About Me,  ditching my smartphone,  mental health,  mindfulness,  reality check,  social media,  technology

Smartphone detox: the first fortnight

Today marks 2 weeks since my dramatic public breakup with my littlest mother’s helper and I wanted to do a little post op, as much for my future self as for any curious readers as to how it’s going.

So how’s it going?

In a word, swell. But it is incomplete yet. I haven’t bitten the bullet and grabbed the flip phone yet, because its actually costs money, as some of you intrepid souls pointed out, to reinvest in a new device and find a plan that isn’t crazy expensive. The problem I’m running up against is that the providers who do carry dumb phones (and I’m leaning towards Charity Mobile at this point) seem to assume that if you want one, you don’t also want a lot of minutes or texting data. However, in my case, I vv much do want those things. Especially now that Voxer is relegated to an awkward to use desktop app, I’m finding myself using more minutes than before, not fewer.

So, in the meantime, I’ve made do by stripping down my already basic Samsung Galaxy J7 (a cut-rate Galaxy iteration compatible with my current carrier, Boost Mobile, which runs on the Sprint network. Coverage is so-so, phone itself does get a bit hot (but not anymore as there are no apps running! The battery life isn’t great. Or, rather, wasn’t. Now that I’m not using it for anything but talking and texting, I’m only plugging it in every 3 days or so. What?! I used to struggle to make it to 8 pm without draining the battery to zero. Crazy, I tell you.) which was $80 at Best Buy during a Black Friday sale, and is $30/month with unlimited talk and text. Which is hard to beat.

So how do you make a smartphone dumb? Well, I’m not the most tech literate person, but I was able to delete or uninstall almost all of the factory-installed apps, plus those I’d added myself. Then I untethered my email and delated the gmail app, turned off location and wifi, and, voila, a fairly dumb phone.

Of course, the big caveat being that at any moment, I can undo all these things and endow myself once again with phenomenal cosmic powers, which, in a moment of poor planning and weakness last week en route to a doctor’s appointment in an unfamiliar town, I did, for the sake of using google maps to guide me in for a smooth landing.

I think that if I were a better moderator and not a dyed in the wool abstainer, this intentionally stripped down still secretly smart phone would actually be a decent long term solution for me, but I know me, and I know that 4 months or 4 weeks from now, whether checking in late for a flight and in search of a boarding pass or simply passing the time in car line, I may very well cave and go back to using the internet on it.

But, for you more more temperate folk out there, I think that stripping down your existing phone could be a valuable exercise in detachment and time-reclamation and a good half measure towards getting away from the addiction to the device. Plus, super cost effective.

So, what have I learned in 2 weeks without tapping, scrolling, browsing? A couple things, the first of which has been most surprising.

And that is? I have a lot more time than I realized. I have enough time to make meals at home. I have enough time to keep mostly on top of my housework. I have enough time to write those articles, make those deadlines, pay those bills, and, yes, read you one more story.

I don’t work a 9-5 job outside the home, but I do work about 20 hours we week writing, reading, researching and planning for the blog and related content for CNA. Outside of that, I do a bit of freelance work, including regular gigs for Endow and Blessed is She. I also have 4 kids, only one of whom is in school full time, so they’re, you know, around a bit. And in need of cuddles, cut up avocados, bike-riding supervision and bathing. Add in a husband, a school commute that currently hovers around 2 hours roundtrip, and a house that we’ve spent the last 8 months fixing up and now selling, and there is a lot going on. But the past 2 weeks have felt like vacation.

Granted, a pretty unexciting and not terribly exotic vacation, but a vacation nonetheless. A break form the ordinary. A respite from the rat race. A change of pace that has me looking around the house and wondering, should I be doing something right now? 

Because there are suddenly these pockets of…I guess I’ll call them opportunity…in my days lately.

A half hour here or there where it’s too early to leave for school pickup but somebody is still napping, so I guess I can curl up on the couch and pray a rosary or read a little bit from whatever spiritual reading I’d been slogging through towards the end of Lent. So not exactly party party vacation-y, more like restful retreat vacation-y. Which is…not my favorite.

