20 Minimalist and 20 Sustainable Resolutions for an Eco-Minimal 2020

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It’s New Years so that means resolutions!

I know that New Year’s resolutions get a bad rep, but I really love that we have a time of year that people are culturally encouraged to self develop. Sure, a lot of people won’t actually accomplish their resolutions but that isn’t the holidays fault.

For those of you looking to make some sustainable or minimalist changes in your life I wanted to provide some inspiration and ideas. Many of these resolutions are small goals because I wanted to highlight how little actions and changes can add up to big impacts.

Especially around New Years we’re usually feeling inspired and tend to set a lot of really lofty goals. However, thinking too big will lead to disappointment when we aren’t able to achieve what we hoped to and actually hamper our ability to make long term changes. Thus it’s better to make small changes over the course of time.

Therefore this list features primarily smaller goals with the intent that different “resolutions” from these lists can be built on top of one another over the course of time. So, without further ado here are my ideas for New Year’s resolutions to become more eco-minimal in 2020.

Minimalism

  1. Get rid of one item from your home each day in January.
  2. Declutter one new area of your home each week until you’ve decluttered the whole house.
  3. Unfollow/Unfriend social media accounts that don’t add value to your life.
  4. Start listening to minimalist podcasts and audio books.
  5. Learn to say no to things.
  6. Try a capsule wardrobe.
  7. Have a packing party.
  8. Don’t pick up or accept free swag or t-shirts from events and activities that you won’t use.
  9. Create a Level 10 Life journal spread to help evaluate your values and goals, use this spread to establish goals that are meaningful to you.
  10. Create a morning routine that will help to ground and center you.
  11. Tell your friends and family that you no longer want to receive physical gifts for special occasions.
  12. Live out of the dry goods in your pantry for as long as possible. You may be surprised how many unused and forgotten foods have accumulated.
  13. End a toxic relationship in your life.
  14. Start a daily journaling or mood tracking practice.
  15. Learn to meditate. (For skeptics just know that there are many forms of meditation! It doesn’t have to be just sitting criss-cross on the floor quietly.)
  16. Institute a “one out one in” policy for items in your home. Especially if there is a type of item you tend to accumulate like purses or shoes.
  17. Calculate your average spending for the previous year and try to reduce it by 10%.
  18. Start that passion project you’ve been longing to do. Whether it’s writing a novel or starting a business consider this your sign from the universe to go for it!
  19.  Experiment with minimalist eating. It doesn’t mean cutting calories, but simplifying your eating habits as well as the foods themselves (i.e. less processing and more routines).
  20. Clear one wall in each room of your home of any and all decorations. 

Sustainability

  1. Start carrying your own silverware to reduce single use plastics.
  2. Bring your own to-go beverage cup to coffee shops.
  3. Give up plastic bags and start carrying reusable produce and grocery bags for shopping.
  4. Try bulk shopping (even if your local shops don’t allow BYO containers you can always reuse the plastic bags they have available).
  5. Commit to always searching for an item second hand before you buy new.
  6. Create a “zero waste kit” for your bag that has reusable napkins, silverware, cups, and tupperware so that you’re never unprepared.
  7. Start shopping at the farmer’s market. (If your farmer’s market has limited selection or is too expensive try just buying one item a week there, anything helps!)
  8. When you need to replace your beauty and personal care products replace them only with natural/eco-friendly versions.
  9. Try doing a no-buy week or month.
  10. Participate in Veganuary.
  11. Cut animal products from your diet. It doesn’t have to be a lot! Try just doing Meatless Mondays and you can work your way up from there.
  12. Purchase carbon offsets to counterbalance your carbon footprint.
  13. Try to reduce driving miles. This can look a lot of ways like doing as many errands in one trip as possible, carpooling, or using alternative forms of transportation.
  14. Write and sign a “Sustainable Commitment” that shows all the sustainable changes you want to make this year. Hang it somewhere prominently in your home and check items off as you accomplish things.
  15. Participate in the Fridays for the Future Climate Strike movement.
  16. Organize Terracycle drives at your school or work.
  17. Start buying locally made foods and goods.
  18. Reduce packaging waste by preferencing goods with the most minimal packaging possible. For example, buying yogurt in large tubs rather than single serve containers.
  19. Call your senators! Write to your local representatives and let them know that you are concerned about climate change.
  20. Learn to sew so that your are able to mend your clothes and extend their life cycles.

