Do You Need A Digital Declutter?

Hand reach out from laptop screen, isolated on black background

The other day I got an email from Cal Newport. He’s proposing to his email list the idea of doing a “digital declutter” in the month of January. It’s part of a study for his next book.

Here’s how he defines a digital declutter:

…you take a 30-day break from optional technologies in your personal life (social media, web browsing, etc). During this period, you clarify what you really value and experiment with how best to serve these values. At the end of the 30 days, you then add back technologies to your life in an intentional way with the goal of supporting these values.”

I signed up for it.

I don’t know all the fine print yet, but there goes Facebook, Twitter, and  Instagram for sure.

I don’t know about online newspapers, or podcasts yet either, but for sure he’ll paint bright lines around “constant email-checking”.

I am a little terrified of this.

That’s because I am currently under the zombie spell of media. Particularly political stuff.

I read my Twitter feed first thing.

I scroll Instagram.

I’m on Facebook.

I read the online versions of both the New York Times and the The Washington Post daily. I don’t watch Morning Joe, but I listen to the show’s 30-40 minute podcast every day.


And what do I get out of this?

Thousands and thousands of micro-hits of dopamine. All. Day. Long.

And I’m totally addicted. Rage and indignation are powerful and exciting drugs. A dark force inside me eats this stuff. And this force is hungry.

So I’m going cold-turkey for a month. The month of January.

It’s gonna be hard.  That kind of “giving up sugar” hard.

But the hope is by month’s end I’ll  have learned how to align my values to my social media habits, and not just use them to distract or enrage me. I want to learn how to be conscious in my use of it, not just get dopamine hits all day long.

I don’t want to get riled up, either good or bad, by media. I want to use it to support, collaborate, or connect with other people– not do whatever it is I’m doing with it now.

It’s very clear I need to take charge of my own eyeballs again. And also full responsibility for how I spend my time. I can’t let Twitter and Facebook, and Morning Joe hijack my attention, which is to say, my life, anymore.

I think this will be a good way to start the new year.

G says she want to do this, too. I’ll  be nice having a fellow sufferer. But even if she doesn’t do it, she understands why I need to, and will be there to root me on.

And this is not just me. From what I’m picking up from the people I talk to in real life, and follow on Facebook (hah), I’m not the only one feeling the need for this.

A lot of people struggle with social media..  If this “digital declutter” in January sounds interesting to you, here’s what you do: just follow this blog, and I’ll pass along any instructions and tips Cal passes on to me. We can do  this together if you want.

We can share stories and struggles in the comments.

(Now I just hope writing and reading blogs is allowed.)


Stay tuned.

How To Iron A Shirt

white shirt and iron on ironing board

How To Iron A Shirt

Where to Start and Why

I always iron the collar first.

It’s not that the collar should be ironed first, I just start here because I want to see what I’m up against.

When I open up the shirt on the board to iron the collar, I can see how the shirt is made.  I now know what I’m up against in terms of seams and structure.  That’s the only reason I  start with the collar first.

You can just as happily do it last. Everybody’s different. Don’t get too neurotic about this. It’s just a shirt.

Where to Go Next

Then I move on to the button side of the shirt.

Buttons are a Bitch.

I could just as easily start on the hole side, but I usually want to get the buttons out of the way first. While I still have the patience for them.

Buttons can be trying.  Especially tiny buttons. But the regular-sized ones are a pain, too. It’s essential that your iron have a notch in its tip. This notch will allow you to slide around buttons. If your iron doesn’t have this feature, you need an upgrade.

Placket Perfection is an Illusion

Some, but not all shirts have buttons sewn onto a separate piece of material called a placket.

Some plackets have seams, others don’t. Some fancy-schmancy shirts have plackets that conceal the buttons. I don’t know who they’re trying to kid here, though. Everybody knows the buttons are under there.

If your buttons are visible, make an effort to get the puckers out of your plackets, but don’t worry too much about them.  If your placket conceals the buttons, though, even though it’s a shame,  you need to take time and get the placket right.

But with all plackets just know: concealed or visible, you’ll never get them perfectly pressed. But you will get time off in purgatory for any effort.

The Yoke is A Joke

After the button side, I move to the yoke. The yoke just joins the collar to the back.

I give the yoke a cursory steam and press, knowing I’ll have to come back to it at the end for a little touch up.

The Box Pleat Blues

The box pleat is the hemorrhoid of the shirt.

