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What I Learned From My 30-Day Digital Declutter

November 19, 2019
What I Learned From My 30-Day Digital Declutter_Tiny Ambitions

Remember that time I took October off from pretty much my entire online life? Well, it happened, and wow was it interesting! Before I dive into what I learned during this month away, here’s a quick recap of why I decided to take this break (or read the full post):

  • I was given a massive new project at work that meant I would be travelling for most of October.
  • I needed to prioritize completing course work for the two online HR courses I’m taking this semester.
  • Social media has been rubbing me the wrong way lately and I needed to step away.

Basically, I just need a break. And it turns out this whole digital declutter was a good call. I was so busy this month (not bragging, being busy is the worst), that I didn’t have time to be on my phone checking social media or writing blog posts. 

I know that sounds glib, but for the first time in a long time, I had a lot less time than I’m used to to get stuff done in my life. Unfortunately for me, and for you depending on if you like reading regular blog updates, I couldn’t really decrease my workload or my commitment to my courses. I had to cut something to give myself some breathing room and it turns out that my use of social media and this blog are fairly optional for me. 

This brings me to my rules for my digital declutter. The book that inspired my digital declutter, Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport (affiliate link), recommends cutting out any technology that is optional for 30 days. Since this blog is not my actual job, here’s everything I said goodbye to temporarily:

  • Writing blog posts
  • Reading blog posts
  • Checking, posting or scrolling all social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, both personal and blog accounts. I deleted all of the apps from my phone)
  • Checking and responding to my blog email (I deleted the accounts from my phone)

This list might be only four things long but that pretty much encompasses my entire online life. Unlike other digital breaks I’ve taken, I wasn’t nervous about this one. I was so desperate for some space that I was practically gleeful when it came time to delete all of the necessary apps and accounts from my phone. It was an instant relief to not have access to my online life. I knew it would go on with me.

How did I spend my time during my digital declutter?

Usually, my online life used to take up a lot of my time. It’s how I spent my free time and generally speaking, I was ok with it. But what that meant during my digital declutter is that I had to fill my time with something else (staring at the blank walls of my house wasn’t an option). So what did I do during my online break?

  • Travelled over 3700 km for work (and got to explore some really cool spots in northwestern Ontario).
  • Completed a dozen or so readings and assignments for my coursework.
  • Knit everything in sight, including pillows, baskets, and shawls.
  • Listened to news podcasts, obsessively checked the CBC Canada Election Poll Tracker, and found bought some beautiful vintage pieces for my winter wardrobe.

One of my original goals of my declutter was to work on my in-person relationships. While certainly a lofty goal, my insane travel schedule pretty much prevented this from happening at all. However, I was on the trip with a colleague, and we ended up having a lot in common. So I’m counting that as a partial win. 

So how did my digital declutter go? Well, I did try to keep a diary for the month to capture my thoughts along the way, but I gave that up after about a week. It turns out there isn’t a ton to say about not doing something. But, over the course of the month, some things did become pretty clear to me.

Twitter Made Me A Self-Absorbed Ego-Maniac

I think a certain of self-absorption is required if you’re an online content creator. Why else would you think anyone would care about what you have to say? But, during my digital declutter I realized just how deep and compulsive that behaviour was for me through Twitter. 

If you’re on Twitter, first, my apologies. Twitter is a nightmare. Secondly, you know that Twitter is an echo chamber for people to yell their feelings into. I thought I knew this about Twitter but it became painfully obvious to me when I stayed off of it for a month. 

I started to notice I had this habit of thinking some inane thought and my immediate reaction every time was “I need to tweet this”. As if people were deeply interested in my inner ruminations about literally anything that happened to pop into my head. 

Unfortunately, the digital declutter did not change this pattern of behaviour for me. But it has helped me take it mostly off of the internet. Instead of sharing my knee-jerk thoughts with my Twitter followers, I’ve either been just letting them recede into the dark corners of my brain, or texting my sarcastic friends about them. 

I was worried that once I left Twitter, I’d be less informed about what was going on in the world. But actually, I think I left Twitter at exactly the right moment. We had a federal election in Canada in October and I cannot tell you how nice it was not to have to see all the Twitter noise about it. Somewhat paradoxically, but probably not really, I felt more informed about this election than any other election I’ve voted in. Instead of getting my ‘news’ from Twitter, I read articles, listened to podcasts with experts and did research. It was so joyous that I’ve made a news podcast part of my new daily routine. 

Instagram Made Me Realize My Life Isn’t That Interesting (And that’s OK)

As social media platforms go, Instagram is probably my favourite. I like getting a glimpse into how other people spend their time, decorate their homes and generally pretend to have better lives than me. However, it was only after coming back to Instagram that I realized how much stuff on the platform annoys me.

To not become a rant (lololol that ship has probably sailed), here’s a condensed list of all the stuff on Instagram I find annoying:

  • Inspirational quotes (like, so much though)
  • Stories that are just text, or blog posts as captions (that’s not what it’s for ya’ll)
  • Highly edited or curated images that make it obvious people didn’t just snap something with their phone

Ok, so, I think it’s pretty clear that I’m a curmudgeon. But let’s put that aside for one second. After talking to a dear friend of mine about Instagram, we came to the same conclusion. We want to use Instagram in amore low stakes way. For quick snaps of photos of what you’re doing in that moment, with some quick caption. 

