My Digital Declutter: Week One

At the beginning of 2020, I shared that my Word of the Year is Presence. I wrote about it HERE if you'd like to hear more about why I chose this word. Basically, 1) I want this year to be marked by increased awareness of and lingering in God's presence and  2) I want to be more present in the lives of my husband and baby boy. I am naturally a very distractible person as well as constantly multi-tasking to try to keep up with all the things I hope to accomplish every day. Add to the mix that I have a bit of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) so I like to stay connected to social media to see what's going on in the lives of family and friends. The end result is an easily distracted and far too connected mind that rarely truly rests. I pick up my phone far too often.  Even though I have existing boundaries for my social media, including keeping Sundays free of social media and cutting off my social media use after 9pm and not getting on until noon the next day, I have often reverted back to undisciplined use. I read Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport last month  and it was the final kick that helped me decide to declare March my Digital Declutter month. This means  I will abstain from all "unnecessary" iPhone use, including social media, YouTube, and any other phone applications I decide on. 

Newport defines digital minimalism as applying the idea of minimalism ("the art of knowing how much is just enough") to our personal technology use, which is "the key to living a focused life in an increasingly noisy world". 

 In the first part of this persuasive and thoroughly researched book, he argues why digital minimalism is essential in such a technologically noisy world. He uncovers the psychological mind games that social media moguls such as Facebook employs to get people coming back to them over and over, spending hours of valuable time frittering away. Billions of dollars are made off of our distracted, and often tech-obsessed minds. Not only that, but being constantly wired is actually not how we are wired. Studies have recently linked anxiety to increased technology use because we are constantly bombarded with what seems emergent and we never have time to rest and recuperate as well as the unending availability of news that is overwhelming to our minds. In addition, he argues that allowing the bulk of our communication to be through social media and texting hinders us from social connections in real-life and keeps us in a superficial, emoji-heavy conversational mindset. 

His solution is a purposeful reclaiming of our technology that starts with a mind shift in what technology should be doing for us. This is not about changing habits or making new ones, though that is definitely part of it, nor is it about mere behavior modification or self-deprivation from what we deem fun and possibly necessary. It is more about creating a personal philosophy about your own personal technology use and then creating a plan with practices to make it a reality. The result, he claims, is a quieter, more enriching life. Newport strongly advocates that a month-long "digital declutter" (absolute break from certain parts of technology) is the best way to evaluate what is actually necessary to incorporate in a more intentional manner after the month-long abstinence.  

I was definitely challenged by this book and decided that I would engage in the month-long digital declutter and then evaluate in April how I want to proceed in my technology use. Rather than adding one more thing for me to do, I am seeing this as an opportunity to reset and rest. As it overlaps with most of the Lenten season, I see it as giving up something that I rely on, exchanging it with an increase in time and mental space to dwell on things that matter more than clicks, "likes", and keeping up with the latest news.  

Newport offers a plethora of practices to make digital minimalism a reality. I considered them and made my own plan of action that I feel could work for me, knowing I may change some things once the month is over. I am four days into the digital declutter and I wanted to share some of the plan thus far. I hope to post a follow-up at the end of the month or in early April when I implement changes. 

Purpose for Digital Declutter:

 I want to carve out more time for what matters most: time with God in prayer and Bible study, time with Greg and Elliot, and time with friends and extended family. I want an increased awareness of God's presence in my life, a heart full of more gratitude rather than comparison, and a mind that is decluttered from all the noise that accompanies technology. I want my phone to work for me, not for me to be controlled by my phone. I want to reclaim time spent on my phone to be used in more life-giving and relationship-building ways with family and friends. I want to practice stillness and have a mind that is able to listen above the nose to what God is saying to my heart through the Bible and prayer. I want to prove to myself I do not need to stay connected as much as I once thought I needed. 

What I am saying NO to in March: 

  • Instagram
  •  Facebook
  • YouTube
  •  reading blogs (I will still write)
  • Snapchat 
  • Goodreads. 
  • I will decrease use of Pandora, audiobooks, and podcasts.

What I am saying YES to in March:

  • Purposefully leaving my phone at home at least once a week (or, if necessary, placing it at the bottom of my diaper bag where I cannot easily access it unless needed for calling Greg or using GPS). 
  • Buying a digital watch and a digital clock for Elliot's room so that I do not need to continue to rely on my phone to monitor how long Elliot is nursing and napping (I currently keep track of both). I will use the stopwatch function as needed on my watch instead of my phone
  • I will carry around a small, thin journal roughly the size of my phone where I can quickly jot down notes throughout the day so I am not as often grabbing my phone to write in the Notes section. I will then be able to keep my phone farther away from me, such as in a different room without feeling like I need it all the time to jot down something fast before I forget.
  • Use a physical Bible and Concordance rather than my Bible app and Blue Letter Bible study tool. These are both great and will be used again after this month, but I want to stay off my phone and not be tempted to check other things and get distracted if I am using my phone for something I can easily attain from a physical copy of a Bible.
  • Incorporate what Newport calls "digital Sabbaths" that last between a half hour to a few hours where I completely abstain from any use of my phone so I can have solitude and stillness. For now, this will be most easily done during one walk a week when I am on our trail pushing Elliot in the stroller (I typically use these walks to listen to audiobooks). Since I take multiple walks and jogs per week on this trail, I can still listen to audiobooks, a fun hobby of mine, but once a week will use that time to pray, be mindful of nature around me, and be more engaged with Elliot. This will also mean at least once a week I will have a silent car ride, void of any music, audiobook, or podcast
  • Decrease texts and instead opt to meet with several friends for coffee or walks and send more snail mail to distant friends. 
  • Keep my phone on Do Not Disturb throughout the day, unless I am expecting an important call. This way, I can check my phone less often and reply whenever it is convenient rather than feeling pressured to respond right away (unless it is a time-sensitive question or request). I have had small anxiety attacks during moments when I am already stressed or feeling pulled in several directions and then recieve a string of text messages that are not urgent but are still at the forefront of my attention. Being slightly less available will help me value in-person interactions more than interactions via my phone. 
  • I will try to use nursing sessions for reading, praying, memorizing Scripture with my note cards I am already using, and occasionally listening to audiobooks. This was previously my social media time.
  • I will continue to take photos of memories I want to keep both personally as well as for future sharing on Instagram (such as Elliot's 6 month milestone photo) so I don't feel like I am missing out on sharing fun moments through photography, something I enjoy, but will obviously not post them until after March.  I will send these photos to family via text if they are photos I want to share the same day. But I will balance this with "undocumented" time when I am simply enjoying sweet moments with Elliot without trying to get the right angle or creative pose. 
  • More time to write! Blog posts, letters to Elliot in my journal, gratitude list, and maybe even a bit of creative writing. Who knows, maybe I will revisit my children's book manuscript and edit it before trying to send it to publishers again! 
  • Do some fun things this month that I have been wanting to do. Ideas include: dusting off my violin and playing a few songs for Elliot, taking out my watercolors and calligraphy brushes and creating something for either myself or as a gift, sewing something easy.
In April, as mentioned, I will re-evaluate how I want to add in the parts of technology I am completely abstaining from. One idea is to use social media only for an allotted time on Mondays and Fridays, abstaining the other days. Whatever I end up deciding, I hope it will continue to fall in line with my purpose as stated above. 

Have you ever taken an intentional break away from social media or other parts of technology? Any advice you want to impart with me? I would love to hear about your experience! Or even if you have not taken an actual break, are there boundaries you place for your phone use? 


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