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How to Get Started with Digital Decluttering & Simplify Your Life

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Are you tired of being overwhelmed by the constant stream of information and notifications on your phone? Do you feel like it’s taking over your life? Do you find yourself and your family with faces in the phone more often than looking at each other? If so, then digital decluttering or “digital minimalism” might be for you! Read on to learn more!

What is Digital Minimalism or “Digital Decluttering”?

Digital minimalism or ‘digital decluttering’ is a practice (and a lifestyle change) that prioritizes simplicity in our online lives. It is not about giving up all forms of technology or disconnecting from society completely; rather it is about finding balance between our lives offline and online.

Digital decluttering or digital minimalism means we use technology to enhance our lives rather than letting it control us.

Once we find that balance, we are able to enjoy both worlds without feeling overwhelmed or anxious. That feeling comes because they no longer seem separate anymore. But by minimizing and balancing, we can form distinct lines between them.

We become more productive because we aren’t constantly distracted by notifications or social media updates throughout the day while we are enjoying quality time with family and friends.

a woman sitting on the floor at her laptop and text overlay that says How to Get Started with Digital Decluttering & Simplify Your Life

We can spend that time with our loved ones without having to worry about what other people on social media are doing on their phones when we should be spending time with the people in front of us instead!

By following these simple steps, you can reduce stress, increase productivity, improve mental health, and enjoy more free time away from screens! The best part is that it only takes small changes in behavior to make a big difference in how much time we spend online every day.

We will teach you how to create boundaries between yourself and your digital devices so that they don’t take over your life. You can reclaim time for yourself while still staying connected with friends and family through social media or messaging apps. So what are you waiting for? Let’s get started!

Digital decluttering or digital minimalism means we use technology to enhance our lives rather than letting it control us. Click To Tweet

Is Digital Decluttering What You Need?

Do you feel technology has you at the point where you cannot have a moment to yourself? Is your phone the first thing you check in the morning and last thing at night? Do you feel like it’s taking over your life? If so, then digital decluttering is most definitely for you.

I got to a point in my life where I felt lost without a device of some sort nearby. I have my phone, my Apple Watch, my laptop, my Kindle…there was ALWAYS something readily at hand (or IN hand).

But on top of that, in my work life, I was not finding balance. I felt that as soon as I got an email, I had to respond.

If I got a text or a Slack message, I had to look at it and then, because I am a born multi-tasker, I would act on anything I needed to. Next thing you know I had 200 tabs open in my browser, I was stressed out and snippy! I also wasn’t doing what I enjoyed anymore because I was taking on so much at once that I wasn’t giving any one thing my all.

I would have a visceral reaction to the “ding” my computer makes when I have a message or text.

Still with me? Feeling like I am describing you? Let’s keep going!

Why People Are Drawn to Simplicity in Their Lives Now More Than Ever Before

One reason why people may be drawn to simplicity is that they feel overwhelmed and want to disconnect from the stress of work or home.

Other people may be looking to simplify their lives because it has been a while since they have experienced the peace that comes with simplicity. They may have started to declutter their homes and now realize they need to do the same with their online presence.

Digital minimalism could help these individuals live a life where what matters most is not lost in a cluttered digital life. Simplification also helps you live a better, less complicated life without distractions.

Digital minimalism Can Help you Live a Better, Less Complicated Life That’s Focused on What Really Matters Most to You

By limiting the number of digital items on your computer or phone, you’re able to focus more deeply and ignore other distractions.

This is a much needed skill in this day and age when we’re constantly being bombarded with emails, notifications, apps – even TV commercials! Digital minimalism advocates for living a simpler life where what matters most isn’t lost to clutter.

Follow these tips below to begin digital decluttering today! Don’t feel like you have to do ALL of these suggestions all at once! Choose even one to start with.

Then add another step and then another as you are comfortable!

Limiting Digital Clutter

So some relief from that digital clutter comes when you limit the amount of apps, websites, games and other types of clutter you have on your computer or phone.

Notice, I did not say “start to limit…”? I said “limit”. We are going to start slowly but we are going to start fully.

This includes the number of emails in your inbox, social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram that you follow and the number of notifications coming from them.

