How to Live Without a Smartphone in 2020

If just wondering “how to survive without your smartphone” made your heart leap into your throat… you’re not alone.

Especially in this COVID-era, when smartphones can be both lifelines AND an even greater soul-suck than usual, it can be even more difficult to keep your smartphone from getting its grubby hands on your sanity.

This life without smartphone essay will teach you how to survive without your smartphone so you don't have to laugh incredulously like this mustached man.

“Take my smartphone away?  Ha!  No.  Errr… wait.  You’ll give me more time?  Ummm… okay.  Maybe I do want to hear this ‘how to survive without your smartphone’ business.  Carry on.”  photo: gratisography

Smartphones have become a defacto modern convenience – like dishwashers, washing machines, microwaves, cars, and Keurigs. Many readers own all of the latter and couldn’t imagine being happy without them. Other readers are joyfully:

  • washing their small set of dishes by hand
  • using time at the laundromat to read a great book
  • heating up their food on a stove or in a toaster oven
  • getting exercise every time they leave the house, or…
  • using commute time to read, think, or listen to new ideas
  • making their coffee by boiling water and pouring it over crushed beans
Living without a smartphone gives you more control over your attention, which in turn gives you more control over your time... so you can spend more time doing things we all love - like drinking hot beverages outside in gorgeous places.

Whoa. What if life-without-smartphone made it possible to do more slowing down and more enjoying of places like this? Can we live without smartphones? Can we? photo: matthew sleeper

We overvalue convenience, not noticing how it actually robs us of many of the things we most want:

  • time for new ideas
  • slowing down
  • a body that likes and gets regular movement
  • connection
  • habitual gratitude

If you’re serious about getting your time and attention back…
If you’re serious about living without a smartphone in 2020…
…saddle up and read on!

"Why you don't need a smartphone" and more in this life without smartphone essay. Saddle up and ride off into the sunset... free from the attention and time suck of a smartphone!

photo: alex wigan

Life without Smartphone:
Step 1 –  What is Your Why?

Good luck trying to accomplish anything in life without first knowing why you’re doing it.

If you’re even remotely inspired to figure out how to survive without your smartphone, it’s because you know it’s keeping you from living your values. But what are those values?

There’s an exercise I call “How to Have Time to Do Everything” that helps you identify what the most important things are to you in life.
The prompts will help you get a picture of how you’re budgeting your time. Follow the steps to illuminate what you most want in life.  Then you’ll know “why” you’re wondering how to survive without your smartphone.

Go give it a try!

Life without Smartphone:
Step 2 – What are Your Wants?

Now that you’re back, what’s at the top of your list?

Me: friends and family, health, cooking, eating, meditation, yoga, reading, and unstructured time for adventures, wandering, and exploring.

I’m not saying these are the things I’m doing. Just the things I say I most want to do.
How about you? What do you want more time for in your life?

Life without Smartphone:
Step 3 – Substitutions

You should now have a list of the things you most want in life. How many of these things require a smartphone? On my list, not a single thing requires a smartphone. I could certainly find a way to use one, but I can have and I can do all the things I want to have and do using alternatives.

  • Friends and Family
    Keeping in touch with these folks or making plans requires communicating. I text or call from my little Nokia or from my computer using Google voice.
  • Health
    Instead of using a zillion apps to track my steps, calories, workouts, etc. I use offline techniques.  I have a spreadsheet where I write down what I did for exercise each day, so I don’t need to track my steps.  Instead of counting calories, I stopped eating fructose to control my appetite and got in on the intermittent fasting health craze.  My workouts are a six month program that I have written down on three sheets of paper.  I listen to music on an iPod.  If I really need to “map my run,” I use google maps on the computer.
Can we live without smartphones? Yes! Of course! This life without smartphone essay has substitutions for things people often think they need a smartphone to do - e.g. go on a run at sunrise like this woman

I also run for time instead of distance, which keeps life without a smartphone very simple.  I love it!  photo: seth macey

  • Cooking
    When I need a recipe, I crack open a cookbook, call someone, or look it up on the computer.
  • Eating
    I manage this without leveraging a smartphone… I bet you do, too!
  • Meditation
    Instead of an app, I use techniques from a book that I’ve scribbled down on a scrap of paper I’ve been carrying around since 2012.  To get me in the headspace to meditate – instead of guided instructions – I do some Wim Hof Breathing.
This life without smartphone essay will explain why you don't need a smartphone and how to survive without your smartphone. Pretty soon you'll be meditating by the water just like this woman, blissfully smartphone free!

