There are two “rules” frequently cited to help with decluttering as well as to avoid re-cluttering. The first helps us decide what to get rid of by suggesting that if something hasn’t been used in X length of time (one year is the most common, but I’ve seen recommendations range from three months to two years) then you don’t need it. The other rule helps us avoid accumulation, and it is usually called the “one in, one out” rule. Let’s look at each of these rules and see if there are times we might not want to simply follow them blindly.
If You Haven’t Used It…
This rule is designed to help us decide what we don’t need. If something is stashed away in the bottom of a closet or the back of a drawer and we have not even seen it, let alone used it in months or years, what makes us think we’ll suddenly need it one day? The truth is that we probably won’t. There are exceptions, however.
If you drive a car, you probably carry a spare tire, a jack, and a lug wrench. If you regularly ride a bicycle any significant distance, you probably carry a patch kit or spare tube, a tool kit, and a pump. These are things we may not have used or even looked at in months or years, but we continue to carry them around because we don’t want to be stranded by the side of the road should we experience the misfortune of a flat tire. Along the same lines, we might keep first aid kits in our homes or vehicles, but hope we never need them. Ditto for fire extinguishers. Perhaps we can call this the emergency equipment exception. You can probably think of more examples, and they will vary depending on your individual situation. Just make sure you aren’t using this exception as an excuse to keep all kinds of “just in case” stuff that you probably won’t ever use and could easily re-acquire if needed.
Another exception might be “I plan to use it.” This works if you have something that is already earmarked for a specific time or occasion in the future, when you know that you will use it. Don’t confuse this with “I might use it,” “I hope to use it,” or “I want to use it,” which are all excuses for keeping what we really don’t need. A variation on that exception, which I am experiencing right now, is “I plan to use it once I’ve decluttered enough room for it.” While I have to be careful that I’m not using this as a blanket excuse for keeping stuff I should be getting rid of, I think that if I have something that I honestly feel I will use and get function or pleasure from once I have the space to enjoy it, then I can at least leave it for last. Once I’ve decluttered to the point where I can comfortably accommodate the item, if I find that I am still not using it or have lost interest, then it becomes subject to expulsion.
One In, One Out
This one is very popular in the RV and Tiny House communities, where space is at a premium. It can even be expanded to “one in, two out” during active decluttering. This rule aims to maintain a static quantity of items if strictly followed. It isn’t so much subject to legitimate exceptions as it is to “creative interpretation.” We need to be sure we are following the true spirit of this rule. Getting rid of a worn out pair of socks shouldn’t justify bringing in a new TV and a game console. Yes, that’s two items in for two items out (a pair of socks), but using that kind of logic will only get you deeper into consumerist clutter. Ideally, an item goes out to make room for an equivalent but better, smaller or simpler item. Replacing several items with a single multi-function item could result in a two, three, or more-for-one trade! In any case, the items going out should be the same size or bigger than those coming in, the goal being to maintain balance or reduce clutter, not to increase it.
Can you think of other decluttering rules with legitimate exceptions? How about ways you or other household members try to “cheat” on the anti-clutter rules you’ve laid out?