A Minimalist’s Guide to Smartphones: How to be Less Addicted to your iPhone


Oct 16 2018

Gold Tape

A Minimalist's Guide to Smartphones: How to be Less Addicted to your iPhone

A month ago, I purchased my first smartphone in my adult life.

Just before my iPod touch died, Steve sat me down and said seriously:

S: I think it’s time that you got a smartphone.
Me: *grumble grumble grumble* / No / Uggghh whyyy?
S: The audio quality on your phone is terrible. I can’t hear you when I talk to you on the phone and that makes me sad.
Me (considering this surprisingly persuasive reason): Well maybe we should just never be apart in person and then we never have to talk on the phone ever.
S: That’s… unrealistic.
Me: *grumble grumble grumble*

And so, here we are.

In some ways, having a Smartphone makes my life MORE minimalist:

I no longer need to carry around my iPod touch and my flip phone.

When I need to get in touch with someone, all my communication options are in one place.

My phone unlocks to my fingerprint. This sorcery means that I don’t need to spend so much time typing in a key code.

My old phone showed messages one at a time, while the new one shows the full thread. 

(These are basic things that most people don’t have to think about. But it’s all new to me!)

Emojis work. This one is best explained by Brooklyn 99:

Holt: I don’t always understand Peralta’s texts. It says they’re still waiting on the lab. And “it’s all’z good” – “all’z” with a Z. Then a box with a question mark inside. Another box with a question mark. Another box with a question mark. Another box with a question mark. Another box with a question mark. And. Yet. Another box with a question mark. Then. Another box with a question mark. What does that mean?

Jeffords: It means you don’t have emojis on your phone.

But… My smartphone is addictive.

This was the number one reason I resisted getting a smartphone to begin with.

I had an iPhone in high school on the family plan. But when I moved to the UK for uni, it wasn’t compatible so I switched to Unferth*, my £5 flip phone. 

I found myself not missing my smartphone at all. And when I went home to the US for Christmas and got to use it, I found myself getting grouchier and grouchier, hunching over more and more, and getting addicted to that stupid little rectangle.

Smartphones are addictive. The challenge we face is, how do we keep from getting sucked in? Here’s what I’m doing so far to use my smartphone as a tool – not the other way around.

*5 points to Ravenclaw if you get that obscure literary reference. Not to be house-ist but I assume a Ravenclaw would get it. But I’m a Gryffindor and I named it that so…

Turn off notifications.

I find notifications disruptive so I keep them off entirely. Except Voxer, for work, And Taylor Swift’s Instagram, for life.

I turn on the in-app notifications that make the little numbers appear in the corner of messaging apps. This way I know when there’s a message, without constantly opening apps to check.

Turn off data.

I use data only in emergencies. If I need to download a confirmation email on the go, I switch the data on for a second, then I turn it right back off. 

I need to define ‘emergency’ better too. When my parents were visiting, I was waiting for them at a cafe, and I got worried that they wouldn’t be able to find me, so I turned data on to message my mom (who didn’t have HER data on), then ended up finding them by using my brain and waiting in a location where they would find me. 

Delete apps when I’m not using them. 

Keep only as many apps as will fit on the homepage.

When I’m traveling I download the train or airline’s app, TKTS, the London Underground app, and anything location-specific or time-sensitive. But if I’m not using it on a daily basis, it gets deleted. 

Don’t multitask.

Just because the phone is portable doesn’t mean I should multitask all over the place.

This morning, after working on this very blog post, I found myself plugging in my earbuds with one hand, opening an app with another, and using my shoulder to nudge the door open. I got stuck in the doorway. This would not have happened if I had concentrated on one thing at a time. (I’m still learning!)

Activate Screen Time.

My new favourite feature: Screen Time! This setting tracks your app usage, and lets you set daily limits. Based on existing data, I switched mine on to a max of 1 hour 30 minutes per day, which still seems like a lot of time to be glued to a screen.