Digital minimalists believe that having less stuff will help you concentrate on what’s important without distractions and I am in that school of thought.

Does your inbox look like this?

image of outlook with 39,592 unread emails for post on digital decluttering

No lie…this is MY Outlook…right now!

I am THE worst at looking at and deleting email. Don’t get me wrong, I look at, open and address the ones I need to. These are literally junk emails or emails from stores, etc., that I just never opened or removed.

In my defense, I have about 10 email addresses between my personal one, my blog and this site’s multiple accounts. So it’s a lot to manage. But still, this is just a sign of not dealing with clutter. My inbox is last on my list of digital decluttering though because of the unusually high number of accounts I have so that is why I have not dealt with it yet.

But this is what a cluttered digital life tends to look like! Unread emails, tasks and reminders on your phone unchecked and it is ALL just as stressful as clutter on your counter.

How to Get Started With Digital Decluttering

Tip 1 – Start Minimizing Your Apps

One way to start minimizing your clutter is by looking at the apps on your phone and deciding if you have any that you no longer use or use very little.

Some people find they need to go through their email inbox, social media platforms, and notifications to get an idea of what they would like to declutter.

Once you have figured out which items you want to remove, you should do one big purge every so often. This will make it easier for things to remain organized.

If you have 5 social media apps but really only ENJOY using 1 or 2, get rid of the others. They are taking up time and are not adding value. This is especially true if you, like me, use social media for work. I had to choose two platforms I really LOVE and focus on those instead of feeling like I needed to be on every single one all the time.

Tip 2 – Block Scheduling

Sue, my partner on this site, is ALWAYS telling me to use block scheduling and for the longest time I would not listen. Even my husband showed me how to use Outlook to block off my time but I just ended up getting distracted by Outlook!

But block scheduling DOES work and it is definitely a sanity saver!!

Block scheduling is a simple time management technique where you schedule like or related tasks into blocks.

For example, instead of checking your email throughout the day as new emails land in your inbox, you set aside time to check and respond to emails and don’t touch your inbox the rest of the day.

Let’s say, you get into your office at 8:00am. You focus on emails from 8:00-8:30 then move on to your next time block.

The key to successful block scheduling is organizing all of the tasks that you need to do and then scheduling blocks of time to focus on just those tasks.

This eliminates multi-tasking (which, while we may be good at it, really is not a good thing) and minimizes distractions and interruptions in your workday.

Tip 3 – Turn the Sound and Pop Ups Off!

As I said, when that little “ding” goes off as I am working on something, it gives me a very real physical reaction. It creates stress just by hearing it.

Turn the sound off and also turn off those little pop ins and pop ups that show up on your screen when you have a message or email (unless you NEED that at your workplace). They are mentally distracting and take your eyes off of what you are focusing on.

Now I get it because I am a mom. If you have kids who are at school or out somewhere and you are concerned about missing a call or text that might be emergent, you can turn on do not disturb on most phones while allowing certain numbers to bypass that. So you can do that or you can check your phone every 15 minutes but JUST the lock screen to see if you missed a call.

There ARE ways to ensure emergency calls or important messages get to you while filtering out the friends who may text or call randomly throughout your work day.

Or do like I do and don’t answer the phone if you know it is not important. If it is your friend and it’s important, they will leave a message or follow up with a text. But I do not answer my phone at all during the day unless someone scheduled a meeting with me because I have had a “quick call” turn into a 2 hour call and then most of my work didn’t get done that day.

Thankfully I work for myself but if I didn’t I wouldn’t have taken the call at all.

And you have to treat your at home business no differently than if you worked for someone else. Your workday is your workday and people won’t respect those boundaries unless you enforce them.

Your friends and family who just want to chat need to learn that, from this time to that time, you are working. Just because you may be doing it at home doesn’t mean its not work.

Tip 4 – Cull Your Social Media Friends

I have a whole bunch of “friends” on social media who I don’t even know. I will see a post pop up, often political or controversial in nature, and I will think “who is THAT?”

They may have been a friend of a friend or a past business contact. But when your social media feed is filled with people you don’t know or interact with, it can keep you from seeing the posts you really WANT to see.

