Now that minimalism is becoming more mainstream, many people benefit from the rewards it brings. They lead a more simple and intentional life, free from the burden of excess stuff and distractions. However, they often forget their digital environment – which can hugely benefit from minimalism as well. So let me tell you about digital minimalism and how I declutter, organize and set up my devices.
What is Digital Minimalism?
Just like “normal” minimalism, digital minimalism aims to simplify your life – but in particular your use of digital technology. In essence, you remove the unnecessary digital tools and data, re-organize what is left, and use them with a clear purpose that adds value to your life.
Author and professor Cal Newport describes digital minimalism as follows:
Digital minimalism is a philosophy that helps you question what digital communication tools (and behaviors surrounding these tools) add the most value to your life. It is motivated by the belief that intentionally and aggressively clearing away low-value digital noise, and optimizing your use of the tools that really matter, can significantly improve your life.
Cal is about to release his upcoming book on the subject. But you can already get a head start by using these simple steps to declutter and re-organize your computer, smartphone and tablet.
Organize Your Computer
Does your desktop look like this?
Now compare that to the desktop on my MacBook Pro.
Quite the difference, right? It’s clean and organized. On which desktop would you be able to focus properly on your work? I’m pretty confident you would choose mine.
Take the following steps to start decluttering your computer:
1. Get a minimalist wallpaper. Complex and extravagant images are distracting and will negatively impact your productivity. Therefore, choose a calming background wallpaper instead. Soft colors and a subdued pattern work best. Remember, less is more!
2. Clean up your desktop. Delete all files you no longer need from your desktop. Afterwards, sort, organize and move the rest in your documents folder. I will further explain proper file management in a follow-up article.
3. Clean up your dock/taskbar. Restrict the programs on your dock or taskbar to those you use daily. And then remove the others. You can always find them again in their respective program folders. In fact, just uninstall the software you hardly use at all! You can also hide your dock or taskbar for an even cleaner look.
4. Install updates. Your computer needs to be safe and secure. Therefore, it is important to install all new updates for your operating system. In addition, you have to use an active firewall and an up-to-date antivirus program. I personally use ClamXAV for my antivirus and Onyx to regularly maintain and clean my computer.
5. Repeat. Create a good habit by repeating steps 2 to 4 about once a week. This ensures that your computer remains decluttered and organized.
Organize Your Phone
The same principle applies to your smartphone. For example, I use an iPhone 6s Plus, but it also works on any Android or Microsoft device.
In the following section I will show you how I organized and decluttered my iPhone.
So let’s break this down in 7 easy steps:
1. Get a minimalist wallpaper. I use the same wallpaper on all my devices, because I’m OCD like that. Again, choose a background that does not distract you from what is important – your work.
2. Remove old apps. You have apps on your phone that you no longer use? Delete them. Even the stock iOS apps or those you have “just in case.” You can always re-install them later. Only keep the apps you truly use.
3. Prioritize your dock. Select the 4 core applications that define what you use your device for. Subsequently, place these on your dock – as you want to easily access them. I basically use my iPhone as… a phone. So my docked apps are the Phone, Messages, and FaceTime app. I also include Settings. The new Screen Time feature in iOS 12 can tell you which apps you use the most.
4. Create 2 home screens. One primary home screen and one secondary. There’s no need for more. After that, you can swipe left or right to switch between them.
5. Set up your primary screen. This screen is for the apps you continuously use throughout the day or need to access on-the-go. For me, those are Calendar, Notes, Mail, and Reminders as my iPhone is my backup PDA. I also add Camera, Music, Clock, and Safari. Aim to have no more than 8 apps on your primary screen.
6. Set up your secondary screen. Move the lesser used and/or specialized apps to your secondary home screen. In addition, create custom category folders for these apps – they encourage me use these apps more intentionally. I use the following:
• Apple. For all the remaining stock iOS apps.
• Create. For all my productivity apps, like Numbers, Keynote, Pixelmator…
• Health. For all my health and workout-related applications.
• Learn. For all the apps that teach me new things (e.g. Books and Udemy).
• Manage. For all the apps that help manage my life (e.g. Contacts, Files…).
• Shop. For apps like iTunes Store, App Store, Amazon…
• Tools. For specific tools like Adblock Plus, Remote…
• View. For my Photos, Netflix, Videos, and YouTube applications.
7. Install updates. Make sure you install the latest updates to keep your smartphone secure and up-to-date.
Bonus tip! Turn off the sound (and even visual) notifications for your mailbox, social media, and other apps. You will then have control over your smartphone, instead of it having control over you.
Organize Your Tablet
I did the same with my iPad Pro as with my iPhone. However, I made some slight tweaks in how I organized the dock and the categories I used.
Contrary to the iPhones, iPads have an expanded dock since iOS 12. As a result, I don’t need a secondary home screen on my tablet.
I primarily use my iPad as a PDA and for productivity. Consequently, the apps in my dock focus on swift access to my email, calendar, notes and to-do list.
Congratulations, you have now taken the first steps towards digital minimalism and to use your electronics with clear intention. Moreover, I’m confident that decluttering your devices will grant you increased focus, productivity and a clearer mind. It certainly has for me.
Take care and until next time.
This article is part of a series on digital minimalism. Find the other chapters here: