A practical guide to decluttering your social media identity

With a few exceptions, I habitually declutter. When I swap my summer clothes and winter clothes, I go through the closest and dresser drawers, willingly cleaning out and donating anything that no longer fits or I haven’t worn the last season. I like a clean kitchen counter, pretty much all the time. I like a made bed, an organized book shelf. We have a junk drawer, but I’ve thought about cleaning it out and repurposing it numerous times. Mostly, I just don’t like having a lot of extra “stuff” out and around just for the sake of having the extra stuff.

social mediaIt’s for this reason that, sometimes, social media stresses me out! This may sound funny coming from someone who keeps a blog. But social media is inherently cluttered. My pictures, other’s pictures. My statuses, other’s statuses. Advertisements. Sponsored posts. Celebrities. Pages. News. Fake news. Memories. Stories. Boards. Group boards. There is A LOT going on in the realm of social media, and it’s A LOT to keep track of.

What’s more, is that while social media is a place for connection, it’s also a place for comparison. Whose “stuff” is best? People’s pictures look better. People’s statuses are cleverer. Political opinions run rampant. I miss people’s birthdays I have no business missing because Facebook reminds me about them, and then I feel worse for having missed them without an excuse other than I didn’t check my social media pages. I feel obligated to respond to friend requests from people I haven’t talked to in years, despite the fact that there’s probably a reason that we haven’t kept in touch.

Social media profiles are a running record of what has been and who has been, and while sometimes it’s fun to have a record of such things, sometimes it’s good to “clean out the closet” and move on from things that no longer serve their purpose, or no longer fit. Decluttering your online identity doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive (though there are services out there that you can pay to scrub the record clean should you find you need a true fresh slate!). Here are four ways you can declutter your online presence today to make sure you’re really who you want to be online and can start getting more out of your social media experiences.

the music of the future
Figure out what platforms work best for you, and get rid of the rest

The last five years were a bit of a social media renaissance, with new platforms being introduced all the time. Those that became most successful did so because they filled some niche in which users were convinced they needed to connect. Facebook was a place for friends, Instagram a place for photos. LinkedIn was a place for professionals, Google+ a place for…wait, did anyone use Google+? Pinterest was a place to collect ideas, reddit a place to discuss them. I, like many, signed up for all of them,because that’s what social media was for, connecting with all different kinds of people in all different kinds of places. But participating in so many different circles was not only impractical (after all, it takes time to participate in each sphere) it wasn’t even what I was interested in.

As soon as I had a profile on LinkedIn, for example, a lot of people I knew started trying to connect with me. Some of these people were also people I was “friends” with on Facebook, and followed on Twitter and/or Instagram. I quickly realized, I didn’t want or need to connect with them in another way, and, as I had built networks of colleagues and other educators on other platforms, I didn’t really need the professional social network platform either. I deleted the account. After a brief stint on reddit, I dropped it as well. I also got off tumblr. Figuring out what you want out of your social media can help you eliminate what you don’t. And figuring out where you don’t want or need to be any more, can help you declutter those profiles that aren’t working for you.

Purge your friend list

When I first started a Facebook profile back in college, it made sense to try to connect with as many people as possible. Grade school friends, high school friends, new college friends, family members, colleagues, I friended them all. As the years went on, the number of friends I had grew exponentially as I connected with friends of friends. The number of genuine connections I had with people, however, remained relatively the same. Needless to say, a lot of the people I initially connected with, no longer play a very instrumental role in my life. And we’ve all changed a lot since that first friend request. After a while, I found some of the things that most set me off on Facebook, things like: overtly inflammatory political posts; sharing fake news; using vulgar, derogatory language; and overt prejudice or bias, were shared by people I was “friends” with, but with whom I no longer had a real relationship, or with whom I hadn’t spoken in years. In purging my friends, I eliminated over 300 hundred connections I’d made over the years. I’m certain that very few of them even noticed they “lost” a friend.

It might seem counterintuitive to start unfriending Facebook friends, but doing so drastically affected my experience for the better. I’m still friends with over 400 people on Facebook, and we’re certainly not all best friends, but we do all, at least, share a common conversational decency and some common interests that make it a worthwhile network to participate in.

