The Hidden Benefits of Digital Minimalism

A few years ago, minimalism was all the rage. Marie Kondo was on every TV, The Minimalists were in everyone's podcast feed, and I found myself confused, regretting not having started a blog or something years ago. I've always been a bit of a minimalist myself, and it had never occurred to me that other people might not be aware of that philosophy. I figured that others simply chose to live a more materialistic lifestyle, and that at any point anyone could wake up and go “wait, I don’t actually want this crap” and downsize. It’s not like I took a class. I don’t even remember learning about “minimalism” until I was in my mid-twenties. I just took all those childhood after-school specials to heart when they said “things don’t matter.” It was also probably influenced by my time in the military, moving from duty station to duty station (or even just room to room) constantly and having to be able to pack my entire life into two bags I could carry by myself, sometimes with no warning.

While the cultural bandwagon has moved on to the next fad we’ll all forget about in fifteen minutes, it’s clear that minimalism left a mark. Before Marie Kondo, if I told people I was a minimalist they assumed that I lived in a tiny studio apartment with a sheetless twin-sized mattress in the corner, and perhaps a single plate and cup or something. These days people tend to understand that it instead means that I probably just have a smaller and more sparse home than average. Of course I still own things. That purple planetscape poster in my video backdrop? I owned that for years before becoming a content creator. And a small bookshelf’s worth of print books (I experimented with ebooks but didn’t like it). Next to my desk, I have my college diploma and a poster for an award-winning play I did the sound for framed on the wall. I own multiple coffee mugs, some clothes I haven’t worn in a while, and some band posters and wall flags. But until I met my wife, I didn’t own a TV, or a lot of those “knick-knacks” that you see taking up space on tables and shelves, or other wall decor, or most of our specialized kitchen appliances like an air fryer or food processor, or spare blankets, or any of those extra things that some would argue make a house feel like a “home.”

Photo by Bench Accounting on “Minimalism,” according to modern stereotypes

Most people these days realize that my minimalist lifestyle isn’t about having the fewest toys, it’s about only owning things that I really want – like “long-term want,” not “want while I'm looking at it but if I don’t buy it I’ll forget about it by the time I’ve left the store.” It also explains why my home is now so crowded. Before I met my wife, I was quite content with my $150 worth of discount furniture in my 600-square-foot apartment. My wife, on the other hand, is not a minimalist. We met at the height of the Marie Kondo hype, and she was in the middle of being swept along by the bandwagon until it nearly drove her to a breakdown. It took her months to realize what had been instinctual to me and what Kondo herself preached but somehow some people had taken too far: minimalism isn't about “owning the fewest things,” it’s about being intentional. By that definition, I consider my wife a minimalist. She has since dialed back the downsizing – which she regrets in some cases, like getting rid of all her manga and she’s now trying to rebuild her collection – and has instead replaced it with asking “do I really want this? Will my life be less off without this long-term? Am I willing to spend my hard-earned money on it?” Our house has since filled up with stuff, which doesn't bother me so long as we bought it with intention. To me, this is what minimalism has always been about: “do I really want this? Or do I feel pressured to have it?” Resisting the lure of mindless consumerism, “keeping up with the Joneses,” and materialism.

Digital minimalism is something we think about less, but I think it’s equally as important. But I think the reason people don't think about it so much is that it's relatively invisible. Physical materialism is easy to see. You don’t have to guess if someone is a hoarder or not, and you know you have way too much stuff once you start packing to move and get frustrated at the literal boxes of crap you haven’t even touched or thought about in years (this is why The Minimalists suggest a “packing party” as a way to downsize: pack up as if you’re about to move and use that opportunity to throw away those things you haven’t used in years and no longer want). It’s harder to see digital materialism and hoarding. Most of us don’t hoard lots of physical tech: we might have a box of old phones “just in case” but we typically don’t have an entire room full of laptops and hard drives or find ourselves struggling to make another app fit into a moving box or getting annoyed cleaning yet another account sitting on the counter. We also probably don't realize how much time we spend online. So much of life has become digital today – from Teams and SMS messages to social media and streaming services. While the inclusion of screen-time analysis apps into modern smartphones by default has probably helped a little, most of us probably don't think to check them. As such, it's easy to not think about our digital materialism. But our digital lives are often just as cluttered as our physical spaces. How many of us have accounts we made once for a single purchase and never touched again? Or have old social media accounts from Myspace, Livejournal, Digg, and other digital graveyards? As a privacy advocate I try to practice what preach but once I couldn’t help but notice a woman on a plane who was scrolling through her phone’s home screen as if looking for a specific app and she had over five pages of apps! That’s at least eighty apps! How can anyone need eighty apps on a single device? (And I think there were more screens I didn't see.)

