I was so excited by the idea of digital minimalism that I jumped at the opportunity to write an article about it, imagining that this would inspire me to finally read the book and take the plunge. But like most things, it didn’t really happen that way. I was feeling overworked and overwhelmed, so in an effort to save time, I decided to do some research online, thinking I could get the gist of digital minimalism by reading a few articles about it.
Here’s what I took away from my online reading: digital technology is invading our lives. Apps and Facebook have been designed to tap into our neurological processes and make us want more. The only way out is to cut it all off.
I believed it. I thought it was a good idea. But it felt it was way too overwhelming, kind of like how I feel after watching an episode Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. I get super inspired, then I open my closet (or my kids’ toy closet), look at the huge mess, feel like I can never get there, close the closet and walk away. I gave up.
A week or so after doing my research, I was traveling for work. As I prepared for a meeting, I was talking to colleagues I don’t know well. An older colleague, a man in his 60s, asked me whether I had children. I shared that I had two young boys. He responded with huge empathy, sharing that his own daughter had young children and found work travel very challenging.
I actually love traveling for work. I love the solitude of being in an airport, I love sitting on airplanes, and I absolutely adore having a hotel room all to myself. When I walk into my hotel room, I feel a sense of bliss and ease wash over my body as I get excited to spend the evening doing nothing, and everything, or whatever I want, with no responsibility to anyone else.
These words just came out of me, and I became a little embarrassed that I had shared so much.
The man’s face changed to a look of great concern. He leaned over the table and said: “you sound like you're struggling with solitude deprivation."
Solitude deprivation? I had never heard of it, but almost immediately, I knew I probably was experiencing it. Me and a lot of the working moms I know. That night, back in my hotel room (when I could do anything I wanted), I looked up solitude deprivation: A state in which you spend close to zero time alone with your own thoughts and free from input from other minds. Yes, that is absolutely me!
The next morning, I got a copy of Digital Minimalism. I am only just beginning my journey, and trying to figure out how to set it up in a way that I will feel successful and not too overwhelmed. I'm starting by removing optional technologies. Do I need to check Facebook on my phone? No. Do I need to have the iPad on while I clean the kitchen? No. Do I need to play apps on my phone as a commute home from work? No.
But Digital Minimalism is not just about reducing your amount of digital time, but really thinking about how you want to spend your time. I realized that after work, I would get on the subway, get ready to pick up my kids, go home, make dinner, feed everyone, clean the house, make lunch for tomorrow, play with my kids, do bath time, put them to bed and try to sneak in a few minutes to myself before crashing. It’s overwhelming and exhausting just thinking about it. So, I would play a game on my phone every night, thinking it was helping me de-stress.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I rarely finish those games feeling less stressed. In fact, if my mind was spinning when I started, my mind was still spinning when I got off the subway. So, I did something that felt extreme: I deleted all games from my phone.
Instead of playing games, I started listening to music, reading an actual book, or just sitting, thinking and processing. Part of me wanted to play the games, but I realized very quickly that they were not actually a good use of my mental energy. And not playing Candy Crush on the way home actually made me happier and calmer when I picked up my kids.
I realized that my alone time is precious, and it doesn't need to be spent on an app. I need time with my thoughts and to just be me. Solitude deprivation, no more.
Julia Egan has a PhD from Penn State in human development and is the co-founder of Balancing Bravely, a resource for working moms striving to create a work-life balance that allows them to thrive. Sign up for free tips and resources and to read her latest posts on advancing your career, achieving financial freedom, balancing work and family, and finding a little time for yourself.