Scrub your Twitter

There’s a reason celebrities do this, some on a semi-regular basis! I first started my Twitter account when I was in college. I used it very intermittently. Then I needed it again when I was in graduate school, during which I posted a fair amount. After finishing my master’s I strayed from it again, but decided I should go back to it when I was getting ready to launch this blog as another way to share posts and drive traffic. When I signed back on, however, I realized that anyone who went to my profile and looked through my previous tweets wouldn’t have a clue who I was, how I was using my account, or how it connected to ink. Furthermore, a lot of those original tweets from college that were so clever at the time, now seemed silly and obsolete.

While there’s always the option to start from scratch, anyone who’s ever lost their phone contacts and had to start over collecting the information from people they might want to get in touch with knows that a blank slate isn’t always the best option. Services like Cardigan allow you to go back through your old tweets and choose ones to delete. A recent update also now provides an option for “unliking” tweets that were previously liked on another’s feed. This allows the user to keep their name, followers, list of those they follow, and any direct messages, but cleans up the “front end” record of what has been shared, and declutter those tweets that maybe don’t seem as laughable at 30 years old as they did at 22.

Is this the most sophisticated “scrubbing” option? No. Will it work for 90% of average users? It certainly should!

Make sure your profiles reflect who you are today, not who you were when you first made them  

I believe that this is where the majority of social media clutter resides, in things that were once important, no longer are, and yet continue to linger for years. The big, obvious one here, I think, is past relationships. Are the pictures gone? They should be! If you want to make an argument about keeping them, drop me a note in the comments. But I think it’s like this, if you wouldn’t keep the physical evidence of the relationship around (that is, you’ve given back their stuff, taken down their pictures, blocked their calls, etc.) don’t keep the digital evidence around either!

The same should be said about embarrassing photos and pictures you just plan don’t like. Why in the world would you hold onto them just to have them?

The same should be said about your Pinterest boards. Did you start a “my future wedding” board for a wedding you imagined with someone you’re no longer with? Did you try a vegan diet (and corresponding board) only to discover that it wasn’t for you? Let it go! I threw away the edamame spaghetti because it was so bad that I swore I’d never eat it again…so why would I keep the pin?

It’s also worthwhile to go back through what information your social media pages have stored about you over the years. Remember that every click, every like, every share, is tracked and used to provide content that is supposed be relevant to you. If what was relevant to you now is the same as what was relevant to you when you first started your profile, you’re all set. But if it’s not, than it’s time to declutter the archives of things that no longer matter in your world and social media experience. You can find this information a variety of ways.

Option one, download your data from Facebook and learn exactly who has your information and how it’s being used. Option two, check your ad preferences. I find this fascinating! Facebook will show you its list of your perceived interests sorted by category, as well as what advertisers you’ve interacted with. A brief scan of mine showed Facebook very accurately identified my affinity for cooking, traveling, and books, but less accurately believes me to be interested in horror movies, the circulatory system (I mean I guess I’m not uninterested), and tanning beds. You can easily clean out those things that no longer apply by selecting the “X” next to each item. Google also has an ad preferences setting. Check your history here.

Of course, if you feel like maybe all this technology isn’t worth it anymore, (and there’s a relatively creepy site that allows you to see all the data that social media and Google can collect from you just from your signing on the computer which might convince you of this point!) you can always choose to go social media free! My husband did it six months ago, and swears there’s not a day he misses it. Assuming you’re not ready to let it go entirely, however, at least take a few steps to make sure it really represents you, it really reflects your interests, and it really works for what you want to get out of it.

Now might not be the best time to mention you can always connect with ink. via Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest! 😉 Check the icons in the right sidebar!

Or don’t…whatever works for you!



Published by Kate

A former Wisconsinite, Kate now resides in southeast Minnesota with her husband where she teaches high school English and theater. She recently completed her master's degree in learning design and technology, and continues to study and advocate for arts integration in the classroom. A recipient of the RISE America grant for high school theater, Kate is working to innovate and expand theater opportunities for the students at PIHS. An avid distance runner, concert pianist, and want-to-be wine aficionado, Kate's blog "ink." is a passion project, embodying all the best parts of life: friends, food, wine, thoughtful conversation, style, and sass!

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