Just chillin’ like a villian doing my Wim Hof Breathing. If I, in my life without a smartphone, forget my piece of paper with my meditation prompts… I just pick one I remember from the list! photo: kalen emsley

  • Yoga
    I really love my yoga videos.  I use YouTube on my computer.  There are downloadable yoga videos and also yoga cards.  Oh, and yoga classes.
  • Reading
    I adore having a book in my hands.  I love being able to turn back a few pages or several chapters to re-read something that’s suddenly relevant.  The batteries never die on my books.  I never forget to charge them.  When I forget my book on-the-go or think it’s too heavy to carry, I just stare out the window, strike up a conversation, think about my day, pay attention to my posture, or enjoy some people watching.

    This life without smartphone essay explains how to live without a smartphone. It provides alternatives for all the things people use smartphones for like reading books. There are so many benefits of living without a smartphone, which this life without smartphone essay covers

    The benefits of living without a smartphone are numerous.  Sure, you give up a little convenience.  But you gain health, sanity, time for new ideas, the ability to be more present… exactly the things most of us long for!  photo: gaelle marcel

  • Adventures/Wandering/Exploring
    I love walking, biking, running, driving, or wandering with friends into new territory.  I love just turning down a road or path based on intuition.  When I’m trying to get to a specific place for an adventure, I will either look up the directions on the computer before leaving home, bring a map, ask someone who knows how to get there, or stop and ask for directions.

Life without Smartphone:
Step 4 – Remember Your Why.
Remember Your Real Wants

Here’s the scary part where you realize that getting what you value and what you want… might mean leaving behind lesser wants that didn’t make the cut in the How to Have Time To Do Everything exercise.

I’m just guessing “spending twenty minutes five times a day mindlessly scrolling Facebook or Instagram looking at pictures of the stuff people you barely know (say they) are doing with their lives” didn’t make it on to your list of wants?  What about:

  • Twitter?
  • Tinder?
  • Flipboard?
  • Taking 400 photos of your cat or every meal you eat?
  • Pintrest?
  • Candy Crush?

If the thought of giving up your daily Instagram binges is making you want to withdraw your previous claim that you want to spend more time with friends and family or going on adventures….

If your heart is beating faster at the thought of no longer scrolling your Facebook newsfeed several times a day…

It’s not because you like those activities.
It’s because you’re addicted to them.

Here's how to survive without a smartphone. Living without a smartphone is actually pretty easy when you realize you don't really need it for most the things you want to do.

I’m going to call my mom… just as soon as I finish this level.  Oh man, I really need to get changed into my gym clothes.  I’ll just check Facebook real quick.  Gosh, I really should do my meditation… just as soon as I’m done pinning all these awesome meditation articles!  photo: bruno cervera

Can I challenge you to consider that you don’t even like your Facebook or Instagram binges – you didn’t even put them on the list of things you most want to do with your time.  But now that you’re being asked to give them up, are your feelings shifting?

Smartphones make self-defeating behaviors… highly accessible.

In How the Internet Tricks You Into Wasting Your Life, I explain how all these platforms are designed to manipulate you.  They know exactly what it takes to trigger the pleasure center in your brain, giving you momentary “highs” that keep you coming back for more… even though using the platforms leaves you vaguely unfulfilled and out of time to do the things you really want to do.

You’ll only miss your addictive platforms for a few weeks… until the dopamine loops fade and are replaced by life’s actual, genuine pleasures.

One mom described watching a smartphone suck away life’s genuine pleasures from her son.   She said, “In his [new] phone, Chase had found a place easier to exist in than inside his own skin.  That was tragic, because inside the itchiness of our own skin is where we discover who we are.  When we are bored, we ask ourselves: What do I want to do with myself?  We are guided toward certain things: a pen and paper, a guitar, the forest, a soccer ball, a spatula.  Right after itchy boredom is self-discovery.

