Life is busy and can get overwhelming. But isn’t your phone supposed to help make your life more manageable, instead of more stressful? Experiment traveling the way of digital minimalism and you just might find you phone can help you instead of stressing you out.
Cut The Digital Clutter
I love my phone. I only got started having a smart phone a handful of years ago, which made me the butt of a lot of jokes about dumb phones. I waited to save up for my smartphone because I knew- KNEW!- it was going to make my life easier.
But in the end, my phone just brought its own stress into my life.
I still love that I can have all the educational apps my little heart desires, and Google Maps is life changing for a person who still on rare occasions manages to get lost in their own neighborhood I’ve spent my entire life growing up in (getting lost that easily is definitely a skill few people share!) but still the endless onslaught of notifications and popups and far too many apps to find what I need when I need it even with it all organized into different groups is just frustrating.
So, sometimes when I get too frustrated to deal anymore, I just get rid of all the extra apps and go completely minimal for a week. Or longer! It’s a great way to help myself get into relaxing vacation mode.
I hope by sharing just the bare bones basic list of apps I actually use and need the most, it might just help you go digitally minimal when the noise of the world is overwhelming.
In This Post We’ll Learn
- What Apps You Truly Need
- How to Cut Down Excess Apps
The Only 15 Apps You Need
This is a basic. Does this even need an explanation? Everyone needs a clock. The app does your timers so you get to work on time- the struggle is real!- and count down timers for when you have 10 minutes before the Uber arrives and you need to clean as much as you can before you leave. Or you could use it as your timer when you are baking cake, or use the clock to try to adjust to new timezones when you’ve just landed. Whatever you do, you’ll probably need to keep track of time one way or another. Plus, it’s an app I can almost guarantee you already have.
I myself just use the stock clock my phone came with.
If you want to get fancy though, you can upgrade to a sleep cycle alarm.
Everyone needs a way to communicate with friends and do business and all that stuff that’s very phoneish- you know, the whole communication part of using a phone. You really need some kind of message app to really use your phone like a phone.
I myself use Line. It’s free, which is great because I am not swimming in money and I’m not going to get a contract with the big phone providers to pay their huge monthly fees of $50 or more. Instead I use a pay-as-you-go phone brand (Tracfone, for those interested) and I use Line to avoid using my text minutes and I really end up not paying much of anything to actually communicate with people.
You don’t have to use Line of course. You could use Facebook Messenger (and deal with your every move on your phone being sold to advertisers, as well as taking up a huge chunk of your storage) or use your basic Message app your phone came with to let you text. You do you, boo.
Inbox by Google
I don’t have an email addiction, unlike a lot of people out there apparently (Take heart if this is you, because Inc wants to help you break that endless cycle of checking the inbox), but it is something somewhat useful to do when I’m sitting in waiting rooms or on a bus or otherwise just stuck kicking my feet.
I’m not really a fan of the upgrade to Gmail‘s inbox app though, so I may look around at other inbox management options out there, but for now this is what I use and it works fine.
It’s essential for me as an adult to keep track of my money. I don’t like to do banking from my phone because phones just feel too unsafe to put that kind of major information on for my comfort- WSJ points out that what you do on your phone probably leaves you wide open to threats- but I do like to keep track of how much money I have in savings and debt to keep me on track with matching my spending to how little I actually have available to spend.
Budgeting apps are that essential middle ground between knowing about your money but not letting you- or any hackers- actually access it when you are on the go.
I like to use Buxfer to keep track of my sidehustles and savings and investments and the big picture of my money. I like that it’s kind of more of an easy accounting app than a budget focused app (though it does let you set maximum amounts you want to spend in your custom categories, it doesn’t really budget a category based on a percentage of your income or other goodies that really help with budgeting), but that might mean it doesn’t really suit your needs well. I also really like that I can use my account on my phone or go to my computer and work on my money, and it’s cheaper and easier than other accounting apps so it’s great for a person with some sidehustles. If you have less accounts floating around, the free version of the app is great, but I found the added value of the paid app was worth it to me.
If you don’t want an app that directly connects to your accounts, Colorful Budget is a good choice.
You Need a Budget
If you need a lot of help figuring out budgeting in general, YNAB is an app a lot of people love-but there is no free version, and for myself the fact that it’s supposed to be like a personal trainer for your money knowledge was just too much advice and feedback for what I wanted.
