The Focus Course

Digital Declutter: Retrospective

Our 30-day digital declutter ended last week, but I’m still processing my experience.

To be honest, my declutter is still going. I haven’t had time to sit down and think through my technology usage, so I haven’t reintroduced any optional tech just yet.

And I have to admit, I was slightly nervous heading into the declutter. I knew the end result would be positive, but I wasn’t looking forward to the uncomfortable process of getting there.

Optional Tech I Gave Up

  • No social apps on my smartphone
  • No YouTube on my smartphone
  • No TV (shows) Sunday evening through Thursday evening
  • No Web browser on my smartphone
  • No email on my smartphone

My Goal was to be less connected to things that didn’t add lasting value to my life and more connected to things that aligned with my values.

Intentionally Disconnected

Over the last few years, I’ve already reduced a major amount of time I spend on social platforms. And yet, it was still a major theme, even for the digital declutter. Not that it dominated my time before the declutter, but I found the just checks were still too much for my liking. So I more or less took the next step and removed the web browser from my phone. Now, whenever I was on the go not only did I not have the ability to take a quick scroll, I couldn’t even look anything up.

The bigger theme was being intentionally less connected. Less connected to the chatter that social feeds bring. Less connected to trending news. Less connected in general. It would seem this general level of connectedness was the cause of a baseline amount of mental and emotional fatigue I felt. Staying in-the-know was spending more mental and emotional margin than was worth the trade off of gained value.

Over the last month I haven’t been as in tune with what my extended network of acquaintances were up to, and I found that I didn’t really miss knowing what people were up to.

I didn’t realize how much I looked to social feeds (mainly Twitter) as a source of news. This discovery was a little surprising, not to mention how much I craved knowing what the latest breaking story was. Normally when I think of social media usage and the impulse to “check”, I think of notifications or social interactions. But what I was feeling the pull toward was the headline latest thing.

Because of the step back, I was forced (and able) to be more present in my evenings. Without the escape loop of social feeds, I could either hang out with my wife, be bored, pick up a book, or do a household chore. The inability to be connected helped me choose what I ultimately wanted to choose in the first place. I’d be laying on the couch after the kids were in bed, pick up my phone, realize there was nothing there. Then lay there for a while deciding what to do next.

Intentionally Connected

While I can’t say there was a life-altering transformation in my social life in just 30 days, I did have a handful of meaningful connections that were significant.

On a couple occasions I FaceTimed with family members and was able to catch up. These were simple conversations — hearing about the latest things going on in their life — but I learned more in those 20- and 30-minute conversations than a month of passively seeing an Instagram post or two. I had their full attention and they had mine. Even though we weren’t in the same room, it was the next best thing.

I also got together with a friend of mine twice over the course of the 30-day declutter. These were also meaningful connections that were pretty simple. One night was meeting for drinks and playing a board game. Another evening I had him over to play a board game after my kids were in bed. There’s no way to foster friendship outside of actually spending time in conversation. Texting doesn’t count.

These connections with my family members and a friend here in town were definitely a highlight over the last 30 days. These were simple interactions. I didn’t get on a plane to spend a couple days in Michigan around family — we FaceTimed. My buddy and I didn’t get away for a weekend backpacking trip. We got together and played a board game and talked.

Rather than plugging into a social network by default and not truly having a human connection, I was in more control of when and who I was connecting with in a much more meaningful way.

The Struggle

Now before you get the wrong idea, the 30-day declutter definitely wasn’t a cake walk. I felt a constant pull toward any sort of entertainment throughout the declutter. The void of removing a few services left me feeling a little exposed.

The raw truth was I craved stimulation. I just wanted to be able to plop down on the couch after a long day and veg out. I didn’t want to read. I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want to think.

While I didn’t have social media apps on my phone, and I didn’t even have a web browser, I still found myself picking up my phone looking for something to do. For the most part, there was nothing to find there. No email, no web browser, just a communication device.

I wouldn’t say I did things perfect during the 30 days, but the detox definitely worked in some regard. The desire to check in on Instagram is pretty much gone. Facebook for the most part lost itself entirely on me. Twitter was the one that I found myself wanting to check, and as mentioned earlier it was more related to news than anything else.

Overall, I found the urge to check these individual services has diminished, but the desire to check something is still there. I still crave that dopamine hit of a notification waiting to be found. So while I’m celebrating the win of detoxing social platforms, I recognize my addiction to cheap stimulus.

Reclaimed Time

Cutting off the supply chain to feed my addictions enabled me to reclaim lost time. While I could still feel the residue of my cravings, I had managed to free up some space to explore other things. As I’ve been preaching, now that I had carved out some space, it was time to fill it with something more wholesome.

Evening Routine

Truth be told, there wasn’t a majestic transformation of how I felt when 7:30pm rolled around.

The difference was, the ease of reaching for entertainment on my phone was gone. After a full day of work, dinner with the family, and wrestling three boys to bed, I’d collapse on the couch with my wife. Only now, I could either sit there and be bored, or after 10 or 15 minutes I could try to find another gear.