In addition to this, in today’s climate, many people are causing us stress with their posts. They may share posts that are untrue, meant to “flame” or cause arguments, or just hurtful or hateful in nature.

This causes emotional stress for us and we don’t even realize it.

I will give an example. I was watching the news quite a bit for a while. After some time, my husband told me I was being very negative. I had allowed the constant back and forth of opinion and rhetoric to make me feel down and in a negative space.

So I turned off the news and I was back to my old self again. Social media can do the same thing.

And it doesn’t even have to be political or news related. It could just be someone who is always negative and uses social media to “vent” about things in life and over time it starts to depress your mood.

This all affects you internally and is cluttering your mind even when you don’t realize it. So if you have “friends” on social media who fit this mold and they are not someone you need to be following you can do one of two things:

  1. Unfollow them – There IS an option on Facebook that allows you to stay friends with someone but unfollow them so you do not see their posts. This is a great feature when you have someone like a colleague or someone who is part of your offline life that you do not feel comfortable unfriending but just don’t want to see their posts.
  2. Unfriend them – Now on Facebook you have the option to unfollow but stay friends but on other social media apps there is only the option to follow or not. You need to decide if you feel comfortable cutting this person off completely. In many cases you can do this because, especially on Twitter and Instagram, we tend to follow people we don’t personally know. No need to follow a stranger who is making you stressed with their posts.

Minimizing the stress you feel from being online will make your experience more uplifting when you ARE on and won’t drag your mind down and make you feel worse.

Tip 5 – Digital Decluttering: Tackling That Inbox

I am speaking from personal experience (as evidenced above) that decluttering an inbox can be daunting. But it should be done for multiple reasons:

  1. Depending on your email service, you may only be allotted a certain amount of space on your server so keeping emails to a minimum frees up that space
  2. You don’t want to miss an important email because it got lost in a flood of emails that you kept in your inbox for later, are advertisements that you never deleted, or are just junk that didn’t get filtered but you left in your inbox
  3. Having a system for dealing with emails makes it so much easier to locate an older email if you should need it
  4. Visual stress is a VERY real thing. Ask anyone who gets stressed (ME!!) from a cluttered countertop in the kitchen. So when you open your inbox and see a number that looks more like the population of the United States than an email inbox, you WILL get stressed because it is something undone that deep down you KNOW needs to be done

So HOW Do You Tackle That Inbox?

1.Create folders for different types of emails you get. For instance, I have a folder in my inbox for Paid Bills. When I pay a bill online and get a confirmation email, I put it in that folder. Your folder should be cleared of any emails over 3 years that you feel you would have no need for in the future. If it is something that you want to hold onto for more than 3 years, maybe consider creating a PDF file of it and save it to a folder on your computer (use cloud-type storage for this so you can access it down the road if you ever get a new computer)

I have folders for my kids’ school info, for my house, etc.

2. Once you have created all the folders you need, go to your inbox and go to the bottom and start deleting those you don’t need. I give a quick glance and delete multiples at one time until I come across one I want. Then I save it to a folder and then continue on up. Keep doing this until you have deleted all the emails you do not need (and the operative word here is NEED…try not to hoard emails you really do not NEED like I do) or saved them to an appropriate folder.

This is one I am working on (again, I have a LOT of email addresses in my Outlook so that high number is not all one email address) but I am with you…not there yet!

3. Unsubscribe from emails you do not need. We all get promotional emails from companies or sites and most of them we don’t even look at. If you have not looked at an email from someone in months, unsubscribe. Only subscribe to things that add value. If you haven’t opened it in months it is not adding value. That will reduce the amount of email coming in to your inbox in the first place.

4. Get a second email address to use for emails you don’t want but you need to be subscribed to. This might be a business that you may need to be signed up for in order to use their service but you know that you are also going to get a bunch of emails you don’t want. Or maybe you do couponing or sweepstakes but don’t want to clutter up your personal inbox. You can use another email account for those “fun” things that keeps them separate from your personal emails. But don’t let that one get out of hand either. Go in occasionally and do a sweep and delete.

