How the 20/20 Rule Helped Me Declutter My Messy Life (2024)

  • Organizing
  • Decluttering

Lisa Galek

Lisa Galek

Lisa Galek is a freelance writer and editor based in Cleveland, Ohio. Her writing has appeared in Cleveland Magazine, Scholastic Science World, Refinery29, and The Buckeye Flame. She lives with her husband and three very clever daughters.


updated May 21, 2023

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How the 20/20 Rule Helped Me Declutter My Messy Life (1)

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A move can certainly put things in perspective. When my family bought our new home a few years ago, I spent days packing up cluttered closets, disorganized drawers, messy shelves, and overflowing toy bins. Did I really own all this stuff? Had I really bought all this stuff? And —oh my God —was it all coming with me?

I promised myself the new house would be different.

After we settled in, I started researching decluttering techniques online. I came across the concept of minimalism —the idea of living with less —and specifically the 20/20 rulecreated byThe Minimalists,Joshua Fields Millburnand Ryan Nicodemus. When strugglingto make decluttering decisions, the 20/20 rule says you should consider letting go of an item if:

  • You can replace itfor less than $20.
  • And you can replace it in less than 20 minutes.
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Does the 20/20 rule solve every decluttering dilemma? No. But it’s ideal for small items, and those were causing me the most trouble. I started going through my overstuffed spaces, finding lots of everyday objects I could do without (and quickly replace in an emergency):

  • Ten coffee mugs? I don’t even drink coffee.
  • Books. I’m in two book clubs, but even I’m not going to crack open “The DaVinci Code” again.
  • Makeup. Like that pinkish lipstick I wore to my niece’s wedding last summer. Yikes.
  • Duplicate kitchen items. How many potato peelers does one household need?
  • Toys. My three daughters had 80 Barbie dolls. 80! Time to downsize, girls.
  • Clothes. Goodbye, ill-fitting red turtleneck I thought I might wear to a Christmas party!
  • Small appliances. Reader, I still had an original George Foreman Grill.
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Once I stopped saving hundreds of small items “just in case,” my home instantly became cleaner and more manageable. I also discovered I really didn’t need all the extra stuff. Instead, I could donate it to people who could use it. And if I did, one day, require an emergency pair of chandelier earrings, I knew I could replace them pretty quickly for a fairly low cost.

How the 20/20 Helped Me

The 20/20 rule also helped me resist the urge to keep collecting more and more, and that saved me a lot of money. Before, every shopping trip to Target involved buying things on a whim —like a cute wine bottle opener or a watering can shaped like a baby elephant. Now, I know I have the items I need at home, so I’m not tempted to make impulse purchases I’ll regret later.

But what I love most about the 20/20 rule is its practicality. I tried the KonMari method. I actually held a hammer in my hand, trying to decide if it “sparked joy.” Honestly, it was just too wishy-washy for me. The 20/20 rule has allowed me to set time and distance guidelines: “I don’t think I’ll need this blue nail polish anymore, but I know I can get a new bottle for about $6 at the drugstore five minutes from my house if I do.” Simple. Measurable. Lovely.

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You’re probably wondering if I’ve ever had to replace anything. The answer is: rarely. We did try functioning with only one spatula in the house for about a year before I broke down and bought a second one. Having just one official flipper during Sunday morning pancakes wasn’t cutting it.

If you’re struggling to get organized, you can always buy more storage solutions —or you can minimize your things and better enjoy the space you already have. For me, the 20/20 rule means extra stuff no longer takes up space in my home or my head. And that’s the best decluttering of all.

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How the 20/20 Rule Helped Me Declutter My Messy Life (2024)


How the 20/20 Rule Helped Me Declutter My Messy Life? ›

That means if the item is not being used and can be replaced for under $20 and/or it would take less than 20 minutes out of your day to order or go get it… then it can go! This rule is for small and random items around your home! This may not apply to sentimental, clothing, etc. items.

What is the 20 20 rule for clutter? ›

Then we tested our hypothesis: the 20/20 Rule. Anything we get rid of that we truly need, we can replace for less than $20 in less than 20 minutes from our current location. Thus far, this hypothesis has become a theory that has held true 100% of the time.

