How To Declutter Your Digital Life In 3 Easy Steps

     Clutter suffocates me. Clutter races my heart but saps my energy. Clutter makes life hard.

The Decluttering Trend

     There's been tons of interest recently in decluttering our homes.  As a nation, we are becoming uncomfortably aware of our obsession with acquiring goods and the stress it brings to our lives.  

     Many authors tout different plans, but the KonMari Method, by Marie Kondo, has been one of the most popular.  Briefly, the method instructs you to pick a category, like clothes, and gather all of those belongings in one spot.  Next, you touch each item and ask yourself, “Does this spark joy in me?” The question has become a bit of an icon, but it is a great compass point.  Those items that spark joy, you keep.  Those that don’t, you acknowledge with gratitude and give away.
     I love the KonMari Method of decluttering because it puts a positive spin on a project that can be seen as drudgery. An urge to clean and organize used to send me to my closet.  I’d look around, think of all the “what if” reasons I should keep different items, pull out three things I didn’t like or couldn’t wear, see no improvement, and give up in discouragement.  Kondo’s method is the exact opposite. You start with joy, proceed with gratitude, and end up surrounded by things you love.

     My husband and I “KonMari-ed” our house in 2015 and it really did change our lives.  It left us with fewer items to manage and clean, but it also left us with a sense of lightness, of being more in control.  It feels good to be surrounded only by things you love.

Why I Decluttered My Digital Life

     In the past six months, I’ve applied Kondo’s method to decluttering my digital life and the results have been just as amazing!  I’m a retired teacher, still involved in teaching and tutoring, and I have a store on Teachers Pay Teachers.  Whether it was personal or professional, I realized that I was feeling irritated and distracted by all of the digital stuff coming at me every day, sometimes every hour.  It was creating anxiety and a feeling of always being behind. 

    I was looking at my Instagram account one evening.  At the time, my one IG account served both my business and personal needs.  I know, not a good system.  I saw that I was following over 4,000 accounts!  It dawned on me that there was no possible way I could genuinely connect with so many people.  And it was my own fault!  In an effort to connect with other educators and entrepreneurs, I had created a digital monster.  That was the night I decided to “KonMari” my digital house!  It has given me the same feeling of lightness and control and has de-stressed me significantly. 

     I didn’t delete any page, account, or subscription out of ill will. I originally connected with each entity because we had something in common. I hoped that we could share and collaborate. However, needs and interests change.  I simply saw that I was not giving or receiving value with many of the people I followed and that my digital “budget” could be better spent in other ways. I believe that reflecting on your digital life is a good exercise for any adult to consider.  Look over your digital house and see where you can remove elements that no longer serve you. Here’s how I did it.

     In a nutshell, you'll follow these three steps:

1. Inventory who you follow or connect with. Consider numbers as well as specific accounts.

2. Reflect with questions such as, "Do I immediately know who/what this account represents?  Do I genuinely connect with this person or page? Do I add value to this person or page?  Do they add value to me?"  If the answer is generally "no", unfollow or unsubscribe.  This step is the most time-consuming, but needn't be overwhelming.  Consider batching or spending 10 minutes a day on the task until you're satisfied with your list.

3. Maintain your new, smaller list by carefully considering before you follow or subscribe to a new account.  Be as certain as possible that the person or subscription will add value to your life.  If you make a mistake, don't hesitate to cancel or unfollow quickly.

How I Decluttered My Digital Life

1. Instagram:  I went to my profile page and clicked on the number of accounts I was following.  It was a LOT – over 4,000!  A list generated with a “Following” button to the right of each account.  I clicked on the button to unfollow the majority of accounts.  Be aware: It took me WEEKS!  Instagram only allows you to unfollow a certain number per day.  You can’t do it too quickly, either, or they see it as a bot or hacker.  They’ll warn you that you’re done for the day.  I kept at it and am now following a more manageable 410 accounts.  I also took the step of creating a personal account – better late than never – and followed friends, family, YouTubers, and other personal interests separately. 
2. Facebook and Messenger:  Between my personal page and my business page, I was following a great many pages covering different topics, including education, politics, food, lifestyle, friends, and family.  To declutter, I didn’t unfollow many friends or family – I’m pretty careful about who I accept as friends, to begin with.  Education pages that didn’t serve a specific need for me, even down to a particular grade level, went first.  Almost all lifestyle and food pages went.  I kept my top 4-5 pages on news, politics, and politicians.

     Next, I made a point to unfollow “experimental” pages when posts popped up in my feed.  I call them experimental because we all know that FB’s algorithm can detect when we reach out to a new subject or location.  It takes a few moments, and I find new ones almost every time I’m on FB, but it’s worth it to me. 

     A final way to reduce your Facebook interactions is to turn off notifications for specific posts.  Click on the bell icon on the upper right to see the notifications of posts you’re engaged with.  When you no longer want to see all of the responses to a particular post, click on the three dots to the right.  A shortlist of options will drop down.  Click on the “Turn off notifications about this post” line. 

A bonus:  As you unfollow pages, your Messenger account will not receive messages from them.

3. Twitter:  Although I have both a personal and a business account, Twitter is not a platform that I use extensively.  I generally keep up with a few educators, politicians, and friends.  A quick glance once a day is all I need to stay in control.  I only follow new accounts if they are extremely interesting or necessary for my work.

4. YouTube:  Man, I love YouTube!  I call it YouTube University (YouTube U.) because you can learn almost anything on this platform.  Again, I was following, and receiving notifications, from about 150 YouTubers.  I carefully curated my list down to 73.  Now, any notification actually “sparks joy” because I know it’s a video I really want to watch!

5. Pinterest:  I didn’t need to do a lot of work on Pinterest and actually didn’t unfollow any pinners.  The platform is a search engine, so I don’t feel I’m actually missing out on anything if I don’t follow up on all notifications. I can just search for what I want.  Also, users can opt-out of notifications, so you don’t have little red numbers telling you to check out a new pin.

6. Email Subscriptions, Blogs, and Newsletters: Holy moly, this was as huge as IG!  I have never been good about deleting used or unwanted emails regularly, so I had over 140,000 emails in my inbox.  Two tasks presented themselves: 1) I searched my inbox by name or topic and deleted thousands of unwanted emails; and 2) I unsubscribed from as many as possible as I went.  It has taken several weeks this summer and it’s an ongoing challenge, but I’m down to fewer than 40,000 emails in my inbox.  That’s success!

7. Phone Apps:  OK, this can take a minute!  Between social media, news, games, work, banking, music, tools, personal interests, and retail, our phones load our days with information!  I took this time to delete any apps that were giving me notifications that I was ignoring, which increased my stress level.  I thought carefully about which apps I was actually using regularly.  I also took the time to consolidate many apps into folders, which is more organized and visually more attractive.

     Those are the major digital platforms and categories that I have decluttered in the past six months. Of course, there are thousands more that we can use!  It has been a learning experience, both personally and technologically.  I’ve learned about which platforms I truly enjoy, the types of information I value, and the amount of information I am comfortable dealing with in a day.  Mostly, though, it has been a joy to reduce the amount of digital clutter in my life!

Moving Forward

     I didn’t go through all of this decluttering just to have it pile back up again! I am being very firm with new digital opportunities. New friends, blogs, subscriptions, platforms, and apps must pass the acid test before I sign on: Do they offer me, or allow me to offer significant value? If not, I pass. It doesn’t mean I don’t acquire new digital relationships, but they are few, far between, and full of value when I do.

     Have you decluttered your physical or digital life lately?  I’d love to hear about how it went for you!
Growing Grade By Grade
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