Lessons from a Month of Digital Minimalism

The month long digital minimalism (or declutter) challenge from Cal Newport is now over.

While I wrote about my thoughts about it a week in, it’s taken me about a week to process what I’m walking away with at the end.

First, I must acknowledge that I am part of a generation that straddles the divide between pre-Internet and full access, all the time, no matter where you are in the world. At the end of high school, we were just beginning to talk about the future where even your refrigerator would have an IP address and be connected online. One of my friends even made a video (1999) for a project about how your PDA (remember those?) would cover every need in your daily life.

In the video, he showed an imagining of what it would be like to turn off the lights in his house, hook up your device to your car and play music through it and pay for purchases. I might put the video up one day just for laughs, but I called him a few years ago to make some predictions about the future again just so I can invest appropriately.

Our teachers talked to us about the potential for paperless environments and being able to login from home to attend class. We still had computer labs and the expectation for assignment submissions had changed to double spaced essays with Times New Roman font (size 12).

Chat programs were all done through desktop computers and high-speed Internet had only just rolled out (my hometown was the testing ground).

Computers were functional devices and being online was a novelty understood by the most hardcore of nerds or teenagers looking for a different avenue to communicate without their parents listening in to their conversations.

All this to say, for me, this challenge was an opportunity to return to the spirit of that era – using devices for functional purposes and ridding yourself of the novelty.

Now it’s time to re-introduce some of that clutter in a purposeful way. Here’s where I stand with each one:

Social Media

Not logging into social media was perhaps the easiest part. Since I was already deleting most of my accounts anyway, this was a way to give myself permission to stay away completely.

The only thing I missed were the Facebook updates from family and friends, but logging back in again after a month and seeing the same deluge of viral videos and clickbait articles made me realize that a weekly (or bi-weekly) check-in was all I needed.

Oddly enough, through heavy coercion, the staff at my school convinced me to rejoin Twitter for professional purposes. Twitter had been a big addiction mainly as a result of always trying to think of the next great tweet and the potential for more followers. Now that I don’t care for metrics on that channel, I have a better grasp of how to use it appropriately for my needs.

No social media icons sit on my phone.

Cell Phone

I still kept up with group chats with my family and used the phone for… well… mainly just a phone. It has such a grip that it took close to two weeks before I stopped picking it up to check on it.

There were no notifications and no apps with updates, so there was literally nothing to check, but I kept feeling compelled to do so.

My cell phone now sits in a desk drawer for most of the day without me even thinking about it.


I went from checking ten times a day to twice without a feeling of missing out.


My Feedly reader (RSS reader) was, what I considered, a carefully curated selection of blogs I looked forward to seeing daily. However, after the month, I realized there were only two sites I wanted to read updates on.

A once a week check on both their websites easily replaces checking in with the feed reader on a daily basis.


With a digital subscription to the New York Times, giving up the daily news updates was a matter of unsubscribing to the email blasts. Instead, every weekend I would pick up a physical copy of The Globe and Mail (dare I say the NYT equivalent in Canada) and it would provide all the updates I needed about the world. This was a change I enjoyed and will keep doing.

I still have the digital subscription, but only because I haven’t made the effort to cancel it. That’ll be my next step.


No app on my phone = no reason to listen to them.

I did miss them on my morning commute to work, but I still haven’t downloaded the app or checked to see what updates I’ve missed. Still sitting on this one on how I’m going to re-integrate it purposefully in my life, if at all.

Random Web Surfing

I admit this is where I get caught easily. All it takes is one search:

“Battery life of Chromebook vs. Macbook Air” (my work issued laptop broke) and two hours later, I’m reading forums about editing shark week videos.

The month away forced me to only use the Internet for very specific purposes and while I’d like to say I broke the habit, I’m not there yet. If there’s one major reflection over my biggest weakness, it’s being able to extract what I need from this wonderful source and let the rest be.

I’m glad I forced myself to take part in this challenge. While Newport told us to avoid bleeding this experiment into your work life (and that would be difficult for me considering all correspondence with my school board and documentation is done online through Google Suite), it still did and in a good way.

I’m able to differentiate between what is essential and what can be promptly ignored.

It feels like I’ve gone back in time… except slightly wiser… and with less hair.