I like to be busy. I thrive on adrenaline and scooting in just under deadline and cramming it all in as efficiently as possible.

But I also struggle with anxiety and insomnia and a general sense of the world is on my shoulders…and I wonder now, could it all possibly be connected?

I don’t want to oversimplify this for the sake of painting a pretty clickbaity picture that “DITCHING YOUR SMARTPHONE WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE,” because there’s more to it than that, as there is in every case. I’ve been changing the way I’m eating, what and whether I’m drinking, habits of prayer and intentional cultivation of virtues that I am sorely lacking. And also, there have not been 14 perfect days of good behavior and effortless mothering on my part. I have yelled and lost my mind and then rediscovered it around 9:33 pm, a solid hour after everyone is in bed.

But overall, there has been a marked difference.

I am still grabbing for my phone like a phantom limb now and then, but even that behavior has yielded to a 90% reduction. I carry just my keys and wallet into the store. I don’t bring my phone when I leave the house half the time, because it’s just not that interesting without the dozens of little notifications going off throughout the day. When I do walk by the counter where it’s plugged in and look at it, it’s boring.

Stripped of all it’s attention-grabbing apps, it will show a handful of text messages and maybe a missed call, but nothing nearly as exciting an Instagram notification. (I do miss being able to post there though. But, it’s an acceptable price to pay, for me.)

I can attend to the messages every 4 or 6 or even 12 hours, and nothing bad happens. (Given, I am no emergency medicine doc. Nobody will die if I don’t check my phone. But I think a lot of us – looks meaningfully into mirror – live that level of availability out of a sense of obligation or FOMO or just plain force of habit, because this is what everyone does in 2017, and if I miss a call/email, all hell will break loose”

But most every piece of career advice I’ve read lately says otherwise, emphasizes the critical (and rapidly disappearing) skill of “deep work,” the necessity of attending to one’s own present and pressing tasks, ordained as such by self (and God, if you include Him in your calculations) because otherwise – otherwise – we risk living most of our lives responding to other people’s requests for and demands on our time. And we don’t get our own work done.

And that’s all well and good to read these things and skim those books and then roll your eyes and think, yeah, must be nice, to be able to go off and be a hermit or be single again with no relational responsibilities or to be independently wealthy and mobile and, and, and…but what I’m realizing is that I, a simple stay at home/work from home mom of 4 little kids, actually have a hell of a lot more free time than I know what to do with. And am going to have to render an account one day for how I’ve spent it.

(I think I can make a good case for 2-3 hours a week of Netflix. Anything more than that, I get a little nervous.)

So without the apps, without the notifications, without the constant influx of data and Very Important Beepings, it turns out I am neither that essential nor am I all that important to most anyone outside of the 5 people I do life with.

I do not mean to devalue my friendships or disrespect my coworkers or downplay the connections I’ve forged with internet peeps over the years. These are truly valuable relationships. But it is perhaps not ideal for me to be continuously attending to all of them at any given time, on any given day.

I realize this is not a perfectly-transferrable parable I’m spinning for you. Some people are more connected to their phones for work than I am, and I concede that this is a luxury which I possess. But. A big, big but: I think more of us have more flexibility than we realize, and we’re trading away a good deal of peace out of a need to look busy and seem available and feel important.

I am not actually that important. The people who need my attention are right here with me, occasionally barfing onto floor beside me and tugging on the hem of my shorts, asking for another popsicle. And it turns out that even when I’m running on all cylinders getting all their needs met, I still have a little margin left over at the edges and even in the very middle of my day for meditation, exercise, writing, reading, sitting vacantly on the front steps blinking in the sunlight…and also for being bored. I have been bored at least once a day since this little experiment began, and it has proven to be glorious and painful fodder for ideas. Books have been outlined and titled (at least, in my mind). Relationship difficulties have been identified and considered. Plot lines for bedtime stories have been refined. Elaborate backstories to the person driving beside me in traffic have been concocted. And, most essentially of all, conversations with God have ensued.

I have plenty of time for prayer, it turns out. And with fewer attractive options to distract, I’m finding myself resignedly surrendering to it more and more frequently.

