Why Digital Minimalism Is the Answer to Social Media Not Taking over Your Life & 5 Ways to Try It

What happened when I gave up Instagram for Lent and then maybe lasted all of two days? Instagram shut down my personal account. Cool cool cool. Insert me grappling with not having an online public presence (I was really proud of my numberless, hyphenless username, snagged in the Paleolithic days of IG).

After the Great Instagram Shutdown of 2019, Instagram allowed me to log back into all four work accounts, sans personal account, inadvertently causing me to examine my digital practices: what’s working, what’s not, what’s practical. And no I haven’t contacted Instagram yet because…I have #taxes to do.

Social media is my profession, somewhat accidentally. I never aspired to become “the Instagram girl” on my college campus, but somewhere in between launching a news media Instagram account and landing a job in DC doing social for a think tank, Instagram became my full-time job, as well as central to my creative side hustle.

Along with the usual digital culprits accompanying a 9-5 job — checking Slack and email — toggling back and forth between the five Instagram accounts and mindlessly tapping on my bus ride home was starting to feel less than ideal.

As awesome as a digital detox amongst Joshua trees, clad in Outdoor Voices apparel, and Chatarunga-ing my way to zen sounds, my current role requires that I pay pretty close attention to the social media world.


Not to mention, after relocating from California to the East Coast, staying in touch with friends and family is contingent upon my iPhone. Trying to give that up for Lent, even partially, proved to be more difficult than I thought.

The idea for a digitally-edited or digitally-minimalist life comes from an Ezra Klein Show podcast interview with Cal Newport, author of bestselling Deep Work and Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. I expected Newport to lecture me on why I should delete social media entirely, which would result in me not being able to pay rent. No thanks.

Instead, Newport makes the case for a digital minimalism, which he defines as “a philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected activities… that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.” The difference between digital minimalism and digital detoxing is semantic, but important:

Shifting from “detox” to “minimalism” neutralizes social media instead of implying inherent toxicity.

As a full-time social media assistant, here are five digitally-minimalist practices based on Newport’s theory that have restored some mental clarity to me:


1. Turn off all those incessant red notifications.

Google it if you must — I did (for someone working in the tech space, you’d think I’d be more literate in this stuff). Let your pressing obligations live inside each app, instead of shouting in your face every time you open your phone.

2. Mute. Those. Stories.

Yes I get it, you don’t want to unfollow that one person who will totally notice. That’s fine. Instead, hold down the story bubble and mute any stories that are creating either: negative energy or even neutral energy (yes that sounds woo-woo, you know what I mean). Every time content pops up on your feed, ask yourself, “On a scale of 1-10, how excited I am to see this?” Anything less than an 8 gets muted or unfollowed. It’s taking immense willpower to NOT reference Marie Kondo, but there I referenced Marie Kondo. I’m a slave to my culture.

3. Leave the phone at home!

I can usually swing a couple hours outside the house on the weekend where I don’t NEED my phone. Instead of referring to my Evernote grocery list at Trader Joe’s, I’ll write a list. If I’m walking somewhere new, I’ll commit the route to memory before I head out.


4. Ruthlessly unsubscribe from emails.

Just do it.

5. Have Instagram shut down your personal account.

Now I have a separate account where I’ve only added back in the accounts who’s content I recall enjoying. The total? 28. Down from 400+.

I’m sorry to say that the past few months of implementing slash being forced to conduct a digital edit have NOT resulted in a higher state of enlightenment. But with the extra mental space, I’ve spent more time thinking about the sorry state of my towel collection (in need of a bleaching) and the most ideal way to cook an eggplant. TBD on the eggplant techniques — maybe Instagram has some ideas.

Mikaela Ryan

Mikaela Ryan considers Trader Joe’s grocery shopping to be her most serious hobby. But when she’s not debating the merits of dark chocolate PB cups vs. dark chocolate covered almonds, she runs digital marketing for a DC-based think tank and is the founder and editor of Mira, a news media company. She can be found: chronically listening to podcasts, obsessing over AirBnb listings, and communicating ideas with beauty.