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  • Writer's pictureErica Lucas

Why the "One In One Out" Rule Does NOT Help You Declutter

In general, decluttering rules aim to help you live with less stuff by decreasing what you bring into your home while increasing what you purge from your home.The shift to owning fewer things creates more space in your home and more free time in your day because you manage less stuff. However, decluttering rules, like the one in one out rule, work to maintain the number of items you currently own rather than decrease it.

The one in one out rule for decluttering is a practice that purges one item from your home each time you bring in one new item. You will not reduce your clutter but will also not add to it. You would donate, sell, or give away an item to manage a specific amount of items in your home.

The one in one out rule works well if you are a minimalist and do not need to declutter. If you want to manage less in your home, this is one of the most important rules to adjust to enjoy the benefits of simple living.

donating clothes


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The general idea of this simple rule is that you keep the addition and subtraction within the same category: swap an old sweater for a new sweater or an old blanket for a new one. The one in one out rule does not work because it does not suggest you live with less. Other decluttering rules, such as the 90/90 rule and the 20/20 rule, encourage you to declutter items without bringing in new things.

Read on for:

  • Why does this rule not help you live with less stuff

  • How can you adjust the rule?

  • What are the benefits of changing the one in one out rule?

  • What are some more rules for decluttering?

Why does this rule not help you live with less stuff

The one in one out rule does not work because it does not suggest you live with less. This rule guides you to trade old items for new things. Here are a few examples of how to use this rule:

  • Buy one new shirt, donate one old shirt

  • Gifted a new toy for a birthday, donate an old toy

  • Buy the instant pot you wanted, donate another one of your kitchen gadgets

  • Buy new sneakers, donate an old pair of shoes

In fact, according to Samaritan’s Feet, more than 200,000,000 pairs of shoes end up in dumpsters yearly. Their website shares the best way to declutter old shoes, whether they are still wearable or if they might not be reusable.

how to donate old shoes


This rule focuses on quantity first rather than quality. If you want to try an air fryer, do you have to give up your toaster or instant pot? This rule would work if you buy a new sweater and already own five sweaters. Donate one sweater to keep the number at five. This rule will NOT help you live with less stuff. It enables you to maintain a level amount in your home after decluttering.

Adjusting the one in one out rule could help you live with less.

How can you adjust the one in one out rule?

The word “rule” often begs me to find ways to break the rules. According to Gretchen Rubin’s The Four Tendencies book, I’m a Rebel. The book sets the framework into four ways we respond to inner and outer expectations. We can label ourselves Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, or Rebels using this book.

Since reading that book, I can better see why we don’t act or do act when it comes to expectations like rules. If you want to connect the dots between how you feel about rules and how you respond to them, here’s a link to Rubin’s The Four Tendencies.

I like how she summarized Rebels and rules in her article for

"For Rebels, the answer is always clear: Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike. They want to do what they want to do, in their own way and in their own time, and if someone asks or tells them to do something, they resist. They don’t even want to tell themselves what to do — they resist expectations imposed from within as vigorously as those imposed from without." - Gretchen Rubin

one in one out rule

Here are a few ways to adjust the one in one out rule.

Reverse declutter a category before shopping

Picking on sweaters again, you would put all your sweaters in a pile. Decide which sweaters to keep as your first step using the reverse decluttering method. Then, evaluate the unchosen sweaters for decluttering. Push yourself to be ruthless and honest because you want to live with less.

Change the “out” number of the rule

Reducing your choices makes deciding what to wear each day easier and faster. Try a one-in-two-out approach or the one-in-three-out approach. This could work exceptionally well in your closet if you struggle to choose an outfit.

Increasing the out section of this rule might be a great way to declutter your storage room. Sometimes this is an extra bedroom that serves as a dumping ground for miscellaneous stuff, or it can be a basement or attic.

Cross categories

The premise of this rule is to help you maintain the same number of items in your home. Targeting one category enables you to maintain balance by type. Adjusting this rule to crossover categories also maintains the same number of items in your home. You bring in a new board game, then donate the empty vase collecting dust in your living room.

However, suppose that vase is one of your sentimental items from a family member. In that case, it may require a different rule or process to let it go. At the end of the day, you have to make the right choices for your home.

Make sustainable swaps

Swap for glass storage when you are ready to declutter reusable plastic food storage containers. Think of this as “one-out-one-in” and reverse the decision-making process. Adjusting the “one in one out” rule to focus on sustainable choices and swaps is a part of slow and simple living.

What sustainable choices do I have to swap out the item I release from home? The answer to this question takes time. A few inexpensive ways to try are to shop at a thrift store to buy secondhand, use linen table napkins instead of paper, or change cleaning products.

Slowly make these choices as you recognize your past decisions.

sustainable laundry swaps

A great one to try is a detergent swap. Many sustainable choices are available for packaging detergents and the ingredients used to clean your clothes. In particular, I recommend Dropps detergent. I also use their dishwasher pods. Read more about my favorite laundry products.

Shop intentionally

This adjustment stung me like a giant bee at the beginning of my simple living journey. Shopping habits that led to mounds of clutter did not stop when I started decluttering. Those two roads met about four months into my progress. A good rule of thumb to help shop intentionally is the 30/30 rule, which encourages you to wait 30 hours before buying any item priced higher than $30.

When you shop purposefully within a budget, the “one-in” has meaning. You need it, use it, love it, or want it. The “one-out” is less important when you focus on buying want you need to have in your life.

thrift store


What are the benefits of adjusting the one in one out rule?

The one in one out rule works well IF you have already decluttered and simplified. Using one of the above adjustments can help you live with less and live more intentionally. Having a perfectly clutter-free home is a monster goal. It’s hard to achieve if you live with other people.

However, there are still many benefits of decluttering:

  • Having a house that is easier to clean

  • Spend less time tidying

  • Save money by buying less

  • Find items faster because you know where they are

  • Carry less stress caused by clutter

  • Feel organized throughout your home

  • Decrease the overwhelming feelings caused by clutter

  • Feel more comfortable inviting friends to visit

  • Reducing the number of tasks on your to-do list

  • Shift from disposable items to reusable items and reduce wasteful packaging

What are more rules for decluttering?

Sometimes trying a few rules will help you find your decluttering process groove. In addition to the one in one out method, you could consider trying the following:

  • The konmari method has a simple way of encouraging you to touch and evaluate every item you own.

  • The 4-box method is a sorting method to organize rooms by trash, give away, keep, and relocate.

  • Decluttering challenges aim to think about material things in your whole house.

  • The Minimalist Game, introduced by The Minimalists Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn, suggests you start on day one of a month and declutter one item. Day 2, two items. Day 31, 31 items.

  • The 90/90 rule states that you can declutter anything you have not used in the last 90 days and do not expect to use it in the next 90 days.

  • With the closet hanger method, turn your hangers to face the same direction. Once worn, turn that hanger to face the other way. The clothes on the hangers you did not turn around are items you did not wear during that time and could be decluttered.


If you are ready to live with less stuff, adjust the one in one out rule to fit your needs. The equation for simple living is to decrease what you bring into your home and increase what you purge from your home. The shift to owning fewer things creates more space in your home and more free time in your day because you manage less stuff. Regardless of the rules that guide you on your journey, the benefits stack up quickly. Read about 15 advantages of slow and simple living next.


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