To-Do Productivity App
My Effectiveness is an app I LOVE! I rave about it to anyone who asks me what productivity app they should use (spoiler alert: literally no one asks me about this. But I think it’s so important I’ve started attacking poor unsuspecting people who read blog posts with this opinion.) What I love about the app is that it doesn’t just make me dump all my to-dos onto one massive list, it helps me prioritize things by how important they are and how urgent they are. That’s a biggie if you struggle to figure out what to do first like me. I also like how efficient this thing is, it combines the Eisenhower style prioritizing checklist with other useful things like goal setting, project tracking, pomodoro timer, and a calendar for your tasks into one easy to navigate app. It’s probably the only app I have ever raved about like this in my entire life.
There are simpler to-do list apps out there, but don’t bother with them. This will help you break out of the habit of just making longer and longer to-do lists and instead it will help you to actually get stuff DONE.
The Pomodoro technique is based on alternating between short periods of intense focus with progressively longer breaks as the day goes on. You can read more about the Pomodoro Technique on its internet home, but basically the idea is that the brain has a limited attention span, so if you work with your brain instead of trying to force yourself to power through a solid several hours of work with no breaks you will actually get more work done by the end of the day.
I actually switch between having two different Pomodoro timers on my phone. For every day work I use Clockwork Tomato, but when I’m feeling overwhelmed and starting to procrastinate I use Get Shit Done to help me focus on break down a big project into manageable steps.
Get Shit Done
The name of this app might either amuse you or disgust you, but the app is pretty genius. It doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, so it really forces you to actually focus on getting your work done instead of playing with productivity apps and pretending that’s the same as actually being productive. (*Raises my own hand* Anyone else guilty of that?)
The app lets you put in your goal, then you break it down, and then the timer starts. It’s pretty straightforward, and that’s exactly what helps me when I’m feeling overwhelmed!
This is an app that I use during work most days. When I have just one or two projects that I’m juggling, this just helps me to dig in and power through everything. I also find that the short breaks aren’t quite long enough to get lost in a Youtube video so it gives me a good excuse to get up and take a stretching break twice an hour to fight the health affects of sitting, which the Mayo Clinic warns is a real health risk.
I don’t think I really need to explain this much, but it’s good to have an app on your phone that lets you make actual phone calls.
I just use the app my phone came with, there’s nothing fancy about a phone app but it’s still an essential.
A camera app is necessary if you ever want to use the camera built in to basically every smartphone. The app my phone came with is okay, and does basic photo editing as well which is an upgrade from my last phone, but I don’t like that the built in camera app has a slow shutter speed and doesn’t let me get technical about things like exposure.
I use Bacon Camera because it’s the closest a person can get to a truly portable DSLR that is always with me whenever I need. Which is great because, you know, I write a blog. I take photos. I need good images. And it’s just nice to be able to play around with settings when taking travel photos or just capturing moments with friends and family.
The thing that makes a smartphone smart is that it can use the internet. But you can’t use it without a browser app.
I’ve tried a few different browser built just for phones, like Dolphin, but I really do enjoy the privacy and customization options Firefox has. That, and well, it just works well, and that’s important to me.
I also like that it can sync up with whatever I’m browsing on my desktop, or laptop. I know other big browser names like Chrome likely have the same function, but I’m just not a fan of how invasive Chrome is or how much space it takes up on my phone.
I’ve told you I still occasionally get lost in my own neighborhood of my hometown, right? For me Google Maps is essential. It’s honestly so important that when I travel to other countries and cheap out on paying for data, I only leave my hotel if I can go with other people or stay in sight of my room, because I don’t trust myself to be able to navigate back alone. But this might not be so essential for you.
Think about this for yourself. Do you get lost easily? Does construction, new roads, new buildings, and new sights pop up where you live all the time and make it difficult to figure out how to get where you are going, or return to where you came from?
You also might want to think what you would need this app for. If you use a metro or bus route or an Uber and you know it will drop you off right at your stop or house, then you might not need the navigational help as other people will take care of it for you. If you don’t get lost easily and usually go the same routes every day, you might not need this app either. Consider for your own circumstances if this app will help you most days or just be taking up space on your phone.
I think just about everyone needs to take notes down from time to time. For the most part I use an actual physical notebook- most of my notes end up being some kind of creative writing and physical paper helps me to be more creative- but for random little notes like tracking what symptoms I’m supposed to ask my doc about at my next appointment or the name of that song I heard on my trip and want to buy when I get back to my country I like to keep in, well, Google Keep.
You can use any note taking app you like, of course. I just like that it’s easy to move anything I write to an email or a document if I end up needing to do something more with my random thought.
