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Digital Decluttering: Clear your cyber-space as we enter a new decade

Tidy home(page), tidy mind.

cluttered desktop
Image: KnowTechie

Most people know that a good house clear-out is great for your mental health. Maintaining the order once you’ve ditched the trash from your abode allows you to live your life unfettered and, perhaps more importantly, without being distracted. But if you think about it, there are plenty of other spaces, too, that could do with a good sort through. These include the digital spaces you inhabit.

We’ve all been guilty of it. We allow our desktops to become cluttered with icon after icon, some of which reside there gathering digital dust for months, sometimes years. We allow WhatsApp messages that we no longer need to build up. Some people (my fiancee is a prime culprit of this) don’t even read their emails until there are 50,000 of the things languishing in all their bold-subject glory in their inboxes.

If you are anything like me (you might not be, I don’t care) then you’ll be one of those people who can’t abide to see notification balloons littering their app screen (imagine having a red balloon that reads ‘50,000’ hovering above your email app – I would probably vomit in my own mouth every time I saw such an atrocity, HELEN). They bother me. They’re like a little itch that you can’t help but scratch.

This why digital decluttering, which can take several forms and functions, is important. Perhaps not to everyone, but if you find that you are spending far too long clearing out Facebook notifications telling you that so-and-so has just posted a video to some crappy group you joined fourteen years ago and no longer frequent, then perhaps it is time you looked at tidying up.

We have prepped a few tips on how you can digitally declutter and as someone who embarked upon his own decluttering journey, I can tell you first hand that it works. REALLY well. We’ll deal with those later on. But first, let’s get SCIENCED.

Loop de loop

social media addiction

Image: bandt.com.au

It is more than likely that you have heard of a phenomenon known as dopamine looping. The premise is quite simple, for those who have yet to hear of it. Let’s use Facebook (or any social media app) as an example. How often have you posted something, perhaps a photo of your stupid dog with something out-of-place in its mouth, and wanted to share it with your friends on social media? Probably quite a few times. Here is where the dopamine effect comes into play.

So you’ve posted your picture of the dog running around the garden with your wife’s dildo between its teeth. What happens next? You wait. You open the app seconds after posting. No likes. you close the app. You wait eight seconds while you walk to the other side of the room and back to the arm of the sofa where your phone is. As you pick it up, it vibrates. A NOTIFICATION! Not just a standard ‘like’ either, its a trio of laugh-emojis in the comments from a colleague at work. Cue your dopamine receptors gushing hot wet feel-goods all over the inside of your brain.

The fact of the matter is, this kind of positive approval makes you feel nice. People think you’re funny, or smart, or cool, or popular, or sexy, and you fucking LOVE it. The same applies in real life, except we generally have access to fewer people at any one time than we do in the digital realm. Likes and comments come flying in, and we can’t help but keep looking.

It’s an addiction really, because…well…dopamine is kinda like a drug. And to feed that addiction, you keep jacking up on the positive feedback. This constant returning for more reassurance is what is referred to as the ‘dopamine loop’ and you need to recognize it if you are going to de-clutter your digital space.

Fire up the washing machine

laptop in washing machine

Image: YouTube (Dimo Petkov)

Obviously, we’re not suggesting you douse your expensive iMac with soapy suds. That would be incredibly stupid, so if you read that heading and immediately went and gave your expensive gadgets a bath, then stop here and go and seek help. Otherwise, stick around to find out how to fairy godmother your gadgets and give them the cleanout they need.

Below is a selection of handy tips that, while simple, are really effective at ending your dopamine loops and giving you a bit of mental clarity. People constantly take breaks from tech, or from social media, or from something similarly time-sponging, but if you set things up properly, you will find that you naturally waste less time on your devices and more time looking at your wife’s face (if you can, now that the dog found her more well-endowed friend in her bedside drawer) or finding the dog significantly less phallic sticks to play around with.

