As you probably already know, this year I made a life-changing decision: I was going to give myself 21 day challenges to try all the things I’ve been wanting to try. I started by going 21 days without social media, which healed and delighted and made me a convert to the lifestyle. I decided to then deepen my digital declutter by quitting smart phone use, internet browsing & online shopping for 21 days.
In this post, I’ll share the daily-ish log I kept during this challenge, what changes I noticed and what I’ll keep going permanently with.
(Psst! Why not have a listen to the companion podcast episode whilst you read?)
Rules of this challenge:
What isn’t allowed at all:
- NO internet browsing
- NO online shopping
- NO smartphone use (I can only use it as a dumb phone – photos, text messages & phone calls). Where possible, just leave it at home instead.
- NO news websites, Reddit, BuzzFeed or celebrity gossip websites
- NO TikTok or Youtube
- NO social media
- NO Tapas or Webtoons
What is allowed, but with parameters
- Email & Facebook messenger access 2 x a day for 15 minutes at a time. Must be done via laptop. Must be timed and logged to prevent it becoming a background constant.
- Reading blogs via Bloglovin. Will test limiting it to 30 minutes of reading a day + see how that feels.
What is allowed without restrictions:
- Essential business software like Kajabi
- Any tools & apps I use to make stuff – like WordPress (for writing on my website), Procreate (which I do digital drawings on) & Anchor (for recording podcasts)
- Online courses I am currently studying
- Reading on my Kindle (& purchasing new books when needed)
- Podcasts & audiobooks
Saturday 27 Feb 2020 (before challenge begins)
How I’m feeling:
- Honestly, pretty confident. I was SUPER anxious before starting the last challenge of no social media. But it ended up being SO great and SO freeing that I’m excited to see what I learn from this challenge!
- I know if I set myself up for success by deleting apps + access, it takes a lot of the battle away.
- I also feel slightly worried that my closest friends won’t feel as connected to me as they usually do, but I will try to lovebomb them (healthily) to ensure our relationships continue to bloom and thrive.
Sunday 28 Feb 2020 (Challenge Eve)
- Trial run of the challenge today. We went to the river, and I didn’t take my phone (GASP!), just my journal. Instead of rooting around restlessly, I drew the view, and had a good ole fashioned D&M with Mr Dawson.
- I realised I had another flaw in my “only check emails 2 x a day for 15 minutes” protocol. I send myself quotes from Kindle books I’m reading to my email, and reference the quotes while I am writing. I think what I need to do instead is have those quotes stored on Goodreads (which is the other option for sending quotes from Kindle). Plus, long term, it’s probably a better solution for storing quotes.
- This is all definitely making me feel more strategic and conscientious about how I am using tech tools, and if they are the most effective and satisfying method.
Later that night:
Monday 1 March 2021
- It felt fucking GREAT to only do emails and Messenger in 15 minute batches. I was looking FORWARD to it, like it was a little treat for getting some deeper work done. I set a timer and strictly followed.
- Wheels came off the wagon later in the day however – we are mid-launch for Sales Star, and as with all things launchy, something goes awry at some point (this time: a server stopped) and I needed to Messenger chat with my assistant to get shit sorted & also just to think out loud with someone. I’m fine with this though – a launch day like this only comes around every few months. It’s not an everyday occurrence.
- I didn’t take my phone out with us on our school pickups, dropoffs and errands. My husband had his, and I took my journal. It was fine. And nice not to feel that eternal compulsion to check it (don’t worry, it’s my husband who is driving!) I wonder why I think I need my phone out and about anyway? The last time we had a car break down was 15 years ago… and it was in a shopping carpark, surrounded by plenty of shops. Don’t know if the cost of always having phone with us is worth that minute possibility that it might be needed – and even then, there are other ways around getting help. I dunno.
- No internet shopping, no internet browsing. Did read blogs for over my 30 minute trial limit however – it was only by 10 minutes or so, and I’m fine with going over. It’s useful just to keep an eye on how much I consume, and whether it is all quality or not.