Anki is perhaps the best learning app out there. Unlike some studying apps, it uses spaced repetition. Spaced repetition is a way to do memorization so that you actually remember the things you are learning long after the course ends- which, you know, is kind of the point of trying to learn in the first place.
Spaced repetition is hard to get right on your own, so I recommend learning about the basics of the SR concept before you try to use it. It’s also best to remember that Anki is a way to review info. You can and should use the app to learn, but I find for myself it’s best to learn from an actual video or post or book or course or what have you and then use Anki to really hammer that info into your brain the second the video ends.
I love Anki, and I think you ought to try it. (It also helps that this is available on every operating system.)
Recently I switched my Antivirus based on PCWorld’s AV roundup. I want to change anyways, because my former program kept cancelling my account even though it was paid for and dealing with weeks of back and forth emails to fix the problem was just too much of a headache to go through once, let alone THREE TIMES for the two years I stuck with them. The program itself was very secure, but just not worth the administration headaches.
I’ve since switched back to premium AVG. They have a mobile app as well, which I really like (and is also kind of essential for me to put in on this list in the first place when you consider it!)
Pop Up Blocker
Even though an AV will help prevent all kinds of bugs from being downloaded to your phone, they won’t save you from being harassed by popups.
I don’t have any particular recommendations for an app that does this though. I’ve tried a few, and none of them have been particularly amazing or do the job perfectly. A lot of browsers have built in settings that are supposed to fill this job, but I’ve found they do even less than a designated app can. Be warned, my friend!
I didn’t always use a cloud based photo app. I was scared of it backing up photos I wouldn’t want hacked and available online, like the photos I sometimes take on my weight loss progress. There’s nothing scandalous about a sports bra and beat up old booty shorts, but I still wouldn’t want them floating around. But I lost a lot of photos when my first smart phone was dumped into the Potomac river on a boating trip. Lesson learned- strap your phone to when taking photos in bumpy places, and always have cloud backup for your photos! Google Photo is the fairly easy way I do backup now.
Take Baby Steps to Weed Out the Apps That Are Only Stressing You Out.
Delete Apps You Haven’t Used Yet
If you haven’t touched it even once so far, you don’t really need it.
Replace One Hit Wonders with Multifunctional Apps
I’m not suggesting you get a master app that does everything poorly and drains all of your storage space. I’m just suggesting you get apps that serve a few different related functions all in one. I do this by using My Effectiveness, a prioritizing and to-do list and many other function combo app.
Let Go of Apps For Hobbies You’ll Never Actually Start
I love hobbies. I already have a lot of different hobbies, but I also have the bad habit of always trying to collect more. Before I did a clear out of my apps- yet again!- for this post, I had apps for learning to play the violin, tracking my running stats, and learning how to draw manga because why not? But all of these were really just cluttering up my storage and getting in the way of finding things I actually use and need. I don’t play the violin, I’m not competitive so even if I ever did start to run I’d just be annoyed having to track how much I did every day, and I haven’t even touched my wire to do my sculptures this year and that is definitely my preferred medium over drawing of any sort.
It was time to let apps I don’t use, for things I don’t do, go.
Try Deleting Apps From a Different Stage of Your Life
When I stopped going to college, I had a lot of apps to clear out. I didn’t need to have my app that connected to the campus printer, or the app to sign into my class assignment portal, or the app my favorite restaurant put out. None of it applied to me anymore.
When you go to a new stage in life, it’s time to clear out the apps and digital clutter you don’t need anymore. And unlike your thousands of pages of Math notes, it only takes ten seconds to uninstall a few apps.
Let Go of Apps You Haven’t Needed in a Year
I know people give the advice to “get rid of what you haven’t used in a few months” in every post about Minimalism. I also know you may be like me and feel uncomfortable about that advice kind of boiling down to just urging you to get rid of your Winter clothes every time Summer comes around. It makes no sense and it’s so silly an idea CollegeHumor did a skit about it.
But this isn’t like that. If it’s an app you haven’t used in an entire year, it’s time to let it go. You probably actually don’t need it by this point. It’s not like you’ll be dooming yourself by doing this- the app will still be in the app store, and you’ll still be able to download it again if you ever need it.
Consider What Apps You Can Replace by Just Going Online
Do you really need an entire app dedicated to just calculating your BMI? That’s something that takes a few seconds to type into a search engine, and can usually be done without the ad banners the app would have.
Is It Time to Detox Your Life of Digital Noise?
Cutting down your apps might be the ticket to slightly less hectic life.
Let me know in the comments below what apps you can’t live without, and what apps you cut out of your life.