Follow these steps and you will find your digital life is significantly less cluttered. Your productivity will go up as a result and you can then use your time doing things you actually like, or are at least more important than dicking about on social media.

Cut down on the notifications

If your device is notifying you about fewer things, then you will consult it less. Platforms like Facebook will allow you to modify your notification settings so you are only alerted to things that are important. It might sound like something really obvious but, this way, you aren’t fooled back onto the app or website by requests from your cousin Nicole to donate her a life on Candy Crush.

The problem is, once you’re in, you’re in, and the dopamine loop starts again. The companies that operate these platforms know how to hook you in, so give them less opportunity to do so and you’ll find you’re needlessly picking your device up a lot less. Notification settings can be highly customizable, and it is a great practice to go through them and knock things off the list that aren’t needed. You’ll thank yourself for it.

Fill the trash can

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

I don’t know about you, but the amount of shit I once kept stored on my computer was completely gratuitous. Documents I didn’t even remember writing clogged up the immediate desktop space, along with all manner of folders (many of which were named ‘New Folder’ preceding a random number) and app shortcuts. It looked as though R2-D2 had norovirused all over my screen. It wasn’t pretty.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you still need the detritus that litters your desktop, or the stuff you forgot about on your drive. You don’t. Go for a fuss-free background image, can the documents you don’t need, and perhaps opt for an app launcher so you can get to your applications quickly without having to waste your valuable time searching for them.

Get your socks in order

Why do some people have about thirty-five home pages on their smart-device, some with two apps at really random screen locations? Just finding the damn notifications, with this kind of arrangement, is a pain in the ass, but the likelihood is that you will be distracted, while you search for an important notification, by an app that will draw you right in and keep tight hold of you.

At the very least, put your apps in alphabetical order. Come on, it isn’t that hard. You won’t fall into the social media wormhole satisfying your cravings, you big dopamine junkie. You can navigate straight to the app that has just notified you, find out what it wanted, and get on with your day without a three-hour YouTube freak-out.

Reclaim your inbox

Image: cpacanada.ca

How many of your emails are actually useful? Do you really need job websites to send you the same two jobs once an hour? Nah, nobody needs that level of reminding that their current job is shit. Unsubscribe from the lists (unless you’re actively looking for work, of course). That way you can empower yourself to take a look at a website on your own terms, and not theirs.

Unsubscribing yourself from mailing lists means that when you receive an email, the chances of it actually being of use to you are increased. This, along with your empowered decision to use the internet when you want to will also make you feel good. You see what I’m getting at here, right? You’re turning your dopamine use to your advantage rather than surrendering it to some faceless company. Yoooooouuuuuu…WIN!

Real Estate

Image: europeanceo.com

Your screen has plenty of prime real estate going to waste if you’ve got a bunch of crap like taskbars and tabs all over the place. Full-screen mode is your friend. Not only does your display look less cluttered, but you can concentrate more on the task at hand without being distracted by the Twitter feed you’ve got conveniently open 24/7 on one of your tabs.

You’ll definitely find that, without the opportunity to be distracted by other tabs on your screen when you notice a message has popped up, your productivity will go through the roof and you’ll get through a lot more…and a lot faster. This frees up your time, so you can spend it harvesting non-digital dopamine hits, increasing your motivation and lifting your mood.

You control your own digital destiny

Image by Thomas Ulrich from Pixabay

All of this might sound simple and pretty glaring, but so very many of us are guilty to at least some of the points mentioned above. The trick is to turn your technology into something you use to genuinely benefit you, rather than something you rely upon to make you feel good. Give the above steps a try and see how much better you feel in a couple of weeks. Doctor’s orders.

Have you got any good tips to add to ours? Have you completely minimized your digital life successfully? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

Editors’ Recommendations:

Super hot for tech-nostalgia. Loves retro-futuristic artwork and music. Tech-wise enjoys gaming, audio and, for some unexplained reason really enjoys cleaning tech.

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