If you’re reading this right now, you’re probably an avid Instagram user whose feed may be looking a bit cluttered. Maybe you’re only seeing content from the latest accounts you’ve followed or content that you’re no longer interested in seeing. This can be frustrating, but it’s probably not at the top of your to-do list to hunker down and clean up your feed. I’m here to tell you that 1. you don’t have to clean things up all at once (unless you want to) and 2. it’s totally worth it if you do.
Instagram, just like any other social media platform, has the potential to create mental and emotional burnout. We’ve all been there: scrolling through our feed for hours, only to find that our mood hasn’t really changed much by the time we finally close out of the app — or has maybe even worsened. Angelica, a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, enjoys using Instagram but acknowledges its downsides. “There are so many great accounts that share super relatable and empowering content,” she says, “but Instagram can also be a scary place where we don’t always project our entire authentic selves.” This aspect of Instagram — the prevalence of heavily edited, filtered, airbrushed content — creates the “Instagram versus reality” effect. We might see someone else’s “perfect” post and think, why doesn’t my life look like that?, even though what we’re seeing isn’t necessarily real. Before you know it, going on Instagram becomes draining instead of inspiring.
Thankfully, cleaning up the content that appears in your feed can help prevent this type of burnout from happening. “I like to see posts I can relate to in my feed,” Angelica says. “By following accounts that promote positivity and authenticity, I’ve been able to create a digital space that resonates with me.” Instagram is a place to follow people, brands, organizations, and topics that matter to you. Clearing your feed’s clutter will not only enhance your overall Instagram experience, but it will also make it more meaningful.
With that in mind, here are some tips on how to go about clearing up Instagram clutter as well as some thoughts on how to move forward once you’ve done so.
How to make sense of your “following” list
It might seem strange to think of your Instagram feed as something that needs cleaning, but just like any other collection of things (e.g., clothes, books, pictures on your phone), your feed content — which essentially translates to the various accounts you’re following — is something that can benefit from being updated every once in a while. That said, if you want to clear the clutter, you’ll need to do a good amount of unfollowing. In some cases it might feel weird or even a bit nerve-wracking to hit the unfollow button, especially since we are part of the generation that’s grown up with virtual friend requests, “following,” “liking,” “sharing,” and more being seen as “normal.” But working through that nervousness (if it comes) is just part of the process. You’ll feel super refreshed once you see how it helps you in being the curator of your own feed.
Consider whether or not it’s time to move on
To start, there are a variety of account types that you’ll want to take into account (no pun intended) as you go through your “following” list. This could include people you know personally, people you don’t know personally (e.g., public figures, celebrities, influencers), brands, and organizations. Going through these accounts can be compared to going through your closet; if you haven’t worn something in a year or two, it might be time to pass it on. Likewise, if there’s someone you follow on Instagram that you’re no longer interested in keeping in touch with, then maybe it’s time to unfollow them, too. This could be an acquaintance from high school, that dude you met on summer vacation three years ago who lives in a different state, and so on.
Create a digital space that resonates with you
Similarly, if a piece of clothing no longer fits, that usually means it’s time to give it away. So, if you’ve outgrown an account (i.e., if the content no longer resonates with you or no longer serves you), then it’s definitely time to unfollow. It’s important to note that unfollowing an account doesn’t necessarily mean you harbor any negativity toward it or the person/people who run it; it just means it’s not making a meaningful contribution to your Instagram experience when its content appears in your feed.
That said, if there is an account that you do have negative feelings about, or it makes you uncomfortable in any way, then unfollowing is a good idea. Alison, a corporate communications writer and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign alumna, aims to make her Instagram feed a place for intentional and uplifting connections. “I like to think of my Instagram feed as my ‘home’ on the internet,” she says. “I only really want people there who I enjoy interacting with or who broaden my awareness and knowledge of important topics. [Having that mindset] makes it easier to unfollow accounts that don’t accomplish those things or don’t brighten my day when I see them. I spend so much time on my phone as it is, I only want to consume the content that will have a positive effect on my mental health and not be a detriment.” In this hyper-connected and digitally-driven world, taking care of your health involves cultivating not just your physical spaces but your digital ones, too. Instagram is no exception!
Reduce the bulk
With brands and businesses, think about reducing “bulk.” For example, if you follow 10 online boutiques that all offer similar styles, choose two or three to focus on and unfollow the rest. Instagram can absolutely be for window-shopping and vision-boarding, but you start to accumulate clutter when you follow too much of the same thing. It’s more meaningful to interact with fewer brands (and therefore develop deeper relationships with them) than it is to follow a dozen similar brands and have little to no interaction with them.
Do it all at once or as you scroll
This feed cleanup doesn’t have to be completed all in one sitting. Rather, you can chip away as you go. Your activity on Instagram can be business as usual, but when you come across something in your feed that you’re no longer interested in seeing, simply unfollow right then and there. Over time, you’ll have a reduced following list, and your feed will be less cluttered! On the other hand, if you’re someone who prefers to take on bigger tasks in one sitting, then go for it! It can be super rewarding to tackle the cleanup this way. Plus, once you’re finished, you can start enjoying your freshened-up feed right away!
Consider keeping a list of accounts that you might like to reference in the future
Your following list is a catalog of people, brands, organizations, and more. If you want to clean up your feed but are hesitant to unfollow certain accounts for fear of forgetting about them later, consider putting the account information in the Notes app on your phone, a Word document, or a notebook. You can include the Instagram handle itself and/or the name of whatever it is you’d like to keep track of. It’s an additional step, but it allows you to cut down on the accounts you’re following without sacrificing the ability to reference your discoveries and interests in the future.
I’ve cleaned things up, so what’s next?
Once you’ve done all the hard work, don’t let it go to waste. Consider being more selective about what accounts you follow and why. “Curating my feed is really about narrowing down who I want updates from, who I’m inspired by, and who I want to keep in touch with,” Alison says. “When I have that figured out, I’m able to unfollow accounts I don’t want to interact with anymore and it makes using Instagram a far more enjoyable experience.”
Think of your feed not only as a reflection of the current you, but also the person you want to become. Follow things you want to learn more about, and people and/or organizations you want to learn more from. Always remember to let go of things that no longer serve you! You are a constantly evolving person and your Instagram feed should reflect that.