digital minimalism benefits

From Digital Clutter to 17 Benefits of Digital Minimalism

Imagine we’re journeying together on the bustling “Information Superhighway.” 

Picture those endless streams of data whizzing past us, the barrage of emails and messages, the glowing neon signs of the latest apps, and the towering billboards of trending social media. 

It’s an exciting and vibrant world, isn’t it?

But wait… you may feel overwhelmed by all these digital bells and whistles, and sometimes you may wish you could hit the brakes, take a breather, and maybe even take a detour off this frenzied highway…

So, you may be interested in a serene path less traveled. 

And this is where my first article on Minimal Angle comes in. It will discuss… 

  • The core issues: digital clutter and overconsumption
  • Seven issues arising out of it
  • The solution…digital minimalism
  • 17 benefits of digital minimalism

 

Let’s Start with the Core Issues: Digital Clutter and Digital Overconsumption

Why do we start with this? Well, so you can better appreciate the benefits digital minimalism can bring you.

Digital clutter overlaps with digital overconsumption. It’s all part of a more significant issue: how we interact with our digital environments. 

But how do they differ, and what do both terms mean?

While the two are interconnected, there is a subtle difference between digital clutter and digital overconsumption.

Digital clutter refers to the accumulation of digital files, applications, emails, and other digital elements that occupy our digital environments, much like physical clutter in a house. 

It’s about the volume and disorganization of digital content. 

For example, having thousands of unread emails in your inbox, numerous unused apps on your phone, or a desktop littered with files could be signs of digital clutter.

On the other hand, digital overconsumption is more about our habits and behaviors concerning digital media—it refers to the excessive use or intake of digital content

This might manifest as spending hours (doom) scrolling through social media, binge-watching series after series on streaming platforms, or constantly checking emails or messages.

The critical difference lies in accumulation versus consumption. 

Digital clutter is what we accumulate and let sit on our devices—this could exist even without us frequently using them. 

Digital overconsumption, however, is about the active time and attention we give to digital activities, which often contribute to building digital clutter.

In essence, both concepts highlight different facets of our relationship with technology, and addressing both is crucial in the journey toward digital minimalism.

Now, let’s look at…

 

The Six Categories of Digital Clutter

1) Information Clutter

This type of clutter refers to the barrage of information we’re exposed to daily. 

It could be the constant stream of news updates, social media posts, or articles recommended by various algorithms. 

According to this source, it leads to what we often call “information overload.” Almost 40% of employees experience this.

2) Communication Clutter

I am sure you know them. The people who use email inboxes as a chat interface. And email is just one communication channel of many others.

So you may have to deal with overflowing email inboxes, unread texts, voicemails, and notifications from various communication platforms. 

These messages demand our attention and response, often leading to stress and reduced productivity.

3) Entertainment Clutter 

If you don’t pay attention, you may end up with a long list of movies to watch on Netflix in your “my list” category. 

This has happened to me…So we’re talking about the endless catalogs of movies and series.

But then, on the other hand, the same can also happen with podcasts, games, books, and music available on various streaming platforms. 

Oh…don’t get me started on book samples piling up on my Kindle right now. 

In theory, I need to read about ten books simultaneously to catch up.

So the sheer amount of choice can often lead to decision paralysis, and the time spent on consumption can quickly add up.

4) Social Media Clutter

I have a hate-love relationship with social media like this couple you know from movies that throw dishes at each other, still ending the fight with a nice kiss.  

And social media clutter consists of friend requests, notifications, trending topics, viral videos, and more. 

Our social media feeds are often a whirlwind of activity that can quickly suck us in and take up more time and energy than we intend.

However, it has some clear benefits when you aren’t the product on these platforms and instead the advertiser.

How are you the product and not the customer as a user? Well, as this article puts it, “if it’s free online you are the product.”

5) Application Clutter

These are the apps and software we install, use once or twice, and then forget about. 

They take up storage space and often run in the background, slowing down our devices and adding to the visual clutter on our screens.

6) File and Data Clutter 

This includes all the digital files we accumulate—photos, videos, documents, downloads—and the data we generate with our digital activities. 