Well there she is, 40 ideas both big and small to make your 2020 more eco-minimal. Now your friends can no longer say they have “no idea” what to do about global warming.

My personal resolutions are to grow this blog (announcements coming soon), institute a mindful morning routine, reduce my consumption of processed foods, and put a zero-waste kit in my bag.

I hope these ideas have inspired you and I’d love to hear what your New Year’s resolutions are in the comments below!

How to Receive Gifts as a Minimalist

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The holidays, simultaneously the most wonderful time of the year and also an annoyance to the minimalist crowd who doesn’t love all the consumerism or want a bunch of new stuff.

Especially if you’re early on in your minimalism journey it can feel stressful to know that people are going to want to buy you gifts. Particularly if your loved ones aren’t per se talented at gift giving and already tended to buy you lots of things you didn’t want before you became a minimalist.

Today I want to share with you my personal opinion on the best way to handle gift receiving as a minimalist during the holidays.

First and foremost you’ve got to have an open and honest conversation with the people who want to buy you gifts and tell them what it is that you would like from them. Maybe you want no gifts at all or just no physical gifts. Or perhaps you just only want gifts from a pre written list of items.

Make sure you can explain why it is you’re asking your loved ones to change their gift giving habits. If you aren’t able to communicate that this request is about your own personal desire to change your lifestyle and not about other people your requests may raise insecurities. Loved ones may jump to conclusions and think you’re ungrateful for past gifts, think you’re having this conversation with them because they’ve given bad gifts in the past, feel that you are judging their consumerist or cluttered habits, or they might be worried that you’re joining some type of minimalist cult.

Especially if people in your life have gift giving as a love language, they may also just be disappointed that they are missing out on the joy of giving and also have concerns about how else they can express their affection for you. Even if it doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal to you, there are a ton of reasons people might react poorly. So having a well thought explanation ahead of time can help curb miscommunications and combat people leaping to conclusions.

In the case that many people in your life have gift giving as a love language I think it’s best to not tell these folks that they can’t get you anything at all, even if you’d prefer that. Especially when it comes to family, I think everything is about compromise and it isn’t in the true spirit of minimalism to take that joy of gift giving away from others if it’s important to them.

That being said, sometimes people are just plain stubborn about changing their ways and their insistence on buying you a gift doesn’t have as wholesome an explanation as love languages behind it. I know some families can be petty and insistence on giving you a gift against your wishes is more about a passive aggressive power trip or disrespecting you. And if that’s the case than it ain’t really about the gifts and y’all got problems beyond the scope of this blog post.

But in general, what do you do if you end up with gifts you don’t want? Minimalist or not this a pretty common and hard to avoid occurrence. Maybe people just didn’t listen to your wishes, or you forgot to tell someone, or you just ended up with some random gag gift from an office party or yankee swap.

Option one, you can give the gift back or refuse it. However, I’d be pretty cautious with this method and make sure that you really know your audience. Personally, I only do this with people I’m very close to who respect my life choices and I know would rather get their money back if I’m not going to use the thing they got me. Additionally, I’d make sure you’re aware of potential cultural differences, for example, I was a summer camp counselor for Taiwanese students this year. Gift giving is a really important part of their culture and the kids had pre-packed souvenirs from Taiwan to give to the counselors at the end of their trip. I didn’t really want most of the things, but I knew refusing the gifts would have been insulting and upsetting to the kids and that just wasn’t worth it to me.

