What is digital minimalism?

You can draw your own answer to this question and your answer would not be right or wrong.

In my personal opinion after 48 years on this planet, and having the very fortunate benefit of growing up in the 1970s and 80s when the digital age was in its infancy, I will say that digital minimalism is;

“The practice of owning just enough technology to provide the basic needs of modern life”.

In this article, we will discuss both hard and soft digital minimalism. That is to say both digital gadgetry and digital software minimalism.

What is digital minimalism

Space Invaders

I remember the appearance of all the tech gadgets in my life quite clearly. I remember the pre-curser to the Gameboy, Donkey Kong. I remember playing space invaders at the local Fish N Chip shop on a sit-down tabletop arcade game. You had to put 40 cents in the slot to start a new game. And of course, you had to try to beat the standing top score which was always etched into history by the player’s initials for his/her player name.

I remember when CD’s came along. I was young and had only just started my vinyl collection. I quickly abandoned vinyl and went to CDs and cassette tapes.

I remember using a typewriter, not an electronic typewriter but an actual old school typewriter.

I remember buying my first cordless phone. I’d seen it on the Seinfeld TV show and thought how cool is that? I can walk around the apartment and talk with my friends at the same time!

Then, of course, came mobile phones. I remember the brick, the Motorola flip, the bulletproof Nokias, then the race for the tiniest phone with the Sony Ericson being so small that you needed to use your pinky finger to press the buttons if you wanted to make a call.

I remember sending my first SMS/text message. I had to cycle through the characters to get to the letters I wanted.

I remember the Apple computer phase. Both the candy colour rear projection monitor phase and then the silver tower phase.

I remember dial-up internet. Just trying to create the most basic of websites using Dreamweaver took hours, because the connection would drop out and I’d lose all my work.

And so on and so on… All through the last 5 decades.

But these days I walk a different path. I find myself forever trying to minimise my digital gadgets. Being a pro photographer that isn’t always easy but it is doable.


How do you practice digital minimalism?

In the capitalist society that most of us live in, we are constantly being bombarded with new offers, the latest sales and specials. it takes a stoic mindset to resist all the latest digital temptations and walk a focused minimalist path in the tech space.

In my younger days, I was one of the masses that I see all around me today. I was plugged into the matrix so to speak. I needed to have the new iPhone when it came out. I needed the latest Mac Book Pro, I remember I wanted to be like Tony Stark from Iron Man. He was my tech idol. I even decked out my home office with a huge custom made office suite, articulating minor arms to hold my external displays and so on.

But as the years passed and I moved into my 40s I began to become bored with the ever replenishing deluge of new tech gadgets and digital technology that was readily available at the local computer store.

Maybe not so much bored but rather awakened. Yes I know the latest buzz word with the new generation of digital hipsters is “Woke” and I don’t enjoy dropping that word here but it is applicable in this case. After the years rolled by I started to feel like NEO from the Matrix. I was seeing behind the curtain and all I saw was a road to an empty bank account and very shallow materialistic existence.

The curtain was pulled back even more once I removed myself from my comfortable middle-class existence in Melbourne Australia and started travelling. I started travelling throughout South East Asia. My travels were primarily to fuel my photography passion. When in a foreign city I would usually wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning and start wandering the city streets and back roads looking for the perfect photograph.

This really opened my eyes to the fact that a large percentage of the world’s population live in dire poverty and survive from meal to meal. And here was I with my $10K camera and a huge 200mm zoom lens pointing at them saying “smile for the camera”.

I quickly learnt to tread more carefully when visiting countries that were not as affluent as my own.
Also what I saw when visiting countries like Myanmar and Cambodia was that happiness can be achieved in life without needing to own the latest smartphone or big screen TV. A lot of the people I came into contact with were I would say intrinsically more happy than most of the people I knew in my country.

How do you simplify your digital life?

So for a few years now, I have been on the path of minimalism. Both digital minimalism and everyday minimalism. When I was a single fellow I lived in a minimalist apartment with all black furniture, no coffee table, no DVD player, no picture frames on the window mantle. I possessed only what I needed to work and live. I was travelling very well on the minimalist path until I married my wife. I met my wife in rural Cambodia and she is much younger than myself. Thus when I transported her to the major western metropolis that is Melbourne, Australia she started to become a little more westernised every day. She now regularly brings home things that were “Cheap” or “On-sale”. We never needed these things before but apparently being “On-sale” means one must purchase it and bring it home into my ever diminishing minimalist sanctuary.

