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Digital minimalism: How to declutter your life online

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Think of digital minimalism as the healthy eating plan vs the detox “crash diet” approach – it’s about creating balance that works for you rather than cutting it out altogether. Find out more about the what, why and how to embrace digital minimalism.

What is digital minimalism?

Based around the theory that technology is intrinsically neither good nor bad, it’s all in how you use `it (and lose it) embracing digital minimalism ensures your technology use supports and enhances, rather than runs, your life. 

The term was recently coined by Cal Newport, an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, who explains digital minimalism requires you to be far more selective about the technologies you adopt in your personal life.

Dubbed the ‘Marie Kondo’ for the device and tech based portion of your life, Newport’s method is not about ditching technology and all it has to offer, rather pressing pause, then taking a decidedly considered approach to what is reintroduced – based on what offers meaning to your life (or ‘sparks joy’) and only inviting back in the things that do so. 

The benefits of a digital ‘declutter’

Learning to use technology rather than letting it use us is only part of the plan. Much like Kondo’s decluttering allows for more enjoyment of the items you choose to keep and treasure – be it for their usefulness or the pleasure they offer, so too does assessing all of your tech habits and only keeping the ones that ‘fit’. 

It also makes room for more meaningful pursuits. When you consider how much of your day to day life revolves around digital distractions, imagine how much more time you’ll have on your hands by leaving your phone at home when you go out for day with your mates?

As well as more actively engaging in the activities you do tech free, you will also have newly opened up time on your hands to fill with new (or forgotten) hobbies. 
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It may sound far-fetched, but Newport had 1600 people completely unplug for one month to get their digital minimalization journey kick started (this first phase allows you to step back and gain clarity around what we can and don’t want to go without moving forward.)  Psych Central shared several success stories plucked from the feedback.

During the declutter, one participant read almost nine books. Another participant read three books, organised her closet, scheduled dinner dates with friends, and had more face-to-face conversations with her brother. A third participant started journaling and reading before bed every night, along with listening to records on a record player, which he found to be a much richer experience than streaming music.

Newport claims you’ll reconnect with people on a deeper level in a different way by taking the minimalism approach. He says while being off social media may make you feel you’re rel="noopener noreferrer" missing out, one of his participants says he found the opposite came to be true. 

“I’ve become much better at simply talking to people and meeting new people because I can’t just pull my phone out to get through periods of boredom or awkwardness. Instead I just talk to people more, and as a result, I’ve grown closer to my friends…and I’ve made new friends by talking to random people throughout the day.”

How to become a digital minimalist

The declutter stage will likely be the most challenging step. Try and go the full 30 days to help you develop the clearest picture of what you do and don’t need from your technology. A little planning ahead can help.
  • It’s likely you will miss out on some events because your social media won’t be there to alert you to them. If you’re worried, give your friends notice of what you’re up to and remind people to get in touch with you directly if they have events – and make time to check in with them yourself
  • It’s also important to remind yourself of why you are doing your declutter – long and short term goals are key to achieving big change
Once you’ve decluttered, it’s time to identify what technology enhances your life, how you’ll manage it and what you’ll axe.

Stuck for ideas? Newport shares some of the tips and tricks he liked from the feedback:
  • Be mindful of what you reintroduce into your digital ‘portfolio’ and how you use it. “For each technology you reintroduce, determine what value it serves in your life and how specifically you will use it so as to maximize this value,” Newport writes
  • Make your mobile phone much less mobile – one of the people he surveyed, Brady, says he now leaves his phone at home when he’s at school, “allowing him to complete his academic work without distraction.”

    When he gets home, he says he spends 20 minutes responding to emails texts and messages, then leaves his phone tethered to the wall via his charger – meaning no more mindlessly scrolling through websites while doing other tasks
  • Be prepared for the extra free time: “Like many new digital minimalists, after Brady got more intentional about his technology, he was confronted with a sudden influx of free time…he succeeded by filling in these newly open hours with carefully-selected activity,” Newport says
Like any new habit or lifestyle change, the key is to be clear on your motivation, goals and how you will handle any hiccups along the way!

The Minimalists talk digital declutter with Cal Newport