When not managed effectively, they can make it hard to find what we need and even impact our devices’ performance.

Now that we’ve covered the seven categories of digital clutter let’s also discuss…

 

The Six Categories of Digital Overconsumption

1) Social Media Overconsumption 

Do you spend excessive time scrolling through social media feeds, commenting, liking, and sharing posts?

If yes, then welcome to the category of social media overconsumption. 

This can lead to comparison syndrome and FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).

What else do the two do to you? 

Well, they can significantly eat into your productive time and produce other mental health issues. But more about that later…

2) Entertainment Overconsumption

With the rise of on-demand streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Spotify, there’s an endless supply of movies, TV shows, music, and podcasts. 

Binge-watching or binge-listening can consume huge chunks of time before you even realize it.

3) Information Overconsumption

In the digital age, you can access an enormous amount of information. 

News websites, blogs, newsletters, online courses, webinars, eBooks – the list goes on. 

Consuming more information than we can process or use is a form of digital overconsumption.

And imagine, most of the time, if not all of the time, you can’t do anything about the contents of this information except consuming it (e.g., news). 

4) Communication Overconsumption

Being constantly available and responsive on multiple communication platforms like email, messaging apps, and forums can lead to digital burnout. 

And then there are meetings. Don’t get me started with meetings. Especially those without an agenda and no one preparing for them.

All of the above can cause you to spend more time than necessary on ineffective communication.

5) Shopping Overconsumption

With the advent of online shopping and targeted advertising, you can easily be enticed to spend hours browsing and buying things you don’t need. 

This kind of digital overconsumption can also lead to financial stress.

6) Gaming Overconsumption

Gaming can be a fun pastime and may have scientifically proven benefits (at least for children), such as increased cognitive performance. 

However, spending excessive time on online games can affect our physical health, relationships, and other aspects of life.

According to this source, carpal tunnel syndrome and other issues can be physical health effects.

So, up to now, we’ve covered the effects of the digital age with digital clutter and overconsumption. 

With their various categories, these two main areas lead to the following issues…

 

7 Issues Arising Out of Digital Clutter and Overconsumption 

digital minimalism benefits

Digital clutter and overconsumption are relatively new phenomena. Still, research has started to uncover some of the issues they can cause. 

And from what I’ve discussed above, you may have already drawn some conclusions. These are the issues you likely have to deal with at some point…

1) Increased Stress and Anxiety

This study published in the journal “Computers in Human Behavior” found that heavy internet use is associated with increased stress, anxiety, and depression. 

Now, when our digital environments are cluttered, finding the information we need is harder, leading to frustration and stress.

2) Cognitive Overload

The vast amount of online information makes it easy to experience cognitive overload. 

This happens when the demand for cognitive resources exceeds availability, negatively impacting focus, memory, and decision-making abilities.

Several scientific studies have examined the concept of cognitive overload, particularly in our digital environments. 

For instance, a study titled “Cognitive control in media multitaskers” by Ophir, Nass, and Wagner 2009 explored how media multitasking impacts cognitive control. 

The researchers found that individuals who regularly engage in high levels of media multitasking performed worse on tests of task-switching ability, working memory tasks, and sustained attention tasks than those who multitasked less frequently.

The authors concluded that heavy media multitaskers are more susceptible to distractions from irrelevant stimuli and find it more challenging to manage working memory, leading to cognitive overload.

This study (one of many) indicates that digital overconsumption, specifically multitasking with digital media, can result in cognitive overload, negatively impacting our ability to focus, recall information, and manage tasks efficiently.

3) Impaired Sleep

When screens emit blue light, it can suppress melatonin production, a hormone that regulates sleep. 

And being subjected to blue light hours before sleep can disrupt our sleep cycle. 

Why?

Because blue light has the effect of inhibiting the release of melatonin, a hormone responsible for inducing sleepiness, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. 

This effect is beneficial during daytime hours when alertness is desired. Still, it becomes a problem at night when we’re trying to fall asleep. 

Exposing yourself to blue light during the evening can confuse your brain into believing it’s still daytime. 

This then causes a disruption in your body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm), resulting in a state of alertness when you should be tired (source).