- It’s now time for bed – super late for me. 11.30pm. Lately I’ve been heading to bed at 7ish to read and journal for a couple of hours before I fall asleep at 9ish. So this is positively WILD being up this late. I also have a 3 hour meeting with my adorable accountants tomorrow morning. I’ve been looking forward to this one for months. I also need to bring my A-game to ensure I retain my status as their #1 Most Outrageous & Favourite Foul-Mouthed Client. WISH ME LUCKKKK FRIENDZZZ.
Tuesday 2 March 2021 (Day 2)
- Doing email 2 x a day in 15 minute batches is totally doable and a HUGE relief. It’s giving me so much brain focus back!
- I haven’t been as brilliant at sticking to a time limit with Messenger. It’s my primary method of connecting with my friends. I definitely feel better not just having it open all day, and being mindful of how long I am on it. I don’t have an answer yet.
- I accidentally started buying something online today then stopped. Damn, it’s a slippery slope!
- We had long accountants meeting today. They assured me I am still number 1 in their “Weird But In A Super Fun Way Client” awards category. Not that they have awards categories, and they definitely made that all up just to humour me, but I did feel like I’d won something nonetheless.
Homework + notes from How To Break Up With Your Phone:
Wednesday 3 March 2021
Thursday 4 March 2021
Friday 5 March 2021 (Day 5)
- An online order came today – jeans that I needed for an upcoming photoshoot. The sizing and cut was crapppp so I had to do the return online, and ordered a replacement. Made sure I didn’t spend much time choosing however. Get in, get out. Online shopping for clothes feels stressful. I need to remember that. It’s not actually enjoyable.
- Emails and messenger constraints went by the wayside yesterday and today – we’re dealing with a major email delivery outage from our provider which has needed fast pivots and decision making. I think it’s making me realise – instant messaging is definitely useful specifically when in fire fighting mode. It’s not however useful for me to have continuous use during the day in non-crisis situations. I need spaciousness in order to create and do deep work, and to keep my brain and soul in good condition.
- Today, after a batch of digital system fire fighting, I had a bath and even then was still feeling exhausted. I thought about laying down and watching Youtube videos to rest, and then realised that option was off the table. And I thought about this quote I read lately from someone – that he couldn’t understand why people always said they were tired. That there was a simple solution to being tired – sleep. JUST SLEEP. So I had a nap instead, and I think it was a far better use of my time than watching videos groggily.
- It’s been a massive week for me, personally and on the business front. I need a lot of recovery time this weekend to recover and repair. And I know having digital limits will help that process.
Saturday 6 March 2021 (Day 6)
- I got some challenging news today. Usually, I would sit around and brood for the rest of the day, or Google to try and control the situation. I texted some dear friends, and as part of the conversation, sent them a meme of a golden retriever driving a boat like a happy idiot. And then I thought: you know what? I can BE that golden retriever! Twenty minutes later, we had hired a boat and were puttering down the river, wide grins on our faces like that dog. After an hour, we came back, and it felt like all my worries had been blown away. Honestly – I think it’s all the books and thinking I’ve done over the last month about digital addictions. Realising that the cure to what ails me is almost always going to be real life.
- Broke my rule today and ordered something online – a sensory shirt for me to try & help with preventing autistic burnout. A specialty object like that isn’t something I can buy anywhere locally. I decided not to wait until after this challenge is over because I’m particularly concerned about my schedule this month bringing on some sensory issues. It was an intentional and therapeutic purchase, not a “let’s just buy pretty shit for the hell of it”, so I think it’s totally fine.
- Great article here about people who have quit social media.
You’re happier as you walk away. My mental health has actually never been better.
Friday March 12 2021
Monday March 15 2021
About a dozen of them or so could make it to our first mission – a sunset cruise on the river where everyone had to dress up like Kath and Kim. We even had a prize for the best dressed – a copy of Our Bible, of course. We commandeered the roof of the boat, and spent the next two hours dancing wildly, laughing ourselves hoarse, waving to everyone in sight and generally being the majestic wildebeests we are. We watched the sun set and the pied cormorants nest and the fruit bats begin their nightly migration. And as we danced under the stars, above the river, I thought:
This. This is what life is for. This is what friendship is for. It’s not for being Facebook friends. It’s for real life: for dancing and laughing and celebrating this ridiculous, glorious, hard and scrumptious life.
I’m tired and sore today. But it was worth it. My lungs hurt from laughing like a drain, my thigh muscles ache from the honour of shaking that booty, my heart is stretched from holding all that love.
