how to live a better life with your phone

A Twentysomething Guide to Digital Minimalism



Popular media sources love to pigeonhole us into a generation of ‘phone addicted snowflakes’. And yes, we spend an ungodly amount of time staring at our screens. But we sometimes forget that our phone and social media can help make us happier, healthier, and more educated!

Let’s start here: technology isn’t intrinsically bad for you. Nor is it intrinsically beneficial. It all depends on how we use technology. Sometimes it seems as technology controls us, and it’s important to remember that we are fully in control of our digital experience.

So, instead of advocating for completely unplugging (although this can be nice from time to time), I believe that anyone can learn how to use technology in a way that supports their goals and values, and creates a positive digital experience.

Here’s how:  

1 | Take a mental note each time you catch yourself aimlessly scrolling

There’s something so addictive about scrolling through our social feeds that we won’t even stop after doing a full circle and seeing the same old content again. Reaching an end point provides a sense of control (I mean, why would you even consider going to the second page of Google results?). By infinitely scrolling, we never encounter such a trigger, and our brain has to process more information than it can handle, often leaving us a little disoriented and fatigued after snapping out of it.

The first step to un-learning this habit is to simply take a moment when you realise you’re doing it. Ask yourself: “Am I benefitting from this at the moment?” If the answer is no, you’ll notice that it’s suddenly a lot easier to put down your phone.


2 | Turn off your notifications

You own your phone, not the other way around. And I get it, who doesn’t like to distract themselves from other tasks by checking what memes they were tagged in? By doing so, however, you create the idea you’re expected to be available 24/7, and that can be stressful. Why not turn off your notifications and reply at a moment that suits you better, while at the same time reducing your screen time?

3 | Go through unanswered texts before going to bed

Ever woken up in the middle of the night thinking “SHIT I HAVEN’T REPLIED TO THIS PERSON”? (I have it all the time because I suck at replying). Disconnecting and unwinding at the end of your day is easier knowing you haven’t ignored your best friend’s boy-crisis. Set a specific time for when you go through all your texts and (personal) emails, for example after dinner.

4 | Know when something you see is a false reality

“Woman finds secret to eternal life, doctors HATE her”. Whether we’re talking disappointing clickbait articles or low-key influencer marketing on the Gram, there are tons of misleading advertising circulating on the internet. Pay attention to hashtags like #ad or #sponsored to double check if your favourite social media celebrity truly loves a product or service or just is being paid for promoting it.

5 | Similarly, don’t compare yourself to strangers on the internet

Social media can sometimes make us feel like we’re not living our best lives, but in reality, no one is! Like some inject their lips with botox or get butt implants, people ‘cosmetically’ – or rather, technically – alter, distort, and filter their life online. As a result, we’re all set up with a bunch of unrealistic expectations that we consider to be the new normal. Offline, even Alexis Ren looks like she got hit by a car sometimes.


6 | Social media isn’t the equivalent of a social contract

You don’t have to accept your co-workers friend request, or follow back this person you spoke to 6 years ago, even if you feel like you should just to be nice to them. If you really want a valuable digital experience, it doesn’t make sense to allow a bunch of people that you wouldn’t engage with on your timeline.  

7 | Create a list of how you use social media versus how you could use it more effectively

Do you sometimes snoop around the social media accounts of your ex / nemesis / someone you like to hate on/make fun of? That habit is now canceled. Instead, take a regular peek at the profile of someone you look up to. Use it to offer help, educate, or positively influence your digital peers.

8 | Unfollow anyone who doesn’t make you happier, healthier, more educated or inspired

For me, that includes still following a guy that I hardly know, because he often shares genuinely satisfying videos of him peeling off plastic of new equipment. BLISS.


9 | Include your personal goals into your digital experience

Do you want to improve your French this year? Go find someone French-speaking that you’d like to follow and engage with. Watch Netflix shows with French subtitles. Change the language settings on your phone to French and watch how fast you’ll be forced to learn new vocab!

The Dutch aren't stingy, but zero waste

A Note About Dutch Stereotypes and the Zero Waste Movement

The Dutch are known for being frugal. It used to be an aspect of my culture I’d feel ashamed of. I so vividly remember how my ex shunned me for sharing one tea bag between two cups of tea. “You are so Dutch! That’s such a cheap thing to do!”. I actually stopped doing it for a long time. It’s funny how things turn around, however. Call us cheap, frugal, or stingy, I call us resourceful. On kliekjesdag, usually the end of the week where you would just chuck all leftovers together in a frying pan and create something from nothing. We were combating food waste before it was cool.


To be completely honest with you, the stereotype of people from the Netherlands being frugal is driven more by the fact that we like to save some dough than save the earth. Still, considering that we are inherently (cue nature/nurture discussion) low waste consumers makes it a lot easier to jump and stay on the zero waste-bandwagon.


Shoutout to my mum for using those toothbrush clamps, double-dipping tea bags and making french toast out of stale bread.

How Social Media Envy Affects Us All

Quiz time! For what reason are you active on social media?

  1. To connect and keep in touch with people

  2. To be in the loop and inform myself

  3. To look at pug videos all day

  4. To manage and control the impression I make on others

You probably never even considered answer D to be the reason why you just love broadcasting live updates of your Sunday brunch on Instagram, right? Even if you hardly post on social media, you’ll be likely to treat your followers to a picture-perfect version of whatever it is you share.

