Maybe you have heard the term digital minimalism. Or maybe it is just me who is constantly seeking out ways to be happier with less: less noise, less clutter, fewer things and worries and comparisons. Paradoxically, being content with fewer of these mental distractions means freeing up more mental energy and time to work towards my goals and do things that get me closer to being the person who I want to be.
It is possible that I picked the worst month to embark on a quest for digital minimalism. With the turn of the calendar from February to March came school closures in Korea; first a week, then three, then five. Unplanned, I spent the entirety of March inside my apartment, isolated in my remote town. With endless hours rolling into each other to become days, then weeks, the temptation to pass the time away scrolling through social media was, and still is, high.
Living abroad, I have a weird relationship with social media. On the one hand, I firmly believe it can be an effective communication tool. When used to keep in touch with people I care about, I feel connected, even if just through a comment or Instagram. Apply this idea to happy hour Zoom meetings and family FaceTime calls, and everyone who is social distancing right now understands that digital interactions help fill the need to socialize, though they do not replace in-person interactions.
On the other hand, social media can be a trap: a time suck; a barometer to measure how cool you are compared to others; a distraction from what really needs to get done. Tourists with cameras have tainted many a destination to me while traveling, in a quest to get that perfect Instagram shot; I have fallen into this trap myself. But there is nothing quite like traveling in a new country with no local SIM card, forced to put your phone away for the day and take things in rather than have the rest of the world a tap away.
Social media cleanse
Originally, my plan was to cleanse social media (for me this means Instagram and Facebook) from my life for six days a week, and allow myself to catch up on Sundays. This lasted for a week, and somewhere in my second hour of “catching up” on Sunday I decided I needed a new system.
The basics of the social media system I ultimately developed for myself involve one major change: 15 minutes on Instagram a day. I discovered that you can set limits for apps in your settings (settings > screen time> app limits) and that is exactly what I did. After 15 cumulative minutes on Instagram, a screen pops up telling me that time is up for the day. I have to muster some self control and choose not to ignore the message, but that is actually easier than I expected. I have had my fix—I’ve checked in on the people I care about, I’ve responded to messages, I’ve watched Half Baked Harvest’s latest recipe story—and I can continue on with my day knowing that I have not “missed” anything.
Coronavirus and the creation of more time
How often do we all wish for more time? More hours in the day; more days in the weekend? Indeed under terrible circumstances, but perhaps the unprecedented time we are living in can nonetheless serve as a reminder to slow down. To take a breath, to take a break from the go-go-go, the treadmill of life.
In normal-life, I think we would all be shocked at how much time we waste sitting on our phones… or maybe not? We each get the screen time reports; we are all momentarily disgusted with ourselves when they come and then change nothing. Maybe this is the time to change something.
We are living in a FOMO-free time; you are literally missing out on nothing. Use it to call a friend, or your parents, or grandparents. Allow yourself to escape into a really good book and live in an alternate reality for a while. Clean out your closet. Take an online course. Cook a new recipe; turn on some music while you do it—the uplifting, good vibes kind.
Whatever you do, let this time serve as a reminder to appreciate the good and important things in your life: the friends, the family, the health, the small joys. In retrospect, this may have actually been the best time for a digital declutter.
March: Cleaning Out My Closet
As I write this, it is April and while I have continued to try and limit my time on social media, I have set the new intention of focusing on cleaning out my (our) closet. While I am not yet home to clean out my own, I have been helping Joey’s mom and, in the process, learning new ways to dispose of and re-purpose the clothes and things we already have. Spoiler alert: Goodwill is not our best option for giving clothes a second chance. More on that soon.
Some recommended reading for your own journey to digital minimalism:
- Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport;
- You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap) by Tammy Strobel;
- The Chemistry of Calm by Henry Emmons
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