4) Reduced Productivity

Contrary to what we might think, multitasking across various digital platforms can reduce productivity. 

Yes, I know, it’s a nice ego thing since we can look so busy multitasking which society rewards.

However, a Stanford University study found already 2009 that heavy multitaskers are more easily distracted and less able to ignore irrelevant information.

This leads to the secondary effect of multiple distractions and you being pulled in hundred different directions by notifications, pop-ups, emails, and messages. 

This constant bombardment prevents you from focusing on your work or enjoying quiet moments.

And the last secondary effect is time wastage.

Remember when you casually decided to check your phone, and before you knew it, an hour had passed? 

Often, overusing digital devices results in significant time wastage, reducing your productivity and personal time.

5) Mental Health Issues

A growing body of research indicates a link between heavy social media use and mental health issues like depression, loneliness, lower self-esteem, and even suicidal thoughts (source).

This article explains the dynamic pretty well, mentioning a self-perpetuating cycle. I would call it a doom loop.

It’s the following:

Step 1: You feel lonely, depressed, anxious, or stressed, so you check social media more often. The goal is to relieve yourself from these uncomfortable feelings and feel connected to others.

Step 2:  Since you use it more often, you find more and more of those seven-year-old billionaire people with six-packs, and three Yates in the background, smoking cigars and playing golf with Elon Musk increasing FOMO. 

As a “nice” reward, you feel more inadequate, dissatisfied, and isolated.

Step 3: This cherry-on-top-negative feeling you get from step 2 fuels the mood (e.g., depression, anxiety, and stress), which has made you check social media in the first place.

Step 4: Now, you start using social media even more since you didn’t get rid of the initial negative mood…Rinse and repeat from step 1, and welcome to the doom loop.

6) Physical Health Issues

Wait, there is more. Yes, there are also physical health issues.

And I didn’t even mention what happens when you don’t get good quality sleep caused by point number three I discussed earlier (the blue-light thing)

Besides all the negative effects of bad-quality sleep, according to a cross-national investigation, extended screen time can lead to overweight, obesity, and metabolic risk among children and adolescents.  

7) Privacy Concerns

And finally, issue number seven, arising out of digital clutter and overconsumption, is almost common sense. 

The more digital platforms you use, the more data about yourselves we’re exposing to potential privacy breaches. 

When you’re spending a lot of time on social media, you potentially share personal information. 

And the platforms themselves are collecting data about your behaviors, preferences, and interactions. 

This can lead to targeted advertising (not that bad per se). Still, in the wrong hands, such information could be used maliciously.

While browsing the internet, you might be inclined to sign up for numerous newsletters, webinars or download free ebooks. 

Each action often requires you to share personal data such as your email address or even more. 

This could expose you to spam or, in the worst case, to identity theft if these details are compromised.

The more platforms you use for communication (emails, messaging apps, forums), the more data about you is out there. 

If these platforms are not secure or you’re not careful about the personal information you share, this could lead to privacy breaches.

Next is online shopping. It requires you to share sensitive information like your address and credit card details. 

If these sites are not secure, or if you’re not managing your digital clutter (like old, unused accounts on e-commerce websites), your financial and personal information could be at risk.

 

The Solution – Digital Minimalism… But What Is It?

Now that you know about all the bad that can come from digital clutter and overconsumption, let’s present you with the solution…The knight that kills the dragon to save the princess… it’s digital minimalism.

But what is digital minimalism?

In short: It’s applying the core principles of minimalism to the digital world.

I know this explanation doesn’t help you, really, so let’s shortly discuss the core principles of minimalism and apply them to the digital world.

To better illustrate this, I will show them in a table how minimalism principles translate to digital minimalism principles.

By the way, as a short background information, minimalism isn’t something new from the 2000s. 

It dates back to 1854 when Henry David Thoreau discussed in his book “Walden,” already simple living in natural surroundings. 

