You’ve heard this a thousand times already, but I’ll tell you again: being a parent changes you.
Before kids, everything was different. I got to shower when I wanted (even every day!), use the bathroom by myself, I could enjoy a meal without little fingers poking it, generally do what I wanted (when I wanted), and I could put my feet up and relax without feeling guilty. And, oh my goodness, there was free time. Free time! Now, it seems like every kid-free moment is filled with a to-do list, whether it’s actually on paper or just in my head, and it can be seriously stressful. Back before Christmas, I felt myself hitting a wall. There was too much of everything: too much going on in our schedule, too much stuff in the house, too much drama on social media, and too much being asked of me. It was time to make a change. I wanted to get rid of things, reassess my friends list, and find some peace. I wanted to take a break from pretty much everything, but working, parenting, and co-owning a small business made it difficult to completely unplug.
I decided, instead, to do a digital declutter.
I did the standard things, like reviewing my friends list on Facebook and who I follow on Instagram, reassessing which groups I wanted to be in on Facebook and which pages I wanted to follow. I updated my notification settings and snoozed a few groups (and people) for 30 days. I also went the (possibly crazy) route and went through my emails. Like, all of them. All 22,000 something emails going back to 2006. And I went through all of my pins. There were only about 3,000 of those. And after all of that, yes, the weight on my shoulders was definitely less, but more importantly, I learned a few key things.
5 Things I Learned in my Digital Declutter
#1 – I keep way too many pointless emails.
Obviously, this is a fact, given that you now know I had over 22,000 emails just sitting, taking up space in my Gmail account. I’d like to blame Google for giving me a huge amount of free space to keep these pointless things, but a quick perusal through 2010 proves that it’s mostly my fault. I have no earthly idea why I would need to archive an online pizza order from eight years ago, let alone an office supply order from which I received eight boxes of army green file folders for my classroom filing system. Time to let that go.
#2 – Since my Gmail account was born, I’ve sent a lot of emails that have gone unanswered.
More than I can count. In part, I found this rather upsetting, considering that there were some blatant repeat offenders on the other end of those unanswered messages. Some of the messages were things that I really felt were important, so that was downright crushing at times. Of course, I began to wonder if the reason they didn’t answer me was because they didn’t care, if my message was stupid to begin with, or if maybe they just don’t answer emails to anyone. I decided that, regardless of the reason behind not answering said messages, I will definitely think twice before sending emails now. I used to just send one-liners whenever, just to say what was on my mind or to share something I thought the other person might be interested to know. Now, I ask myself first: if they might not care about this, do I still want to hit send?
#3 – Just because something can be instant, doesn’t mean that it has to be instant.
In this digital age, communication is at our fingertips at a moment’s notice. I discovered that I have developed the habit of jumping into action whenever my phone makes any sort of vibration or sound. I also discovered that I hate this habit. For me, this whole decluttering process was part of a greater effort to do more self-care, so I took a hint from Sarah on this one and started putting the phone down. I realized that even though someone can send me a message right now and I can look at the billions of things happening in the world right now, I don’t have to. The messages can wait and the (generally depressing) news can wait. The world will still turn if I don’t respond right away, and there are much better things I can be doing with my time, like cooking or playing with my son.
#4 – I don’t have to respond to everything.
I promise this isn’t just a vindictive move in response to #2. This is just a general observation. I heard a quote once that the greatest thing about the internet is that anyone can say anything and that the worst thing about the internet is that anyone can say anything. I think I can safely say that we have all seen examples of people posting things online that they would never say in person. Being online, especially on social media, gives everyone a platform to share their opinion, and quite frankly, really ugly things are said that can’t be unsaid. Even in my online mommy groups, discussions can become really unfriendly. Rather than engaging in negative banter, sometimes I simply choose not to engage. It doesn’t mean that I don’t think the topic at hand is important, but rather, that I think there are more appropriate ways (and places) to have the discussion.
#5 – It’s important to look at the things that I keep, even if they aren’t taking up real, physical space.
This whole digital purge thing wouldn’t have taken me so long if I had done it sooner; I realized that I should probably do it more often. And not just to delete things and get rid of useless clutter, but to take a stroll down the digital memory lane.
Looking back at my emails from my boyfriend (now husband) was a nice window into our earlier relationship and my former life. I also found recipes I had emailed myself years ago before Pinterest was a thing and menu plans for holidays and celebrations gone by. While I didn’t need to keep a record of my last dozen photo gift orders, there are things that I’m glad I kept and that I’ll continue to keep for years to come.
Sorting through my digital footprint gave me a chance to reflect on who I was, who I have come to be, and who I hope to be. And it certainly has reminded me of when I should just hit “delete” or “close” and focus on the important things, like spending time with my family and relaxing in peace, away from the digital stimulus.