I accepted all the gifts, and with the rest I employed option number two which is re-gifting or giving away. Once again, be careful with this strategy, you generally don’t want people to know you’re regifting what they got you. I handle this by just making sure I don’t regift into the same social group I received from, so if you don’t have many separate social groups this may not work for you. Additionally, don’t just regift things instead of actually buying people unique gifts.

Much more often than I regift I give away, I just text my friends saying “Hey, I have x, y, and z things I don’t want do you want any of this?” Personally, I don’t find it immoral to regift or give away gifts. No one benefits from you holding onto something you don’t want, and personally I feel I am honoring and appreciating a gift more if I am able to find joy in giving it to someone else rather than being annoyed everytime I see it in my closet.

Options three, four, and five are to return the gift, sell the gift, or donate the item to charity.

Personally, my preference is for people to purchase gifts from a list I’ve written or just have a conversation with me to make sure they’re getting me something I’ll like. If I still get something I don’t want I usually just regift it or give it away. Even though I’m a minimalist I do still enjoy both giving and receiving gifts.

In general, try not to stress out too much about receiving gifts on the holiday. There are many ways for you to get rid of something if you don’t want it and prevent it from becoming clutter in your life. Plus, at the end of the day it’s a pretty privileged worry to have, it means a significant number of people in your life want and are able to buy you things! Which is actually a pretty comforting thought.

How do you handle gifts as a minimalist? Have your minimalist wishes ever caused conflict among your loved ones? Let me know in the comments below.

Minimalist Gift Ideas

So, your loved one has become a minimalist.

This may be concerning news to you, but I assure you that they are alright. No your friend hasn’t joined a cult and they don’t hate you just because you enjoy shopping. Your friend is just trying to improve their own life.

You want to be respectful to your pals new lifestyle, but it’s the holidays! How do you buy a gift for someone who doesn’t like stuff? Well I am here to help, this article isn’t a guide with specific gifts, but a guide to choosing something on your own that will help you be supportive of your loved one’s lifestyle and get them something for the holidays that they will truly value.

Without further ado let’s get into it.

Ask Them What They Want

The best way to buy a minimalist a gift is a pretty universal gifting strategy that works for almost anyone. Just ask them what they want, and actually buy based off the list they give you. I know some people feel that a gift is ruined if it isn’t a surprise, however your minimalist friend is likely to get rid off your gift if it isn’t something they actually want and if they don’t specifically say they’d prefer a surprise they probably want whatever they asked for. Given minimalists have put a lot of effort into paring down their belongings they aren’t apt to appreciate being given something they just don’t want and will have to declutter.

Get Them Foods

Foods are great gifts for minimalists. Why? Because your gift is edible it will be consumed and won’t contribute to clutter. I’d also advise goods that are at least a month shelf stable because we all tend to have a lot of food in the house around the holidays or be eating out a lot. Something that will stay good for a while like chocolates or alcohol gives your loved one the flexibility to enjoy your gift at their leisure and not worry about eating it before it expires. 

Gift an Experience

This is an idea that is increasingly popular not just among minimalists but the millennial generation as well. By experience I mean something like tickets to a show, massage or spa vouchers, movie theater or restaurant gift cards, or tickets to a game. Experiences, just like edible goods, don’t create any clutter and the values of minimalism encourage people to spend more time doing and less time getting things. You can help your loved one create a fun memory whilst also respecting their values.

Cash

I know there is a bit of a gifting taboo around cash, however there is an equal amount of jokes during the holidays about cash being all people really want. Especially if your friend is a minimalist I wouldn’t worry too much about them looking down on you for giving them cash. Minimalism is already unconventional and your loved one will likely appreciate your support of their new lifestyle and willingness to modify your gift giving habits for them.

