The One Decluttering Rule You Have Probably Never Heard Of

Sticking to this rule is the first step in how to start decluttering when overwhelmed. You can apply it to anything and everything!
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A few months ago, Joseph surprised me with a “just because” gift.

My new mug shows a beautiful scene of a girl (who happens to look like me!) and her three rabbits (I have two currently, one now passed away) sitting in front of a mountainous landscape. The other side of the mug makes a claim I repeat often: “Life is better with rabbits.”


holding my new mug

We only have space in our cabinet for three mugs (#RVLife), and I’m not the type of person who forces stuff to fit when it clearly won’t.

So I decided it was the perfect opportunity for me to try the “one in, one out” decluttering rule. I’m an Enneagram 1, so I adore rules. (Except when they don’t make sense to me, but that’s for another post!)

Honestly, if more of us followed this rule, I don’t think clutter would be as massive of a problem as it is today. Because once you’ve done all the hard work of decluttering, you want to make sure you keep it that way.

Psst… if you’re wondering how to start decluttering when overwhelmed, these tips are for you!


How to Start Decluttering when Overwhelmed

The One-in-One-Out decluttering rule is simple: whenever you bring home something new, you donate or throw out something you already own.

This may sound ruthless, but think about it.

  • We all have a few things hanging out in our closets that don’t fit like they used to or are not our style anymore. So why not get rid of one of those tops when you purchase a couple new ones?
woman decluttering closet
I’m not really this tall. My RV closet is tiny!
  • Your kids probably have a few toys they don’t play with, so have them choose one thing to replace with the shiny new toy they want.
  • When you’re perusing the after-Christmas sales and see a white sparkly reindeer on clearance that you just have to have, pause and ask yourself, “Do I really want it? Enough to get rid of something else at home?”

You can apply this rule to your book collection, kitchen gadgets, nail polish bottles, and of course, mugs… anything you can think of really!

Sticking to this rule is the first step in how to start decluttering when overwhelmed. It certainly makes you stop and think more strategically about purchases and whether or not you have space for them. Because moving clutter from place to place in the name of “re-organizing” is not an option anymore.

Three Ways to Follow This Rule Successfully

1. Define your space. Every group of items (mugs, dish towels, makeup, etc.) takes up a certain amount of space. It’s up to you to decide where that space begins and ends. Natalie Bennett calls them space budgets and shares about them on her channel.

For example, I own ONE box of Christmas decor. I have ONE small bin of nail polish bottles. I keep my mugs on THREE hooks. My workout clothes fit in ONE drawer. If I buy more of any of those items and they don’t fit in the space I already have, I need to remove something I own.

What about digital clutter?

You can define your “space” there as well!

I keep my Instagram follows to no more than 900. I know that still seems like a lot, but I’m continuing to pare down and will change my number to 800 once I dip below that. You can also use space limits on Google Drive or Dropbox to keep your file clutter to a minimum.

There’s a lot of incentive to become a minimalist when you have to pay for more space!

box of kitchen items to declutter

2. Keep a donation box ready at all times. Remove the decision of what to do with items you declutter by designating one box in your closet (or by the door) for donations. This keeps the clutter neat and contained until you can pop the box into your backseat and drop it off at a thrift store.

If you always forget to stop by the thrift store (like I often do!), write it directly on your to-do list. Seeing that unchecked box will motivate you to cross it off.

digital calendar

3. Apply this rule to your calendar commitments. When someone at church asks you to volunteer for the children’s ministry and you’re already updating the Facebook page and serve on the planning committee for ladies’ events, ask the person, “Sure! But my time is limited. Which would you like me to drop?”

The same goes for the number of social commitments you have each week. Or the amount of Saturdays in a month that are spoken for.

You can only do so much. This rule helps you prioritize what’s most important so you don’t overload your schedule and burn out trying to be everything to everyone, including yourself.

What to Do When Decluttering Feels Like a Sacrifice

Keeping your home decluttered will ultimately mean owning fewer things, and that may feel like a sacrifice. But listen to how Tsh, author of One Bite at a Time puts it: she says that this practice “increases the value of the items you do own.”

I know one thing for sure…I don’t want a home filled with stuff I’m “so-so” about.

I want each item to be one that I’m head-over-heels in love with and serves a practical purpose—other than languishing untouched in the back of my bedroom closet.

Another perk? You also won’t need as many Marie Kondo purging sessions, because the “one in, one out” rule makes decluttering a consistent habit rather than a weekend event. (And I’m all about the power of habits!)

So here’s my challenge to you: Think back to the last thing you bought and what you currently have in your own closets at home. Could you implement the “one in, one out” decluttering rule? I bet you already have something in mind.

Interested in learning more of my decluttering secrets?

Read these posts to learn exactly how to start decluttering when overwhelmed:

How can you apply the “one in, one out” decluttering rule?

Comment and tell me which group of items you want to start with first!

Disclosure: Some of the links in the post above are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. Read my full disclosure policy here.

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