And there were a lot of nights the extra gear wasn’t there. Only instead of self-medicating with chocolate and social feeds, I stayed on the couch with a book, or I picked off one household chore I’d been meaning to get to.

Most evenings were a mixture of a little reading, cleaning up the kitchen, maybe picking up the house a little, prepping breakfast and coffee stuff for the morning, and then heading to bed.

The biggest difference to my evenings during the 30-day digital declutter was not getting sucked into a black hole of YouTube videos and social feeds.

While what replaced my vegging habit was simple activities of reading or household chores, the biggest benefit was getting to bed most nights on time. By removing the addictive loops of a few services, I was able to get a few things done and get to bed. That was it.

No life-changing new habits. I didn’t spin up a side hustle. Our house was still mostly a disaster with a few things set in order.

But, by getting to bed at a more reasonable hour, I was able to be more consistent in my morning wake up time.

Morning Routine

It’s amazing how much easier it is to wake up at 5am when getting a full seven to eight hours of sleep. Interrupted sleep at that.

We still have a relatively young baby in the house, so it has been a challenge to wake up early over the last year. But not all of that is due to our infant son. I’ve never been one that’s able to consistently operate on five or six hours of sleep. Some folks can do it like clock-work and be fine. I’ve always needed at least seven. And if I hope to string together a handful of early mornings, I need to be closer to the eight-hour mark.

Getting to bed at a decent time has definitely been the biggest factor in waking up early over the last month, which hasn’t been perfect. But, I woke up before 5:30am more in the last 30 days than I had previously in the past year. For me, this meant getting in some early morning run miles and solo time.

I’ve always been a runner and I’ve always preferred the morning hours. That’s to say, once again this was nothing mega ground-breaking. Some simple routine restored as a result of pulling back from some tech. Amazing. What I got back was my morning run. I got an hour of thinking without interruption. My introvert batteries got recharged.

All because I was able to put down my phone and get to bed at a decent hour.

Transitional Moments

Besides the morning and evening hours, there were also a lot of moments throughout my day that didn’t automatically get filled with a quick check.

And mostly, these moments were left alone. Instead of maximizing every minute of every day, I let the moments of quiet and potential boredom remain empty. Driving in the car. Waiting in line. Taking a short break at work. Going to the bathroom (ahem). Instead of filling every transitional moment, I let it be a moment of letting my mind wander or come down from whatever task I was just engaged in.

When we cram every waking moment with high-speed-adrenaline-inducing activities, we normalize marginless living.

What Will I Reintroduce?

Now that it’s been a week, I should probably decide what optional tech I will choose to reintroduce.

1) No Social Media: My primary supporting value of social media use is a broad connection to relationships. The declutter uncovered a different value for Twitter usage, being a news source. I found little social value in engaging social platforms and so I will limit my use to desktop only. As I don’t trust myself being able to access social media from my smartphone because they are addictive by nature.

No smartphone access, limited to desktop access.

2) No YouTube App: This again proved to be very device-specific. Having the YouTube app on my smartphone is too much for me to handle when it comes to my evening downtime. The value here in entertainment, and I am thoroughly entertained by what I find on YouTube. BUT, I shouldn’t be able to access this content WHENEVER I want to.

Limited to desktop or Apple TV use.

3) No TV shows Sun – Thu Evenings: The underlying value here is not wanting to spend too much time in front of the TV. Especially when evenings are the only time I’m able to connect with my wife or get things done around the house. This was the right amount of limitation to be helpful.

Continue as-is.

4) No web browser on my Smartphone: Having spent 6 months without a smartphone earlier in 2019, I kind of knew what I was getting myself into. And honestly, I really like not having a web browser on my phone. It keeps me from random internet habit holes that probably don’t need exploring.

Continue as-is.

5) No Email on Smartphone: Literally didn’t miss it. Like, once. It’s amazing how much I checked it when it was there. And yet, didn’t even notice it was gone.

Continue as-is.

Final Thoughts

I guess for me, the 30-day digital declutter gave me permission to get rid of a few things of which I was already suspicious.

The funny thing is, even after rambling on for 2,000 words about my experience, I didn’t even share what activities I chose to engage in over the 30-day period, which is a huge part of the declutter process. I didn’t forget — I’m just saving that for another post. It held its own discoveries and realizations.

With the 30-day digital declutter over, I feel like a less mentally tired version of myself. I think that’s the best way to say it. I’m still me, and I don’t feel there were too many radical changes. Maybe it just means I’m more of a digital minimalist at heart than I previously realized. 😉

I’m setting targets of what I’d like to go after next, but I’m genuinely happy with the change this 30-day declutter brought about.

If you participated in the declutter with us (and you’ve read this far) I’d love to hear about your experience.

Shoot me an email.
isaac @ blancmedia dot org

Thanks for going on this journey with me.

— Isaac

Photo by Mishal Ibrahim via Unsplash.

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