What I Learned From My Instagram Cleanse

December 12, 2016

Without much warning or forethought, in mid-October, I decided to do an Instagram cleanse.

instagram cleanse

Let me preface by saying that I’ve been using Instagram personally but also as an extension of the blog. Using it to tout wellness messages, share blog posts and of course, post photos of Noe. It all started as fun and games, but slowly morphed into something I wasn’t very proud of and something I’m even less proud to admit, is that I allowed it to affect my life in a negative way.

When you play the Instagram game you start silently tallying engagement: likes, comments, reposts. You get obsessed with things like hashtags and the best time of day to post. You worry over filters and photo editing, captions and ultimately followers. Hoping that the number continues to tick up and feeling just awful when you lose 10, 15, 20 followers in one day.

It’s hard not to take it personally, wondering what you’re doing wrong and attempting to be nonchalant when you only see little bits of success.

This background is to say that I had become more than a little obsessed with the app over the past few months.

So, without thinking much about it or making a plan I simply took action on what’s been in the back of my mind for a while now…

I did an Instagram cleanse.

instgram cleanse

It started with a weekend break, which lead to another day and another day and another day. It turned out to be rather easy and quite refreshing. I did jump on from time to time to check in on some friends, like some cute baby photos and drool over some delicious eats, but letting go of personal posting felt like uncharted territory I needed to explore.

During this time I also took the notifications off my phone (which in and of themselves are kind of nuts). Why do I need to know the instant someone likes or comments on one of my photos? Who gives a rat’s ass? Apparently me and it was time to take the caring down a notch.

As you can see, my problem ran deep and fortunately or unfortunately, I don’t think I’m alone in my affliction. I read this blog post by a blogger and Instagrammer that I totally admire for her beautiful photos, who also grapples with this. The struggle can be real, even if in the grand scheme of the world it’s not all that important.

Anyway, back to the Instagram cleanse itself, as the weeks went on I noticed some shifts, lessons and realizations from my little experiment and thought I’d share, just in case you’re struggling as well.

  1. Not jumping on my phone the second I felt bored, anxious, unhappy or listless made me actually have to deal with these feelings.

    I honestly think this is broader than just Instagram and a problem with technology use in general. My phone is a distraction from feelings. When I stopped looking at my phone, I had to start looking my anxiousness in the face and figure out why there feelings were coming up. I had to go old school, simply put, I had to deal with my shit instead of running away from it.

  2. Not posting or worrying about taking the perfect photo made me a whole lot more present.

    I was suddenly capable of watching an entire movie without toggling my phone at the same time. I was able to have conversations with Michael without side glancing at my glowing screen telling me @smelltherosesinfrontofthisoldhouse liked my latest photo. It became refreshing to simply put my phone on the coffee table and leave it there.

  3. I stopped comparing so much.

    Instagram is a wonderful place for motivation and inspiration but it can also make you feel like absolute crap if you allow it. I think social media in general has a way of doing this. Wishing I had that clean white kitchen, the week’s vacation on the beach, the amazing looking latte. These are wonderful things to daydream over, they are terrible things to use as comparison of your own happiness and joy.

  4. Not being on my phone all the time made me realize how much everyone around me is.

    I ate lunch on a busy street in San Francisco the other day and in the course of 5 minutes I saw at least 20 people walking down a beautiful, sun-filled street with great people watching and they missed it. They were all looking down, they didn’t even look up to sidestep other people.

    I watched a couple sit at a table and eat their lunches without once looking up at one another or talking. Both spent the entire meal scrolling. I watched a woman mindlessly, and I mean with a fierceness and quickness I’ve never seen, inhale her meal with her phone in her other hand. (Now maybe she was in a rush or maybe she had just run 17 miles and was so hungry she couldn’t see straight but she wasn’t even chewing and it was mid-day on a Sunday with no place to be. She seemed unaware of her own action of eating).

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not immune to this behavior and am not saying I’m any better than the people above. I still struggle big time with this. But I have become more aware of what my technology addiction is doing to how I experience the world and more importantly, how it’s affecting the way Noe sees the world, and her mama.