So, those are my initial takeaways from this foray into what I believe will become a lifestyle for me. I miss my Instagram peeps. I miss being able to shoot a Vox to my best friend in another time zone. I miss being able to easily send or receive a link to something on my phone. But that all pales in comparison to the new spaces that have been opened up in my head and in my soul.

What do you think? Would you ever consider ditching your smartphone? Or, if you’re an adult who can actually moderate your behavior in a responsible fashion, would you consider putting firm boundaries around how and when and whether you use it?

It seems the conversation is becoming increasingly common. (<— language warning: all the f bombs.)


  • Nancy S.

    I have a very pared down phone (freebie government one). Although I wish it had a camera, it has unlimited texting, calls are reasonably priced and internet use is fairly charged also. I worry that you don’t take yours now when you go out. Just for safety’s sake, in these days of no phone booths, please have it with you. You will be glad, should there be an emergency. If I no longer had mine, I think I would go with whatever Wal-Mart offers form$45/month.

    • Sarah

      But pretty much everyone else has a cell phone these days. If something bad happens (and if you aren’t on a canoe trip up in the middle of Alaska or out in the Mojave desert), there’s almost always someone nearby with a phone who can help you. I’ve relied on strangers’ phones a few times, especially when I don’t have service.

      Unless we no longer help one another because we assume everyone has a phone and can help themselves (that’s a whole other direction to my point), there’s always a phone in the purse or pocket passing by.

      2 generations ago, my grandparents didn’t have phones in their pockets. That generation must have been fine, because they gave birth to and raised lots of baby boomers, who lived and gave birth to lots of Millenials, who are now having the next generation 😉 We’ll be fine if we use our phones a bit less.

  • Karyn

    I have a smartphone but my plan only has 30 minutes or texts per month….it works out to 5.00 per month or something. I deleted my facebook account a couple of months ago and I’ve never had the other things like instagram. I have noticed that there are a few people I have barely heard from since going off of facebook but I have also managed to get together with other friends more often — like, face to face, real life get togethers. I think so often things like facebook make one think they’re are maintaining friendships but it’s generally such a superficial level. There were some friends that I would say I was keeping up with because we would message nearly daily but then I would realize we hadn’t actually seen each other for months 🙁

    • Mary

      This is so true! I deactivated my facebook last year for Lent and ended up going off of it for good. I’ve had the same experience with my circle of friends and know I’ve missed out on invitations to social events, but being free from the constant overload of information has been so worth it for me.

  • Kathleen

    This is so good! So inspiring. I told my husband just today that I know I have a phone addiction. I am a bit of an anxious person and as a former smoker, I agree with that guy that smartphones are the new cigarette. Cigarettes used to be my moments to take a quick break, but at least then, I was sitting with my own thoughts or even praying. (yes, you can smoke and pray 🙂 ) But the problem with the smartphone is that quick breaks become 30 minutes so fast. And I’m beginning to wonder if Instagram is my#1 problem. I think it used to be facebook, but now I think it’s instagram. Anyway, everything you say is so true. I think I need a “vacation” too!

  • KM

    I logged onto Facebook today for the first time since Lent began… and it was so overwhelming & over stimulating that I put it right back on “deactivate.” I never realized how much needless information I was consuming all day long until I took a long enough break from it!

  • Laura

    Dagnabit, you made me cry at work. Also, I read this at work on my smartphone, so lol. Guilty! I’m a moderator and have really been working on this and struggling with it. I can’t tell you how many times while scrolling lately, I’ve consciously thought “wow, I just don’t give a damn”. Sorry but true. I’m a year out since college graduation and work full time with a 45min commute. I don’t have a spouse or littles to devote time to, and am finding how much time I have to give. It really hit me this Lent how I have so many opportunities during this time in my life to give of myself and how like you said we’ll all be accountable for how we spend that time. It’s hard to figure out where to direct that time and energy as a single lady. But I am ready and open and looking for ways to give and form real life connections. Please keep writing on this, I think we all need it. Thank you.