Gift Cards

Just like with cash, people often say that giving gift cards is a cop out, but they are some of my absolute favorite gifts to receive. The beauty of a gift card is that there is no pressure to spend the money in a utilitarian way or to save it. Because you can only spend it in one place you are able to treat yourself at that location or retailer without feeling any twinges of guilt that you should be saving that money. Just like with cash, your friend will likely appreciate your support of their minimalist values and not be mad that you “copped out” of buying a gift for them.

Charitable Donation

On a similar vein to gift cards, if your minimalist friend is a very ardent supporter of a cause such as protecting the environment, women’s rights, or ending poverty consider donating to a charity on their behalf. This is a great option if your friend has told you that they truly don’t want anything this Christmas, a charitable donation not only shows support and respect to their minimalist lifestyle but to their passions as well. 

Offer to do Something for Them

Do their laundry, clean their car, meal prep their food for a week, pick up their kids from school, clean their bathroom, or do any other little chore for your loved one that can help make their life easier. Time is the most valuable resource we all have, and being willing to spend yours to making their life a bit easier is a really beautiful way to show you care. 

What No To Do

Thus far, we’ve focused on what you should do to successfully shop for a minimalist, I’d also like to provide a little guidance on what NOT to do.

Buy Something Generic

Ladies, we’ve all received generic Bath and Bodyworks gift sets and most of us have gifted them to others as well. The last thing you want to do when you buy a gift for someone who is a minimalist is buy something generic, minimalism involves being very choosy about what items you bring into your life and values vary too much from individual to individual to go the generic route. Look above for other ideas.

Buy Them a Physical Item if They Specifically Asked You Not To

Now this may be difficult if your family has a strong gift giving culture, however if your loved one has gone as far to actively request no physical gifts they are probably quite committed to the minimalist lifestyle. Don’t take it personally, because honestly your loved one’s choice isn’t about you. They don’t want to be rude they just want their lifestyle choices respected. If gift giving is your love language, consider the fact that it isn’t theirs and get them something non-physical.

These are my tips and ideas for how to buy gifts for a minimalist.

Of course this is general advice and not all of it will or can apply to every single minimalist, but all of this advice does align directly with the most common principles and interpretations of minimalism. If you still feel unsure, just have an open dialogue with your loved one about gifts.

This post is the first in a whole series I have planned about how to handle gifting as, or for, a minimalist or environmentally conscious person. Let me know in the comments below if you’d like me to cover anything specific on this topic or create a particular gift guide.

As always, thanks for reading and happy holidays!

Minimalism: Getting Back on the Horse

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I’ve just hit my low point of the semester.

Why? I could blame it on external factors, but largely it’s just the existential dread that I’m always dealing with. The biggest factor affecting me is just the general stress and uncertainty of being a graduating college senior.

As a result, I’ve really fallen off the boat with my minimalism practice.

Not just when it comes to purchasing of material goods, but also the other non-material aspects of minimalism that are beneficial to mental health. 

In my life, I try to apply minimalism not just to the accumulation of material goods, but also to “throwing out” negative thoughts and behaviors. I also use minimalist principles to help myself have the willpower to avoid overspending on consumable goods like packaged candies and take out food as well.

However, in the last five or six weeks I’ve really let myself down and not been fully practicing minimalism as I have in the past. I’ve been overspending, overeating, spending too much time on screens, and being way too hard on myself.

So I’ll now share with you all some the process I’ve used to start feeling better and get back on track with my minimalism practice.

First and foremost I had to let go of all the guilt and self hatred I was harboring towards myself for what I was perceiving as unacceptable mistakes. I’m only human so I’m going to mess up, there’s really no need to feel bad about something that can’t be avoided. Guilt like all emotions serves a purpose, however in my opinion it goes too far and should be let go when guilt prevents you from moving forward and putting forth your best effort.

