“When you come across something that you cannot part with, think carefully about its true purpose in your life. You’ll be surprised at how many of the things you possess have already fulfilled their role. By acknowledging their contribution and letting them go with gratitude, you will be able to truly put the things you own, and your life, in order. To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose.”
When Marie Kondo launched her best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, she inadvertently introduced a new term into our cultural lexicon:
‘Does it spark joy?’
Those four words became the basis from which thousands of us took to our homes asking ourselves that very question for every conceivable item we could lay our hands-on.
Having a purge of possessions has always left me feeling lighter and weirdly more in control of my life. It’s become clear to me how much emotional transference we place within our environments and the things that fill them. It was wonderful to see so many people consciously making choices about what their external environment needs to look like and include, in order to promote a better internal environment.
The psychological and spiritual benefits of tidying up have been covered in-depth, and I particularly enjoyed this piece by CNN Health. As more and more people moved to take part in the magic, I found another phenomenon slowly crept in.
If you don’t clear out your entire house and showcase your new laundry folding skills on Instagram, are you still #SparkingJoy?
I’m as much a sucker for getting, well, sucked into a social media loop as anyone, but I couldn’t help feel a point was being missed by the escalating influx of photos and stories showing up on my feeds of how much everyone was ‘sparking joy’. You don’t need me to tell you how damaging framing everything we do in life within the tidy squares and captions of social media can be. So many individuals have spoken out about the social-media- as-performance lifestyle and it’s detrimental impact on their emotional and mental health.
I’ve previously taken time out from the digital scene with detoxes ranging from one week to one month, with wonderful benefits. But you and I both know — giving up the digital life completely? Not going to happen.
The digital world is such an important part of our lives. Now as we brace ourselves through social-distancing and quarantining practices in our own homes, digital is one of the core ways most of us are remaining connected (and sane!). The movement to deliver more of our lives digitally has taken on an entirely new pace. An app my school was attempting to develop to support students learning at home has taken less than 6 days to be built — contrary to pre-pandemic quotes advising it would take 6–8 months.
In the midst of this new demanding digital scene, how do we protect ourselves further against the downfalls associated with social media and spending too much time online?
Digital minimalism is something I’m still intensely grappling with. As a freelancer with remote clients dotted around the globe, I’ve found that streamlining how, where and when I spend time online is key to ensure I’m being as productive, proactive and healthy as I can.
Like many of us, I turn to social media as a distraction. It’s not unusual to find myself 10 minutes into an Instagram scroll before I realize what I’m doing. It’s become that much of a reflex action to procrastinate with (I’ve done it at least three times already in the course of writing this piece). As I’ve sought to get better at how I spend time online over when I spend time online, I’ve been applying digital minimalism concepts to my social media usage. Now I’m beginning to spend more time at home with just my dog for company, it’s become increasingly important to me to make sure I’m consuming content that’s meaningful, in whatever small way, and that I’m not over-consuming.
Here are five tiny methods that are helping:
1. Ask Yourself What & Why You’re Turning to A Media Scroll For
Is it for a distraction? Procrastination? Curiosity? Connection?
There’s no wrong reason for turning to scroll, but there’s definitely a hierarchy to which ones are the healthiest.
Catching myself each time I pick up my phone has been a really difficult muscle to develop, but it’s been worthwhile. Now instead of clicking straight through to Instagram or Facebook with no real goal in mind, I take a moment to pause and think about why I’ve picked the phone up. If it’s to procrastinate — great! Let’s look at some motivating accounts of people I admire. Bored? Fine! Let’s use this moment to learn something new (no matter how tiny).
2. Observe Your Emotional Reactions When Scrolling
I went through a phase of following account after account after account of people who were doing cool things or living in nice places, or leading lifestyles I admired. And you know what? It just filled my accounts up with lots of lovely pictures but not a great deal of substance.
Those wonderful ‘conscious closet’ accounts are fantastic but I’m never going to be able to justify spending $300 on a t-shirt (especially now they all have to confess to being ‘gifted’ said items for the purpose of promotion). I’ve made peace with my own ethical closet practices so while these accounts are beautiful, I no longer need the guilt I often feel when seeing their feeds.
Take a moment to really engage with how different accounts you currently follow make you feel. Are they adding pure value or making you feel like you’re failing in some way? I’m not advocating for avoiding difficult or challenging feelings and it’s helpful to be reminded of the ways we might live life a little more kindly or consciously — but not at the cost of feeling bad about the efforts we are already making. If there are things that keep popping up that aren’t adding value, perhaps it’s time to remove them.
3. Read & Engage With Captions
Actually reading the captions that come with our image-heavy driven platforms allows you an insight into the poster’s ways of thinking and seeking connection.
Sometimes this will speak to you and motivate a connection in return. This is truly one of the deep joys of social media. In reading and actually engaging meaningfully with what’s written, I’ve been able to strike up some lovely international online friendships, that have moved from simple Instagram comments to emails, and sharing books with each other. This is the true wonder of connecting online, but you can only find it if you engage meaningfully.
Sometimes reading captions won’t connect with you and if this happens repeatedly, that’s another cue to consider why this person is taking up space in your digital world.
4. Unfollow Accounts That Trigger Negative Emotions
One step up from point number 2 here is to unfollow/unfriend anyone that is simply making you feel bad.
I’ve never been an advocate for keeping tabs on ex-partners or ex-friends for that matter, but I’ve been made painfully conscious of how some people cling to these relationships and one of the ways they do this is through connections on social media.
Your digital spaces are yours and yours alone. They should exist for the purpose of adding value and helping you grow in whatever ways you need or want to — or they might just be for fun and filled with kitten pictures. What they should not be is a space filled with people or accounts that don’t make you feel like you are in control or don’t add value in positive ways.
5. Acknowledge When To Stop
It can be all too easy to get stuck in an unhelpful, draining, or simply wasteful loop on social media. Trust me. I know.
Acknowledging when to stop is crucial for getting the most out of these interactions online. You can choose to set yourself a time limit or set intentional goals before you start scrolling. For example, you might decide to only look at the accounts of your core five friends to see what they’re up to and take cues whether you need to reach out offline in some way. Or you might decide you need some inspiration and only look at creative accounts to help inspire you. Once you’ve achieved your intention, you know it’s time to stop.
It’s also important to know when to take a complete break.
Every so often I take a break from all social media for at least a month. it’s something I started doing in 2018, and now I aim for at least 3 sessions throughout the year.
With the ongoing pandemic of COIVD-19, I’ve had to really dig deep and listen to my internal compass when it comes to what I’m consuming. The itch to know the latest news each morning is strong, but I can feel it all becoming a bit too much. Knowing I can say No even just for a few hours is richly rewarding.
We’re turning to digital, designed to make our lives easier, and blaming it for how it ‘makes’ us feel; anxious, stressed, sick.
Let’s not forget, our online and digital spaces are completely benign. The only way they can make us feel anything is by how we use it.
About the Author: Elaine is an educator & freelance writer, currently residing in Tasmania. She is passionately interested in the ways we learn from our experience to become more authentic versions of ourselves. Find her at coffeeandbooks.co.