DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Decluttering for Life

Written by: on March 12, 2019

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.”[1] 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.”[2] 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.[3] 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.”[4]

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.[5] It is a mental “clearing away of distracting tools and compulsive habits.”[6] 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.”[7] 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.


[1] Kenneth Otani, “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World.” The Booklist 115, no. 9 (Jan, 2019): 21.

[2] Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World” (New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2019), 9.

[3] Judith Glaser, Conversational Intelligence (New York: Bibliomotion, 2014), 82.

[4] Newport, 59.

[5] Glaser, 40.

[6] Newport, 59.

[7] Ibid, 106.

About the Author


Tammy Dunahoo

Tammy is a lover of God, her husband, children and grandchildren. She is the V.P. of U.S. Operations/General Supervisor of The Foursquare Church.

7 responses to “Decluttering for Life”

  1. Hi Tammy, your comment about your device telling your how many hours you’ve unconsciously spent on social media reminds me of my experience. Only this one is on video games. Yes, I still play video games but I definitely wouldn’t consider myself a gamer.

    I try to practice what Newport recommends when he says to be intentional about our leisure. So yes, that’s my version of low level leisure. I do enjoy some Tom Clancy games; and I play so long as it doesn’t enslave me.

    • mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

      Thanks, Harry. It is important to know what is leisure and what has become an addiction. There are certainly benefits to technology and we can’t “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” moderation is they key.

  2. Andrea Lathrop says:

    Tammy – I looked at my screen time for the first time this week and was shocked. I want to compare myself to others to make myself feel better but the truth is – I need to focus on my own relationship with technology. Also sobering is the ‘pick up’ reporting for how many times I accessed my phone in a day – I didn’t even know that was a thing but it was not pretty either. I have a great deal to process and think through personally – knowing there are great implications for those in my home as well. Adding the brain declutter insights is very helpful for my processing in the days ahead – and as always, your honesty and example is as well.

    • mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

      Thanks, Andrea. That screen report is really shocking. I had no idea the amount of time I was looking at my phone. One of my accountability partners is my seven year old grandson who is quick to tell me it is time to stop working. Part of me wanted to turn the notification off but then I knew it really is an important accountability voice I must pay attention to.

  3. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Tammy, Yes, Newport emphasizing digital development akin to the development of addictive tobacco also got my attention. There is a reason it is an addictive behavior. Also, thanks so much for linking decluttering digitally as well as mentally. Actually, your connection has heightened my resolve to “clean house mentally.” Thanks so much for your unique perspective. P.S. Praying for you and Foursquare in the selection process for President. Many blessings on you and your leadership.

    • mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

      Thank you, Harry. I appreciate the prayers!

      There was a very natural connection for me between technological clutter and mental clutter as technology affects the mind. I find the more I engage social media, the more my mental closet needs decluttering. Glaser gives an excellent tool for processing.

  4. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Was it Gandhi who said, “Be the change you want to see”? The Apostle Paul said “imitate me” on three separate occasions. I’ve always found that slightly concerning. The older I get, the more people look at me – I suppose we need to show the way with all things digital and human.

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