Next, I had to do what I call a “reset.” It’s something I do whenever I come off of any particularly difficult time, whether it be a very stressful week of school or a bought of depression or anxiety. The reset usually begins whenever I finish class for the day and starts with basic clean up, I clean up both my room and myself and do things like shave, put lotion on, vacuum, clean dishes, and do laundry. I find these types of activities very relaxing and cathartic, and it’s a nice way to feel like you’ve accomplished something when you’re brain is feeling too fried for much else. I’ll then work on doing only the work I absolutely need to have done for the next day so I don’t have it looming over me and creating more stress.

Next, I spend some time with my journal, I write stream of consciousness about how I’ve been feeling and what’s been going on and going wrong. I then determine three or less things I control that are the main “cause” of why I’m feeling down and come up with a plan to improve on each issue. I don’t always come up with three, but I put that limit on it so I don’t set myself up to fail by trying to make too many changes at once.

At this point I also spend some time acknowledging and accepting the fact that it will take time to get back into healthier habits, progress on changing your lifestyle is not linear. For example, just because I do well with healthy eating for two months and lose some weight doesn’t mean I will be able jump right back into that same level of healthy eating after gaining weight. It’s generally best to make lifestyle changes in a slow, steady way so that the changes are more likely to stick and this applies when you are trying to get back into the swing of things as well.

In this most recent reset I determined the main causes of my distress to be overthinking. My plan to address it is to beef up on mindfulness practices like journaling and yoga. When I notice myself overthinking a choice I want to be more intuitive about the process, I will make the choice I know is best for me, do that thing, and then move on to other thoughts or activities, effectively “decluttering” the tiresome process of belaboring every little choice I make during the day.

Then, I journaled about minimalism specifically. I used journal prompts about minimalism I did at the start of my journey because I wanted to compare how I was feeling then, when it was exciting and new about a year ago, to now, when I am feeling a bit more frustrated. This helped me to remind myself why I began my minimalism journey in the first place and looking back also helped me to see how much I’ve gained from minimalism already.

 Thinking more deeply about it also helped me see that minimalism functions in service to my environmental, financial, and mental well-being goals instead of being a goal in and of itself like it was when I was first starting out. Making this distinction changes little in how I plan to practice minimalism, but does explain why I haven’t felt as passionate and has helped me refocus my goals.

During the rest of my day on a reset evening I will do basically whatever activity I think will help give my brain a break and help me relax. I may watch a little Netflix or Youtube, but do avoid being on screens for more than an hour or so on these nights. I might read, catch up on calling friends and family, work on bullet journal layouts, go on a walk, meal prep, grocery shop, dance, or play ukulele.

Dedicating a whole evening to resetting my life and reflecting is what I have found to be the most effective way to get myself out of a funk. It always feels odd to put this time aside for myself because when I’ve been in a funk I’m often already behind on work and feel guilty for taking additional “break time.” But if I don’t take the time to clear my mind, my mental state gets worse and I fall even farther behind. Furthermore, just because I haven’t been working during a certain time doesn’t mean my  mind ever got a break, when you are too anxious or sad to work your brain isn’t getting a break and you will still need time to rest.

Since doing this reset I’ve felt much more at peace and have been able to reconnect with minimalism and cut back on my overspending, overeating, and screen time.

I hope sharing my story is helpful to others who are struggling to get minimalism, or any other lifestyle change to stick.

Especially with minimalism, the image portrayed online is often one of perfection and the imperfect moments and struggles are not given the attention they deserve. This tendency makes minimalism seem inaccessible and can turn people off to the idea or be discouraging to people who are new to the practice and can’t get to that perfect look they see online.

As mentioned before, lifestyle changes don’t progress linearly. What counts the most is not achieving the ideal seen on social media, but genuinely improving your life no matter how many times you fall off the horse and have to climb back on.

How have you handled “falling off the horse” from a lifestyle change? Share your stories and let me know in the comments below.

Quitting Social Media

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Hello!

My name is Abby and you should NOT follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat. Why? Well because you can’t, I don’t have any social media.