 

How Principles of Minimalism Translate to Digital Minimalism

Principles of MinimalismPrinciples of Digital Minimalism
Intentionality: This principle is about making deliberate decisions rather than just going with the flowIntentionality: Making deliberate decisions about which technologies you use and how you use them, ensuring that they genuinely add value to your life
Simplicity: This principle encourages reducing or eliminating the excess in life.Simplicity: Reduction of unnecessary digital files, apps, emails, and the like
Focus more on what's truly important to youFocus: Reviewing and eliminating unnecessary digital possessions, and focusing on a few high-quality tools or platforms that provide the most value.
Being mindful of your surroundings, and making conscious choices (no more autopilot choices)Mindful Usage: This principle promotes conscious and purposeful use of technology.
Offline Over Online: Digital minimalism doesn't mean completely disconnecting from the digital world, but it does encourage prioritizing real-life interactions and experiences over online ones.

 

17 Benefits of Digital Minimalism

By what I discussed above regarding the adverse effects of digital clutter and overconsumption and the principles of (digital) minimalism, we can now logically derive the benefits of digital minimalism.

And here they are…

1) Improved Focus and Productivity

If digital clutter and overconsumption often lead to distractions and diminished productivity, then the converse is also true. 

Digital minimalism, emphasizing intentional and mindful tech use, can help you stay focused on essential tasks, boosting productivity.

2) Enhanced Mental Well-being

We’ve discussed how constant digital engagement can lead to feelings of anxiety, stress, and even depression. 

By adopting digital minimalism, you can reduce these feelings, improving your mental well-being. 

It promotes time away from screens, allowing for quiet reflection and relaxation.

3) More Time for Valued Activities

Digital overconsumption can eat into your time for real-world experiences and interactions. 

Digital minimalism encourages you to reclaim that time, providing more opportunities for physical activity, reading, or simply being with loved ones.

4) Improved Sleep

By reducing exposure to digital screens, especially before bedtime, you can mitigate the harmful effects of blue light exposure, leading to better quality sleep.

5) Increased Privacy and Security

Digital minimalism helps protect your privacy and security by encouraging you to limit the amount of personal information you share online, decrease reliance on potentially insecure platforms, and regularly review and update your digital security measures.

6) Sustainability

By practicing digital minimalism, you can reduce our environmental impact by conserving energy and reducing e-waste. 

It encourages mindful consumption, promoting your devices’ long-term use and maintenance.

7) Financial Savings

By adopting digital minimalism, you can potentially save money. 

This can occur through a reduction in the purchase of unnecessary digital services and devices or by not rushing to upgrade to the latest device every time a new model is released.

8) Improved Relationships

Digital minimalism can improve relationships by encouraging more face-to-face interaction and less time distracted by digital devices. 

This could lead to more quality time, meaningful conversations, and connections with the people around you.

9) Personal Growth

The time and mental space saved and freed from digital decluttering could be used for personal development activities such as learning a new skill, reading, or engaging in a hobby.

10) Increased Creativity

Less time spent consuming digital content can leave more time for creative pursuits. 

It can also reduce the cognitive load and create mental space for innovative thinking.

11) Enhanced Digital Literacy

By being more deliberate with your digital tool use, you could increase your understanding and proficiency in these tools (going deeper instead of broader), a valuable skill in today’s digital age.

12) Enhanced Decision-Making

Reducing the number of decisions made in a day, such as which apps to check or which emails to respond to first, can lessen decision fatigue, leading to better decision-making in other areas of life.

13) Greater Appreciation for Non-Digital Experiences

Spending less time in the digital world can foster a greater appreciation for physical experiences, whether nature, art or simply enjoying a quiet moment.

14) Better Posture and Physical Health

Too much screen time can lead to poor posture and associated physical ailments like back and neck pain, eye strain, and other issues related to a sedentary lifestyle. 

Reducing screen time can alleviate these issues.

15) Increased Self-Efficacy

As you gain control over your digital life, you may feel more competent and confident in managing other aspects of your life.

16) More Intentional Learning

Rather than randomly browsing through a plethora of information, you can dedicate quality time to learning about subjects that interest you.

17) Decreased FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

By reducing exposure to social media and other platforms where people tend to showcase highlight reels of their lives (remember the eight-year-old billionaires from above with the Yates and cigars), digital minimalism can help decrease feelings of FOMO.

 


This article has been reviewed by our editorial team. It has been approved for publication per our editorial policy.