Much like my colleague Liana Satenstein, I’ve never been a huge fan of the much-exalted Kondo method. For some, the chance to purge unwanted items can be genuinely spiritually healing, but I tend to feel nothing but misery when I’m forced to part with anything of any degree of significance (including old CVS receipts, depending on what I bought and who I was with).
“I am holding on,” Satenstein wrote of her perennially messy desk last year, back when we still commuted to the Vogue offices, and I can relate; even with unlimited time at home, I’ve found it difficult to get rid of even the most outdated and useless of physical possessions. Luckily, the one place where I am a minimalist is on social media; ever since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. in March, I’ve discovered the ineffable joy of paring my Twitter and Instagram down to the point where I’m only following accounts I genuinely enjoy.
But how do you do that? After all, isn’t hate-following that girl from your old job who once ate your yogurt at least half of the point of social media? And how do you opt out of the updates of college acquaintances you don’t particularly care about, without going so far as to formally unfollow and make the next reunion super-awkward?
The answer, my friends, is muting, and let me say it once for posterity: muting is good. Muting is free, easy, hurts nobody, and—if you do it right—can genuinely protect your mental health. Until this year, I’d saved muting only for exes I was still on “good terms” with, yet still felt heartbroken enough about to spontaneously dissolve into tears every time I saw one of their tweets; as I made my way through this spring alone, though, I began to realize that actually, I could mute anyone, any time I wanted.
At first, I mainly reserved my muting for friends of friends who persisted in flouting social-distancing guidelines on Instagram, crowding 10 unmasked people into a room above the caption “socially distanced!” or traveling constantly between states with seemingly no concern for the potential COVID exposure they represented. I didn’t want to turn into an insufferable Instagram scold (with people I barely knew, no less), but I also…didn’t want to see that content. So I muted, and suddenly, my feed looked more like the quiet life I was experiencing; it was markedly easier to spend almost all my time at home when I wasn’t being taunted by the constant reminder that other people weren’t.
Once I’d weeded out the quar-flouters from my feed, I turned my attention to Twitter. Don’t get me wrong, I love Twitter very much, and feel nothing but gratitude for the friends, dates and jobs it’s brought into my life, but the app is also … a hellhole, particularly in the pandemic era. While muting rule-breakers had brought me peace on Instagram, muting overly smug rule-followers—the kind of young, healthy people who brag that they “haven’t left their house since March,” with seemingly no concern for the imperiled gig workers whose labor is required to meet their at-home needs—calmed me down on Twitter.
With my Instagram and Twitter free of pandemic-era pests, I refocused on the accounts that weren’t necessarily doing anything wrong or frustrating with regards to COVID-19, but certainly weren’t enriching my life. Did I really need to follow six different Instagram-celesbian couples whose domestic bliss only served to underscore my own uneasy singledom? No, not really.? No, not really. Was a constant view into the life of a middle-school classmate who’d gotten alarmingly obsessed with “clean eating” really necessary? Probably not. I don’t have enough negative sentiment for these accounts to full-on unfollow them (not that they’d notice or care), but I have to admit, I’m enjoying their daily absence.
When I see people melting down and becoming the main character on Twitter, I can’t help thinking, “Do they not know about the mute button?” Obviously, it’s hard to pry social-media drama apart from regular-life drama, especially as we’ve come to rely on Twitter and Instagram more than ever throughout this pandemic, but my newfound obsession with muting has reminded me that my social media use is a choice; I can choose to let it drive me bananas, or I can mute with abandon and actually enjoy my time on Instagram. (Keep in mind, people don’t know when you’ve muted them on Twitter or Instagram, so really, it’s a victimless crime.)
One day, when I’m a little more stable (and allowed to gather with my friends indoors again), maybe I’ll go through and unmute all of the accounts I found fault with over the last year. Or maybe I’ll keep my Instagram and Twitter feeds divinely pruned forever, logging on only to interact with my friends, glean new pie recipes, and enjoy spookily precise targeted ads. What a world that would be!