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  • Writer's pictureErica Lucas

Declutter with the 20/20 Rule for Potentially Useful Items

What do you do with those just-in-case items? Items you might need later on but have not used in the past year? They are taking up space in your home because they are potentially useful. If you are split between deciding if you should declutter an item or keep it in case you need it, use the 20/20 rule for decluttering to guide your decision.

The 20/20 rule for decluttering suggests you declutter items you can replace for $20 or less and in less than 20 minutes. This rule helps with just-in-case items you have in your home. Things you are keeping because you might need them later.

Use the 20/20 rule to declutter those just-in-case and potentially useful items if you are on a journey to live with less stuff in your home. This rule affords several benefits of simple living and can get you started when you feel overwhelmed by clutter.

declutter potentially useful items


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Read on for:

  • What are some benefits of the 20/20 rule?

  • Is the 20/20 rule highly effective?

  • What should you not do when decluttering?

  • Which room should I declutter first?

  • How do you clean up when overwhelmed by clutter?

  • When does the 20/20 rule not work?

What are some benefits of the 20/20 rule of decluttering?

The 20/20 rule of decluttering suggests that you should declutter items from your home that you do not use, need, love, or want that can be replaced quickly and inexpensively. Here are some benefits of following this rule:

  • Reducing clutter: By removing items you don’t need or use, you’ll have less clutter in your home.

  • Saving time: With fewer items to sort through and organize, you’ll save time when looking for specific items.

  • Cleaning faster: less stuff means less tidying before cleaning.

  • Clearing your mind: Clutter can be overwhelming and distracting. The decluttering process can help you feel more focused and clear-headed.

  • Simplifying your life: Keeping only the items you genuinely need and use can simplify your life and reduce stress.

  • Giving back to others: Donating or giving away items you no longer need can benefit others and make you feel good about decluttering.

You can clean faster with less clutter to tidy.


Is the 20/20 rule highly effective?

According to their website, the Minimalists Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus claim this rule works 100% of the time (between them). The 20/20 rule can help you live with less and works especially well for the items you keep, just in case you need them.

What should you not do when decluttering?

Think about what to remove from your home before you figure out how to organize it. Professional organizers like Jessica at The Organized Mama suggest you declutter before you organize. Figuring out suitable containers, storage solutions, and organization systems before figuring out what to manage will slow your progress to live with less stuff.

Another tip would be to avoid decluttering your whole house in one day.

A great way to approach decluttering is to have a plan for your whole house, but tackling it room by room will be less stressful.

Unless you have permission, I recommend not decluttering your spouse’s items. Getting your spouse to declutter with you may feel like a hurdle, but these three ground rules may help.

  1. Use kind words to show respect for each other’s personal spaces.

  2. Know that it may take hard work to declutter common areas together.

  3. Be willing to compromise so you both feel like a simpler life is achievable.

Clutter appears differently to each person. Even if you learn all the decluttering rules, your home will likely still have clutter magnets and clutter hot spots.

clutter is different for each person


Which room should I declutter first?

Need help determining which room to start decluttering first? I typically recommend people start decluttering in their bathrooms because:

  • Your bathroom probably does not have sentimental belongings.

  • You are less likely to be attached to items in this room.

  • Decluttering a bathroom gives you a quick win: expired products, trash, and other items are easy to declutter.

  • A bathroom is usually a small space and may only require a few decluttering decisions.

Starting in the bathroom can build momentum, motivating you to declutter the rest of your home. A whole house declutter is possible with reverse decluttering-one room at a time. Going at your own pace is essential to avoid exhaustion. Your timeline is different than my timeline.

which room do I declutter first?

How do you clean up when overwhelmed by clutter?

To own less, you have to want less. But it can be hard to declutter items when we need them or worry about replacing them. Applying decluttering rules can help you eliminate things in your home and live with less.

The first step is calibrating your mindset. Some advice may be to “just start.” Sometimes that works. However, that’s hard when you don’t know how to approach a room or a category. My recommendation is to reverse the thinking.

Instead of evaluating a pile or room for items to declutter, reverse the decision-making order. Decide what to keep first, then assess the unchosen items for donation or trash.

One of my favorite quotes is from Francine Jay, author of The Joy of Less: “Decluttering is infinitely easier when you think of it as deciding what to keep, rather than deciding what to throw away.”

quote from Francine Jay

Thinking first about what you use, need, love, and what is in each space makes decision-making easier. The key is to be honest and ruthless about the items that were not chosen. This is when the 20/20 rule of decluttering shines.

Another rule that helps while you are reverse decluttering is the boundary method. The boundary method of decluttering guides you to keep as many items as you want within a designated space, like a shelf, cube, basket, or drawer. The things that did not fit can be decluttered.

For example, think about your kitchen cabinets. You may have stored the larger items in the back of your cabinets and the everyday items in front. Small kitchens do not offer much space to organize differently. Evaluating your kitchen through a lens of simplicity using the 20/20 rule may help you recognize unwanted items taking up precious cabinet space.

Removing potentially useful items can help you organize kitchen drawers and cabinets to be 50-75% filled. It isn’t easy to put away and take out things easily with overfilled cabinets.

fill cabinets 50-75% full

When does the 20/20 rule not work?

The 20/20 is a simple rule with clear expectations. That said, here’s when this rule needs to be broken. If an item has sentimental value, even if it can be replaced for $20 or less and in less than 20 minutes, the sentimentality cannot be replaced. Processing the emotions surrounding sentimental items does not line up with time or money.

Another time this rule may not work concerns money. The threshold of $20 is a subjective amount of cash, and $20 can be a considerable amount for those of us on a limited budget.

Even decluttering small, inexpensive items can be difficult when we consider our financial, emotional, and sentimental attachments to our stuff.

I still struggle with decluttering sometimes, even with years of practice. I’m in my fourth year and still struggle with particular items. I recently told a decluttering story about my son’s coat in this video. Listen to that story on YouTube:

Decluttering YouTube Video Erica Lucas

Sometimes it’s easy, and sometimes it’s hard. My method is to take it one item at a time, one day at a time, and that’s helped me declutter thousands of items.


The 20/20 rule of decluttering can help you purge those just-in-case items, as long as you are ready to re-spend the money later. If you are on a journey to live with less stuff in your home, the 20/20 rule might be an excellent guideline for decluttering and building habits for a tidy home.


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