Monitoring Screen Time helps me reflect on how to use my phone productively. I tell myself that ‘I need it for work’, but am I really using it wisely?

Instagram with intention.

I use Instagram for art, and for marketing. I know that staying on the app for a bit after posting is good for engagement and the algorithm. When I’m feeling lazy I scroll around and like photos here and there. 

When I think about dedicating 20 minutes to Instagram, though, I want to use them well. Instead of mindless scrolling, I spend more time on fewer posts that catch my eye. I read captions fully, and craft thoughtful comments. Not just ‘cute pic! Emoji emoji’, but taking time to process the post I’m admiring, and responding in a way that moves the conversation forward. 

Budget in batches.

I use YNAB (You Need A Budget), and cross-check our spending on the go. I love keeping the budgeting up to date, but I’ve noticed that sometimes I start to check it out of habit when I don’t fully have time to ‘work on’ the budget. 

Before opening the app, I ask myself if I have time to do this fully. It’s more effective and efficient to budget in batches than to keep starting and not finishing. 

Pare down podcasts.

I have a rule to keep only 5 podcasts downloaded on my device at once – this is how many fit in my Overcast feed without scrolling. I challenge myself to keep only what I feel inspired to listen to right now. There’s no point in saving episodes for a future mood when it’s so easy to download them later when that mood strikes.

Podcasts can feel like an inbox, and I want to keep them fun! Just because I love a podcast and am subscribed doesn’t mean I’m obligated to listen to every episode, or to every episode in order (and if you’re subscribed to my podcast, I encourage you to do the same!).

I delete the obvious, like recaps of tv shows I’m not watching, or business podcasts on topics that are irrelevant to me. Then I delete episodes that aren’t calling to me right now. If there is space to spare, I go through the archives of podcasts and download episodes that I’d skipped over before, and am now in the mood for.

Don’t obsess over decluttering.

With podcasts and apps in general, spending time deleting and decluttering is also time spent on the screen.

Screen Time alerted me to how much time I spend cleaning out and restocking my podcast feed. I try to obsess less, and let it sit more. If I’m overstocked, I’ll find the time to clear it out later. If I’m understocked, I will find other things to do, or enjoy doing nothing

Communication can wait.

Sometimes I have a thought while I’m walking and want to message a friend right away. I make myself wait. 

Just because I can tap a message to someone as soon as I think of it, doesn’t mean that I should. I hold some thoughts, trusting that they will wait for me. I save some things to say for when I reconnect in person.

Treat Photos like an inbox. 

Those pesky ‘Your iCloud is out of storage’ messages did warn me. I lost so many photos and files when my iPod died – but I’ve accepted this. My Photos were wiped clean, and I find that refreshing. 

I upload photos to Planoly when they’re Insta-ready (although I learned that I can upload only 30 per month before upgrading the app – good to know), and post Snug’s photos to her Instagram rather than keeping rows and rows of dog pictures on me at all times.

I take pictures of restaurants to try, codes for coupons, and screenshots of ticket info so I don’t have to turn on data. I delete when I’ve made use of the photo, and keep that app as trim and empty as I can.

Turn off wifi at 9pm. 

Steve and I physically unplug the wifi at night to save ourselves from the midnight scroll. We can turn it back on if we need to, but of course this is a pain, walking into the other room and waiting a few minutes for it to boot up. Still, if we really want to watch another episode of Brooklyn 99 it’s possible!

Learn to use tech fully.

I’ve always been obsessed with learning all the features and ways to customise. When I’ve accidentally turned on notifications, I learn how to turn them off. I’ve been fiddling with the Screen Time settings to toggle it to perfection. I love learning new tips – send your favourites my way!


Smartphones and minimalism can go together.

Be mindful of how you use your tech – and how it uses you.

What is one step you can take to adjust your smartphone usage?


P.S. What are your tips for being less addicted to your phone?

P.P.S. App Alternatives and Screen-free Solutions for the Modern Heroine

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