When I saw this photo from Courtney Carver / Be More With Less pop up in my Instagram feed last August, I was...lightly shocked?! To be honest, I didn’t even know what I was looking at at first; my eyes needed time to adjust. After staring at it for a few seconds, I realized it was an iPhone with a home screen that had been entirely cleared of apps. I guess I could have reasoned that one could do this, if one wanted to, but I’d genuinely never seen anything like it.
This is what Courtney wrote in the photo’s caption about her setup:
“No apps on the home screen or placed in neatly labeled containers. Nope. All apps are in one folder (see lower right of my screen). I open my apps (when I want to) by swiping right and typing the app name in the search bar. That way I'm not tempted because I see an app icon.”
(BTW, the caption has several other tips for practicing good digital hygiene and is worth reading in full!)
When I saw the photo, I had already buried Facebook and Twitter deep enough in my phone that I essentially forgot about them / stopped using them, but this photo made me consider whether there were any other apps that needed to go. There was: Instagram. I was finding myself reaching for it more and more last year for a couple reasons. First, because it was there. But also because I’d turned on notifications after several years of not having them. I did it because I was getting tagged in more Stories, particularly from people who were posting about my book, and if I didn’t open the app for 24 hours, I wouldn’t see the story they had tagged me in or be able to reply/thank them. The problem was that I was now getting notifications about all my DMs, many of which weren’t that important but were still super distracting. (I am the kind of person who can’t stand having a notification badge!)
All that to say: seeing this photo on Instagram gave me the push I needed to move Instagram off my home screen and bury it in a folder so it was a couple swipes away. (I replaced it on my home screen with Headspace.) I didn’t turn off IG notifications but I didn’t need to; the effect was immediate and dramatic. Turns out, when the red notification badge isn’t on my home screen, it doesn’t bother me nearly as much. I really like Instagram (the main feed anyway) so I was genuinely shocked by how little I thought about or cared about it when it wasn’t just there.
After moving the Instagram app, I also cleaned up my home screen a little bit. I figured I wasn’t going to achieve home screen minimalism overnight, but I could start moving in that direction. So I deleted/buried more apps and made two rows of additional space on my home screen. Here’s how it currently looks:
(If I swipe right, the screen has just two rows of icons: five folders with apps + three standalone apps.)
It’s not totally minimalist, but I feel good about where things are / my relationship with my phone at the moment!
Some related things:
Here’s a post from my old blog with my bigger overall strategy for dealing with my phone: Just a bunch of things I've been doing to be more creative/focused/productive (and to spend less time screaming into the abyss).
I think about this Cher tweet a lot. “I need to shoot my phone / shoot your phone” has actually become shorthand in my friend group for everything from “Twitter is terrible” to “hi please put your phone down and be present with me.”
If you’re feeling like you need to do more to shoot your phone, you might like the book Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, which I read a couple months ago. It’s a good read overall, and also makes a pretty compelling case for a full 30-day app detox. (Buy it on Amazon for $10.49 or find it at a local bookstore.)
You can also get a sense of the book from this GQ interview with the author, which I really liked: Cal Newport on Why We'll Look Back at Our Smartphones Like Cigarettes.
And finally, if you want to read more “I didn’t know my phone could do that!” content, you might like this NYT article: How to Tap Less on Your Phone (but Get More Done). (I’m a huge fan of creating text abbreviations!) 📴