I have found a way to compensate for this unnecessary accumulation of material possessions. I quietly dispose of items that I see have not been used in a while, or older items that are now replaced by the newer model. I have to be careful about it. When asked, “Have you seen my old hair straightener”? I simply shrug my shoulders, mumble something incoherent and rush outside 🙂

A digital minimalist existence is still possible. We recently moved into a small inner-city apartment. Before we moved I was living in a larger apartment with a room just for my office. I had all my digital toys set up there all day long. But after moving I downsized my workstation by half. I bought an old vintage hardwood desk from Facebook market, applied some furniture oil to it and it came up great. Now, this small workstation houses all that I need on a daily basis. It has my computer, my external screen, a couple of SSD drives, a basic sound system and my Wacom tablet. I use these things pretty much every day and everything else that was on my previous workstation was sold or donated to charity.

The steps I took to become a digital minimalist were to simply look at my digital possessions and ask myself two questions.

Have I used this in the last year?
Am I likely to use this within the next year?

If the answer is no then get rid of it. Sell it on Facebook marketplace or donate it to someone who could really use it. Just last week I sold a $1200 camera gimbal system that I used once for a job about 3 years ago. It was sitting in the back of the cupboard gathering dust. I had no future prospects of using this item so I let it go. I was able to sell it for $800 to a buyer in Sydney. The buyer paid upfront and paid for the express post so I was a happy camper.

But you need to be strong. Don’t subscribe to the hoarder mentality of “It has value, I might need it one day”. Be strong enough to make the hard decisions. I’m here to tell you that a minimalist life is the way to go. You’ll feel free and not weighed down by your possessions.

The things you own end up owning you
How do you simplify your digital life

What is digital clutter?

Digital clutter can be recognized by a couple of telling traits.

  1. You have a mountain of files on your desktop or in your my documents folder that are not organized into folders.
  2. You cannot instantly find a file or an application when you need it.

Over the years I have become quite obsessive about organizing my digital files. All my documents are in named folders. I can quickly go to Apple’s finder application, organize by list name which sorts all my folders alphabetically and quickly drill down to the folder I need.

When it comes to file handling I have an external G Raid hard drive that I’ve owned for over 10 years. It acts as a scratch disk for my video editing. I bought it so long ago and because I have a rule of not replacing anything unless its broken or the new version can make me more money I have not replaced it. It even handles my new 4K footage.

I have another external SSD drive that acts as a storage folder for all my completed work. That storage drive is also automatically backed up to the cloud via G Suite. The beauty of G Suite is that it’s inexpensive and has the ability to drill down to allow backing up of specific folders on external hard drives.

How do I declutter my digital life?

Running a digital agency means I constantly have multiple client projects happening at any one time. Therefore over the years, I have developed working habits that help me compartmentalize my working day. One great tool I use is project management software. There are a few around like Monday.com but I like Trello. Trello allows me to create project boards. Within each project board I have 3 columns;

  1. Things to do

  2. Things doing

  3. Things done

Trello is very user-friendly software. Each time I invite a client to his or her new project board they usually comment on how professional the project management system is. They feel like their digital project is being taken seriously and handled in a professional manner. An added bonus is when you invite someone to a Trello board they must sign up for a free account to access the board, Trello then rewards you with a Gold membership for a period of time. The gold membership has upgraded your levels of storage and unlocks other bonuses.

Trello Project Board
Google Basecamp

I also use Google Basecamp for client projects.

Basecamp is very similar to Trello and is often the preferred project management software of my international contractors.

I use Google calendar a lot. This might sound obvious but don’t underestimate how much this little app can simplify your digital life. All my things to do go in there, along with a map location marker and an alert with enough warning time to make it to the location. Because this app is cloud-based I can simply put a meeting or a thing to do in Google calendar on my Laptop then when I run downstairs and jump in the car I open the calendar app on my smartphone, there is the event, I just click on the location marker, Google maps open up and gives me voice navigation to the location. It’s super easy.

How do I declutter my online life?

The worldwide average daily mobile internet consumption is set to increase to 155 minutes in 2021.

Daily internet usage per capita worldwide 2011-2021, by device

This statistic presents the average daily time spent online by internet users worldwide from 2011 to 2021, sorted by device. According to Zenith Optimedia, in 2018, the average daily minutes of desktop internet consumption per capita amounted to 39 minutes and is projected to slowly decline until 2020. However, daily mobile internet consumption is set to increase to 155 minutes in 2021. (Source: Statsista)

We are spending more and more time online. If you are spending this time online for your work or to make the world a better place then I’m sure all of society will give you a round of applause. But we all know that is not the case. Sadly I see more and more people around me, particularly in the 20-30-year-old age bracket spending more and more time consuming mindless garbage online via way of their mobile phones. The latest app to contribute to the greater dumbing down of our species it TIkTok. This kind of app delivers short dopamine bursts via showing funny short-form videos.

