On Social Media Burnout and Embracing Minimalism

Does your social media presence bring you joy? Do you deliberately curate your feeds and timelines to only show you things that you want to see or are you, like many, at the mercy of endless algorithms? When you post on social media, is it once a month, once a day, or every time you think of something witty to say?

In 2014, Marie Kondo published a now famous book about decluttering your physical life. One of her pieces of sage advice was to hold objects up, take a moment to assess how they make you feel, and then remove them from your life if they no longer bring you joy. After years of letting my social media overwhelm me, I’m starting to approach my personal social media philosophy in a similar way.

A usual day for me includes two-to-four hours on social media! That’s usually an hour in the morning when I wake up, an hour at lunch, and two hours in the evening. Often, it’s more like four-to-six hours online. The majority of that time is spent reading political “think pieces,” engaging with cultural criticism, and celebrating the successes and challenges my friends and acquaintances are going through and sharing on social.

Post-2016 election cycle and post-inauguration, the news feeds on all my social media platforms have been utterly exhausting. In December 2016 and April 2017, I took a month off to reset from the drama of the election and think how about how I was spending my time on social media.

When I was working on the Hillary Clinton campaign as an unpaid fellow, I committed to work for the campaign 15 hours a week. As a full-time employee, a part-time graduate student, and a part-time social media intern, I was hard-pressed to locate an extra 15 hours, even for Hillary. After spending ten weeks before the election canvassing and doing social media for the campaign, I was exhausted. Since the election ended, my social feed has been filled with protests, phone-a-thons, and other events centered around action and activism. Needless to say, it’s often not relaxing, and I’m often at a loss for how to process it all.

What is the cure for social media burnout? Why does it happen to begin with?

Out of desperation to answer these questions, I turned to my friend and social media manager/adviser, Kayla Harrison, an employee of Apple, and a long-time Instagram user, to help me.

Kayla lives a “Marie Kondo style life” on and offline. Kondo, as I mentioned earlier, teaches in, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, the virtues of getting rid of objects that no longer bring you joy. Kayla treats her online presence and curates her feeds the same way. When I first met her back in 2012, Kayla had one of the most pristine Tumblrs I’d seen (back when Tumblr was huge for the college-aged population I had just graduated from).

Here’s a screenshot of Kayla’s Tumblr today:

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Kayla is very interested in minimalism IRL (in real life), so it’s no surprise that her digital presence is of the same flavor. I was drawn to Kayla’s aesthetic in 2012 because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and all my life I’ve struggled to be “cool and chill.” (Hint: For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, I am not at all cool or chill IRL.) An actual photo of me after being on social media for more than 20 minutes:


JK, obviously Kanye is way cooler and has way more chill than I ever will be in person or on the internet.

That said, all that I’ve learned to do well on the internet has come from watching how the pros do it. People like Kayla Harrison and Kimberly Drew (now the Met’s social media manager) who runs the @museummammy handle on IG and started the BlackContemporaryArt Tumblr are my heroes when it comes to social, because they “do” it very differently from the way I do it. Here, take a peek at Kimberly’s Instagram game:

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Kimberly’s skills have earned her a six-figure following and constant coverage in the media. Whenever I teach social media workshops at Penn, I pull up her accounts as examples. And, as time has gone on, certain “rules” of using social media have become more defined. Kayla and Kimberly are very much disciples of these rules. Some basics that I can think of are:

  1. Don’t post on Instagram more than once a day. Preferably, post even less than that.
  2. Only post dynamic content on places like Twitter and Facebook. Text only posts will get you ignored.
  3. Memes are fun.
  4. Hashtags aren’t your friend. Use them sparingly.
  5. Figure out your overarching mood or aesthetic online and then stick to that across your platforms to give off an air of genuine connection with your followers.

Unlike the real pros of social media, I routinely and deliberately break ALL of these rules. I think this is also the case for a lot of the patrons I’ve helped here at the Penn Libraries. We all use social media for different reasons and those reasons drive the philosophy behind HOW we use it. For many of us, social media is a way to build out our identities, make community, makes mistakes, and move on. For others, it’s a way to exercise control and create a strictly filtered narrative.

Social media for me is an emotional, psychological, and philosophical release, buoy, and place to connect with chosen family. For Kimberly, social media is her profession and doing it well is about building her brand, bringing light and visibility to artists of color, specifically Black artists, and building an online network. Whereas Kayla posts on Instagram so infrequently that IG pushes a notification to me especially to tell me she’s posted something. Her aesthetic there is so clean and wonderful its earned her a loyal following and even date requests:

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I often hear millennials referred to as the “navel-gazing me-generation.” If that’s true, and it may well be, I think it comes from a need to define ourselves and tell our stories in a world awash with media and information overload. After three years of teaching digital storytelling at Penn and helping countless library patrons build their own social brands, I still need my friends to change my password once in a while to keep me from diving headlong into the abyss that is the post-election news cycle. So, the next time you’re feeling stressed out by your newsfeed, take a page from Kayla’s book and go delete things / people / posts that no longer bring you joy. Or, take a page from Kimberly’s book and know that *YOU* are in control of your story and your space online. Use that control to bring yourself more joy, not aggravation. And, if you’re like me, and sometimes you get lost, reach out to your networks to help pull you back out again.

Take a month off. Breathe. Have a friend help you figure out what posts are actually meaningful to you. Look at your timeline–does it give you joy? Change it. Delete some posts. You control what you consume and produce on social, not the other way around.

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