Minimalist Living: One In, One Out

a(Photo: Moe_)

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.”

Related posts:

  1. Minimalism Around the World: Danshari
  2. Minimalist Strategy: Don’t Organize Your Clutter
  3. One-A-Day Keeps the Clutter Away

20 comments to Minimalist Living: One In, One Out

  • Dave

    This is a rule that we have been doing for the last year. Although not necessarily of like items but it works for us.

  • miss minimalist

    Glad to hear it, Dave! It’s a great way to keep your stuff under control.

  • Great post! As I read it, I thought of nail polishes and purses… and my favorite thing to do is take items I no longer want to church with me (I work with teens at church), and I tell the girls I have purses and nail polish I no longer want. The items are snapped up in less than five minutes.

    It’s fun later on to see someone carrying something I gave them. Their faces light up and they tell me how much they love the item. Win-win situation! It’s not in my house and others are happy!

    I used to do this at work too..and when friends gathered. So far it’s worked with lotions I’ve gotten as gifts (am allergic), hair products I’ve used once and realized they didn’t work for me, scarves and clothes that just aren’t “me”, pens, notebooks, you name it – I’ve given it away.

    • That is brilliant — take to church youth group. I’m always wondering about stuff like that — shampoo, nail polish…can’t donate to a charity…but still so useful!

      And Francine — the 1 in 1 out rule has long baffled me. I’ve only recently realized it’s because my house was so stuffed!

  • Great tip, Francine!

    I use the 1 in 1 out rule all the time. Just a few days ago, I bought a new pair of jeans because I got rid of my old pair. (And I only own 1 pair!) This rule helps to curb the spending as well as reduce additional items from accumulating until it becomes uncontainable (and downright scary). 😀

  • Celia

    I’m in the middle of a grand wardrobe purge, and this rule is helping me to keep from losing the progress I’ve made. I now have a drawer for long-sleeved tops and one for short-sleeved tops. If a new shirt comes in, an old one must go, or it won’t fit into the drawer!

  • Robert

    Sometimes if I find something I want but don’t need, I feel guilty about getting it so I take this a step farther – I have to find 2 old items to get rid of (as similar to the new item as possible). Obviously this doesn’t work with jeans if you only have one pair of jeans 😉

  • Jennifer

    A one-in, two(or three!)-out rule can be good for those of us who want to downsize but haven’t got the time for a full on purge.

    Definitely important to keep on top of it right away.

  • Mrs Brady Old Lady

    My motto exactly – sometimes it’s even one in, two out – great way to declutter without even noticing it!

  • […] in 1 out policy (This and this). For every piece of clothing, furniture, hobby equipment etc. we buy, one must be […]

  • […] may trade things I have for other things. This basically installs a system of one in, one out. In extension this means that whenever I sell something, the proceeds (after any postage, fees, […]

  • […] 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. -Francine Jay, Miss Minimalist […]

  • […] and you buy new clothes, you will need to donate some old clothes to maintain the space. Often a ‘one-in, one-out’ rule works well for this, and has plenty of benefits, including financial ones. However, to my […]

  • […] 2. Continue grounding rituals. Lemon water in the morning, self-care books and journaling/gratitude lists at night. Daily yoga practice, exercise that feels good, green smoothie or green juice for breakfast. Deep cleaning and de-cluttering; practicing the one-in/one-out rule. […]

  • […] One in, one out: For any new thing you bring into your home, you must get rid of one similar, pre-existing item […]

  • […] nodding in its general direction because it is the most recent place I’ve read about the one-in-one-out rule.  Some even go with a one-in-two-out rule, which could work as a general policy, but not in […]

  • […] A regra “um-entra-um-sai” (ou “one-in-one-out”, em inglês) é bem popular em blogs sobre minimalismo e também bastante simples: toda vez que você compra algo, deve se desfazer de um item equivalente. Isto serve para tudo – roupas, sapatos, panelas, coisas para a casa… Comecei a aplicar a regra no meu projeto de guarda-roupa minimalista. É possível ler mais sobre o método aqui. […]

  • Tina

    I keep giving away a bag a week to Goodwill and a pile of books to the library. I am not an extreme minimalist by any means but my home is a lot neater. I only collect earrings and I’ve found myself giving them away 2 pairs at a time after I bought some new ones. I have an empty closet where I keep some winter clothes for my mom and space for some of her favorite books. My next project is selling some silver plate objects that I inherited but none of my children want.

  • Tina

    I just got rid of a huge bag for Goodwill. My husband found sweaters, pants, and shoes he didn’t need. Now that we’ve both been retired for many years we have no reason to go out on the coldest days of the winter so a lot of our super heavy clothes can be given away. We stay home when it’s below about 15 F out. I usually layer clothes and then put a heavy jacket on top and I haven’t worn my down coat in years. We don’t turn the heat on because we are on the 4th floor of a 9 story building so we don’t get cold.

  • […] based on our recent experiences, my wife and I made an agreement. We are going to try the One In, One Out principle. I know what you’re thinking… when I come in she leaves! It’s a lot less […]

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