TikTok users spend an average of 46 minutes a day on the app.

According to company documents from March 2019, the average U.S. TikTok user opens the app eight times a day and views the content for 46 minutes. By some accounts, that’s more time than people spend on Facebook. (Source: hootsuite.com).

As the current adult population ages and we look towards the next generation to take care of us, are we going to be cared for by a generation of internet dopamine addicts with the average attention span of a goldfish?

A simple way to declutter your online life is to unplug. Yes unplug from the internet. Leave the phone at home and go for a walk. This is something that I try to do with my wife on a daily basis. And that’s in addition to the pre dawn unplugged walk that I do alone each morning.

Unplugging for at least 30 minutes a day has positive effects on the brain and stress levels. I find that when I am meditating or walking without any interruptions I gain clarity. This clarity often allows me to see the small details in my life that I could see before for the noise. For example, I might see a solution to a problem that I had been thinking about for the last couple of days. Or I might come up with a new idea on how to improve my business.

How do I simplify my phone?

Simplifying or dumbing down your smartphone can be done.

Our phones stay close to us 24/7. Personally I turn my phone off when I’m sleeping but I have met people that keep their phones turned on when they are sleeping so they don’t miss a single notification. This just seems crazy to me. How can you get a decent nights sleep with constant interruptions?

I remember when iPhones arrived in the marketplace. There was a trend to see how many apps you could accumulate. If you had 3+ pages of apps you somehow had more status in society. But those days are long gone and now the average number of apps a person in the US has on their smartphone is 35 (Source; Think with Google)

One way to simplify your smartphone is by using folders. I have folders for travel apps, social apps, finance apps and so on. This system keeps everything nice a tidy, ready for quick access.

I also do a regular culling of old apps. If I haven’t used the app in a while it’s gone. Sorry, Pinterest but you just didn’t make the cut 🙂

A more serious approach to simplifying your smartphone is to use Necta Launcher. This is basically a replacement operating system. Necta Launcher is particularly helpful for kids and older adults.

Necta replaces all the cluttered app icons with a blue screen. This blue screen offers up only the most essential functions that a phone should have.

Turn off notifications.

Another way to simplify your smartphone is to disable app notifications. Notifications are a proven factor in disrupting deep thought and ruining productivity.

How do I simplify my phone
How do I declutter my social media

How do I declutter my social media?

When it comes to online clutter the big elephant in the room is Social Media.

Personally I have a love-hate relationship with Social Media. On the one hand I run a digital agency so I need to keep up to date with all the inner workings of applications like Facebook and Instagram. But on the other hand, if I could live my life without these programs I most certainly would.

Being a Gen X’r I do have the mental ability to tune out to social media. I don’t feel the need to address every single little red notification symbol that pops up in my Facebook feed. But some people are not that strong. They must address all notifications even if it’s from someone they have never actually met in real life.

Setting compartmentalized screen time each day is the way to beat this addiction. Try only addressing your social notifications once every couple of hours to start with then try to wean down to once per day. You will notice your productivity increase and your stress levels come down.

You can also set up app limits and screen time reports. App limits are great but they are easily dismissed and worked around by the less disciplined user.

App Limits

How do I let go of old photos?

Getting rid of old photos on your computer and smartphone is more important than ever. Why? because digital images are being taken in higher and higher resolution. This means that they are taking up more and more space on your hard drive or on your phone.

Once you’ve saved your precious family photos and photos of the important times in your life then you need to be quite strict when it comes to deleting old photos.

How to delete old photos from my phone
How to delete old photos from my phone

Apple IOS will delete your photos after 30 days. But if you’d like to fast track that you can do so by clearing the photos from your deleted photos folder. Go to your albums folder and click “recently deleted”. Once there you need to click “select” then “delete all”.

On your Mac choose Apple menu  > About This Mac, then click Storage. Each segment of the bar is an estimate of the storage space used by a category of files. Move your pointer over each segment for more detail.

From there you can see how much data is being taken up by your photos. Simply navigate to your photo libraries and delete all your old photos.

Free up storage on Mac
How do I let go of old photos
Optimise Storage

How do you stay digitally organized?

A simple way to stay organized or rather clutter free on your Mac is to optimise your storage.

To do so follow the steps above but this time click on “Recomendations”. From there you can click on “Optimise storage” and “Reduce clutter”

Doing this regularly will help free up space and reduce clutter.

  1. Keep your computer clutter-free by optimising storage.

  2. Remove any unused apps from your phone.

  3. Turn off app notifications.

  4. Regularly delete old photos.

It is possible to live a digital minimalist lifestyle. It is just a matter of changing your habits. Come on in, the water is fine.