Social media minimalism is an approach to using social media that’s proactive, controlled and intentional. It’s about seeing social media as a valuable tool that enhances your life—while reducing the impact that social apps have on your time, relationships and self-esteem.
However, the line between social media as a helpful resource and an endless vortex of reasons to feel terrible about yourself is blurred.
If you’re anything like me, you have a love-hate relationship with your favourite social apps.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve justified the benefits of participating in social media (especially as an online creator) only to find myself aimlessly scrolling through feeds.
Then I snap out of it and realise I’ve fallen trap to big tech….again. Damn it!
Over the years, I’ve tried all the typical advice from deleting apps, removing accounts, turning on aeroplane mode, grayscaling my display, unfollowing people and taking a social media detox.
These tactics have worked with varying degrees of success, but even then, I still feel like Mark Zuckerberg has me by the balls. He has you too, doesn’t he?
I’ve learned over time that there’s no point fighting the tech giants. The goal is no longer to remove these platforms from my life but instead find a way to reduce them down to merely a technological tool—not a sad addiction.
In this post, I’ll kick off with the benefits and issues with social media before sharing some tips to help you apply social media minimalism and get a bit of your dignity back.
Wait, do minimalists use social media?
When I first got into minimalism in 2014, I thought it was a right of passage to quit social media—like it was an unwritten rule.
I read articles from minimalists like Alexandra Franzen, an online entrepreneur and writer who miraculously quit social media despite having a digital business.
Stories like Alexandra’s were inspiring, and naturally, I wanted to do the same.
But over time, I realised that I didn’t want to leave social media. Why? Because these platforms are amazingly useful!
The benefits of social media, even as a minimalist
There’s no denying it. Social media provides unprecedented opportunities.
Twitter brings breaking news and freedom of speech (well, sort of).
Need to urgently know how to save our indoor plants, or change a car tire? YouTube has you covered.
Facebook is a multi-faceted platform for creating events, participating in niche groups to connect with like-minded people, messaging, and even a freaking marketplace to buy and sell stuff.
Instagram is the place for tiny doses of inspiration.
Then for endless entertainment, TikTok has created a frictionless way for everyone to kill time.
If all of that wasn’t enough, social media has become a profession. That’s right. If you get good at creating engaging content on these platforms and build yourself a following, you can carve out a career as a social media influencer following your passions.
Personally, social media has been an invaluable resource in developing my interests in travel, minimalism, veganism and blogging. And, of course, as a content creator, social media has given me the ability to reach people.
Social media provides a compelling list of benefits, and it’s no surprise we can’t stay off these platforms. But at what cost?
The problem with social media
For starters, what is social media?
Social media is a type of media website or app that enables the public to share content and participate in social networking, all for free.
The goal of social media is to keep users on their platforms and monetise their attention through advertising. It’s the same model as free-to-air television or radio.
Some folks refer to this as the “attention economy”.
To keep users engaged, in addition to the benefits listed above—these platforms are tapping into human psychology to make their apps as addictive as possible.
Social media platforms go to extreme lengths to make us feel like we’re missing out if we don’t check all day—also known as operant conditioning.
According to Wikipedia, operant conditioning is an associative learning process through which the strength of a behaviour is modified or enhanced by the opportunity to be rewarded.
It’s why pokie machines are so popular. It’s the hint of mystery coupled with the opportunity to win that keeps users hooked on gambling.
In the context of social media, it’s the learned behaviour of receiving a notification.
For example, once upon a time, Facebook notifications notified you of any tangible updates on your account from a new friend request, someone commenting on your post or receiving a message.
Nowadays, half the time, Facebook notifications are meaningless. If you were to sit on your feed and repeatedly refresh it, Facebook would start making up any notification from a friend randomly sharing a story or an “interesting” video that popped into your feed.
Facebook knows that the little red number sitting on your notifications, videos, groups, messages creates a strong desire for you to uncover what it is.
If you’re naturally curious or want to know everything, this can be a disaster—as you’re constantly wondering what’s on the other side of the red number. Before you know it, you’re enslaved to notifications.
Social media can take a turn for the worse when you start posting content and seeking validation from others. Notifications have even higher stakes when you await feedback from your peers.
“What if nobody likes, comments and shares my post? Am I a loser?” These are the depressing thoughts that sit in our minds.
It’s natural for humans to want to feel important, and big tech has exploited this vulnerability.
Creators aren’t excluded from this. Perhaps it’s even worse for us! There’s a social hierarchy dependent on how many followers you have.
For instance, creators tend to prioritise interacting with other creators with a similar number of followers. An Instagram influencer with a million followers would make more time to connect with other creators at that same level over those who have one thousand followers.
Conversely, those with a smaller audience put people with a large following on a pedestal and aspire to be on their level to feel accepted.
I remember when smartphones first gave us the ability to see how much time we spend on different apps. I was mortified to see I was spending hours on social media each day!
The goal of social media is to keep you on their platforms as long as possible. The more time you spend on apps, the more ads they can serve. In this context, the product is you, the user.
One of the most effective ways to increase the average time spent on a social platform is to recommend relevant content.