  • Maria

    So if you’d like a suggestion, cricket is month-to-month, you can pick up an ATT LG flip phone from Walmart for $25 and them the most basic cricket plan (unlimited text and calls) would run you $25/month. We switched from ATT a year or two ago. Each subsequent plan comes with a corresponding subsequent $10 off. Like we pay for three.. The first is $60/month (unlimited calls, text, data), the second is $40-$10=$30 per month for unlimited all but with high speed data stopping at 6 GB, and the third is $25-10-10=15 for a flip phone to send with the oldest when he’s at youth group or running to the store or something. All in all very decently priced. Just about $100/month for three lines, no contract, unlimited all.. Also they use the ATT network and such, as they’re now owned by ATT (they didn’t use to be, but were bought somewhat recently).

    Okay, done now. 😀

  • Sarah

    Yes, I am edging close to joining you. Already deactivated facebook and many apps on phone. Good ideas on how to ‘cleanse’ my smartphone. As a stay at home mom of almost 4 too, my sanity and soul need more breathing room. My family needs a less panicked (over what?!), more present mother and wife too. Constant access and exposure to internet things makes me anxious. Thanks!!

    • Stephanie Rodriguez

      Less panicked (over what?!) mom

      Yes. Yep. Me too.

      I realized (and just told my husband last night) that my anger, frustration, and impatience stem from my inability to just sit and pay attention to my kids. Sad huh? I’m not even on the social media apps either. I’m reading recipes on my kindle or looking st the weather this weekend in order to sync up with my calendar the possible TBall game (or cancellation…. on a Monday…. for Saturday)… ugh. You get my drift.

      I’ve started using my water alarms (YEP, I’m an addict) to check my phone. Meaning only thrice a day. Each day I realize more and more what Jenny said. I didn’t miss anything. Like, at all!

      Good luck with feeling less frazzled – prayers to you and your almost 4! I have three 4 and under so this is my fave blog 😊

  • Amanda

    I also have to abstain completely or just give in. I really cut down on fb and found that very beneficial to my life, but for Good Friday I went phone-less and I was surprised that ….nothing changed. I had to make my grocery list on paper, and I couldn’t text a random thought, but otherwise – my brain distracts me, but the phone is just a symptom. And not a bad one, it seems. I kept picking up my book to fill spare moments, and I guess I feel like I sufficiently invest in my kids generally. Also, I gave them siblings. That said, my kids are running wild right now as I type this, so who knows.

  • jeanette

    In “the old days” the phone was something attached to the wall, not the person. So, unless you were somewhere in the vicinity of the wall, you didn’t NEED it for any reason. People would call, but NOT constantly. You didn’t even have an answering machine, so if they COULD NOT get you to answer to their ring, they would call back LATER. I think that overall reduced dependency on phones, and most calls were essential (unless you were in high school and you and your siblings would fight over using the ONE phone in the house to spend long periods of time talking about nothing of any consequence to your friends, because you still didn’t drive yet and they lived across town, and it was the next best thing to hanging out…and you talked in paragraphs, not 3 word text messages).

    Then came answering machines and/or voicemail. I had voicemail at my company. So, if I left my desk to go to a meeting or some other part of our corporate campus, I would simply check for messages when I got back. And I didn’t get phone calls constantly. Just for what was necessary. “Hey, are you in your office? I’d like to stop by and talk about this project.” It was for establishing more important, face-to-face contact.

    There was no email in my life until after I left the workforce and had children (and they were not little at the time). I didn’t really use email much, mostly with my husband. Until other people started having email, too, at which time I used it to keep in touch when we lived far apart. OR to conduct business, as in the sale of a home. Otherwise, I’d call on the phone that was still attached to a wall and had an answering machine. Or I might write a letter and put a postage stamp on it.

    Then my husband had a cell phone for his job, and it was a necessity for that purpose. I eventually got my own cell phone as an add-on to his account. I used it rarely. I kept it in my car in case there was some emergency, or to let my husband know I was on my way home or was delayed. Like my total monthly usage can be counted in minutes under 10. I only gave out the number to my kids and my mother, but they all usually call the house phone because they know I’m not glued to the cell phone.

    So, have courage. It is not a bad way to live life. And eventually you will have no problem loving those extra minutes with God.

