal makes such a great case for digital minimalism in his book, so you’ll just have to read it. But in the meantime, here are some major reasons why digital minimalism and a digital declutter are impactful.
- To help you determine which digital tools are actually adding the most value to your life.
- Intentionally clearing out low-value digital tools creates more space for what really matters to you.
- Increased mental space + clarity.
- More productivity + efficiency.
- Digital clutter can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression.
- Social media use tends to take away from real-world socializing, which is much more meaningful than leaving a comment or clicking like.
“The urge to check Twitter or refresh Reddit becomes a nervous twitch that shatters uninterrupted time into shards too small to support the presence necessary for an intentional life.” —Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism
Are you on board yet? I hope so because I’m confident that you won’t regret giving this 30-day digital declutter a try. Let’s get into the 10 steps!
1. Write down your why.
Get clear on your motivation to do a digital declutter. Do you want to be more present with your family? Have more time to focus on a hobby? Improve your mental health? If your answer is yes to any of these questions, dive one layer deeper. For example, if you want to be more present with your family, get specific on why. Maybe it’s because you realized that you’re missing out on moments you can never get back all because you’re distracted by your phone.
Figure out your why and write it down. This step is so important to keeping perspective throughout the decluttering process. There will probably be moments when you slip back into old habits, but taking a look at your why will re-center you and help you get back on track.
2. Delete apps on your phone you no longer use or want.
This step should be easy. I deleted apps I downloaded and used once (or never!), organized the remaining apps into categories, and also deleted miscellaneous items like podcast episodes.
3. Clean up your texts.
It feels sooo good to delete old threads! I also went into my settings to have all texts automatically delete after 30 days. At first, I was worried this automated clean-up would delete future messages that I might want to save. But then I realized, if there is anything that important in a text, I can screenshot it or add it to my notes when the important message arises. No need to hang onto unnecessary clutter for the occasional important piece of information.
4. Unsubscribe, baby.
You thought deleting old texts felt good? Well then unsubscribing to emails is going to feel *spectacular*. I unsubscribed to 95% of the emails I was receiving. And for those I still wanted to receive juuust in case (but rarely look at), I put a filter on them to automatically get sent to a folder in my inbox.
5. Delete + organize photos.
This can be a big task, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. My trick? *Google Photos*. The easiest way for me to stay on top of photos is to clear out my camera roll every few days by either deleting or adding to a folder in Google Photos. This process has also made me think twice before snapping a photo. Sometimes it’s nice to just be in the moment instead of behind a screen documenting everything.
6. Turn off phone notifications.
This is one of my favorite little hacks. The only notifications I receive now are phone calls, and it is so freeing. I turned off notifications before committing to the full 30-day digital declutter, and it has been a gradual process of getting to where I am now.
At first, you’ll probably feel like you need to make sure you didn’t miss an important text or email. And you may feel like you’re grabbing your phone more often than when you had notifications turned on. But trust the process. Eventually, this urge to check your phone will diminish. It will feel so nice to respond to messages when you choose to, instead of when your phone buzzes. And you’ll be more productive because your attention isn’t bouncing between several things at the same time.
7. Remove the remaining apps on your phone that tend to steal your time, attention, and other valuable resources (like $). Write down your 30-day plan for each app.
We are getting into the nitty gritty here, the good stuff. Also….. the hard stuff. For me, the apps included in this step were: Instagram, Facebook, Email, Pinterest, Snapchat, Amazon, and Etsy Sellers (which I use to respond to customer messages).
What we’re going for here is the intersection of sustainability and impact. In other words, how can you change the way you approach these digital tools that will be deeply impactful while still being sustainable? And keep in mind, you can always alter your plan as needed. Nothing is set in stone.
I removed all the apps I previously mentioned from my phone, and got really specific about how I planned to use these tools over the next 30 days. For example, I decided to only check my emails and Etsy messages 2x/day— once in the a.m. and once in the p.m.
This one change has been so enlightening. I realized how much more productive I am when I batch work instead of constantly responding to questions when I’m in the middle of working on something else. More importantly, this system is so much better for my mental health. I believe humans need solitude, and that simply isn’t possible when we’re in a constant state of reactivity to other people through our digital devices.
Earlier I mentioned that you can alter your 30-day plan if needed. For example, I originally planned on checking my Instagram messages on my laptop once per day beginning Week Two, as I receive some business inquiries in my DMs. On day one of doing this, I quickly realized that I couldn’t *just* check my messages. All it took was that little bit of scrolling through Instagram, and I felt anxious. So I altered my original plan.
This step is fluid, but commit to creating a starting point. An example 30-day plan might look like this:
- Instagram: Check messages 1x/week from laptop only
- Facebook: Check messages 1x/week from laptop only
- Snapchat: Completely stop using for 30 days
- Amazon: Only make Amazon purchases from laptop
- Email: Check emails 2x/day from laptop only
8. Write down a list of hobbies, activities, and/or goals you’d like to focus on over the next 30 days.
It’s amazing how much more time you’ll have when you aren’t wasting hours on your phone each day. It’s important to replace that time with something meaningful to you— it’s this step that will help your new habits stick. Maybe you want to read a book a week, go for a bike ride every day after work, learn how to knit, or cook more homemade meals. I read three books during my first week of the digital declutter (!!), and I know that I never would have been able to accomplish that without going through this process.
9. Set a weekly (or daily) check-in with yourself.
How are you feeling? What are you noticing? Did you check your email more than you originally planned on? Are you making progress on any goals that you set at the start of the 30 days?
It’s important to pause and reflect throughout this process. Regularly check in with yourself to assess how things are going and make adjustments as necessary. This could be every Sunday, every night before bed, whatever works for you to stay on track.
10. After 30 days, write down your own personal digital manifesto.
Once you’ve completed the digital declutter, you’ll have a much better sense of how you’d like to use technology moving forward. Jot down your plan— is Facebook going to stay off your phone? Are you going to stick with only checking your email twice per day? Do you need to set app limits in the screen time settings on your phone?
Essentially, create a plan similar in structure to the original 30-day plan you made, but with the future in mind. Keep your “why” at the forefront here. And maybe your why has evolved. Declare how you want technology to support your life and how you intend to use it.
Of course, your plan can (and will inevitably) change. But when you write down your personal digital manifesto, you’ll solidify what you learned from the digital decluttering process so that the positive impacts continue well beyond 30 days!