As a 21 year old college student, this is a fact that often surprises and can sometimes disappoint people. Peers sometimes act as if our friendship is somehow missing something fundamental when they realize they can’t share Facebook posts with me.

Now to clarify, I’m defining social media as social platforms with a feed, I don’t consider messaging apps to be social media the same way sending a text isn’t social media.

I’ve been off Instagram for about two years, off Facebook for about two and a half and off of Snapchat for about six months. There are no other social media platforms I’ve used consistently so I won’t discuss them.

The Why

So, why would you quit social media?

For me, the main motivation was to be more mindful, particularly in how I use my time. I’d often be on my social media while walking, waiting for classes to start, in lines, and in the bathroom. I’d toss my bag down when I got back to my dorm and reflexively open up my phone and scroll through feeds for 45 minutes.

On days when I was feeling depressed or anxious I might scroll through for hours at a time.

I knew that social media was not a good way to pass the hours,  and always beat myself up for getting sucked into it. So when I felt down, I’d reflexively kill time on my phone because it was the easiest knee jerk thing for me to do, get sucked in for hours, beat myself up for doing so, and then end up feeling worse.

Facebook was the first platform I axed. Every time I opened up my feed I was frustrated by the intentionally incendiary and divisive political content flooding my feed. Many of the jokes and memes shared had sexist or racist undertones, the bulk of this content came not from the pages I’d chosen to follow but from the people I friended.

The original reason I made my Facebook account was because all the student orgs at my high school used Facebook groups to manage themselves. Once I left and went to university, Facebook no longer had a utilitarian purpose for me and was only a source of frustration, so I quit Facebook.

Instagram was a different story, the content didn’t frustrate me, just the opposite in fact, it mesmerized me. The discovery page was full of oddly satisfying content, tasty videos, and beauty guru tutorials. It all looked perfect and amazing and I struggled to pull away from Instagram’s polished and beautiful videos.

Snapchat was a bit more complicated. Because I’m a slightly obsessive compulsive type of person, I felt obligated to watch the stories of everyone I was friends with or at least click through them. I don’t know about your Snapchat friends, but mine aren’t exactly videographers. It was often hard to tell what was happening in the videos because the audio was so bad, or people would post just completely random and uninteresting things.

Maybe that sounds harsh, it’s not that I’m not interested in my friends lives but I think we all know what I mean when I say Snapchat stories are not the most polished and thought out content on social media. Plus we all often end up with people who are not important to us on our friends list and I didn’t really need to know about the parties the one kid from my math lecture was going to.

I also got sucked into Snapchat’s explore page, the content didn’t actively upset me like Facebook and I wasn’t mesmerized as with Instagram. It was the content equivalent of white noise to me, not good, not bad, just filler.

I hated the idea that a huge part of my day was just filler.

The Benefits

So, how has life been since quitting social media?

I will start with the pros.

My main goal of being more mindful of my time was accomplished. I was less distracted by the notifications and content on all these applications so I generally had less reason to unlock my phone in the first place. When I do consume web content on my phone it’s now tailored to my interests, instead of random and potentially upsetting things shared by friends.

 However, I will say quitting social media didn’t magically get me my time back and make me a super efficient wizard.

Youtube and Netflix still sing their siren songs to me and it has been a separate effort to cut back on my online video watching off of social media. Social media makes it easier to waste time, but I realized it wasn’t by far the main reason I wasted time.

Boredom, apathy, anxiety, and depression are the real reasons I personally waste time. But with social media out of the way I could attack those issues more clearly with a bit less distraction.

The other massive pro for me is just an overall decrease in screen time. For myself I’ve realized that the act of simply looking at a screen for too long, no matter the activity, even if I’m just watching movies with friends, has negative mental side effects for me. Including headaches, anxiety, sadness, boredom, eye strain, depersonalization, and derealization. If that sounds like a surprisingly long list of symptoms from just looking at screens (even if the content itself is pleasant and I’m with people) you’d be right. I was rather shocked when I realized just how much simply looking at  a screen affected me. I never would have been able to realize if I hadn’t stopped using social media and decreased my screen time overall.

