Minimalists are all about living with less. The reason why modern folks are so wigged out, they say, is not a problem of lack but a problem of abundance. Instead of hoarding even more crap into your overstuffed closets, why not try purging all the stuff you haven’t used in the last six months?
I’m not a minimalist when it comes to physical items - I love my glittery nail polish collection far too much for that - but I try to be with regards to my mobile life.
Many minimalists set an upper limit to the number of items they allow themselves to own, often 100 (tricky!) and sometimes even 50 (hard mode!). I don’t set a strict upper limit to the number of apps I keep on my phone, but I do ditch them if I haven’t opened them in a month or two.
Rather, my approach to mobile minimalism is thus: I ask myself, Does this app allow me to own fewer things? Does it make my life simpler or more complex?
Start out small. Are you still scribbling to-do lists on a notepad? Got dried-up pens littering every corner of your life? Stop that right now and get Simplenote. It syncs your notes seamlessly from mobile to desktop, 100% for free.
Simplenote features neither bells nor whistles - just start typing. There’s no formatting to play with nor custom appearance settings, because that’s not why you use a notepad, is it? You can organize by category if you’re into that level of neatness, and all your notes are searchable.
Once you start using Pushbullet, you’ll wonder how you lived without it. Admit it, you have a ton of emails from yourself cluttering up your inbox. How else are you going to get content (links, files, whatever) from your mobile to your desktop?
Enter Pushbullet. Once its installed, just choose to push whatever you like and you’ll get an immediate notification on any other devices where you have Pushbullet installed (here’s where to get the Chrome extension). Whabam, instant transfer.
One of the worst mobile time sinks is messaging. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the ability to ping my friends from anywhere, but too often it results in heaps of wasted time trying to come up with exactly the right emoji combination. There are far more efficient ways than your thumbs to have a conversation, whether in person, through a good-old fashioned phone call, or even simply typing with a full-size keyboard.
Yo is the minimalist messenger app you should take seriously. The only message you can send is “Yo” - the meaning for the recipient shifts depending on context. If you’re meeting someone for coffee, a Yo can mean “I’m here, I’m ordering macchiatos” (although a true minimalist would go black). If you’re twitterpated, a Yo becomes “I’m thinking of you and your sexy ankles.” I use Yo to poke friends I want to get in touch with to see if they’re available without getting sucked into emoji wars.
The best option out there for Android is Google Play Books, and not just because it comes automatically installed on many devices. It’ll read both ePUB and PDF formats, and anything else you can convert for free (try calibre, my favorite).
Google Play Books syncs your reading progress and library across all devices and platforms, from mobile to desktop, from Android to iOS. It’s all the reading goodness of an extensive library without the heft of reams of paper.
The keyboard takes up way too much screen real estate. What are we, Blackberries? Minuum is a custom keyboard that squeezes all the keys down at the very bottom of the screen. Fast and sloppy thumb-typing is rendered legible by its very smart predictive system that learns as you input more words over time, and you nearly double your free screen space to boot.
There’s a learning curve to using Minuum, but it’s surprisingly… minimal. Once you get the hang of it, the rewards of a free and clear screen are blissful.
Minimalism doesn’t mean no fun at all, far from it. There are a couple amazing zero-UI games out there (try Godville on for size, in which your hero explores, battles, and levels up without you doing anything whatsoever), but the most visually pleasing is Mountain.
Based on a couple quick finger drawings that you make, the app will generate your own personal mountain floating in space. It’s got its own ecosystem, weather cycles, and day and night patterns. Plants will grow and die. Sometimes odd objects will show up scattered across the landscape. You can zoom in and out, but apart from that, there’s not any interaction to be had. It’s very zen.
Occasionally, there will be a soft tone, and your mountain will speak to you. Mine just said “I can't remember what my last thought was.” That’s about the right speed for me.
Take the ultimate mobile minimalism plunge: Freedom allows you to lock yourself out of your own device. Specify an amount of time you want to be disconnected from phone functions, cell data, wifi data, and/or bluetooth, set the timer, and get on with the rest of your life.
You can tinker with the settings to allow you to reset the device and access data again in the case of an emergency - or you can go hardcore and disable this option. Go on, see how you feel upon turning off the constant background buzz of social apps, news feeds, messenger pings, and all the rest. There’s a reason it’s called Freedom.