The Case For Deleting All Your Apps

I beg you. It will change your life.

You are a hoarder, and it’s a problem.

You probably hide it well — there are no rooms with old newspapers stacked to the ceilings, and no freezers full of dead cats — but your phone’s home screen, which is quickly and eerily becoming one of the most telling expressions of one’s true personality, gives you away. It’s a mess, and so are you. I know because I was one too.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, there’s an easy trick that can improve your smartphone enormously. It’s easy to do and remarkably painless: delete your apps. All of them. Every last one that you’re allowed to delete.

This sounds crazier than it actually is, so hear me out. A few weeks ago, I was running a developer version of iOS 7 that expired, causing my phone (as well as many others across the country) to deactivate without warning. Impatiently — ever the hoarder, a true addict — I decided to wipe my phone, start from scratch and restore my apps and contacts from a previous backup, a month or so old.

But before I restored my phone I glanced down at my clean default home screen. No Twitter. No email. No contacts. So I delayed. A few hours passed without a single push notification or alert. It was, for lack of a better word, kind of tranquil.

My current home screen.

Then reality set in. Not only do I not have the luxury of ignoring my email, or the news, it’s not something I want to completely distance myself from. So instead of restoring, I started to rebuild.

Twitter is, without question, the most-used app on my phone, followed by Gmail. So I went to the App Store and downloaded both. A few hours later, I had to go meet some friends at a place I’d never been to. I downloaded Google Maps. I wanted to listen to some music on the way, so I picked up Spotify, a service I pay $10 a month to use offline. A couple hours after that I got the urge to post some dumb picture to Instagram so I caved and downloaded that as well.

At first this felt like a useful, but temporary, exercise — I could see, at least, which apps are truly most important to me. But as I lived with my new, lean homescreen for a while, something started to change. Fewer apps meant fewer distractions; I found myself checking my phone less frequently.

That’s not to say it turned my phone into a brick. By downloading only the apps I use regularly or rely on the most (Pocket for “read it later” things, Simplenote for interview transcription and to-do lists, and Chromecast to watch videos on my TV) I felt like I wasn’t shutting out technology, but maximizing efficiency. More importantly, I was enjoying using my phone more.

This past Sunday, while watching football with a group of friends, I found myself more engrossed in the actual games. I was looking at my phone far less than anyone in the room, and I wasn’t jealous.

Of course there’s no right or wrong way to use your phone, which you bought and you spend hundreds of dollars to maintain. But I hope my case can be instructive. Before deleting my apps, I would listlessly swipe and unlock and tap and lock, mostly out of habit and with no real intent or purpose, whenever I felt the slightest onset of boredom. Notifications from apps I’d opened once, months ago, would routinely distract me from something I was doing.

Taken individually these are not serious problems — more like occasional nuisances and inefficiencies. But they add up. My less cluttered phone feels both essential and less demanding.

The best case scenario is that you delete your apps and feel relief, increase your efficiency, and de-clutter the most important device in your life. Worst case, you merely come to think more clearly about how you use technology. And it’s no major inconvenience — this isn’t some digital detox fad diet, and you’re not really giving up anything but a few minutes of your time. It’s as simple as this: An app that you might only idly check isn’t necessarily an app that you’d re-download.

It’s also changed how I see iOS. For example, I’ve come to realize that Apple’s expanded folders are, it turns out, just a somewhat convenient way to solve one of iOS’s biggest problems, by allowing you to quarantine all of Apple’s terrible stock apps into their own trash bin folder. I call mine “Apple Crap.”

Any risk is both mild and avoidable: If you back up your phone you can always get your apps back. They’ll be free to re-download in the App Store and Google Play, and both Apple and Android are pretty good about saving your settings — still, be careful and make sure important data and media is backed up.

Anyway, do this. The cost is nil and the potential payoff is huge. Nuke your homescreen. Cleanse your phone. Save yourself. It’s worth it.

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