    I’ve found myself less apt to pull out my phone when there’s a lull in our activities and being more conscious of how we react to these lulls. Usually these are opportunities to show her something new, watch her explore her surroundings or even become more aware of our surroundings myself. Turns out, the dancing shadows of leaves through late afternoon sun is still pretty mesmerizing and spectacular, even at 35.

  5. And finally, being off a social media platform that people have come to expect me on brought a lot of concerned texts, emails and calls.

    No, I didn’t mean to alarm anyone but I can also say that it felt really nice to be looked after by my friends and family. I ended up having hour-long conversations with two of my girlfriends on back to back days. We reconnected the way friends used to. Yes, it’s lovely to be able to see what’s going on with those near and dear to me any time I want and I don’t always have time to have hour-long conversations with friends but we should be using social media to nurture our friendships and relationships, not replace them.

    Social apps are beautiful tools for friendship check ins but they don’t replace the face to face or voice to voice-ness of relationships. These pieces are important too and as long as we have social media filling in the gaps, it’s easy to forget that friendships need real life tending to in order to flourish and grow.

So there you have it. What I learned from my 4 week Instagram cleanse. Since ending the self-imposed cleanse, I’ve gone back to posting photos, after all I still enjoy that aspect, I just won’t as seriously. I’ve continued to keep the notifications turned off and I’d like to keep monitoring my use of my phone in those lull moments.

If any of this resonates with you or you see yourself in me, I highly recommend taking an Instagram cleanse or a general social media break from your favorite app. Most of the people reading probably still remember a time when cell phones and the internet weren’t so readily available. There is something kind of refreshing about going back to that time. I encourage you to try it.

You Might Also Like


  • Reply Lisa Sell December 12, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    I haven’t really engaged with Instagram yet. It’s my intention to do so more next year and your post has certain ly helped me to know what to avoid and how to get the most out of it.

    • Reply Lisa December 13, 2016 at 1:51 pm

      Thanks Lisa, good luck with Instagram. It’s a great platform, despite my obsession with it 😉

  • Reply Jelena December 12, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    I loved the last one. So funny and true hahaha. We have all become so addicted to social media that it is basically impossible to leave it for good because that’s how one loses touch with friends but then again it is very good to go off of it every now and then and cleanse!

    • Reply Lisa December 13, 2016 at 1:52 pm

      Jelena, so so true! It’s hard to say goodbye to social media completely because so much of our lives are there. I personally just need to remember it’s an extension of my relationships, not the extent! Thanks for the comment!

  • Reply Katie Foley December 12, 2016 at 12:40 pm

    Such a good idea; I’ve been telling myself I was going to unplug from Facebook & Instagram for months just to rid myself of the unnecessary distractions! Why is it that these are the first things we think to resort to when we are bored or need something to focus on other than what’s happening right in front of us? Great read!

    • Reply Lisa December 13, 2016 at 1:54 pm

      I hear you Katie, I think it’s because it’s mindless and easy. I find so much more fulfillment in reading for 15 minutes before bed instead of scrolling but getting started on a book is so much harder, working on it 🙂

  • Reply Divine @ LadiesMakeMoney December 12, 2016 at 12:48 pm

    I have not started working on my Instagram game yet, but I will keep this in mind when I start.


    • Reply Lisa December 13, 2016 at 1:48 pm

      I hope it comes in handy Divine!

  • Reply ada December 12, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    I am so obsessed with Instagram that I am very impress people can actully can do what you did 😀 but you are so right, how people spend so much time o their phone or trying to take a perfect photo !

    • Reply Lisa December 13, 2016 at 1:47 pm

      Thanks Ada, it’s hard but really worth the experiment!

  • Reply Vy Tran December 12, 2016 at 1:30 pm

    It’s crazy to think how reliant we are on our phones & social media as if they were safety blankets. I try to divorce myself from my phone, but I have a lot of trouble sometimes, especially when I don’t have something else to distract me.