You need to make the decision with every email that comes into your inbox to either act on it (reply to it, forward it, etc), save it for later (receipts, business emails you need to reference later, etc., that you will add to a folder) or delete it!

For more info, visit our post on Organizing Emails!

Tip 6 – Clean Up Your Downloads Folder and Desktop Folder on Your Computer

Ok I am guilty of this one too because of the nature of my work. I save a LOT of images I create for my blogs and when I download them from Canva, I often leave them in my downloads folder.

Eventually that downloads folder begins to eat up all the storage on my computer so what would I do? I would then create a folder on my cloud drive and drag all those items into that because it had grown so big I didn’t have the time to go through them.

I was hoarding my own images. The problem was I thought I might need them at some point, however they were still in Canva if I needed them, I always save my images for every post on an airtable base and they are also in my media library in WordPress. I WAS HOARDING.

So if your downloads folder or desktop folder or documents folder on your computer is loaded with files, do the same thing with them as you do with your inbox. Choose to act on it (finalize what you need to do with it and get it over with if it is a work in progress), save it (if it is an item you need to keep like a business document or a spreadsheet you use save it to either your cloud or use Google Docs or Google Sheets) or bite the bullet and delete it!

Google Drive is a great way to use documents without them ever living on your system. Use Google Sheets instead of Excel. Use Google Docs instead of Word or if you DO prefer those, save them to your Google Drive or your cloud if you’re on a Mac. And if none of these fit, delete it! If you don’t need it anymore just get rid of it.

If you do use Google Drive, the cloud or Dropbox or whatever you use…don’t let it become a document graveyard. Every year go in and delete what you no longer need. Pick the same day every year if you need to. They say to change your smoke detector batteries every time we move the clock ahead or back…well, maybe use one of those days to clean out your documents and images too.

Tip 7 – Clean Up Your Photos

Ok this one is going to sting a little but you do not need 25 pictures of Little Johnny holding the football. Pick one and delete the others since they are all nearly identical.

We tend to take multiple pics of the same thing just in case the others come out bad. But many times we end up keeping them all and never dealing with them. You only need one image of the same thing. Delete the others.

Go through all your photos on your phone or computer and start removing the ones you don’t need. This is particularly true of screenshots.

I am the screenshot queen. I take screenshots of things just so I remember something. I did have a stroke in 2019 and it is one of the ways I remind myself about something. But what I NEED is something to remind me to go back in and delete that screenshot after I am done with it!

Our photos take up so much space and we could really delete a lot of them so do a clean up of your phone and computer and do not forget your text messages! We are GIF crazy these days and those GIFs live in our text messages so go through your attachments in your messages and delete images off of there as well.

You can also use Google Photos to store your images off your system. As you can see, I am a big fan of Google for storage!

Tip 8 – Turn Off Before Turning In

I have always had a hard time falling asleep and my doctor gave me excellent advice! She said turn off all electronic devices at least an hour before going to bed. She said read a book or listen to soothing music or sounds or whatever will help you to unwind and allow your brain to get ready to settle down for the night.

She told me the light from electronic devices can make it difficult for your brain to get itself into sleep mode due to blue light.

I did some research on it and The Sleep Foundation’s site confirmed this.

From the Sleep Foundation:

Electronic back-lit devices like cell phones, tablets, readers, and computers emit short-wavelength enriched light, also known as blue light. Fluorescent and LED lights also emit blue light, which has been shown to reduce or delay the natural production of melatonin in the evening and decrease feelings of sleepiness. Blue light can also reduce the amount of time you spend in slow-wave and rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep, two stages of the sleep cycle that are vital for cognitive functioning.

So turn off the devices before you turn in for the night and let your brain have a break from electronics. And check out their article for other great tips to help you sleep better at night by managing your use of electronics.

For some more great insight and tips on digital decluttering, I went searching and found this amazing video by Ronald Banks that most closely mirrored the topics I covered and I fell in love with it! So I hope you enjoy it and find it useful. He goes into some great ways to filter emails that I found really helpful and know you will too!

And if you want to work on decluttering in all areas of your life, including at home, take our 30 Day Clean Home Challenge by signing up below!

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