The box pleat is that double-fold pleat in the middle of the back, below the yoke. The function of the box pleat is to give you a little more shoulder space and comfort. (Shirts that are labeled “slim fit” don’t have a box pleat.)

Perfecting the box pleat takes a whole nother skill level that I’m just not willing to take the time to master. Life is short. I can’t be good at everything.

After the box pleat, reward yourself with a relaxing cruise across the calm sea of the back.

The arms are fairly straightforward, but then there’s the cuffs.

Enough with the Cuffs

Cuffs are also a pain, but unlike the box pleat, you kinda have to master the cuff. That’s because cuffs show. A lot. Unless of course you roll them, in which case, why bother with ironing. Just spray some wrinkle releaser on that sucker, smooth it out and call it good.

Sometimes I’ll unbutton the cuffs and try to fit them around the narrow neck of the board, but most of the time I press them on one side, flip them, and press the other. French cuffs are a job for professionals.

Final Thoughts

The thing to remember about ironing a shirt is that any attempt at all is considered above and beyond. It’s more than most people could, or would do. Know that.

Know also that most people don’t even own an iron, and if they do, they certainly don’t own an ironing board.

If they do have a board it’s some remnant from their dorm room days, one of those little table top numbers. Frankly, I have never tried to iron on one of those, so who am I to judge?  But I prefer standing at a full size board.

I use a Rowenta iron. Swear by it.

My mother used to sprinkle her shirts-to-be-ironed with water, then roll them up and store them in the fridge for a while.  The press of a hot iron against a cold damp shirt resulted in a heck of a nicely ironed shirt, I must say.

Starch is an issue.

I don’t use starch but I have been known to go a little crazy with Magic Sizing which is a softer kind of starch. It kind of simulates the effect of a cold damp shirt meeting a hot heavy iron.

So there you have it.

If you’ve ever wondered while ironing a shirt,  “Am I doing this right?” This is a strategy you might want to try.

A Cure For The Curated Life

Children with toy ship

Edie and I have both been wallowing in the news and social media cesspool lately. We are up to our eyeballs in it. It’s all we talk about.

We had yet another talk in the kitchen this morning about the importance of bringing our best selves out into this angry, terrified, RESIST world.

We know how important it is to ask ourselves every time we open our mouths: Is this the right time to speak? Is this true? Does this speech act promote harmony? Does it bring people together? Is it kind?

But even though we both know that being our best selves out in the world is critical, we both also know that these “best selves” of ours are highly curated and edited constructs. They are our sanded, stained and polished personae. No rough edges. No splinters.

Our raw, splintery, unedited selves, –those we only show to each other. In the privacy of our home. Behind closed doors.

And we need this cathartic primal screaming; we need to yell the vulgar words, vent our outrage at what certain people we know do, and think, and say. After extremely long days of pausing, and listening, and trying to understand, of trying to be patient, and role-model empathy, we are DONE with you idiots.

So we scream and rage to each other about you. It’s how we stay sane. It’s how we manage to show up sanely another day. It’s how we can keep our tongues civil.

But even though we need to vent that raw primal rage, it makes for a rather unpleasant home life. It doesn’t make either of us happy. Relieved, yes. Heard, yes. But not happy.

So the question in the kitchen this morning was this: How can we allow ourselves to vent, to beat the pillows and scream, but also make some space for genuine, primal happiness with each other? At least for a small segment of each day?

We both have our daily meditation practices, and that certainly helps. A lot. But I think we need something to do as a couple.

I think we need some daily ritual. A time where we set aside our world stress and look at the  things we’ve collected throughout the day that gave us primal joy.

Something along the lines of a kid emptying his pockets after a long, hard day of playing outside:  a smooth rock, a marble, a bird feather, a piece of gum, a dime.

A car let us in to the line of traffic. A person held the door. The barista made us laugh. A hug from a person we hadn’t seen in a while. An oak tree frosted with snow. The cardinal at the feeder. Sun through the clouds for that brief moment, and we noticed it.

Maybe we need to start collecting this stuff throughout the day, noting it down on little scraps of paper, or taking a photo of it with our phone, or talking a moment into a voice memo. Just so we don’t forget.

Then, before bed, saying to each other: “Okay, time to empty our pockets, darling! Let’s see what you got. Let’s see what joys you found today.”

And, of course, the one with the most joys, wins.