Why it’s important to digitally declutter your life, and 5 ways to do it


a close up of a device© The Independent Singapore

Technology is a brilliant and wonderful thing that has permeated practically every area of our lives with its advantages. We can communicate with friends, order groceries, have food delivered, do our shopping, read the news, pay our bills, watch movies, book travel tickets, play games and do pretty much anything with just a few searches and clicks. There is an app out there designed to make any process quicker and easier.

While technology’s benefits are indisputable, we cannot ignore its equally irrefutable disadvantages. People spend so much time on devices that it has caused harm to physical and mental health, interpersonal relationships, and creative mental processes.

Endlessly (and often mindlessly) staying on devices uses up a lot of time that could otherwise be used for other, more purposeful activities and can contribute to a more sedentary lifestyle, which negatively affects health and fitness.

The use of social media has produced many ill mental health effects, including clinical depression, anxiety, mood swings and a loss of self-worth resulting from worrying over status, how many “likes” or “hearts” one’s posts receives (or doesn’t receive), and envying other people’s lives (therefore causing discontentment in one’s own existence).

Interpersonal relationships have suffered in an age where instantaneous responses are expected (thanks to “instant” messaging), bad feelings can ensue from someone “scene-zoning” (seeing but not replying to) one’s messages, and people are more comfortable expressing their emotions through emojis rather than actually using their words to talk to each other.

There has been a slump in creative mental processes because people’s minds are constantly occupied by “autopilot” mode. Look around you, and practically everyone is looking down at their phone, so much so that they’re accidentally walking into things, unaware of their surroundings. Mental downtime is important, and so is boredom, to encourage creativity and problem solving.

Minimalism has become a popular trend when it comes to physical items, thanks to the likes of Marie Kondo and her KonMarie method of sorting through and decluttering.

We also need to consider that digital decluttering is necessary for a more holistic existence, both physically and mentally.

Here are five simple yet effective ways that we can digitally declutter our lives and make room for more genuine interactions as well as physical and mental activity.

Organise apps and declutter your smartphone 

Take stock of the apps on your mobile phone—start with organising them by category (such as “Finance”, “Work” and “Travel”) and place them into corresponding folders. This is a good way to assess which apps are redundant. Keep only what you need and delete what’s unnecessary.

Next, ask yourself to get rid of apps you barely use. There’s nothing wrong with re-downloading an app in the future should you actually need to use it. Then, go even further by asking yourself which apps make you unproductive, and if you have the stones to delete them, do so!

Engage in genuine interactions sans smartphones

Having lunch with a friend, enjoying a drink with your partner or talking to your kids about their day? Remove all smartphones from the picture. Physically put them aside where you can’t see them and put them on silent. Talk to people. Give them your full attention and engage in genuine interactions.

If you want to whip out your phone to take a picture (like when with company or in spending time in nature), do so, but then quickly put it away again. “Out of sight, out of mind” applies strongly here.

Espouse purposeful use of devices

How often do our phones beep, chirp or whistle, signifying some random notification which we automatically have to check? How many times a day do we absently scroll through social media for no apparent reason or purpose?

Notifications can be distracting and disruptive, taking us away from where we are at the present moment; we go on autopilot and without even thinking we pick up our phones.

We need to take charge and espouse purposeful usage of technology—make a conscious effort to use our phones only when it adds value to our lives.

Adjust the notification settings for each app. Turn off app notifications for unimportant apps, and be sparing about those whose notifications stay on. You don’t need to go running for your phone every time a beep tells you to.

Schedule digital downtime

What is the first thing you do when you wake up and the last thing you do before you go to bed? The answer most likely has something to do with checking your smartphone. We’re all guilty of it.

One effective way of digitally decluttering our lives is to schedule digital downtime. Make sure there are parts of your day (such as first thing upon waking and right before bedtime) where you allow yourself a break from digital devices. Studies have even shown that the blue light emitted by digital screens can disrupt a good night’s sleep.

Set aside some time on the weekends where you stay away from devices. Read a book or spend some time in nature. Remind yourself that you have a life away from your smartphone.

Weed through and cull “friends” on social media

Another place that needs decluttering are our friends lists on social media. How many people on your list do you actually know? Think about who you really want to keep in touch with—whose posts you want to see on your newsfeed and you want to looking at your own posts.

Un-friend and un-follow whomever you need to in order to cultivate a decluttered environment on your social media accounts. If a particular person’s posts makes you feel uncomfortable or distressed, don’t be afraid to cull them from your online life.

Georgetown University associate professor of computer science Cal Newport published a book titled Digital Minimalism in February 2019. It became a New York Times bestseller, its message connecting deeply with readers, emphasising our inner need for mindfulness and rest from the digital world.

“Simply put, humans are not wired to be consistently wired,” says Newport.



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