Decluttering: The Power of ‘Once’

seagull flying“Life is a balance of holding on and letting go’


“Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.”

John Maeda

Alison writes:

If, like me, you’re not a natural at keeping a “no clutter home” then new ways of thinking and new routines are great ways to change habits of a lifetime.

Last year my little ones were given a new slide as a present by their grandparents as they had outgrown their tiny one. I was so surprised when my 4 year old immediately said that we should give the old one away and my 2 year old agreed. They had understood that stuff is ours to use for a season and then, when we have finished with it, we should pass it on for someone else to use. It is also an example of the “one-in-one out” habit which helps keep clutter at bay.

The power of ‘once’

De-cluttering is really about simplicity and creating routines that make daily life flow more smoothly.

One of the first principles for creating a clutter-free home is the ‘one touch’ approach. Whatever comes into the home immediately finds a home- with just one touch. In our purchasing we can adopt a ‘buy-it-once’ philosophy and reduce the flow of new stuff to a trickle. And if we do need (really need) to let something in we can make sure we also adopt a ‘one in-one out’ policy, like my children.

So here’s how a ‘one touch’ approach might work:

  1. The ‘one-touch’ post routine

We can quite easily prevent backlogs from creeping up on us, especially with post.  Post is opened as soon as possible, then put in the ‘action’ file, the recycle bin or filed. Ideally the ‘action’ pile is acted upon immediately or at least transferred to the inbox on your desk.

It’s a great idea to unsubscribe immediately from as much junk mail as possible to help stem the flow.

Packaging, pretty paper or ribbons can go straight into the children’s craft box.

Spend a few minutes thinking about the other piles of clutter which tend to appear around your home. What do they consist of? Do they need a “one-touch” approach e.g. children’s artwork to go up on a designated wall or in a special folder or be recycled immediately!   Or perhaps the solution is deciding on a home, or “one place” for a certain item and putting it away immediately e.g. cycle helmets in the cupboard by the door (rather than on the floor!),

  1. Keep things in ‘one place’

Have you ever forgotten that you’ve already got something? Like waterproof spray for children’s shoes? Last time I bought one at the assistant’s suggestion I got home to find that I had not one, not two but four half used ones sitting in different places. I realized how important it is to have one specific place to keep things so that doesn’t happen again.

So before we go shopping we can check the ‘one place’ to see if we really need to buy an item. As deliveries arrive and as we unload our shopping we can adopt the ‘one touch’ principle and put the item directly in the designated box, drawer or cupboard etc.

  1. Buy it Once

Why own two of something if you only need one? Or why buy stuff that is going to need replacing quickly when we can buy stuff which is long-lasting and easily repaired?

I love the website which showcases great products such as kitchenware, clothes and furniture which are designed to a last a lifetime.

Similarly I have recently discovered Tom Cridland’s ‘30 year collection’ – classic men’s clothing which is apparently nearly indestructible and is designed to last 30 years of wear.

Yes, the upfront costs of buying a quality item are more but if you divide them over the years of use the savings will be significant.

  1. The ‘one in-one out’ rule

And if you still feel you have too much stuff then developing a “one in-one out” rule or even “one in–two out” rule can help. Every time you bring something new into the house then give one, or two items away.   This doesn’t have to be rigid but I have found it helpful to think this way. One book in, one book out. One new toy in, one toy given away.

Best to try and avoid the tip or waste bin though- try charity shops, friends or on-line solutions first. My blog “De-cluttering – Who can I bless?” has some ideas here.