I can’t wait for the next one. This is what we were born to do.
Tuesday March 16 2021
- Alex Franzen’s iPhone screen is muchos inspiring
- Kelly Rae Roberts on quitting social media
- I got a handwritten letter! In the mail! With stickers! From a lovely reader named Sheila in the UK who is getting off social media & getting into creating, inspired by this experiment. It was about the best thing I’ve ever gotten in the mailbox.
Saturday March 20, 2021
I was out to lunch with a friend yesterday, and she asked me how I was. My answer was:
“Brilliant. I gave up social media. I don’t browse the internet anymore. I only check my emails twice a day. I feel more inspired, creative and content than I have in YEARS.”
And of course, when I talk about it, people always have questions:
- But how do you find out news?
- How do you market your business?
- But… like… HOW?
As though this screen-ridden life is not optional, it’s mandatory.
And I get it, because I felt EXACTLY the same way before I did it.
My only answer is:
Just try it. Do it for 21 days. See how it feels for YOU. And while you’re at it, read Digital Minimalism or How To Break Up With Your Phone. It will give you the fuel you need, a way to glimpse a better life.
A beautiful life awaits you on the other side.
And I figure my link posts are a great way to prove as well just how inspired I am. How I might not be browsing the internet or scrolling social media anymore or spending anywhere near the amount of time I used to on screens… but the QUALITY of what I read is wildly different. I used to do link posts all the time back in the olden days.
And then at some point, I didn’t have anything to put in them. I’d think back on the last week of online life, and could not remember one single, important, inspiring thing. I didn’t have anything to talk about because I was reading the equivalent of mental junk food. Re-orientating myself from social media to reading blogs using a blog reader (I use Bloglovin currently) has been a game changer. I read wildly thoughtful, inspiring pieces and itch to get creating. And I can’t wait to share with you some of the incredible things I’ve discovered.
Sunday 21 March 2021
It’s now been 1 month + 21 days since I stopped using social media.
My friend at lunch also asked me:
Did you delete your accounts?
The answer: I did not.
I decided to keep them open for a few reasons:
- This was actually my foremost reason, and it seems like a strange one, but it’s important to me. I’m keeping them open incase of having to go through an emergency like a bushfire evacuation again. When we were evacuated in 2019 for three days, Facebook groups were a really useful way to get local community information. So I’m keeping my FB account with pre-approved access to local groups incase of emergency.
- I still use Facebook Messenger twice a day (in 15 minute blocks) to text with friends, organise gatherings and talk to my assistant. I use the Messenger app, but not the Facebook app.
- I didn’t want to just evaporate from social media world and leave my wider friend group wondering where I disappeared to. Instead my profile has a cover graphic saying that I’m no longer on social media but still want to be connected, and I give the various ways to contact me.
- In a few situations, when I’ve done research on local venues, events, businesses… the only web presence they have is a social media account (either Facebook or Instagram). Don’t get me wrong: I think this is really fucking dumb. Businesses should absolute prioritise a simple website using something like Wix or Squarespace! Anyways: I can still access FB pages when I absolutely need to.
What I don’t do however, is access social media regularly anymore. I have content blocks set up on my phone, iPad and laptop so I can’t actually even access Facebook or Instagram. If I absolutely need to (for reason #4 above), I have to go in and edit my content block software first, access the information, and then fuck off and block myself again.
Here’s what I’ve noticed however…
I’ve noticed two things when I do have to pop in to grab some piece of information before I fuck off again.
- Facebook and Instagram are DESIGNED to stop you from just being able to get one piece of information. The notifications! The news feed! The red buttons! All of it to attract your eye like a poker machine and spiral you down an attention hole for you to emerge hours later, dazed and confused at what just happened.
- And of course, inevitably I click the red buttons. Even though I KNOW I don’t need to. Even though I KNOW it’s designed to suck me in. Even though I KNOW I’m not supposed to get distracted. And then I look at that notifications feed, and I scroll all the way through of what I have “missed”… and I feel… ANGRY. Like THIS SHIT is what I spent hours of my day keeping up with? THIS SHIT is not worth my time. It’s basic, and it’s bullshit, and it’s boring. There is NOTHING here that nourishes my creativity and soul and life and business. Nothing. It’s all just smoke and mirrors, a set of mirages designed to hijack my nervous system and get me thoroughly addicted.