What is the 20 20 rule for minimalists? ›

Created by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus of The Minimalists, the 20/20 rule consists of asking yourself two key questions while decluttering your home: Can I replace this item for less than $20, and can I replace this item in less than 20 minutes?

Why is decluttering so powerful? ›

Cluttered environments drain cognitive resources and lead to reduced productivity and procrastination, according to studies. A clean and organized space promotes better focus and concentration.

What is the golden rule of decluttering? ›

Rule #1: Toss the Clutter

The first rule when decluttering your closet is to be ruthless and get rid of anything you don't absolutely love or need. This means parsing through every item and asking yourself: Did I wear this in the past year? Does it fit properly? Is it damaged or stained?

Does a cluttered house mean a cluttered mind? ›

The Connection Between A Cluttered House and A Cluttered Mind. Clutter in our living space can serve as a constant reminder of the things we need to do or deal with. Whether it's unfinished projects, unopened mail, or piles of laundry, these items can create a sense of overwhelm and stress, adding to our mental load.

Is clutter a mental health issue? ›

In recent years, psychologist research has begun to find that living and working in cluttered spaces causes stress and anxiety and can harm both our mental health and our productivity.

How to start decluttering when overwhelmed? ›

Here is the best formula for decluttering large, overwhelming spaces:
  1. Remove the easiest things first. ...
  2. Discard larger items next. ...
  3. Donate items instead of selling them. ...
  4. Break your large space into smaller bite-size challenges. ...
  5. Work until your bite-size piece is completed.

What is the 90 90 rule in minimalism? ›

What Is the 90/90 Rule? Created by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus of The Minimalists, the 90/90 rule is a decluttering process that requires you to ask yourself two questions about objects you're not sure about: Have you used it in the past 90 days? And if not, will you use it in the 90 days ahead?

How to declutter once and for all? ›

How to declutter your home in one weekend: A 9-step guide
  1. Step 1: Decide what you want to declutter. ...
  2. Step 2: Plan your day. ...
  3. Step 3: Sort items into three piles. ...
  4. Step 4: Choose what to pass on. ...
  5. Step 5: Decide what to keep. ...
  6. Step 6: Get rid of items quickly. ...
  7. Step 7: Utilise storage solutions. ...
  8. Step 8: Create a system.
Mar 26, 2024

What is the psychology behind decluttering? ›

Studies have shown that clutter can increase our levels of stress and anxiety, making it more difficult to relax and unwind. By decluttering our homes, we can create a more peaceful and calming environment that can help to reduce our stress levels and promote greater overall well-being.

Why do I feel better after decluttering? ›

Getting rid of visual clutter can help you focus better on any task at hand. Higher self-esteem. When you have trouble staying organized, you may feel out of control. Improving your living space can restore feelings of competency and pride.

Why is decluttering addictive? ›

People that have compulsive decluttering disorder think that any items around them are cluttering or disrupting their everyday lives. Throwing these items away gives them satisfaction, and gives them the idea that they are in control of their lives.

What is the one touch rule for clutter? ›

This rule is “so simple, yet so life changing”. Simply by dealing with an item immediately, whether it is your shoes, incoming mail, or your used coffee mug, less clutter will be created. One touch, one movement, equals less effort overall. This rule can also be applied when you are purging, editing, and organizing.

What should you not throw out when decluttering? ›

What Not to Throw Away When Decluttering Your House
  • PHYSICAL PHOTOS. Our memories are more often immortalized on social media than in leather-bound albums. ...
Mar 16, 2018

Which room to declutter first? ›

Choose the most cluttered space in your house, as interior designer and author Jessica Nickerson suggests. “Pick one space that you feel like needs to function better for you,” she says. For many of us the answer is the same: the closet.

What is the 5 second rule for decluttering? ›

The five second rule is picking up an item, and making the decision as to whether it stays or goes within this amount of time. 'The basic premise behind this rule in decluttering is that you should know within five seconds whether you should keep something or not,' explains Amanda Wiss, Founder of Urban Clarity.

What is the 3 second declutter rule? ›

Created by professional organizer Kayleen Kelly, the three-second rule for decluttering requires you to decide in three seconds if you'll keep or get rid of an item. If you hesitate for more than three seconds, then the item stays. Lately, I've noticed that even non-dining room items have ended up stuffed inside it.


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