That mom is author Glennon Doyle, and she talks about it in her heart-exploding, New York Times Bestseller:

Now that we’ve

  • established the way smartphones keep us from knowing ourselves
  • addressed the reluctance to break away from addictive platforms & apps

…let’s talk about that final gremlin.  Usefulness!

Life without Smartphone:
Step 5 – Go Without

I know.  Your smartphone is useful.  Hella useful.

Many fear life without a smartphone would mean never getting to check the weather or the time.  Never getting to take photos.  Never getting to listen to podcasts.  Never getting calendar alerts.  Not being able to watch YouTube or listen to music.  Not being able to take a Lyft or Uber.  Not being able to use the maps apps to get places.  Not being able to manage your money.  Not being able to get your boarding pass at the airport.  Not being able to write down every cool idea, book suggestion, or info nugget you come across.  Not being able to ask questions of Siri or Shazam.

Whoa, whoa, whoa.  Hold. Up.  Calm down.


Thinking about how to survive without your smartphone sends many people into a panic. You're okay. Follow this woman's example, and calm down. Let's talk about living without a smartphone. Can we live without smartphones? This life without smartphone essay has the answers and the action plan for you.

Does asking “Can we live without smartphones” send you into a panic?  Whoa, Nelly.  Let’s not forget the most important parts of our human lives have been taking places for thousands of years… without smartphones. photo: allef vinicius

I check the time.  I look at clocks on the wall.  I glance at the grocery clerk’s computer screen.  I ask the person standing next to me.  I could get real crazy and buy a watch!

I check the weather when it really matters – planning which day of the week a friend and I are going to go for a hike.  I use my computer to do it.  But mostly, the weather is going to be what it is, whether I check it or not.  I work indoors.  And since you’re reading a long form article, demographics say you probably do, too.  It’s okay not to have the weather forecast at your fingertips.

We don't actually need smartphones to tell us weather forecasts. People as if we can live without smartphones and fear doing so would mean going back to primitive living... like predicting the weather using something like this weather vane. The life without smartphone essay proves otherwise!

When we talk about living without a smartphone, immediately people’s minds go to what they might lose. Weather forecasts.  Clocks.  Notifications.  Oh my!  But what about what we might gain?  There are so many benefits of living without a smartphone that (in my opinion and experience) outweigh the tiny conveniences that we might lose. photo: jordan ladikos

I take photos with a camera.

I listen to podcasts with my iPod or on my computer.

I get calendar alerts from an actual calendar that I look at every morning when I get up, every time someone asks me to make plans throughout the day, each time I remember I need to do something or run an errand, and every night before bed.

How to survive without your smartphone tip #7 - writing things down (vs. entering them electronically) may actually help you process life more efficiently - says this life without smartphone essay - even though using something like this pen-and-paper calendar can seem less efficient.

I know. Seems cray cray, right? Pen and paper? Soooo inefficient! And wasteful, right? But hear me out. You wouldn’t believe the extraordinary number of successful people who stick to pen and paper (a process that apparently causes your brain to encode things differently). photo: hope house press

I listen to music and watch YouTube on my computer or on my iPod.

I take Lyft or Uber when I’m out with my friends.  Other times, I build the relationships in my life by succumbing to the vulnerability of asking for help.  Other times I use one of these methods for requesting a Lyft or Uber without a smartphone.

I look at a map before I go somewhere new.  I write down direction cues on a piece of paper if necessary.  I stop and ask for directions along the way.  I’m forced to pay attention to my surroundings as I navigate them.  Whether it’s a one-mile trip or a several hundred mile journey.  Or a city I’ve never been to before.

In a world without smartphones, what would we do? We'd go back to depending on each other instead of a little computer. We'd be forced to connect. And according to this life without smartphone essay... we'd like it! Just like these old folks talking with canes have learned.

