Ah, digital declutter. The bittersweet topic that promises exponential growth in your productivity and less virtual narcissism. In the general sense, it’s a technique that will teach you how to clean your online space the same way you wipe your carpet and wash your bathroom. It’s a physical activity that allows you to clean and organize your nonphysical positions – online accounts, social media profiles, the apps on your smartphone, email, desktop, and all the other virtual spaces.
A lot of folks online talk about digital declutter. They share tips and tricks on how to properly vacuum clean your computer and rid yourself of the unnecessary files sitting on your desktop, collecting virtual particles of dust.
But while the net is getting even more polluted with “look at me how I cleaned my desktop” video and posts, most of the folks who produce these “revolutionary” essays don’t seem to get the main idea of this exercise.
The tips and tricks on how to clean your smartphone and reach the holy inbox zero state, might help. But hey, guess what will happen if you have zero emails inside your inbox today? You’ll crack a beer, show off online but the next day your online address will still be a mess because you didn’t figure out the root cause of your problem.
Digital declutter is not only about cleaning your online accounts, it’s more about understanding why you’re getting bombarded by emails and files in the first place. Then, refine your relationship with the online world.
Since a lot of what we do today involves the virtual world, if you want to live a better life offline, you need a solid game plan. A clear idea of what you’re doing online.
To properly digital declutter, you first need to understand the reason you go online. Why you visit sites like Facebook and Instagram? Then, once you have a better idea, to create a strategy.
And how this can be done?
Well, we’re about to find out…
What Exactly is Digital Declutter?
In the book Digital Minimalism, the author Cal Newport, shares for the first time a meaningful way to digital declutter. He argues that, by ditching online spaces for 30 days, you’ll finally understand why you visit certain websites and reevaluate your relationship with them. Also, at last, control yourself when your device is next to you.
Yes, you can clean your desktop and remove the unnecessary apps from your computer and phone – I mean, that’s a normal thing to do, it’s the equivalent of taking out the trash. But digital decluttering is not solely about cleaning, it’s about understanding the meaning behind your internet use.
What People Don’t Get About Digital Declutter?
Going online is like visiting a coffee shop or a restaurant. Or at least it should be. After all, you go to a restaurant with an agenda – you go there to eat and to have a chat with a friend. And when you open the menu, you do it with the intention to find something delicious to eat.
Unfortunately, that’s not how people approach online sites. They just go there and they do nothing. Or at least nothing productive – they hang.
Imagine going to a restaurant and browsing the menu for one hour without ordering. What do you think will happen? Well, in a lot of countries the waiter will be polite for a while before kicking you out. In others, they’ll immediately show you the door and hang a not so appropriate picture of you on the front door.
That’s the main idea of digital decluttering.
It’s to help you understand why you visit online sites in the first place. Not primarily to show you tips and tricks on how to delete files from your computer. After all, we’re not in 2nd grade and this is not an IT class. We know how to delete stuff. We’re simply too lazy to do it.
If you go to a restaurant to grab something to eat, for around an hour or two, you also need an agenda when you go online.
Don’t just browse because you have nothing to do, go online with intention.
How To Properly Digital Declutter?
For me, the process of digital decluttering looks like a funnel.
The idea is to take a break from everything virtual that doesn’t add any value in your life; Figure out what’s the most important thing in your life; And at the end of your sabbatical, only reintroduce things that reinforce your key activities.
It kind of looks like this:
At the bottom of the inverted pyramid lies your well-defined plan on how to use the internet. But to get there, we need to go through all the steps.
So, here’s the whole process:
The Digital Declutter Process:
Step #1: Turn off:
- Take a 30 days brake: Gradually lowering your online consumption rarely works. You need rapid changes. You need at least 30 days off your device. And this means don’t touch anything online unless your house is on fire and your best friend is a fireman who’s a social media addict. Yes, if this happens, buzz him over Facebook. Hopefully, it won’t. Now, let’s get back to the rule… So, schedule a whole month (it doesn’t necessarily need to be now) where you don’t use certain sites. Also, turn off the notifications and make sure all beeping sounds are muted.
- Create a ban list: Write down the sites, and other activities you’re not allowed to do/visit for 30 days. This can include things like playing video games, watching Netflix, visiting social media, etc. Obviously, if you need social media for work, you won’t add that in the ban list but you need to schedule a time to post stuff. For example, allow yourself an hour a day to tweet or share work-related things – or whatever you do with these platforms.
