Digital Minimalism: How to Have a Balanced Relationship With Tech

A Clear and Simple Guide to Digital Minimalism

By Cora Gold, Editor-in-Chief of Revivalist

You hear the all-too-familiar ding of your phone. You instantly wonder if it’s the text reply you’ve been looking forward to, a work email, a sale alert from your favorite store or an update on social media. You excitedly pick up your phone — only to realize it’s your weekly Screen Time alert. If you’re like most Americans, the statistics staring back at you might be horrifying.

So, what do you do to change your habits?

You can go the most common route — playing the denial card and continuing life as usual. Maybe you make some weak promises to yourself that you’ll be better this coming week, but you don’t solidify any further. Your best intentions will fail without a plan, and you’ll end up in the same position the following week.

The other option is to take action. You need a plan for whittling out time-sucking tech from your life and keeping only what brings value to you. That’s where digital minimalism can help.

Part of a series on Minimalism:

What Is Digital Minimalism?

Cal Newport, New York Times bestselling author and creator of “Deep Work,” is waging war on tech excess. Newport views technology as neither inherently “good” nor inherently “bad.” Instead, he begs consumers to be more mindful of their usage — it is what you make it.

His vision for digital minimalism is more than the digital detox lauded on social media. That’s a temporary solution with fleeting results. When following Newport’s process, you’ll take the time to assess how each app and site adds or takes away from your values and time. The goal is to create a lifestyle where technology serves the user rather than the other way around.

Digital Minimalism Guide: A boardwalk stretching out over a water body at low tide, with blue sky overhead.

Benefits of Digital Minimalism

Digital minimalism’s essential benefit is that having less grants you more. You get:

  • More time: You stop wasting time on non-essential apps and take back time for hobbies, loved ones and other interests.
  • More growth: You use your time to build skills and relationships rather than mindlessly scrolling.
  • More love: You have more time to spend on your relationships and take them to the next level by prioritizing in-person contact over digital.
  • More money: You spend less money on unnecessary purchases and can use your time to focus on work or a side hustle.

Digital minimalism, like other types of minimalism, can also benefit the environment. In today’s consumerist world, new technology is hitting the market constantly. We feel pressured to keep up with the latest trends and toss “outdated” devices. An estimated 50 million metric tons of electronic waste is produced each year.

By adopting digital minimalism, you can avoid buying into unnecessary technology and only use what you need.

The 5-Step Plan for Digital Minimalism

The process for achieving this dream is straightforward, but don’t let its simplicity fool you. Digital minimalism is a lifestyle, not a quick fix. You’ll need to do some hard mental work, changing your habits and honing in on your values. It will take time, but completing these five steps will help you transform your tech-use habits and regain valuable hours of your day.

1. Identify Your Core Values

The process begins with internal work — it’s time to determine or revisit your core values. What makes you who you are? Everyone’s priorities and values differ, so there’s no wrong answer. However, your findings in this step will influence everything else.

Take your time on this, especially if you’ve never considered your values. You want to ensure you’re coming up with priorities true to you, not who you think you should be.

2. Commit to a 30-Day Digital Detox

While digital minimalism and a digital detox are two different things, this step is the catalyst for the lifestyle changes you’ll make.

For a whole month, you’ll stop using any unnecessary technology. You may keep any necessities for your job or apps you rely on, like a GPS. However, streaming services, video games, social media and other mindless apps must go. Your thoroughness and attention to detail in this step will determine how successful the rest of the process is for you.

To make your next 30 days easier, temporarily delete non-essential apps from your phone and television. Clear the cache on your computer and remove shortcuts to your most visited sites. Any roadblocks you can put between you and using unnecessary technology will help you stay on track.

3. Track Your Patterns and Results

During the 30-day digital detox, keep a journal or a page of notes about your struggles, wins and any patterns you notice. Note when you’re most likely to reach for your phone or hop online. Have you been using social media as a coping mechanism or a way to solve boredom? Your findings will help you determine if the technology you cut out has been serving your core values or merely providing a bandaid for deeper issues.

4. Assess Each App Before Letting It Back In

After a set period of avoiding non-essential screen time, most people go back to their life as usual. They feel great about their self-control for a while but quickly fall into old habits. You can make your time away from tech purposeful and lasting.

Now, you’ll assess each app and site before you let it back into your life. Every time, you’ll ask yourself a series of questions:

  • Does this make my life better?
  • Does it align with my core values?
  • Could I do without it?

After asking these questions, you’ll know which apps can go and which should stay. Everyone’s answers will differ depending on their goals, values and how they use each app. For many, Instagram may be a time thief, but if it’s your best way to stay in touch with an old college buddy or your cousins who live far away, it might be helpful to keep.

Any apps or sites you choose to keep in your life should have set boundaries. Without imposing some rules for yourself, you’ll spend the same time on your phone as before, just in different ways. For example, you could keep Instagram but only use it for 20 minutes on Saturday. You might place time limits on YouTube or only allow it for learning or improving skills.

5. Dump All the Leftovers

The final step is easy. Simply get rid of everything else. You’ve determined these apps and sites don’t serve you. They steal your time, energy and joy. Delete them with confidence. After a while, you won’t miss them anymore — especially after experiencing the benefits of a life without them.

Technology Isn’t All Bad

Digital minimalism doesn’t vilify using technology — it can be extremely useful. The goal is determining what uses align with your values and bring meaning to your life.

A digital catalog of your possessions can help you get organized and reduce the need for physical papers. FaceTime can help you maintain relationships with loved ones who live far away. Your music library has the power to lift your mood, put you to sleep or inspire an intense workout. All these and more are possible with technology. It’s all about how and when you use what you have.

How Will You Use Your Extra Time?

The worldwide average for internet-based screen time across all devices is 6 hours and 37 minutes per day. Imagine how many hours or minutes digital minimalism could save you. Now, the only question is what to do with all the extra time. Will you start a new hobby, spend more time with family or start the side hustle you’ve been dreaming up?

Cora Gold

About the Author

Cora Gold has a passion for writing about life, happiness and sustainability. As Editor-in-Chief of women’s lifestyle magazine Revivalist, she loves to share her insights and find inspiration from others. Follow Cora on FacebookPinterest and Twitter.