Take YouTube, for example. YouTube used to work more like Google, where you’d primarily search for video content, e.g. you would type in “funny cat video” (why do we always use cat videos as an example?), then YouTube will give you options.
Nowadays, YouTube is more of a discovery platform where its artificial intelligence learns about your interests and recommends videos for you to watch.
It’s crazy to see the shift in my behaviour. I don’t use YouTube search anywhere as much as I used to because I trust YouTube knows me better than me to serve up infinite videos that I want to watch with little effort on my side.
I’ve argued with family members because they used YouTube on my account, thus screwing up my recommendation history.
TikTok takes recommendations to another level. You barely need to follow anyone as within a few hours of swiping up, TikTok will figure out what content you like to provide you with endless entertainment.
Facebook and Instagram have adopted a similar approach in their feeds, creating a bottomless pit of personalised content to keep you scrolling for hours each day.
“Comparison is the thief of joy”.
I’m sure you’ve heard or seen this quote from President Theodore Roosevelt, ironically, on social media.
It’s no surprise that people post the best parts of their lives on social media. And even those who post their “real” lives are still doing it to get more views, likes and comments.
For example, I’ve NEVER seen someone post an argument they had with their spouse. I mean, who would want to watch a couple arguing? I suppose it would work if you’re trying to do reality TV like the Kardashians.
Seeing a group of hot individuals half naked having fun on a boat in Greece can make you feel like, “heck, why isn’t my life like that?”
Watching other people’s highlight reels (Ha! Get the Instagram reference?) increases the expectation of your life subconsciously, making you feel inadequate.
Comparison on social media paves the way for body image issues, depression and anxiety.
It’s not all bad…
If you’re in the right frame of mind, the same content can be viewed as a source of inspiration. But that all depends on your perspective.
Lastly, the other issue with social media, which is well covered, is easy access to conflict.
Some say that the root cause of more conflict comes down to empathy destruction.
A study found that college students are 40% less empathetic now than those in the 90s. There are a few reasons for this.
For one, we’re trading time spent interacting with humans in person for more time spent on social media. So we’re losing our ability to connect and understand others without the safety net of hiding behind our screens.
Furthermore, social media gives you more of what you already believe, creating a confirmation bias.
Before you know it, you’re in your little bubble of information. Then as soon as someone comes along and opposes your view, boom! Conflict.
On the one hand, social media gives anyone a voice to share their opinion. However, with everyone armed with a microphone with varying degrees of expertise, you have an internet shit show and a divisive society.
Social media is great for inspiration, solving problems, managing events, communicating with your network, buying and selling stuff.
But social media can quickly get dark when you become enslaved to notifications that make you feel like you’re missing something and algorithms that know you better than you.
Not to mention all the psychological impacts social media has on you when you compare yourself to other people posting the best versions of their lives, making you feel like you’re not enough.
How do we use social media minimalism to strike the right balance between utility and addiction, comparison and validation?
Let’s look at some strategies.
Social media minimalism starts with your phone
I’m stating the obvious, but most activity on social media starts on our smartphones, not computers.
Then you have apps like Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat, which were made specifically for mobile devices, and only later developed to be accessed on computers.
Our phones have evolved from a simple utility of calling and texting to a powerful computer in our pockets.
The accessibility to phones is the issue here.
Our devices are always at our arms reach, ready to stimulate us at any waking moment—whether it’s in the car, waiting in line, talking with friends, in bed, on the toilet, on the desk, anywhere.
I’ve found that I’m far less inclined to binge on social media (well, maybe except for YouTube) on my computer.
The computer has historically represented productivity more so than entertainment in the past. So it’s only natural that we feel a little more guilty about getting lost on social media when we open up our laptops.
To apply social media minimalism, we need to adjust phone behaviours. The phone is the trigger for social media use. It’s the habit before the habit.
Below are 7 simple strategies to get some agency over your mobile social media usage.
7 easy tips to become a social media minimalist
1. Disable all non-essential push notifications
Chasing that seductive red bell in social apps is one thing. Getting meaningless notifications even when your phone is locked is an entirely different challenge.
Give credit to Blackberry, who invented push notifications. Blackberrys’ ideal customers were corporate and business users and push notifications were primarily used for email.
This enabled busy folks to quickly view their most important emails at a glance and respond if necessary.
However, it didn’t take long for the rest of the app market to notice the effectiveness of push notifications.
Today U.S. mobile users receive 46 push notifications a day on average from a variety of services.
Push notifications can help receive important messages from friends and family. Yet, the same notifications are lumped together with random updates from social media apps.
We’re effectively trained to place the same value on a meaningless notification as we do on an important notification. Our brain doesn’t recognise the difference until we check.
And we check alright.
We check during movies. We check mid-conversation with our spouse. We check in meetings. We NEED to know.
Folks, if there’s anything you take away from this post, it’s cut back your phone notifications.
Do it with me. Unlock your phone, go to your settings. Search or select “notifications”.
You have a few options to manage notifications for each app on your device:
- Lock screen
- Notification centre
Determine the essential apps you wish to receive notifications. In my opinion, this should be limited to your messaging apps for communication with your friends, family and colleagues.