Social media envy from Instagram
My personal feed. Cue party pics, milestones, showing off my friends, #instatravel…

Getting lost in this constant influx of images and content is way more than our brillant bean can take. Especially when we get bombarded with the creme de la creme of content. It makes us feel like we should be (or have been) there. That we need that product to look stylish, or fit in. It makes us wish that we could have the same body, boyfriend, or bank account.

social media Jealousy vs. social media Envy

Although envy and jealousy are often used interchangeably, there is a subtle yet important difference between the two. Does the idea of other people sliding into your lover’s DMs make you feel like you should punch a wall? You’re jealous. Envy is scrolling through Instagram, seeing things you want and feeling bad about not being able to have it. In a way, FOMO (fear of missing out) is also a form of envy.

So, jealousy is when you worry someone will take what you have, while envy is wanting what someone else has. Although social media jealousy definitely a problem that should be explored further, I’ll be focussing on social media envy, and the eternal struggle for the pursuit of happiness.

Keeping up with the Kardashians

Feeling envious, or comparing yourself to others is a very real thing, and you don’t have to be ashamed for it. In fact, we all experience it. Plus, it’s been around forever! The only difference is that it didn’t happen on a tiny screen. Today it’s all about the Kardashians, but a decade or two ago we were all keeping up with the Jones’es.

We wouldn’t feel like we were missing out on life just because some blond babe across the globe livestreamed herself swimming with sharks: we simply didn’t have access to her life. Instead, you would throw a tantrum because your frenemy from third grade got this awesome Tamagotchi, and you also wanted one. Similarly, your parents would be making snarky comments about Mr. Jones’es new shiny Ferrari parked on the driveway, right next to their Ford.

Being envious of one person in your direct circle is already harmful enough. Imagine seeing hundreds of those envy-evoking images on your Instagram feed. Every. Day. Sometimes it can feel like someone else is living your dream life. You’d almost think your own life isn’t fulfilling enough.

Social media envy makes us feel like we're not living our best lives
Social media envy makes us feel like we’re not living our best lives

In the latest podcast of The Minimalists, author Rachel Cruze explains how social media platforms have completely transformed our sense of relativity. “We now carry around something in our back pockets that offers us a window into everyone’s life”. But this life of theirs isn’t real. Like we can inject our lips with botox or get butt implants, we can ‘cosmetically’ – or rather, technically – alter, distort, and filter our life online. As a result, we’re all set up with a bunch of unrealistic expectations that we consider to be the new normal.

It’s time to come to the realisation that offline, even Alexis Ren looks like she got hit by a car sometimes.

group of people meeting

Why we should stop asking people what they do

In less than three months I’ll be swapping in my home country for another. It’s an exciting next step that I feel comes at exactly the right time: I’ve graduated, am not completely anchored to a job and most of all, ready for a change  after living in the Netherlands for 22 years.

“Yay, London, that’s great! Already know whereabouts?”

“Nah, I’ll see”, I shrug, completely unfazed.

“Have you found a job yet?

“No I haven’t”

“Oh, but you must have something in mind that you want to be doing there, right?”

I answer with another negative, now feeling slightly self-conscious.

Having had the same talk with friends, colleagues and family over the past months, I’ve noticed this pattern occurring dozens of times. And it makes sense, because I’m obviously not going to be sitting on a bench staring at the Big Ben for the rest of my life. They want to know what I’ll be spending my time on.

Here’s what we seem to be forgetting:

A week, last time I checked, consisted of 168 hours.

A work-week, averages 36-40 hours.

“What do you do?” is probably the most frequently  asked question (excluding all weird Google searches) out there. For a question that ambiguous, we probably all have a carefully prepared answer that we are able to recite as effortlessly as the Pokemon theme song.

“I’m a manager at a local electronics store”

“I’m a student at X University, studying North-American History”

“I’m currently unemployed”

Congratulations, you have just learned how random person at houseparty A,B, and C, spend 23.8% of their time! Maybe you now have an indication of their monthly paycheck, if that matters to you.


Do I sound a little salty? Maybe, but what I’m trying to point out is that you’ll discover surprisingly little about that person, while at the same time pigeonholing them into a degree, or job title. I’m a social media marketeer 23.8% of the time, but in my spare time, I stay to stay away from Facebook and Instagram as much as possible. I don’t like talking about algorithms, influencers and Mark Zuckerberg in my free time.

Mini challenge: Next time you’re at a party and meet something new, and they ask you what you do, try and give them a honest answer (of course, only share what you want to share).

I’ll go first: I work as a (see how I didn’t say I am?) social media marketer for a small tech startup, I run and do yoga a couple times a week, and I love putting words down on paper in any way, shape, or form.

Some would be delighted to answer that question for you, however, raving on about their job, their challenges and projects. These people are either truly passionate about what they do (in their 23.8% space) or also associate their job with whatever they do in their free time. If you consider yourself part of this group, you’re lucky, because not everyone feels this way.  There definitely is a certain privilege in doing what you love

Regardless, isn’t it way more fun to talk about what you do and who you are in your free time? The time we all seem to enjoy most out of the week? Of course, talking about your job is not a taboo, a detail in our life that we must try and bury! Just know that you are so much more than that, and so are others.

Doing what you love goes beyond our 40-hour work week, so let’s focus on that.

Mini-challenge: At that same party, try to find the one thing that make their eyes sparkle with joy and excitement. Is it a book they recently read? Their pet guinea pig? Crossfit? Collecting stamps? Salt & Vinegar crisps?

By (literally) changing the conversation, we get rid of the idea that our job is the singular most important in our daily lives, and we focus on the things that give us pleasure, rather than what gives us stress.


So, what do you do?