  • Amanda

    I gave up Facebook for Lent. It was refreshing and I only checked on Sundays and noticed I was still getting stuck in the scroll-blackhole and snapping in rage if interrupted until about the 5th Sunday. I also thought that with no Facebook time suck I would get so.much.done. I would pray all the prayers and read all the books and clean all the things. I did a lot more of those things, but I also found other ways to waste time, specifically on my phone. I think you may be on to something here.

    I’m keeping no FB as a Friday act of penance and have deleted the app altogether, as well as IG app. But, if that doesn’t seem to be enough to (probably it won’t) I think I may give some of this ago.

    I do need my email and the Internet to some extent, but I should be more disciplined with frivolous use.

  • Keelin

    I limited my FB during Lent also, and I have had a glut-of-a-time the last few days. The addiction is real. Good for you. I love that you linked Gretchen Rubin – seriously love the Happiness Project. Keep us posted, I love your perspective.

  • Sarah

    Thank you for keeping us updated. I have been wondering how it has been going for you. You have inspired me, I am going to delete my apps. You are right, in the fact we will be held accountable for our time. That is a scary thought for me. This topic of addiction to smart phones is so important for so many of us. I am glad you are addressing it. Thank you.

  • Mary @ Better Than Eden

    This is really challenging and inspiring. I was one of the latest persons to give in and get a smart phone knowing that it would be really hard to manage and I was right. The addiction is real. I have to have something really reliable being on call for clients and the gps for me is incredibly helpful. But it totally gets in your head and it’s made me feel always on alert. I definitely think you’re right that our anxiety and insomnia issues in our society (which seem to be growing? I think?) are related. It’s almost like we’re wiring our brains to not be able to shut off.

  • Kate

    I highly recommend Ting as a cell phone service provider. We switched and are saving a TON of money with no discernible difference in service.

  • meredith

    I too am an abstainer and not a moderator. Here is my solution for keeping my iPhone but making it dumb: using the restrictions in settings. I had my husband set the password (which he has forgotten, so no turning back). I restricted all web browsers, news apps, etc. I am not on social media but if you are you can restrict those too. This way, I can still use the helpful aspects of a smartphone (nice camera, easy texting, google maps, etc) without the tempting other crap. There is nothing to entertain me on my phone any more except the weather app haha. This has worked for me for almost 5 months now and I have no temptation to go back!

  • Drusilla Barron

    I had a smart phone for two weeks, dropped and broke it, and went back to a drop-able, semi-smart phone a few years ago. People don’t need to reach me all the time and I don’t need access to the vast amounts of smart phone chatter and information. Also, I’ve never had a contract. I use AT&T Go Phone with a non Go Phone telephone that has a QWERTY (the tactile keyboard augments my poor sight). It’s $25/month for unlimited talk and text. If I add a data plan, the monthly charge is $40 but accessing the internet on my phone is so annoying, I’m never tempted.

  • Ava

    You go, girl! We use Ting (which runs on Sprint’s network), and our monthly bill for the 2 smartphones usually is $51 and some cents. Much less expensive than charity mobile, helps teach me moderation as it’s a pay-for-what-you-use kind of set up, and you actually get to talk to an ACTUAL person IMMEDIATELY when you call them (all the + signs!). I just upgraded to a smartphone, and wish I didn’t have it for the sake of being able to tell people that I can only check my email when I’m home ^_^ Still, it’s been good to have for picture taking, and looking up business hours : )

  • Diana

    I’ve been tempted to turn my smart phone into a dumb one for Lent but have never actually gotten up the nerve to do so…I have really been trying to watch my social media usage lately and have noticed a difference in my productivity and time spent with my son and all that. I gave up Facebook and Twitter for Lent and have been very reluctant to go back! This is inspiring!