Conversation with other humans used to be cause for celebration instead of an opportunity to feel awkward. (If this is you, consider reading “How to Talk to People at Parties [and in Public].”) Not having a smartphone keeps me engaged with those around me and brings lots of joy to my life! And most people discover this nugget of truth eventually in their lives. The sooner the better, but it’s never too late! photo: cristina gottardi

I manage my money with a pretty simple spreadsheet.  I could use my bank’s report.  I could use a website on my computer.  I could use this hilarious lady’s solid advice and Google Docs.

I get my boarding pass from a machine or a human at the airport.

I write down ideas, book suggestions, and other new information on pieces of paper, in a document on my laptop… or… I let them go!

In a world without smartphones, we'd discover that - just as this can we live without mobile phones essay says - that life without smartphone is actually a really good life. Life without pen and paper and glasses pictured here would actually be much harder than life without smartphones!

Life without a smartphone: reddit has discussed it at length.  Irony, no?  I promise you.  Not only is pen and paper still an effective way of keeping track of ideas and lists… it might actually be betterphoto: david travis

I ask questions of the people around me, of Google if the computer is handy, on the phone with someone I know who might know the answer, or… I let them go!

No, I can’t do these all of things everywhere I want, anytime I want.  But that capability is not on my list of things I most want to spend my time doing.  It’s probably not on yours either.

Yes.  Without a smartphone, you can’t do as much.
But isn’t that what you want?

Don’t you want to stop doing too much?  Aren’t you always longing for more time?

Find out how to survive without your smartphone in this life without smartphone essay. Really, rather than ask "Can we survive without smartphones," it asks, "Can we survive with them?" Life without a smartphone 2018 and 2019 and 2020 and beyond is actually a life that gives us more. Not less. I am living proof!

Wait.  Life without a smartphone and all its conveniences give me… more time?  I’m not buying it.  (Read on, my skeptical friends!) photo: jason leung

Consider that all the things a smartphone allows you to do… take time.  All (or most) of the things a smartphone allows you to do were not on your list of things you most want to spend your time doing.

Time is a finite resource.

Consider that a smartphone nudges you toward spending your moments doing what’s convenient instead of doing what’s important to you.  A man I deeply respect once said, “How we choose to spend our moments is how we choose to spend our lives.”  How are you spending your moments?  How are you spending your life?

People ask, “Can we live without smartphones?”

I wonder… can we live – really livewith them?

Here’s to you and your courage to explore this subject.

Happy Journeys!

How I Survived a No-Smartphone Roadtrip
How Smartphone-Free Travel… Rocks Your World!’
How Travel Forces You to Be Present

The Simple Joy of “No Phones Allowed”
The American Life is Killing You

You’re also a life hacker?  Check out:

Grabbing Life by the Handlebars: Retirement Before 30
Why a Hard Working Perfectionist… Doesn’t Want a Job

Body Care:

Why I Still Run Barefoot, Despite No Scientific Proof of Benefits
Fructose vs. Sugar: Why I Don’t Eat Fructose
Why I Drink Kombucha

Prefer listening? 👂

Related Podcasts:
Note to Self (WNYC)
Your Undivided Attention

  • Note to Self (WNYC) discusses quandaries facing anyone trying to preserve their humanity in the digital age.
  • Your Undivided Attention exposes the hidden software designs that have the power to hijack our attention, manipulate our choices and destabilize our real world communities.

Does this article seem like a game-changer?  Share the love!  The world could use more people who know how to exist happily without a smartphone.


  • April 28, 2020 at 8:56 am

    Probably a bit old this post.. But it’s April 2020 and I still don’t have a smart phone. TBH even my landline is currently out of order. In lockdown it may present me with small inconveniences. I also should add I don’t drive nor own a credit card. (must add here, I have no debts, then again I have no saving either.) I can not order online, which is a bit of a mixed blessing nowadays. I must also cadge a lift or take the bus to get anywhere and yesterday I admit I had to use my PC to facebook someone to ask then to ring my partner to tell him his car alarm was going off, like I said my landline is kaput. I love the examples above for I neither grind my own coffee nor microwave my food and I still wash-up by hand. I’m not a technophobe, I was honestly proud of my mobile back in the 90s. But when life is normal the computer, which remains stationary and is switched off most hours, is enough. My only beef is, I feel with apps and payments I may be compelled to buy one. The last thing I need as a starving writer is another outgoing expense.

