Mindful + Minimal

How to Be a Digital Minimalist

MinimalismMarisol DahlComment

At its most basic, digital minimalism is about applying the principles of minimalism to our tech-centered lives.

A digital minimalist approach encourages the thoughtful curation and use of digital tools that add the most value to your life and that work in service of the things you truly care about. Digital minimalism seeks to relieve digital overwhelm, limit excess, and bring a sense of balance and authenticity between your online and offline worlds.

Digital minimalism has become a particularly relevant topic to me because of my work. Since college I have run a digitally based business, with my computer as my workplace more so than any physical location. And for the most part my work has been in digital marketing and digital platform building. I love the online world, and am fascinated by how it is shaping our culture, relationships, and sense of selves. 

But less than a year in, dread and anxiety hit. I hated the constant race to produce more content, be active on all social media platforms, and master the latest strategies for greater audience reach. Everything seemed so fleeting and results-driven. I missed the joy of the process and the mindfulness that comes when you carefully consider how each online activity contributes to the whole. 

I ended up taking a break from everything—a year and a half silence on my blog, passive social media interaction, and bowing out of work commitments that just didn't intuitively feel right (even if at the time I couldn't put my finger on it).

I didn't realize that the concept of digital minimalism existed, but I was in the beginning stages of practicing it. I'm still working my way through it all, but I've noticed three major aspects of digital minimalism. 

Digital Mindset

I'm still figuring out how to put this in words, but the overall idea here is to lay the foundation for a minimalist approach that works for you. How do you want your digital activity to contribute to and impact your life as a whole? How do you approach your digital world in the first place?

We all have different reasons for wanting to engage digitally, and digital minimalism encourages us to be particularly cognizant of our goals, and how we can best leverage technology to those ends (no more, no less). Staying true to these goals—and even acknowledging when our goals change—helps us approach the digital world with authenticity as priority. 

Define your goals. Think about how you want to present yourself to the world. And then curate what you do digitally in a way that reflects the person that you are and the person that you want to be. 

A few other thoughts for this stage:

  • There is enough space for everyone to carve their own place online.
  • Let go of the fear of missing out: trust that the activities you engage in are bringing you the most value. Doing everything else would be like running on a hamster wheel. 
  • Do it for you. Why must online activity always be so focused on the validation and attention of others? 
  • Your digital world is a blessing of modern times. But it by no means replaces or de-prioritizes your physical world. 

Digital Environment

This facet focuses on the structures of your digital and online lifestyle and is guided by the questions: where is there unnecessary overwhelm? Where can I declutter to optimize the devices, tools, and platforms for my goals? 

These questions apply to all areas of the digital/online lifestyle: the technological devices you use, how you store your data, the apps you use, the social media platforms you engage in, etc. 

The action steps here are pretty concrete. Clean out the files in your computer. Close out email accounts that just add to confusion and overwhelm. Delete iPhone apps that you don't use or that sabotage your ultimate goals (this is the reason I don't have any games on my iPhone). 

For more ideas to jumpstart this phase:

Digital Behavior 

This feature of digital minimalism focuses on being intentional in your patterns of behavior online. It goes beyond the digital cleansing and decluttering, and offers an opportunity to see how your actions help you stay aligned with your goals.

The major underlying questions here are: how do you want to spend your time online? What will you consciously engage in? What will you consciously disengage from? 

My favorite way of exploring digital behavior is through the "rules" I set for myself, in honor of the ultimate impact I want my digital lifestyle to have. Things like:

  • Only use social media platforms you enjoy using. And don't feel pressured to engage in them in "traditional" ways or in ways that are excessive. 
  • Limit the number of tabs in your browser at any given point in time, so you can stay focused on your task and keep the overwhelm at bay. 
  • Opt out of digital "norms" that are just not personally meaningful. 

Above all, consider how you best achieve certain digital objectives, like keeping up with friends and staying informed on the news. For instance, my friends and family are spread across many social media platforms, but I've chosen to stick with Facebook for social interaction online. Another example: I may use Twitter and Facebook, but I find it best to follow online figures I admire through their newsletters and RSS feeds. Major hat tip to Cal Newport for his emphasis on scrutiny for best minimalist solutions. Quantified less does not always result in the highest desired impact. 

Ok. This is it for now, but I expect to constantly be refining these thoughts—especially since I alternated between saying "digital" and "online" which are not perfect synonyms and don't always capture the whole picture. I'd love to hear from you: what did I miss? What do you agree with? What do you disagree with?