For the non-essential apps, turn off the lock screen, notification centre, banners and even badges.
While I have my social media usage under control, I’m addicted to email. So I turned off all of the notifications for my email app, and it has been a game-changer.
I still can’t believe how many people I see who have notifications enabled for their favourite social media apps. Even worse when I’m trying to talk to that person!
So do it. Sort out your notifications today, and you’re one step closer to becoming a social media minimalist.
2. Replace your phone with a book when going to the toilet
There’s a good chance you’re reading this article on the toilet. Am I right?
A study showed that 9 out of 10 people use their cell phones on the toilet. On average, we spend 30 minutes a week, or 26 hours a year, using our phones in the bathroom.
And I’m sure watching TikTok or Instagram Reels takes up a bunch of that toilet time.
Look, not to go too deep into bathroom behaviours—but remember the days of taking a magazine or a newspaper into the toilet? How times have changed…
In any case, I had this habit. And still do. But I’ve pulled back a little by replacing my phone with a book or nothing when entering the bathroom.
Make sure to place your favourite books near your bathroom, so you’re reminded to pick them up over your phone.
3. Leave your phone at home for short outings
Our cell phones have become critical devices for managing our lives, and it’s understandable why they’re with us all the time.
However, when we duck out to pick up some groceries, have a coffee or go for a walk, do we really need our phones with us?
I’m as guilty as anyone with this as I use my phone as a radio in my car, as my debit card and navigation, so I get that it’s a big ask.
But these practical use cases quickly turn into checking social media when I’m waiting in line, waiting at traffic lights (when walking), or chilling in a cafe. There are even some folks who catch up on social media when walking their dogs.
I can totally go analog when going out for an hour, and I’m sure you can too.
We could get back moments of quiet time to ourselves without stimulation. Or have a random conversation with someone when we’re out and about. Hey, and we may very well build up some empathy while we’re at it!
The world is not going to end in the next 30 to 60 minutes. There’s not going to be a sudden family emergency when you go analog for a short period.
We operated without instant access to the web in our pockets for a long time, and we can certainly do it now.
4. Do something positive for yourself in the morning before using your phone
I know it’s tempting to pick up your phone the moment you open your eyes.
A lot can happen overnight, whether it’s breaking news, an important email, or, you know, social media activity.
However, when you check your phone directly after waking up, you put your day into a reactive state out of the gates.
Instead of jumping onto the internet, see if you can get some quiet time to yourself to get your day into focus slowly.
For me, it’s a quick 5-10 minute meditation. Practising mindfulness clears my mind, makes me relaxed and brings incredible focus and clarity to my day.
Ironically, I use my wife’s phone to follow a semi-guided meditation, but her device is still in flight mode, so there’s no stimulation outside of the meditation app.
For you, it could be reading a few pages of a book, journaling, or going for a walk.
It’s a nice feeling to float into your day with intentionality and simplicity before going online and into the chaos of the internet.
5. Invest in an e-reader
If you love to read, an e-reader could be a valuable investment to replace time spent on social media.
Think about how much time we spend (well, not so much now) commuting on planes, busses, trains and in taxis. These are apparent moments where we spend time on social media.
An e-reader could be a much more productive replacement in these situations.
6. Replace closing social media app with deleting them
It’s common advice to remove social media apps from your phone. This is my approach, and it works wonders to reduce my time spent on social.
However, I know it’s not practical for some content creators who make their living on social media to delete these apps.
For the influencers out there, I recommend you replace the action of closing Instagram with deleting the app from your phone.
Then when you need to post again, re-download it. This may sound tedious, but it takes a second to re-download an app, even on a slow internet connection.
By making it just a little more annoying to post, you’ll become more aware of your usage and naturally reduce the time spent on the apps.
You can still post frequently, but I guarantee that you’ll be more efficient knowing that you’ll be deleting the app again.
7. Put your phone in another room overnight
Most of us rely on the alarm clocks on our cell phones to wake up. So we justify having our phones on our bedside table.
The issue is this utility of an alarm turns into postponing your sleep or scrolling on social media in the waking hours of the morning.
Before going to sleep, I set my alarm, turn on flight mode and put my phone in another room.
Not only has the improved my sleep, as I’m not attached to my phone right before sleeping or in the middle of the night—but having to get out of bed to turn off my alarm wakes me up.
Minimalist social media doesn’t end with your phone
Once you’ve mastered control over your phone, you can apply the same principles to your smartwatch, tablet and computer.
Push notifications are just as invasive on other devices. So you can follow the same steps to turn them off on all your non-essential apps.
Fortunately, the other devices will be a breeze to manage once you’ve addressed your phone behaviours.
Are you ready to become a social media minimalist?
Remember, social media isn’t necessarily the enemy, but things can turn into Black Mirror episodes if we don’t act on the potentially damaging effects.
The goal is to find joy and fulfilment in the moments we’re not on social. How can we make those moments more attractive than the allure of being on stimulating apps?
That’s the challenge—but it’s possible. It starts with the phone. Get that in order, and you’re off to a fantastic start.
What about you? Do you consider yourself a social media minimalist? What steps have you taken to get there?