    • June 29, 2020 at 4:29 pm

      I feel as though I will be forced as well, and I am not happy about it. So much money for a device that is useless to me. I don’t use any social media at all, and, my house is full of computers. Really would rather spend my money on important stuff, like food.

  • April 25, 2020 at 3:45 pm

    Haven’t yet had a smartphone. Due to a obsolescence issue looming for me and my mom’s old flip phones at the end of the year, both of us will be having to upgrade to something newer. Will probably get mom another flip phone while I will have to decide whether the convenience of a smartphone is necessary or to go with another flip phone myself with a new number and carrier. Have had the same number for twenty years now and an increased amount of spam calls. The smartphone route would allow use of call filtering apps, but just ignoring the phone works too!

    • April 26, 2020 at 4:48 am

      There are definite benefits to a smartphone! The vigilance to work against coded behavior psychology to maximize time on device takes a lot of attention, but some can do it!

  • February 10, 2020 at 1:06 am

    What kind of phone do you have? Did you pick that phone because of specific reasons or simply because it was the first “dumb phone” you came across?

    I’ve wanted to do something like this for a while but haven’t pulled the trigger for various reasons.

    Do you find yourself using your iPod a lot more, almost as a fix to the smartphone that you used to have? Do you carry it with you everywhere or is it only something you leave at home and just use there?

    Just looking at practical ways to balance this out.

    • February 11, 2020 at 7:38 am

      Hi Jeremy – I went with H2O Wireless and got a little brick Nokia through them. I picked it because it was cheap and hopefully indestructible. It’s been dropped several dozen times now, and is still in one piece! Since writing this article, I do find myself using my iPod for lots of listening – podcasts, recording messages and sending them back and forth to friends. I hate using tiny screens, so although I can be tempted to access the internet when I have wifi, it’s just so painful that I mostly don’t. Hope that helps you on your journey!

  • January 10, 2020 at 3:36 am

    I’ve never owned one. Never saw the appeal, and they’re grossly expensive and are rather poor phones and terrible computers. No thank you.

  • November 5, 2019 at 12:56 pm

    I’ve been thinking for quite a few years to get rid of my smart phone. I spend way too much time on it and I don’t enjoy the moment of life. I catch myself just doing stuff to post about it so I quit social media 2 months ago and now I’m realizing I use my cell way to much. I’ve decided when this phone dies I’m going to an old flip phone and I’m never going back. Thanks this article really helped me.

    • November 9, 2019 at 10:34 pm

      I’m so glad to hear it, Shelby! Here’s to living in the moment!

  • October 30, 2019 at 3:50 pm

    thank you for sharing, I have started last month of going without a smartphone and only using a nokia 3310 2017 version. Now, I am battling the want to go back in using smartphone, not because it is necessary but I just felt so. I studied the source of this feeling and it seems it’s because of my surroundings (people using smartphones, games, facebook etc) and the old habits which my mind was accustomed to;. Also, I think it is just an anxiety effect of making a habitual change, I believe the anxiety will pass as I continue walking this path of freedom

  • October 20, 2019 at 8:19 am

    Hi, I had a smartphone for about 2 years, but never used it for its capabilities. I don’t use apps other than for podcasts and learning things. I never track exercise and I’m one of the fittest people I know. So when it died, I got a small nokia which only needs charging once a week and is incredibly cheap to run. It tells me the time just as well and if people really want to contact me, they ring or text or email.

    One of my other big reasons for it, is that I work in front of a screen 5 days a week. A smart phone would be over-egging a very much over-egged cake in terms of my brain health and atteniton span.

    • October 23, 2019 at 5:20 pm

      Great to hear from you, Lolly! I’m so thrilled to know about yet another human standing up to the attention bullies of our world. Yes we can! Happy Nokia-ing! 🙂

  • September 11, 2019 at 2:34 am

    Great post, supremely inspiring!
    I do just want to point out that I don’t know who you were referring to when you attributed the quote “How we choose to spend our moments is how we choose to spend our lives” to a man you deeply respect, but it appears that author Annie Dillard is the person most famous for that sentiment. The full quote is also very inspiring!
    “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern.”