- Yes, clean your devices: Ok, at this point you can go ahead and clean your device. Remove the apps and the files from your computer and your smartphone – especially your social media apps from your smartphone. Unsubscribe from most of the bullshit you receive. Delete your files and folders and categorize your mail.
Step #2: What’s Important:
- Figure out what’s important: What’s important for you? Do you have a business? Probably your relationships with your friends and family are important for you? Yes, take the time, grab a pen and a paper and write everything down. At this point in the digital declutter process, you need to figure out the things that are of most importance for you.
Step #3: Reintroduce:
- Reintroduce: You’re now clean. But like a drug addict after visiting a commune, going back to your old ways of doing things won’t work. You need a new strategy. Don’t start using again the same time-wasting sites. Rather, based on the values you wrote above, find the best tools online to reinforce what you cherish most. For example, a lot of folks say that they use Facebook because they want to stay up to date with the life of their friends and family. That’s cool. No harm there. But we know what happens. Instead of “keeping with your friends,” you just waste your time. Why don’t you call them instead? You can schedule monthly or weekly calls with your friends to chat. You don’t necessarily have to like all of their pictures to show them that you care about them, right?
- Question everything: Before letting any new technology back in your life, question its importance. The main idea here is to let only tools that support what you truly value – discovered in step 2. If a tool or a site is not helping you with the most important things in your life, don’t use it. The following questions will help in the screening process:
- Will using this site help me do things I can’t do now? If yes, how can you make sure that you’re in control and this site won’t waste your time?
- Is there a workaround? A different way I can do things? If you play video games because you want to be entertained, why don’t you try board games? They are also fun, and they offer something extra – the ability to bond with a person.
- How often will I use this service? Create a schedule for sites you know that will waste your time.
- Will this platform help me do things I can’t do now? If the tool doesn’t add anything extra, then it’s just wasting your time.
- Do I really need to be connected with everyone? What is another good way to stay in the loop with your friends? Probably you can call them regularly instead of mindlessly scrolling online.
- Do I really need to use this tool? What is another way of doing things? There is always an alternative. And in most cases, the best alternative is not using the new tool.
Social media is the major thing you need to learn to handle because, in theory, sites like Facebook can “help” in all aspects we consider important. It’s fun, it allows you to easily chat with your friends. It gives you a dose of good ol’ dopamine. If you run a business, social media is usually one of the best ways to market your product. Still, there are alternatives to all of those “benefits.”
Let me share what I do…
This is how I do things:
- Friends: I regularly call them. I have the Messenger app installed on my phone but I only use it to make video calls with my friends because they are using it. Other than that, I don’t access social media. If I do, I have an agenda. And to make sure I don’t end up falling down the rabbit hole, I’ve unfollowed everybody to keep my newsfeed clean.1
- News: I’m subscribed to a couple of newsletters. I receive updates via email that keep me up to date with what new is happening around the world.
- Fun: I read books. That’s my fun activity. These days, I do most of my reading through my phone. This way, every time I have a spare minute, I read.
- Business: While I used to advertise on social media in the past, I prefer to use other channels now. One example is paying for ads inside newsletters. The conversion is better and it also feels better. Instead of funding the monopolistic platforms that try to ruin our attention, I support individuals who are trying to make a difference.
Some Closing Thoughts
So, the message is clear, right? Stop using technology for a couple of weeks, figure out what’s important for you, and then only use gadgets that reinforce the latter.
Is it going to be easy? Hell no!
It sounds easy but it’s surprisingly hard to go offline. Especially if you’re a hardcore internet user. Your mind will constantly think about all the funny memes and videos you’re missing out on. Your hand will automatically click through your phone to find your Facebook app. You’ll start asking strangers on the street if you can just take a glimpse at their newsfeed to tamper your cravings.
After a while though, your desire will fade. Your longing to press the “like” button and comment on statuses will disappear. You just need to resist the agonizing early temptation. And once this is done, you’ll see things from a different angle. You’ll realize how shallow the whole social media thing is. And hopefully, find a better use of tech.
- You can check this tool to keep your Facebook feed clean: News Feed Eradicator for Facebook.