And I feel so fucking cranky, and gross. And I log right off, and wonder why I even went in on the first place.
It’s not worth it. It’s just not worth it at all.
Social media would have to be the biggest con of the 21st century. One that has hijacked HOURS and HOURS EVERYDAY from BILLIONS of people.
Fuck that nonsense.
Friday 26 March 2021
It’s getting a bit harder to talk at leaving social media and digitally decluttering – it’s now just a way of life. One that I deeply treasure, fought hard for & have already written extensively about.
This has been one of my best decisions of the last ten years.
Sunday 28 March 2021
Two months on from stopping using social media.
One month on from stopping internet browsing & shopping.
Here’s what life is like now my brain has settled into this new existence.
Yesterday was a busy one: we hired a boat and went out on the river for my eldest girl’s birthday. Then I had lunch with two old friends from boarding school that I haven’t seen in 20 years. My heart is happy to see them, to spend languid hours eating Italian, then walking off said Italian along the river, before eating gelato, all the while telling the stories of our lives that have happened in the blink of an eye in two decades.
Last night, I went to bed at 7pm and read for 2 hours before falling asleep.
I woke up at 6am. It’s a Sunday morning. Usually, I’d either go back to sleep (if I haven’t had enough), or I’d sneak out, get my phone, and groggily scroll my phone for a couple of hours.
Instead, this morning, I lay there for a while, resting and letting my brain dream while awake. There’s nowhere else to be but here. Then I decide what I’d most like to do is write. The impetus to create is too much. Usually the desire is squashed in phone land, but out here, it is ripe and radiant. So I quietly usher out, make myself a cup of tea. Take newspapers out on the deck with a cup of green tea, and spend a happy hour or more reading and journaling.
Once everyone is up, I help my kids with a craft activity they want to do. I video chat with my Dad. I read some magazines on the floor. I tidy and organise. I make cups of herbal tea for my kids. I blog, because there are things that I must write and share, and as I’ve rediscovered, blogging is one of my very favourite hobbies.
For the rest of the day our plans are this: the girls and I will start doing an art e-course together at our big, well worn, paint splattered dining table. I want to finish reading last night’s novel. We will bake some muffins. I might write some penpal letters to friends. It is gentle, and quiet, and deeply good for my soul.
All without that restless scratching and itching feelings that I should be somewhere else, looking at a screen. There’s nowhere else I need to be but here, in this beautiful life.
The Savings Of A Month Without Internet Shopping
I did an in depth spreadsheet analysis of this just out of interest’s sake.
(Plus, let’s face it, I can conduct all kinds of kooky projects in all that spare time I am saving from no social media or internet browsing!)
I reviewed all my internet shopping since July last year (9 months in total).
Here’s the results:
You’ll note Face stuff + clothing + Amazon did not add up to $10,493 – they were just the 3 major categories of spending.
Amazon is my major expense – 90% of it is in books and e-books.
Clothing category includes me buying clothes for both kids. About half of clothing purchase costs were from small independent brands and boutiques. I usually only buy clothes for myself every five years or so – and I just happened to buy clothes in this period. I do think I can cut down on online shopping for clothes now and just stick to my updated capsule collection.
The other main expense has been therapy aids. I don’t buy these often, the last time I bought weighted blankets was in 2015 and we still use them constantly. I just added to our collection – I bought some sensory sheets, weighted toys and weighted blankets to add to our collection for me & my kids to use/sleep with. I treated myself to this glorious motherfucker, and it was pricey, but so damn worth it. I use it every single day, and noticeably feel my brain function better. So they weren’t regular purchases that I’ll make all the time.
I was surprised at how much I spend on average per month – $1312. That’s a dick tonne! At that rate, that’s $15,000 a year! During March, I spent about half my usual amount.
When I did need to buy something, I tried to buy locally – first in small, independently owned stores and then in the only big box store we have here – Big W. What I found surprising was that it’s actually nicer to buy local – you get to have human connections and micro-moments that you wouldn’t otherwise have. There’s a growing bunch of research that shows how important those casual relationships are.
