Practical Spiritual Practices: The December Purge

Spirituality is a complicated beast, often especially so for queer people who don’t feel accepted in the religions into which they were born. As a queer woman brought up...

Spirituality is a complicated beast, often especially so for queer people who don’t feel accepted in the religions into which they were born. As a queer woman brought up by a lapsed cradle Catholic and a vaguely atheist agnostic in a household without religion, my own spirituality has been hard-won. Prayer has always been a mystery to me, and for most of my life, religious services of any kind were more anxiety-inducing than calming. Out of this, however, I’ve gathered a handful of practical spiritual practices: things that bring me peace or help me along my spiritual journey without feeling hokey or overly tied to a particular religion.

One practice I find incredibly spiritually rewarding is a yearly clearing-out of my life, so to speak – specifically my online life. Like an online version of spring cleaning, my purge takes place in December as a nod to the incoming year. If you have a new year of your own (Diwali, the Lunar New Year, or the Islamic New Year, for example), feel free to adjust the dates to your liking. The process and purpose, however, remain the same: to clear the dust and junk from your online life.

I specify online life because cleaning out your physical home is much more complicated. The minimalism and “tiny living” movements are often drenched in classism; when your resources are limited, throwing things away that could be useful later is wasteful and ridiculous. But for those of us who have extensive online lives, a regular purge is useful.

Pick any social media platform you use to start. Think about what you really want to gain from using that platform. Meeting new people? Staying connected with friends? Reading the news? Engaging in fandom? Then look at your list of friends or people you follow, one by one. Make sure they connect to your goal. Do you really want to be Facebook friends with someone you had class with in college? Sure, you could just hide their posts, but that’s clunky. Unfriend them. Repeat for the people you follow on Tumblr, on Twitter, on Instagram. Repeat for your Facebook friends, your Skype contacts, the blogs in your RSS feed. And so on.

The last time I did a Tumblr purge, it was excruciatingly difficult. I had found myself following at least a hundred blogs whose content I no longer cared about but whose owners I cared about deeply. My time on Tumblr was wasted scrolling past things I didn’t want to read or see, but the bloggers mattered to me. We weren’t friends, strictly speaking; I’d never spoken directly with most of them. But I care about people easily and deeply. And they mattered. What I finally managed to do was to sit quietly with that list and individually, silently wish each person the best as I unfollowed them. Saying that private prayer was the key to cleaning out my own online experience without feeling as though I was abandoning them.

The purge should not end with social media, however. If you have a smartphone, take a serious look at your apps. Do you actually use the Pandora app? Did you download the Delta app for one flight and never delete it? Now is the time. Both iPhones and Androids often have a handful of preloaded apps you can’t delete; those you don’t use can all be placed in a folder to keep the space looking clean.

Once you’re feeling especially brave, tackle your music collection, the documents on your computer, and your email. Here are some options for apps that consolidate your email, but sometimes the best choice is to just create folders and then delete, delete, delete. Unsubscribe from mailing lists, too!

Whether you take the purge seriously and clean out your social media, your email, your documents, your music collection, and your smartphone, or if you just pick one to focus on, do a little personal inventory in the process. It probably feels better to not have clutter on your Twitter feed or your vague acquaintances as Facebook friends, but you may also find some surprises. Maybe you don’t have to skip every other song when your music library is on shuffle. Maybe you discover an old piece of writing while organizing your documents. Maybe you find nothing special except a new understanding of your priorities.

I certainly don’t mean to claim that cleaning out your online life will lead to a spiritual revelation. It might, of course; anything could. But what I find is that it reduces some of the low-level anxiety that hovers around me throughout the day. I don’t have to expend emotional energy acting like I care about people or subjects that don’t matter to me. When I’m following fewer people on Tumblr and Instagram, I have more time to read the long-form pieces and blog posts that speak to me (like this one). And that’s what brings me joy.

Your turn! Tell me the longest you’ve hate-followed someone, the most useless app you’ve ever left on your phone, or the most emails you’ve ever deleted from your inbox in the comments below. And whatever your interactions online, I hope you find peace and joy in the coming year.

Image Courtesy of Alexander van Dijk, via Wikimedia Commons