  • Maureen

    Well done you! I have looked at this ‘back to basics’ option but, like you, have found it expensive to initiate, and probably not all that useful in the final analysis. After all, it is not just airlines that like to notify you via email!
    My solution 9 not having your skills to strip out things from my phone) is to use aeroplane mode – a lot! I now run my phone on this most of the time – only switching it on when I want to. So I still have easy access to my store cards ( stored on the phone) and my diary, my camera, and Universalis, but the rest…….it waits till I am ready for it.
    I have told my nearest and dearest that if I am at home – use the landline. And if I am out and about, I will reply…eventually.
    And it is working very well.
    It does help a bit that the mobile signal where I live is notoriously unreliable (the mast keeps failing!!) and I can’t afford to change suppliers. So folk have got used to my not replying instantly, but it is amazing how many people have problems leaving a voice mail message (lol)!!

    Keep working on this project. It does pay off.

  • Jean

    As I was reading through the comments I hoped to find someone referencing the “wall phone”, and sure enough, Jeanette did.

    We have a wall phone in our kitchen with no call display, no voicemail capabilities. At one time we had a party line, meaning three householders with wall phones each had their own ring pattern, so when someone rang them everyone on the party line would hear the ringing and pause to check whether it was our own. Lots of downside to that system, but then we eventually got our own dedicated line. Progress.

    We now have a cordless phone with voicemail in addition to our trusty prehistoric wall phone and I’ve even progressed to a cel phone, flip top, no voicemail, no texting, just something to use in case of emergency when I’m out, or to phone a neighbour to ask whether they want me to pick up something I spot on sale at the grocery store. I don’t even have the darned thing turned on save for a few minutes here and there. My philosophy is a caller may or may not reach me at home, if not leave a message. If it’s an emergency call 911. I agree with Jeanette, cut out your dependence/addiction to your phones and you’ll discover a freedom you’ve forgotten and you’ll be much happier for doing so.

    And do you want to know how pervasive this phone addiction has become? I went to Confession and caught sight of our pastor’s screen glow on the other side of the grill – he was checking his messages as I was confessing my sins.

  • Jean

    And another thing…when I was a kid there were only three families in our community who had phones. Back then people shared their wall hung phones and relatives had their numbers to call in case of emergency. Kids were used as runners to bring news to the no-phone families or to request a call back. There was one phone booth several blocks away from us to which I’d trudge through snow every Christmas morning when my mother would phone my grandfather to wish him a Merry Christmas. My husband reminds me that his family didn’t have a phone until he was about 14 years of age, but that my family was much better off than his because we had a real bathroom whereas his family had an outhouse.

  • Lauren

    Thank you so much for this. I pared down my phone to the bare minimum for me (maps, camera, Universalis, bank, yada yada) and 5 days in I’m realizing this should have been done years ago.

  • Abi

    I was prompted to give up deactivate my Facebook account after the election because the constant flow of negativity and doomsday-ness was just too much for me. I also had a newborn who was being completely ignored while I scrolled aimlessly as he fed at the breast. I decided that it was more important for me to be present in the precious moments with this actual human being who needed me, rather than read the thoughts of strangers, acquaintances and the occasional true friend. It’s been about 6 months and I haven’t missed it at all. I have never gotten into other forms of social media like Instagram or Twitter, so cutting the FB cord was sufficient. What’s more, when I wonder how a friend is doing, I actually reach out via text or email or phone call, which is so much more personal than just liking a photo or post. I find that I do still pick up my phone to check email when I’m nursing, out of habit, but it’s much less frequent and has much less of a negative impact on me spiritually. I’m glad you have had a positive experience and appreciate your willingness to put yourself out there in sharing this with us.

  • Mary Elizabeth


    I always enjoy your blogging. I actually have never had a smart phone. I carry a prepaid cell flip phone for my family to reach me when I’m running errands or on long trips, but I don’t have the voicemail set up and have sent exactly ONE painful text message on it. (Since I’m charged per text sent or received I’ve decided it is not worth the “convenience” of it.) — But I still connected with this article, just in terms of internet usage mostly and being present to those I’m with right now (for me, my 7 children, 4 of whom I homeschool) not with a host of other people that I’m not directly responsible to for any non-social reason. — So I just want to say, kudos for bravely restricting yourself from potentially life-inhibiting habits/technology and point out that today it could be your phone and tomorrow something else. We all can live this message. — Thanks for writing 🙂

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