In the middle of a week much like any other this year, I deleted my Facebook and cut my last remaining tie to social media. It was something I had built up to for years, and when it finally happened, became much more of a beginning than an end.
The Prequel: Self-reflection
As a 90’s child, I spent some of my most formative years conversing in chat rooms, ranking my friends on MySpace, and documenting my entrance into adulthood on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. I enjoyed social media and had always been one of the more active users among my friends. One of them once joked that she fully expected me to document the birth of my first child someday – live via Snapchat.
Fortunately (perhaps especially for my Snapchat friends), in college I started to reflect on how I was personally interacting with social media and how it was affecting me. I realized that I had started to frame everything I did and experienced in terms of social media: What should I wear to this event in case we ended up posting pictures? What would I caption that moment later? How would posting this or that help people see me the way I wanted?
While social media could also be fun, useful, and inspiring, I had to admit that more often than not I was feeling anxious, inadequate, or left out scrolling through everyone else’s glamorous highlights. And I was being indifferent to whether my posts were also making someone else feel anxious, inadequate, or left out as I continued to curate, filter, and share only my most flattering moments.
One by one, I started to delete my accounts. Each deletion took some adjusting, including forming new habits to replace any utility I had lost, but ultimately left me feeling clearer and lighter.
I no longer started and ended my days scrolling through a feed or felt pressure to paint everything I did in as interesting a light as possible. If friends happened to be hanging out without me, I wasn’t overthinking each live update or post – I most likely wouldn’t even know about it and when I did, it didn’t feel as earth-shattering.
Facebook was the last to go, but after downloading my content and posting a heads-up to friends, I deleted this last account and felt like I was finally waking up from a decade of digital stupor.
The experience made me wonder what else I could let go of, and I ended up gaining more than I lost. I found a quote that seemed to perfectly sum up my experience: “We are not rich by what we possess but by what we can do without.” And I wondered where else in my life that could be true.
I began reading books about minimalism (including Joshua Becker’s “The More of Less”) and found myself inspired by simplicity in other aspects beyond digital. I wanted an intentionally low-maintenance life that would be financially freeing, good for the environment, and generous to others.
I have started evaluating what I own and donating, selling, and recycling my surplus. Because many of the negative effects I experienced with social media were related to heavy smartphone use, I also downgraded my iPhone (in size only!) to a 2.5-inch smartphone that still has all the tools I need without the hyper-convenience that leads to mindless, non-essential screen time. For me, my new tiny phone physically represents and enables the smaller role I want any device to play in my life.
Minimalism looks different person to person. It will look different for you. But I think the common themes of self-reflection, ending what’s not beneficial, and beginning what is are all important ingredients for the journey.
What will you end in order to start?