Six Steps To A Minimalist iPhone (or Smart Phone)

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”  ~Hans Hofmann

I recently shattered my iPhone screen beyond repair and my decision to replace the phone wasn’t easy.  I always look for ways to simplify my life and the iPhone is filled with so many bells and whistles that I questioned whether I really needed it.

The truth is, I don’t need an iPhone.  Most of us don’t.  iPhones, other smart phones, even cell phones in general are usually a convenience and not a need.

But, I still decided to purchase a new iPhone.  After giving it some thought, I realized that my iPhone actually allows me to live a more minimalist life.  Why?

  • The Contacts and Calendar apps save me from having to carry around a paper phone book and schedule.
  • The built in camera is usually sufficient for my needs, eliminating the waste of buying and carrying around another camera.  The same applies for the built in video camera.
  • Those pictures and videos I take are conveniently saved on my phone, so I can show off my new son without having to carry around a wallet filled with photos.  I prefer a minimalist wallet.
  • The built in iPod means I don’t have to purchase or carry around a separate iPod or MP3 player.
  • As much as I love my Kindle, it’s a little bulky to carry around all the time.  With the iPhone Kindle app, I can read my books anytime and anywhere.
  • As a writer, I’m always jotting down ideas.  The Voice Memos and Notes apps have eliminated the need for me to carry around a pen and paper.
  • I no longer have an alarm clock cluttering up my bedside table.  The iPhone alarm does the job perfectly.  As an added bonus, eliminating the glowing light of an alarm clock has helped me to sleep better.

While the iPhone has many advantages for a minimalist, it can also be a minimalist’s nemesis.  Chances are you use your phone many times a day, maybe even hundreds.  If you allow apps to accumulate, games to waste your time, alerts to distract you and phone screens to become filled with icons you never use, the iPhone can rob you of the valued time and de-cluttered lifestyle minimalists aspire to.  So how do you make your iPhone a minimalist tool?

Here are six steps to a minimalist iPhone:

1. Silence your alerts
Unless you need to know about emails and messages for work purposes, turn off your alerts.  Constant email, facebook, twitter and other message alerts distract you from work, enjoying the company your with, or simply being present in the moment.

2. Clear the clutter for one week
Move all icons from your home screen and second screen, and put them on your third page (fourth page, fifth page, etc. if needed).  This means your home screen and second screen will be empty.  The only exception to this step is your Phone icon, which you can leave on your dock as illustrated in the photo at the top of this post. But moving all those icons will make them difficult to access, you say?  Exactly.  Read on…

3. Search for a week
For one week, whenever you need to access a contact name, calendar item, iPhone feature or app, simply search.  From your home screen swipe right or press your on/home button and your search screen will appear.  Type in whatever you’re looking for and voila, there you have it.

4. Categorize your apps
Throughout the week, take note of the apps you use on a regular basis.  Some you’ll frequently search for, others you’ll forget about.  At the end of the week, categorize all of the apps on your phone into one of three categories – Daily, Occasional or Never.

5. Purge your apps
The apps in your Never category probably don’t need to be on your iPhone.  Consider removing them all together.  Remember that you can still keep them in iTunes should you ever change your mind and want to add them back on your iPhone.

You’ll need to be ruthless with the apps in your Occasional category.  Do you really need them or can they be removed from your iPhone?  This is no different than de-cluttering a minimalist home.  Chances are that this category includes games.  They’re nice to have, but you don’t really need them.  Sure it can be fun to play a game from time to time, but be honest with yourself.  Do you spend too much time gaming?  Would that time be better spend reading, connecting with friends or even meditating?  If so, eliminate the game temptation and remove the app from your phone.

The apps you’ve categorized as Daily are keepers.  But remember that times change.  An app that you use regularly today could end up in your Never category a couple of months down the road.  Be sure to review and categorize your apps regularly to avoid clutter.

6. Organize your screens
Now that you’ve eliminated the apps you don’t really need or want, it’s time to organize your phone screens.

Dock – Your dock should include only  those apps that you use most frequently throughout the day.  My dock now includes my Phone, Email, and Text Message apps.

Home Screen – Your home screen should be reserved for apps that you use daily.  Keep it clean and clutter free.  My home screen includes only my iPod, Facebook, Calendar and Clock apps.  That’s all.

Second Screen – Your second screen should be home to those apps you use weekly, but not daily.  My second screen includes apps such as Camera, Photos, Weather, Kindle and Contacts.

Third Screen – Your third screen is a great place to put all those apps that you rarely use, but can’t bring yourself to remove from your phone.  Review this screen from time to time and de-clutter as necessary.


When organizing your screens, use the iPhone’s folder feature that lets you place multiple apps into one folder icon. This is a great way to de-clutter your Third Screen of all those default apps you never use but can’t be deleted, like Stocks.

Remember that once you’ve de-cluttered and organized your iPhone, the search feature can still be used to easily access apps anywhere on your phone.

iPhones and other smart phones can be great minimalist tools when used effectively, but no two users or their phones will be alike.  Follow steps 1 to 3 for a week to get a true sense of which apps you need, then use steps 4 to 6 and create your minimalist phone.

How has your iPhone or smart phone helped you live a minimalist life?

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  1. We are on parallel paths… I recently bought an iPod so I did not have to lug around my netbook when traveling. Like you, I like the reader, movie, music and some apps that make things more compact and efficient.

    I did look at the iPhone, and would have loved to go that route. However, the price of an iPhone without a plan is steep, and I could not justify the expense when I have a perfectly good phone.

    I’ve organized my iPod much like your iPhone… daily/often used on first screen, second screen for apps that are nice and used less frequencly, thirds screen for folders by theme – these last ones willl likely be removed, when the novelty of this new toy wears off! 😉

    • Jason Billows |

      It certainly is fun and a “novelty” as you put it, but it’s also a great and functional tool when you use it as such, which it sounds like you’re doing.

      Good call on the ipod vs. iphone. No point in ditching a phone and throwing money away on a plan when you have a perfectly good phone.

  2. Great post Jason with great tips. I often find my iPhone is a curse as much as it is a blessing, but I know I will never go back to any other phone! Like you, I find it is actually such a convenience — most of the time. I like your tips for organizing and prioritizing apps, as I tend to get overwhelmed with a lot of useless clutter on the phone. It’s striking to see that picture of the lone icon! Thanks for sharing.

    • Jason Billows |

      Even more striking than the image of the lone icon screen was using it that way the first day. It did take adjusting, but after a couple of days it was definitely a blessing. I wasted much less time playing with apps that I just forgot about. It was definitely a wake up call.

      Thanks for the feedback on the post.

  3. Love the tips. I’m going to try this tonight. Thanks!

    • Jason Billows |

      I’m glad you found the post helpful. Please be sure to let us know if you have any tips of your own.

  4. Great tips!!! Do you mind taking screen shots of your screens?

  5. I asked Uncle Google to find me information on “minimalist smartphone” and this blog post was the second link. I’ve started down this path already with my iPhone, and plan to use some of your ideas to move further down the road. What good is a digital retinue if it always pesters you with thinks you should not think about at that moment?

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