For example: I was trying to find a copy of Our Bible (aka Caitlin Moran’s “More Than A Woman“). Instead of ordering from Amazon, I popped into my favourite River Read to talk shit and look for it. They didn’t have it, so I headed to Sandy Pages and they were completely lovely and they did have it! Plus, you get to experience the serendipity of discovering other books that you wouldn’t find otherwise. Two points of human contact for the price of one book!
I do recognise however, that I’ll still need to online shop for specialty items and more-difficult-to-source books. And I know bunches of peeps are anti-Amazon (for good reason). Currently, here in Australia, Amazon is a relatively new invention (we only got it a couple of years ago) and there aren’t any other online competitors who sell a range of products – it is still mostly boutiques specialising in one niche.
I think going forward I’d like to be more mindful of where I spend my money. I don’t necessarily need to spend LESS money, though I likely will now that I’ve upgraded my clothes and weighted blankets. I’d like to prioritise local spending in independent stores where possible, and pay for that level of human contact.
What I’m going to keep doing from this challenge
Here’s the best part about these challenges: you can start forming a new habit without feeling like you are stuck doing it FOREVER. Coz that kind of thing frightens the shit out of me. Instead, you can try, see how it feels… and then before you know it, you’re enjoying the benefits and not really wanting to turn back!
Only having to do something for 21 days really takes the pressure off it. Plus, you don’t need to do it perfectly – I didn’t do this challenge perfectly, but I still gained a huge amount from it.
Here’s an official review of the challenge rules, how I went & what I’ll keep doing:
What isn’t allowed at all:
- NO internet browsing – achieved it, and it was awesome. I’m going to continue! If I need to search for something, I will. And I will happily read blogs. But no more just browsing the internet because I’m bored. That’s when it’s time to go read a book or make some art or watch an e-course or something!
- NO online shopping – loved it. Don’t know why I think online shopping is fun, I find it stressful AF. I’ll only do for speciality items now and books I can’t easily source locally. This doesn’t include buying online e-courses or software. I fucking love that shit and will buy it all damn day. What I mean is spending endless hours clothes shopping online. #nope
- NO smartphone use (I can only use it as a dumb phone – photos, text messages & phone calls). Where possible, just leave it at home instead. – Left it at home a lot. Did have a couple of days where I used Gmail and Messenger on my phone (when we had a launch, when we had a photoshoot etc). It was fine to use in more of an “emergency” situation, but SO GREAT to turn it off as our normal state of being. It made my brain feel so much calmer, and more present as a human too.
- NO news websites, Reddit, BuzzFeed or celebrity gossip websites – Nailed it. Feel less anxious, more kind & better educated about news (by reading newspapers & blogs instead).
- NO TikTok or Youtube – Yeeee haaaa! So great to get rid of these time wasters!
- NO social media – Because social media sucks giant donkey dick!
- NO Tapas or Webtoons – Ooooh! I will likely go back to testing my use of these – it’s more like reading comics on a Kindle.
What is allowed, but with parameters
- Email & Facebook messenger access 2 x a day for 15 minutes at a time. Must be done via laptop. – This rocked my fucking world. It cleared up so much headspace and time!!!! Will continue it as much as possible. And when I fall off the wagon, get back on.
- Reading blogs via Bloglovin. Will test limiting it to 30 minutes of reading a day + see how that feels. – I fucking love reading blogs, and will continue to. I don’t really need to limit my time on it, it’s usually about 30 minutes anyway. But reading them for longer is fine anyway!
The major benefits & results
Quitting internet browsing & shopping has saved me an ASSLOAD of time. I’ve been able to get through one of the busiest months I’ve had in years and NOT burnt the fuck out. I’ve read a lot more books (& brilliant blogs that make me itch to create more). I feel more creative and on purpose. I have been hugely productive over the last month. My brain feels clearer, my heart feels lighter. I feel very, very lucky. THIS is what we are born for. THIS is the life I want.
What challenge am I going to do next?
Honestly babes… I actually don’t know yet.
I am leaning towards either 21 days of meditating or 21 days of opt-ins.
I’ll let you know when it comes to me.
Either way: it’s going to be bloody gloooooorious!
Here’s to challenges, and experiments, and trying something new!