I used to think leading an unplugged life meant scrubbing the internet of my digital footprint, throwing my phone out the window, and moving to the mountains. Being “off the grid” seemed like such an irreversible, permanent decision – one that I missed out on long ago. In 2009 to be exact, when I made my Facebook account. The rest was history.
Thankfully, I’ve learned that unplugging and going “off the grid” is something entirely achievable in my day-to-day life. This was a conclusion I came to over time, after graduating from college and starting full-time work. I met so many new and interesting people with different lives from me and my friends, and different relationships with technology. One of my colleagues only used social media to find new recipes. Another colleague had a super lively social life but never posted a single photo of her adventures on Instagram. I started realizing that there was no “right” or “wrong” way to use my phone — it just came down to what makes sense for me.
Unplugging and going “off the grid” doesn’t have to be a full-on, permanent scrub of my online presence. It can be tiny choices that I make throughout the week that allow me to feel less digitally connected, and more in-tune with myself and my surroundings. Read on for three small changes I’ve made to my everyday life that have helped me feel a little less plugged-in.
I removed social media apps from my phone.
My relationship with social media changed after I graduated from college and started commuting over an hour to-and-from work in the city. Train rides were spent scrolling through Instagram and refreshing Snapchat nonstop. It wasn’t a healthy way for me to start and end my day, and truthfully, it felt a little toxic. Instead of reading a book or listening to a podcast or enjoying my morning chai, I was doomscrolling on social media and comparing myself to others.
One morning on the train, I deleted Instagram on a whim, and it’s remained off my phone ever since. I still enjoy using the app to keep up with friends and family (and my queen, Taylor Swift) but now, I log in from the laptop.
If I ever want to post a photo or story update, I’ll re-download the app but quickly delete it again afterwards. I do the same thing with TikTok and Pinterest. I’ve learned it’s not best for me to have these apps at my fingertips 24/7– tuning in from my laptop gives me my fix without risking over-consumption.
If you’re in a similar boat, I challenge you to try deleting social media apps for a week. When you’re constantly tuning in, they feel like an essential part of your life. But if you go cold-turkey for a bit, you might be surprised at how easily you can adapt to not having them in your pocket all day.
I decreased my push notifications.
I work at a school, so summers tend to be quiet around the office. One July day, I noticed myself constantly tapping my lock screen to check for notifications. If I wasn’t tapping the screen, I was looking at it from the corner of my eye – and the moment a notification would come in, I’d jump for my phone to open it. It was starting to feel a little compulsory and Pavlovian. I had a moment of clarity and decided to disable my push notifications to see how I’d react. Going 100% cold turkey was unsuccessful, so the next day I scaled back and only disabled lock screen notifications. I haven’t brought them back since!
Since implementing this change, I feel so much more in control of my phone pickups and phone usage. I’m picking it up whenever I feel like it–not whenever a notification lights up my screen.
Feel free to customize this in a way that works for you. You can enable your lock-screen notifications, but remove banners – so if you like to read ebooks or news on your phone, you won’t see text and email banners flashing at the top of the screen. Or, you can take the plunge and fully turn off all push notifications.
I left my phone behind whenever feasible.
I used to get frustrated with my mom when she’d head out for a walk or go to Mass and say “I’m leaving my phone at home!” Um, what if I need to reach you for something very important, like asking if you can pick up Five Guys on the way home?
In all seriousness, it would frustrate me because I just wanted to make sure she was safe and reachable if anything bad were to happen. But now that I’m older and wiser and more connected than ever, I understand why it’s so appealing to leave your phone behind for a quick stroll or errand. Not having your phone on your person can feel like a weight off your shoulders, and frees you up to be fully present and in-the-moment.
Living in a busy city, I’m not quite ready to leave my phone behind when I’m out solo, but I take any opportunity to do this if I’m out and about with my boyfriend or a trusted friend. It feels so good to not have the pressure of looking at email, responding to text messages, or even just checking the time 24/7.
It challenges me to occupy my mind in other ways when I’m waiting on a grocery store line or for my Starbucks order. In a city as connected as New York, even just the small act of leaving my phone at home for a quick errand can feel revolutionary.