    • September 11, 2019 at 8:00 pm

      Ha! Thanks for the insight, Robert. It could well be that said man is fond of quoting Ms. Dillard the way I am enthusiastic about appropriating Mark Nepo’s definition of love – “being present and responding.” I will have to ask him next time our paths cross!

      I’m delighted to read the full quote as I become increasingly interested in a scheduled life vs. the thrilling chaos and whim of my previous decades.


  • September 6, 2019 at 9:26 am

    Wow, really amazing tips in 2019 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  • September 2, 2019 at 10:50 pm

    Thanks for writing this! I’m at this point in my life!!! Smart phones are taking over our lives!!

    • September 5, 2019 at 3:39 am

      Yay! So excited to hear about anyone wresting back some attention. You might like the podcast called “Your Undivided Attention.” In fact, I think I’ll put it in the references section. Cheers, Kimmie.

  • July 22, 2019 at 3:32 pm

    praise the lord for flip phones!

  • June 29, 2019 at 7:34 pm

    I never have had a smartphone, and never will. Too big and too fragile to be a phone, waaay to small, and entirely too limited to be a computer – and the costs are atrocious! As far as I’m concerned, smartphones are the domain of those who have more money than brains. As are Keurigs for that matter!

    • July 1, 2019 at 9:06 pm

      It will be fascinating to see what happens in a few decades! I wish Keurigs weren’t so single-use wasteful. I know they make a filter basket for ground coffee instead of the plastic pods. I hope all this convenience isn’t our downfall!

  • June 3, 2019 at 7:30 am

    Thanks for the great article. I just made the plunge and went to a flip phone. The alcatel go flip. It feels really good so far! Enjoying my days and see the beauty of life.

    • June 4, 2019 at 2:36 am

      That’s awesome, Russell! Congrats! Welcome to the club 😉

  • May 26, 2019 at 12:23 pm

    I really liked the way you expressed your views about not having a smartphone and living good.I really liked reading books but I never had time whenever I am not studying for my exams I am on my phone.I quit my smartphone for like 1 month but then I again started using it and I thought will power would just help but you know what never ever I will believe in will power.I started quitting my smartphone again.Its for good.

  • January 15, 2019 at 3:00 am

    Ironically I wrote this from my smartphone. Intuitley or subconsciously there must be some internal incentive to divorce myself from the toxic relationship I have developed with this technological cognitive appendage of sorts. Our perception and attention (amongst other neurocognitive functions) have hijacked and altered (hacked?) unwillingly and likely unknowingly. The doors of perception are losing the see-through looking panes they once had. Not to mention our drive for simplicity has been amiss and led us to time ravenous beast that devours each grain of the hour glass’ sand without mercy (or any emotion for that matter). It just… IS.
    Maybe we need to get back “just is” through simpler means of living again. To return to relying more on our senses again and more accurately receive and perceive the world that surrounds us would likely serve us… heal us. There is a disconnect… and one that goes beyond the interpersonal. An INTRApersonal disconnect plagues the masses. Our central nervous systems plasticity has very likely adapted to the power stimulation and reliance upon smartphones… the mind sees it as an extension of itself and I would gather that this had occurred at a price (given the path of least resistance approach nature tends to prefer at least in regards to adaptation). This leaves us less capable, less connected (both internally and externally), and vulnerable (acutely so) when our trusty appendage loses juice or is left home next to the Keurig. We need to return to simplicity for all of the potential complications.
    Yet here I am typic away on my smart phone attempting to conspire against it in some future where I remember everyone’s number without much effort.
    Thanks for your piece! Peace.-AM

    • January 15, 2019 at 6:29 am

      Glad to connect, Andrew. Appreciate your emphasis on the way smartphones not only disconnect us from others and the world around us, but also from ourselves! Good luck kicking the habit! 🙂

Make A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.