The Cons

There are two main cons for me. One applies specifically to Facebook, one to Snapchat.

For Facebook, I miss that it helps me learn names. Unlike most people who say they’re bad with names but good with faces, I am bad with both names and faces. Facebook has been very helpful to me in the past by providing me an easy way to study names without worrying about getting them wrong.

For Snapchat, I miss out on what seems to be a vital step in relationship building for some people in my age demographic. I don’t know that this is true in other places, but is has been true for me in both Massachusetts and Ohio with other college students. There is a social convention to how intimate certain methods of contact are. Facebook is the least intimate, Snapchat is the next step up, and then direct texting is most intimate. I’ve realized that for many people, if you don’t have a Snapchat they will just never text you. The convention is that you should message on Snapchat for a bit before graduating to texting, so if you have no Snapchat some people will never feel comfortable to start texting you, or in some social circles snapchat has replaced texting.

It sounds silly but it’s true, quitting Snapchat had a significant impact on my ability to make new friends. I felt quite awkward about it at first and unsure how to handle it. That is why Snapchat is the app I quit most recently, I’ve re downloaded it a few times over the years when I felt like I needed to in order to break into a social group. Over time I’ve realized that if I break the texting ice myself it will put the other person at ease and not be much of a problem. But there really is no way to make up for missing inside jokes that are born and circulated within Snapchat group messages.

The TLDR Version

At the end of the day, the pros of quitting social media have more than outweighed the cons in my personal life.

Quitting social media has enabled me to learn a lot about myself ,my relationship with technology, and time management. I have fewer notifications and exposure to frustrating content meaning I’m less stressed out and a bit happier.

There are drawbacks, but they are minor when compared with the negative aspects of being on social media.

What do you think? Have you ever done, or considered doing a social media detox, if so, for how long? What did you learn? 

Let me know in the comments below!

Digital Minimalism for your Cellphone

Cellphones.

A modern marvel or a plague on society?

A bit of both I’d say.

Cellphones are of course amazing in many ways, they help us communicate more efficiently than we have ever been able to in the past. We are able to pull up maps anywhere in the world to navigate with the push of a button. We have access to the greatest single collection of human knowledge ever created instantaneously.

But there is of course a downside. Increased use of social media is associated with more anxiety and depression. Exposure to blue light from screens causes eye strain and difficulty sleeping. The average American adult spends just under four hours a day on their cell phone and teenagers get an average of nine hours of time online a day.

Ideally a phone is a tool you use to help you be more efficient, but with all the time phones take up it can really feel like phones are using us.

So, how do we turn this around? For me, the answer is digital minimalism. Now before I get into all of this let me say that I am not a perfect person, bad habits are hard to break and when my mental health is poor I still have periods in which I binge watch hours of content on my phone. But, the tips I’m about to share with you have helped me to reduce my screen time and stress.

Turn off Notifications

For me, opening my phone to a dozen or more notifications is very stressful. The stimulation is overwhelming and I feel compelled to check on every single thing. Even if I didn’t actually want to go on Snapchat, Instagram, or check my email I’ve suddenly spent a few minutes on each app and allowed myself to be dragged into mindless media consumption.

The only apps on my phone I now receive notifications from are messaging apps, phone calls, voicemail, download updates from Ecosia (my web browser) and the Google Play store, Google maps, my blue light filter, Daylio (a mood tracker),  and system notifications that I am not able to turn off.

So this means that instead of being prompted to use an app by notifications, I am prompted to use apps by just my own desires. Now my brain often desires to binge watch youtube videos, but it helps to not have extra reminders.

My recommendation would be to disable notifications for any app that you don’t specifically want or need the notifications for. For me the big notification distractions I’ve disabled came from email, social media, shopping and entertainment apps. My current practice is to disable notifications for all new apps as soon as I download them.