Digital minimalism is essential to privacy and security. The fewer accounts you have, the fewer risks for a data breach. Ideally this would mean not signing up for an account in the first place if you don’t have to, but of course many of us have baggage from our past lives before we understood the value of privacy and security, which presents in the form of old accounts. We may also, as I've discussed before, change with the times. Perhaps you once needed an account for a job and now you don't. My recommendation here is to delete those accounts. For accounts where the service refuses to delete them, remove as much data as you can then lock them tightly with a strong password and 2FA and hold onto them – I’ve seen many stories where ownership or laws change and suddenly you can delete those accounts at a later date. Digital minimalism extends beyond the internet and onto our own devices: just because you have an account doesn’t mean you need to have the app. Every app or program you install presents an opportunity for privacy violations – in the form of location tracking, as a common example – or presents a possible attack surface that can be exploited if that app has any vulnerabilities. Personally I don’t have any email apps on my phone. The whole point of email is that it’s not important and it can wait til I check my email that night. I also don’t keep a banking app on my phone because I don’t need to: I never need to deposit any paper checks these days, and I’m financially secure enough that I don’t need to keep checking my account before every purchase to see if I have enough funds or not. This is just one example. I still have email, of course, but I check it on my desktop. Last but not least, digital minimalism can extend into our actual usage. As I said earlier, many of us check out devices far more often than we think we do. While I think for some of us that check is understandable – replying to a text or seeing what time it is – for most people it’s less productive than they realize: perusing social media, playing a game, or something else. In the past several years, numerous studies have come forward finding a strong correlation (though to be fair, not causation) between screentime and mental health issues like depression and anxiety. The term “doomscrolling” didn't catch on for no reason. I’m sure there’s also physical harms I simply haven’t been made aware of, though the dangers of sitting at a desk all day (computer or not) have been documented for some time. Digital minimalism can improve multiple areas of your life at once. For those who wish to really dive into this subject beyond a simple paragraph, Cal Newport literally wrote the book on digital minimalism, entitled Digital Minimalism, and I encourage you to check it out for more information. Aside from the advice given here, he discusses various ways to reduce how much time you spend on-screen and goes over the research I mentioned earlier in more depth.

Photo by Dominika Roseclay on

The reason I kept in my lengthy preamble about the rise of physical minimalism in the public consciousness is because the same rules apply here. I have one game on my phone – just one – and I’m known to play it sometimes as I relax in bed before going to sleep. (It’s Bloons Tower Defense 6, for those who are burning to know. Yes, of course it is, for those who are rolling their eyes.) Of course, I've checked all the permissions and I tend to use Blokada or a VPN (with DNS-blocking) activated at all times. I also used to keep my bank’s app on my phone back when I got paid in check a lot more and my bank didn’t have an ATM nearby, allowing me to deposit checks via the app. I’m currently an avid Mastodon user, with plans to expand into Lemmy in the near future.

As with physical minimalism, the goal of digital minimalism isn’t to have the fewest toys just because. The goal is to ask “do I get value out of this?” The answer for me, in some cases, is “yes.” I get value out of Bloons TD6. I get value out of Mastodon. I don’t get value from Facebook, Twitter, Subway Surfers, or having email on my phone. I find them distracting and stressful to keep up with. These are questions I encourage everyone to ask themselves regularly. As always, the answers vary from person to person. Some people really may love the idea of having a tiny studio apartment with a single set of silverware and no TV. If you want to go full-Diogenes, I'm rooting for you. But most of us don't, myself included. On the other hand, a film buff may get a lot of value and joy out of a Smart TV with many streaming services. You may want a dumb phone that offers only basic functionality, while others may get a lot of value out of a smartphone that offers a lot of different apps to help them manage their schedule or business (my ADHD wife, as I’ve said many times, would be lost without cute-looking habit trackers, calendars, to-do apps, and more). Most of us probably land somewhere in the middle. Much like threat modeling, minimalism is an individual thing. My only “hard and fast” rule is to be intentional. If you want games on your phone or a certain streaming service, that’s up to you, but ask yourself if you really want them or if you’re just doing it cause everyone else does and you’re suffering from fear of boredom or missing out. Don’t be afraid to pick up new hobbies, be alone with your thoughts, and try new things. Digital minimalism can reap massive benefits in your life if you’re willing to let it.

You can find more recommended services and programs at, and you can find our other content across the web here or support our work in a variety of ways here. You can also leave a comment on this post here: Discuss...