Minimalist Living: One In, One Out

One in, one out: it’s a simple rule that works wonders in keeping clutter under control.

When trying to lead a minimalist lifestyle, it’s important to monitor the “stuff level” in your home. Imagine it as a bucket full of water. Your decluttering efforts are a hole in the bottom…drip…drip…drip…as you slowly rid your household of unwanted things. But if you continue to pour water in the top, it’ll never empty—and may, in fact, overflow!

To keep your stuff level from rising, live by the following rule: every time a new item comes into your home, a similar item must leave. For every drip into the bucket, there must be one drip out; this ensures that your household won’t flood, and threaten the progress you’re making.

For best results, pair like-with-like items. For example: for every new shirt that goes in the closet, an old one comes out; new handbag in, old handbag out; new pair of shoes in, old pair of shoes out. If you need to rebalance, you can mix it up; for example, if you have too many pants and not enough shirts, feel free to decrease the former, while increasing the latter. But no fair tossing a pair of socks for a new coat!

The system takes a lot of discipline; it’s tempting to cheat, and tell yourself you’ll get rid of something “later.” In fact, it’s essential to commit to “one out” immediately, or it’ll likely never happen. I’ve gone so far as to keep new items, still packaged, in the trunk of my car until I was able to purge something similar.

When you start the process of minimizing your stuff, “one in, one out” is a good stopgap measure. It puts a lid on your number of possessions, and ensures you don’t accumulate more than you purge.

But to really make progress, the flow out the bottom has to exceed the flow in the top. In other words, it’s necessary to increase the decluttering “drips” from a trickle to a steady flow–while “shutting off the tap” to prevent new things from coming into your home (mainly by buying much, much less).

You’ll then see a significant, and rewarding, drop in the water/stuff level–which you can maintain by continuing to practice “one in, one out.”

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