Recently a screen popped up on my iphone telling me the amount of screen time I had used that week. Instantly, I went into denial mode, “No way! That has to be wrong.” Unfortunately, it was quite right and had tracked my unconscious habit of digital use.
I have spent my entire adult life decluttering and simplifying everything I can from my home to the organizations I have been part of. Several years ago, I was doing a values discovery exercise and I wrote “organized.” My husband challenged me to ask the “why” behind the word. I answered, “I like to be organized because it creates simplicity.” He pressed again, “Why do you want simplicity?” Digging deeper I responded, “Because I have serenity when things are in order and simplified.” Smiling like he had accomplished his mission he said, “That’s your true value, serenity.” I rehearsed those words as I read Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism. I recognized that because my digital world is one that I have not yet decluttered my serenity is often disrupted and I had not discovered the culprit.
Though frustrated that I have allowed the clutter, I read more to remind myself of the subtle and addictive nature of technology. Kenneth Otani, in reviewing Newport’s work says, “Instead of providing worthwhile services, the number one priority for commercial websites is inducing users to keep scrolling and clicking.” He calls Newport’s philosophy “a radical redefinition of our relationship with technology.” Newport repeats a pointed statement by HBO host Bill Maher to make his argument, “The tycoons of social media have to stop pretending that they’re friendly nerd gods building a better world and admit they’re just tobacco farmers in T-shirts selling an addictive product to children. Because, let’s face it, checking your ‘likes’ is the new smoking.” This strengthened my resolve to develop my philosophy for technology and take on this decluttering project.
Out of curiosity I googled “decluttering” and found 45,700,000 results. It seems there may be other people interested in finding out about making life more serene and manageable in these complex times. Newport’s, “Digital Declutter Process” includes: 1) a thirty-day break from optional technologies, 2) during the break discover or rediscover meaningful relationships or experiences, and 3) at the end of the break bring back the technologies that will serve your life rather than make you a servant of them. This decluttering process requires removing and then adding and recognizing those things that are clutter and those things that are useful. This caused me to think of another decluttering that goes hand in hand with the digital process and it is the mental decluttering that has similar effects.
Judith Glaser, author of Conversational Intelligence, teaches methods for decluttering the brain through down regulating cortisol and up regulating oxytocin. We down regulate cortisol by eliminating excluding, judging, limiting withholding, knowing, dictating, and criticizing. We up regulate oxytocin by including, appreciating, expanding, sharing, discovering, developing and celebrating. This process has similar results as digital decluttering and my closet cleaning, “Much like decluttering your house, this lifestyle experiment provides a reset for your digital life by clearing away distracting tools and compulsive habits that may have ac
cumulated haphazardly over time and replacing them with a much more intentional set of behaviors, optimized, in proper minimalist fashion, to support your values instead of subverting them.”
Glaser describes these types of effects when differentiating between cortisol and oxytocin and how the replacement of the positive hormone over the negative actually releases creativity, trust, empathy and good judgment. It is a mental “clearing away of distracting tools and compulsive habits.” This is critical particularly for the iGen (those born between 1995 and 2012) as these digital natives are experiencing a skyrocketing number of those with depression, anxiety disorders and suicidal tendencies. Newport quotes a San Diego State University psychology professor, Jean Twenge, “It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades.” Twenge makes a direct link between this mental health state and the use of smartphones. Glaser’s decluttering of the brain is critical insight for us all and particularly for the iGen as their mental health is in such a formative state while being inundated with screen time. The deregulation of cortisol and up regulating of oxytocin will require a change in their social media habits which may be the greatest challenge of all. Parents must model this decluttering and set boundaries for their children.
I am no longer decluttering just for organization, simplicity and serenity. I am decluttering for life, mine and my children and grandchildren.
 Kenneth Otani, “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World.” The Booklist 115, no. 9 (Jan, 2019): 21. https://georgefox.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.georgefox.idm.oclc.org/docview/2166952741?accountid=11085.
 Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World” (New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2019), 9.
 Judith Glaser, Conversational Intelligence (New York: Bibliomotion, 2014), 82.
 Newport, 59.
 Glaser, 40.
 Newport, 59.
 Ibid, 106.