Set Quiet Hours

Now that you’ve gotten rid of excess notifications, you may find it enjoyable to take a break from notifications all together during certain times of the day. Both apple and android phones have built in features that allow you to receive no, or very limited notifications during specific hours. When I use quiet hours on my cell phone, I usually set them from 11:30 PM to 9:30 AM because I sleep 12AM-8AM, this allows me a half hour before bed and an hour in the morning with fewer distractions. 

I don’t always have quiet hours set on my phone though, only when I have been particularly distracted by my phone or am very busy in a given week and need to focus on managing time as effectively as possible.

Don’t Use Your Phone on the Toilet (For Quick Visits)

If you know that your bathroom trip will be a quick one leave your phone in another room (or inside your bag in you’re out and about). This one was surprisingly impactful for me, it may sound silly, but just a few minutes scattered throughout my day without extra stimulation really lowers my stress and helps keep me present.  However, if I’m sick and I know I may be on the toilet for more than ten minutes, I usually bring my phone with me because it’s nice to be distracted in that situation.

Try a Blue Light Filter

What is blue light? Blue light is a portion of the light spectrum that is produced in high concentrations by electronic screens as well as natural light. Blue light exposure is associated with needing more time to fall asleep, lower quality sleep, eye strain, and headaches. If you find that anytime you spend a lot of time looking at a screen you get headaches or have light sensitivity to other light sources like myself, I highly recommend this tip.

A blue light filter will make the colors your phone emits warmer and give your screen an orange or red tint. Adjusting to the new aesthetic can be a bit hard to get used, but after a while I hardly noticed the difference and it has been well worth the decrease in headaches and eye strain. Most phones have a built in blue light filter you can toggle on and off from your notification center, or you can download a dedicated blue light filter app to get more options. I use the Twilight app which is free for android phones.

Declutter Apps

Periodically review your app list and just delete any apps you are no longer using. Consider deleting apps you use regularly if that app has an easy to use mobile website, for example youtube. It can be nice to simply have less icons on your screen to look at. You may also want to delete apps you are overusing, such as social media and email and only access those accounts on your computer. For apps you don’t use but cannot delete, remove them from your home screen or tuck them into a folder together so they are no longer clutter.

I also recommend deleting any apps you use only to kill time but do not really enjoy, overuse or check compulsively. For me, these apps have included email, social media, and mobile phone games. I’ve found that instead of always looking at my phone when I am waiting in lines or have down time I enjoy having moments throughout the day to think and appreciate my surroundings.

If you aren’t sure whether you want to delete an app just go for it and see how it feels! You can always re-download the app later.

Organize Your Apps

Having a uniform system in place to organize your apps will make it easy to find them as well decide where to put new downloads without much thought. I recommend placing apps that are similar near each other on your home screen or putting them in folders together. I personally prefer the folders method so that I don’t have to flip between multiple screens, but I know many prefer not to keep every app in a folder so they don’t “lose” them. Do whatever works best for you.

Below you can see the categories I’ve organized my home screen into and the categories are largely self explanatory. Only the apps I use regularly have an icon on my home screen, there are several that only have icons in my app finder and I use the same folder system there. The podcast app is no longer in a folder because it was the only app  within its folder, and I just felt it looked nicer this way.

Simplify Your Keyboard

When I last got a new phone in January the out of box default keyboard settings included text prediction, auto correct, auto capitalization, a text to speech button, key press pop ups, and swipe typing. Many find these features helpful but for me all the extra movement is just too distracting and my typing is actually more accurate and faster without any of them. If you are unsure, just experiment with turning some features off as you can always flip them back on later. Plus, turning off your auto-correct may improve your grammar and spelling once you’re past the learning curve.

Those are my tips for digital minimalism on your cell phone!

Did you like these tips? Do you have some of your own? Let me know in the comments below.