    • Reply Lisa December 13, 2016 at 1:46 pm

      Exactly Vy! The bigger question is, why do we need distractions in the first place? 🙂

  • Reply Callie December 12, 2016 at 1:32 pm

    I love this. I’ve been using IG mostly for personal until lately, but I did a complete cleanse for more than 2 weeks a while back. It was great, and now I don’t feel so tied to it!

    • Reply Lisa December 13, 2016 at 1:45 pm

      Isn’t it great Callie?! The untying and the breaking of a habit I didn’t even know I had has been the best part.

  • Reply Leighann December 12, 2016 at 2:15 pm

    This is great! I’ve considered just doing a whole social media cleanse for a little while, and I think it’d be an eye opener! It’s difficult sometimes because I live far away from family and friends, but maybe it’s more incentive to actually make phone calls, instead of sending FB or IG messages!

    • Reply Lisa December 13, 2016 at 1:44 pm

      Leighann, you should try it! It was really refreshing to talk on the phone and do Facetimes with friends and family instead of just relying on social media.

  • Reply Lindsey December 12, 2016 at 2:36 pm

    Yes! This is a great reminder to be present. It’s often easy to get caught up in our phone and social media but SO important to remember to step back and be present as well. Thank you for sharing this Lisa!

    • Reply Lisa December 13, 2016 at 1:43 pm

      Thanks Lindsey. It’s been really great for coming back to the present moment for sure.

  • Reply Christina Berger December 12, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    I guess a cleanse from social media is only necessary when it becomes crazy or hectic. A lot of people do not even realize how much life they can have outside of using their phones 24/7

    • Reply Lisa December 13, 2016 at 1:43 pm

      I think a cleanse can be good any time but especially when it becomes a little obsessive, like it did for me. There’s something nice about just putting my phone away.

  • Reply Melissa | Suitcase + Heels December 12, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    When I was travelling recently I hadn’t picked up a local SIM card so I was forced into a bit of an internet break while I was out and about during the day. The number of times that I would instinctually reach for my phone though when I was standing in line or otherwise waiting around was alarming. I think it’s good to take a break now and then.

    • Reply Lisa December 13, 2016 at 1:41 pm

      It’s so true Melissa, I find myself instinctually grabbing for my phone anytime there’s a second of down time. It’s important to sit in that discomfort and really tune in. I think travel is a great way to do this.

  • Reply Shannon December 12, 2016 at 8:22 pm

    Great post! I totally agree, and the comparison game is a dangerous one. I have done a Instagram cleanse and stopped following accounts that didn’t make me feel good. I want to follow people posting interesting and beautiful photos, not ads or selfies.

    • Reply Lisa December 13, 2016 at 1:40 pm

      Thanks Shannon! I completely agree about unfollowing those accounts that don’t bring you joy. I hate the follow for follow concept. I just want to build a like minded community that’s about lifting each other up, not comparison.

  • Reply Cristina L. December 12, 2016 at 11:32 pm

    Amazing article, thanks for sharing this.

    • Reply Lisa December 13, 2016 at 1:38 pm

      Thanks so much for reading Cristina!

  • Reply Beth | Adventuring the Great Wide Somewhere December 13, 2016 at 6:32 am

    This does sound super refreshing. Maybe I should turn off those push notifications as well! It’s interesting how this post functions as a social commentary. Sometimes I look around and see everyone on their phones, and it’s like Wall-E come to life! Yikes!

    • Reply Lisa December 13, 2016 at 1:38 pm

      You’re so right Beth! I feel like it’s such a social norm to be on your phone everywhere you go now a days. It almost seems weird when someone isn’t. I very much recommend taking off the push notifications, it was incredibly nice to be the one to choose when I got my Instagram fix, instead of it coming at me all the time.

  • Reply Nicole December 13, 2016 at 10:04 am

    I wish I could do this, but I feel like my blog has not taken off enough for me to continually ignore my phone! There is certainly a balance though, thanks for sharing!
    xx nicole

    • Reply Lisa December 13, 2016 at 1:36 pm

      Hi Nicole, I would definitely not consider my blog to have taken off enough either. But it really helped me gain perspective and totally agree, it’s all about balance! xx Lisa

    Leave a Reply