Thanks to the declutter, this is basically how I’ve chosen to interact with Instagram for the foreseeable future. I used to post daily, but it turns out my life is just not that interesting. And, I’m pretty ok with that. I’ll continue posting updates when I have them, without pressuring myself to have a life-changing epiphany with every post. 

Interestingly, I lost the most followers from Instagram during the declutter (almost 100 to be exact). Because apparently people prefer being made to feel like crap after seeing photos of people unrealistic lives?

My Confused Relationship with Blogging

Part of my original intent for the digital declutter was to take a step back from blogging. I’ve just found myself in a place where it seems like no one (including myself) has original thoughts anymore. Most content has already been written. My place as a minimalist blogger has been confusing for me. There are only so many ways anyone can tell you that you need less stuff in your life.

Taking October off from blogging was a wonderful relief. Mostly because I was able to free myself from feeling obligated to post. Posting is something I want to do, but I have trouble dealing with letting you, my beautiful readers, down. So the digital declutter was a sparkling hall pass of awesomeness.

My brain has been recalibrating and I’m getting back to a place where blogging occasionally feels possible. For the first time in ages, I’ve had random blog post titles pop into my head. Since this is how I start drafting posts, so that’s been a welcome change that I hope I can sustain. 

I also realized that my relationship with online content has changed. Even though the declutter is now over, I’ve still only read a handful of posts from my favourite bloggers. This is not a slight at all to them or their amazing content. Now, I would rather interact with fellow creators in a different way. I still haven’t quite worked out what that way is. I think it involves spending more time engaging on Instagram (confusing, I know).

Final Thoughts

After 1600 words, I’ve probably said all I can say about my digital declutter experience. It was eye-opening and I think it has changed the way I will interact with platforms online for some time. 

Unlike other breaks I’ve taken, this one felt total and cold turkey, which I think is actually a good thing. Cutting myself off from optional online technology (which, tbh, is most of it) reset my brain and helped me evaluate how best to engage with the online world.

Mindfulness and less time spent spewing random brain vomit, aka Twitter? I’m all for it. 

Have you read Cal Newport’s book, Digital Minimalism? What did you think? Let me know!

Image Credit: Tiny Ambitions

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links which means I’ll make a small commission on every purchase (at no additional cost to you). All money generated by these links helps to support Tiny Ambitions. 

  • Chris @ Mindful Explorer November 27, 2019 at 2:50 pm

    As I mentioned on twitter with stepping back into the digital landscape…
    “Have faith in yourself that we can still put good content out into the digital world. It is just being mindful when the excess and urges wash over us and then stepping back to look at how we are spending our time and affecting us”

    • Britt November 27, 2019 at 6:47 pm

      Thanks Chris! This perspective is something I’m going to need to keep in mind moving forward. Thanks so much for reading!

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  • Life We Learn November 21, 2019 at 2:07 am

    I found this article very inspirational. I did a mini digital declutter about 2 years ago which basically involved deleting several apps, removing notifications and reducing my social media and phone usage. Unfortunately some of the habits I removed back then have wormed their way back and reading this has inspired me to do another digital declutter. I really liked reading about what you did during your declutter period. It really opens your eyes to see what other things can be done with our time and how much time we waste looking at our phones.

    • Britt November 21, 2019 at 7:09 am

      It’s so funny how habits can creep back in when we’re least expecting it. Good luck in your digital declutter! I hope it helps you get your time back. If you want to learn more of the data behind the benefits of doing a declutter, I’d highly recommend you read Cal Newport’s book, Digital Minimalism.

  • Dee Nowak November 20, 2019 at 7:30 am

    I’m reading Cal Newport’s book Deep Work and really loving it.. I haven’t got to the part about quitting social media, but I think I know what’s coming and I’m also ready to step back a bit.. Since I’ve got a new phone I’ve been on Instagram for a few hours every day (and I don’t even know where the time goes until I check my activity stats) and I need to just switch off for awhile again and return with a new perspective.

    Dee ~ Vanilla Papers

    • Britt November 20, 2019 at 7:59 am

      Deep Work is the one book from Cal I haven’t been able to read yet! I also love So Good They Can’t Ignore You, especially for online content creators like us. I do highly recommend a digital declutter. Mine was so great and it’s really changed my perspective on how I use it. Thanks for reading!

  • Emilie La Boissiere November 19, 2019 at 7:26 am

    Since I’ve read Digital Minimalism form Cal Newport, the book has been on my mind…I think a lot about the “influence” of content on our thoughts, our habits. And it made me reflect on my own life. I’m not a blogger, I don’t even post on Instagram anymore. I’m simply a consumer. One that is starting to have the nagging feeling that all this consumption of content is a way of filling a void, since I’m not participating in anything. I’m still reflecting and thinking of ways to be a better consumer, and not let the content dictate how I feel about myself or my life. So, I’m going to be reading this book again very soon!

    • Britt @ Tiny Ambitions November 19, 2019 at 10:52 pm

      I love your perspective on this! It’s interesting the insight we gain when we take a step back from something and see it with fresh eyes. I know my mind has been changed for at least a little while in terms of social media usage. ‘Influence’ is a funny thing. I’d like to think I don’t let online content influence me about things, but that would be too naive of me. At least I can control how much of it I consume and create! Thanks for reading!

    Hey! I'm Britt. I write about living a tiny, simple, intentional life. Because life doesn't need to be lived big.