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get rid of clutter

Last week I gave you 5 tips for finally getting rid of clutter in your home. This week I am sharing with you the most important rule to follow to keep your home free from clutter.  Following this rule will help you establish boundaries for how much stuff you have in your home and will help you avoid over shopping.

The most important rule to follow is:

One thing in, one thing out

I’m sure you’ve heard this rule before. It means remove an item for every item you bring into your home. This is a rule people rarely follow. They forget when they are out shopping for a pair of jeans (or whatever) to donate the pair of jeans they are replacing. Typically, they just add to their collection of jeans.

This past weekend I was at the mall shopping for clothes for my granddaughter. On the way to the store, I passed by the Sketchers store and noticed they were having a sale. Sketchers are my absolute favorite everyday shoes. I spend a lot of time on my feet. I’m always either out walking my dogs, working with a client or working in my garden. I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to get some new Sketchers shoes since they were on sale.

So, I stood outside the store and asked myself these questions:

  1. Do I need new shoes? I decided I did.
  2. Which shoes am I replacing? My sneakers, flip flops, and a pair of sandals.
  3. Am I honestly willing to part with the old shoes? Yes!

I decided that I would replace 3 pairs of shoes and I promised myself that I would remove the 3 old pairs before putting the new ones away.

Since I had figured out which shoes I was replacing I went inside the store to have fun shopping.

More questions to ask:

To keep your home free from clutter always ask yourself these questions before buying something new:

  1. Do you need it?
  2. Is it replacing an item?
  3. When will you remove the item it is replacing?
  4. Do you want it?
  5. If it is not replacing something, where will you put it?
  6. What purpose will this new thing serve?

Have the answers to these questions before going into the store to buy something. If you can’t answer the questions, try to walk away.

When you keep bringing things into your home and forget to let some things go the excess becomes clutter.  Remember clutter is anything that you don’t use, love or that doesn’t serve a purpose in your home. Remind yourself of this to keep your home free from clutter.

You can apply the one thing in, one thing out rule to almost everything in your home. I already gave you examples of applying this rule to clothes and shoes. Here are some more examples.


If you pick up a magazine at the store or if you have a monthly subscription to a magazine plan to read the magazine before the next one appears either at the store or in your mailbox. This means you have approximately 3 weeks in which to read the magazine. Once you have read it, remove it from your home. This keeps the magazine pile to a minimum which keeps your home free from clutter.


If you read a paper newspaper once you have read it recycle it.


Let’s say you see an advertisement for a new moisturizer that will make those wrinkles vanish. You want to get this product. Your current moisturizer is only half empty. Your rule could be that you will bring in the new moisturizer when you finish the current one. This keeps clutter (too many moisturizers) from accumulating.

It can be next to impossible to apply the one thing in, one thing out rule to your children. I can’t imagine removing a book or toy from a child’s room every time a new one came in. This is where it is important to set boundaries and to take time to re-evaluate the collections.

Ask how much is enough?

If the toy shelf or basket is full take a few minutes and remove toys that are too young and/or not played with anymore.

If the puzzle is missing pieces, remove it from the collection.

If the clothes are too small, pack them away and either save them for a younger child or donate them.

Teach your child how to keep their rooms free from clutter by helping them re-evaluate what they love and use on a regular basis.

This will help them maintain the organization in their rooms and it demonstrates that it’s OK to let things go.


Setting boundaries and applying this simple rule helps keep your home free from clutter.

This is not to say that every now and then clutter won’t sneak back in. As I said last week, clutter can appear in our homes overnight. Learning how to recognize when something is clutter and then scheduling time to deal with it keeps your home as free from clutter as possible. Click here to read more about the most common types of clutter

If you would like to talk about how to follow the one thing in, one thing out rule for keeping your home free from clutter contact me to schedule time.

Diane N. Quintana is a Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization®, Master Trainer and owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC based in Atlanta, Georgia. Diane teaches busy people how to become organized and provides them with strategies and solutions for maintaining order in their lives. She specializes in residential and home-office organizing and in working with people affected by ADD, Hoarding, and chronic disorganization.


  • Lucy Kelly says:

    Oh, that sneaky moisturizer! Your post reminded me that oftentimes I’ll bring something new in because I think this time I’ve found the magic *whatever it is*. Instead of realizing that oh, those moisturizers don’t really make much of a difference for me, what makes me think this latest one will? Such a difference from your planned purchasing of the shoes you know you love and will most definitely use.

    • Diane Quintana says:

      Thanks, Lucy. Yes!! Those moisturizers promise us everything and give us … an empty wallet most of the time!

  • To keep all things equal, the “one thing in, one thing out” rule is fantastic. It’s a simple and easy way to maintain the systems that are working. When clutter builds-up, the concept might look more like “one thing in, ten things out.” But as a general rule of thumb, the one in, one out is terrific. I like the thinking process you shared when you saw the shoe sale. Before you bought new pairs (emphasizing the BEFORE part), you went through the questioning process. That’s key because otherwise, impulsive, regretful shopping can happen.

    • Diane Quintana says:

      Yes, Linda. I agree the one thing in, one thing out rule is difficult to apply in a very cluttered space. I want to emphasize the importance of thinking about what you’re replacing before adding something new into your personal environment.

  • I purchased myself a pair of sneakers and got rid of the old ones! I do find that my kids forget to get rid of their older items when they buy something new. I see it first hand how much items can pile up. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Diane Quintana says:

      I know. It’s so easy to forget to take out the old because it’s fun to bring in whatever is new. I appreciate your commenting, Sabrina!

  • When my kids were young, we would clear the clutter before their birthday and before Christmas. That way they were motivated to make space for the new things they were soon getting. Also they would want to keep the boxes for all their toys. I would tell them, we only have so much space. We have space for the toys or for the box the toy came in, not both. Then I’d ask them which they wanted to keep the toy or the box?

    • Diane Quintana says:

      Janet, that’s a perfect time to go through toys with children. I like how you offered them a choice to keep the toy or the box and that you didn’t have room for both. Thank you very much for commenting.

  • I have a hard time with clutter because it’s so unsettling. When it gets to the point of unrest, I do a clean sweep. It’s really hard when others are responsible for the piles

    I really liked what you said about “ how much is enough?” It’s a topic I addressed in one of my posts because it’s important to think about it.

    Well done, Diane!

    • Diane Quintana says:

      I feel the same way about clutter, Ronni. I can tolerate it only so much for only so long and then I just have to make it go away or I can’t think. Thank you very much for you comment, Ronni!