One in one out

I don’t think I have ever dedicated a post to the practice of one in one out. That is, to maintain a decluttered status of your home,  for every item that comes into your home something else should go out in turn. Of course this has been mentioned time and time again here mostly in the context of when you buy something let something go. Buts lets not forget the when you receive something from someone else the same needs to happen or the clutter will begin to build up again.

And of course if your home is already cluttered one-in-one-out is only going to maintain the status quo so other decluttering needs to be going on at the same time in order to attain a less cluttered level of living. You might be surprised at how mindful you need be about this because I hear it said often that people thought they were making progress but then realised that they were really just marking time. Or at best two steps forward one step back.

The result of this can be that people then give up on decluttering because they think it is a futile endeavour instead of giving up on acquiring. Because lets face it, for most people acquiring is much more enjoyable.

The one in item does not need to match the one out item, although to make a difference it would need to be of a least equal size or, better still, bigger. Although it generally works out that they are similar items because it is usually that you are replacing one item with another.

Often my readers mention clutter creep. This title amuses me because  it makes it sound like something that happens independently of them, like a cockroach invasion. So long as we don’t detach ourselves from the responsibility of it and be vigilant with the one in one out system this problem will be eliminated.

Today’s Mini Mission

Start a use it up challenge on a throw away convenience item that is not so environmentally friendly, and vow not to replace it. Paper towel, cling wrap, any sort of wet wipes, bottled water…

“If we do not feel grateful for what we already have, what makes us think we’d be happy with more?” — Unknown

Eco Tip for the Day

Limit your purchases to good quality items the truly suit your needs. This will be better for you, will ensure the continuation of quality manufacturing and hopefully help eliminate rubbish products through lack of demand.

For a full list of my eco tips so far click here

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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Continue reading with these posts:

  • Mini Mission ~ Wednesday 20Dec2017 Declutter by recycling some items. That mound ofused takeout containers, old newspapers and magazines, paperwork that needs shredding, glass jars you set aside in case you have a use for […]
  • Mini Mission ~ Friday 22Dec2017 Declutter a couple of old shabby shoes that you no long choose to use.
  • Mini Mission ~ Tuesday 19Dec2017 Start a trial separation on an item or two that you are on the fence about letting go. Put this/these items in a out of the way place where you won't encounter them on a daily basis and […]
About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. I do think this is a great idea. You need to do it all the time. I can can also see how much it makes a huge difference now I have done a lot of decluttering because I can see if I don’t keep it up.

  2. Hi Colleen! Great post! I think that apart from the one in one out rule, we have to start thinking when we go shopping. We have to question if we do need that item, how are we going to use it, if we don’t have a similar one at home and so on. Lately we have done lists to buy whatever is needed, but we always talk about our purchases, before they are done. That way it becomes a rational decision. And it really pairs down the clutter that comes into the house. A few weeks ago it was insufferably hot here in my hometown. I had dressed poorly for the weather and was desperate to buy a new light blouse to wear. I also needed a pair of shorts. I knew exactly what I wanted and fortunately was in a part of town with loads of inexpensive shops with nice clothes in it. I stopped at one and made the woman go through her things until i found exactly what I wanted. I changed tight there, lol. The blouse I was wearing was too cold for winter and as I had just attested not working for summer anymore (I had worn it sometimes, and it was a bit shabby not very resistant), so as I got to the place I was going, I just got the blouse out of the car and donated it. My husband said I was odd, because I might want the clothing again. I said “no, I just bought another and this blouse has been hanging on long enough without wear.” So, the point is, if we have acquired something that fulfills a need, a similar that does not has to go.

    • Hi Andréia, that all makes sense to me. If you are going to get rid of that shirt because it doesn’t suit your needs then best to get rid of it ASAP. I would probably have taken it home and washed it first though. I all glad that you are looking carefully at any purchases you make these days. As I have said before ~ It is best to put the money aside for a rainy day than spend it on stuff you don’t even need. Or pay some extra off on your home loan that you can borrow against if necessary.

  3. Hi Colleen, I like the reminder about getting rid of something if we acquire something else. And, as you pointed out, the “acquiring” might have been our purchase or a gift to us, etc… So I think it is good to think what are we carrying into our home? Where did it come from? Why did we acquire this item? Then we can be conscious of the fact that something new is coming into our household and therefore something else should be removed. It’s so easy to get busy with life and not realize this is happening. I brought in some Earthwise produce bags (3 sets!) recently. They will actually live in our cars, so cluttering there rather than the house LOL… I don’t know if there is anything to go out in trade, but it will prevent a lot of plastic produce bags from entering our home!

    Some trades our household has made recently:

    a partially broken CD / radio alarm clock OUT, a wristwatch with light up dial IN
    worn out pizza cutter OUT, new pizza cutter IN
    worn scrub brush OUT, new scrub brush IN

    My best friend will be visiting soon. Every time she comes, I have a pile of things for her to decide on… I always tell her okay to take them or not, I won’t be upset… and okay to pass along anything she decides she doesn’t want after all. Some of it is for church youth craft. This time she will evaluate & decide on my childhood dollhouse. It has had sentimental value because my parents worked to create it together. But it is big and I don’t have any place to display it. Every time I think about cleaning it (and all the small bits inside) I am filled with intense inertia… If my friend decides not to take it, I’m thinking of putting it on our curb as a freebie. It will be out of here soon, one way or another… so maybe that is my trade for the produce bags, LOL 🙂

    • Hi Peggy, reusable produce bags is one purchase that I definitely approve of. Good for you. And like you say it will stop lots of plastic bags entering your home and eventually ending up in landfill. And that dollhouse if more than a fair trade for a huge dollhouse. No matter the sentimental value, it is better that the dollhouse goes to someone who will enjoy it all over again rather than be causing you to cringe at it. It won’t get so dusty for someone else if it is being used.

    • Wow Peggy! That’s brilliant you have a best friend who can regularly pop over to help you with your final decision making. I find sentimental items the hardest to deal with, so I’m really impressed at your resolve to let go of the doll’s house ‘one way or another’! You go girl 🙂
      One piece advice I was given regarding sentimental items was to photograph it before giving it away: that way, you have a visual reference without the clutter. But this risks the build up of digital clutter…

      • Hi Nikki,

        Sadly, my best friend lives 2 hours away, so we only see each other a few times a year. But I discovered while traveling to her house that there is a town midway between us… and that town has an Amish store that we both love and a restaurant that has very good omelettes & home fries… So we meet there sometimes and shop then have lunch… and sometimes shop again (she shops, I follow)…

        I was thinking of photographing the dollhouse, but due to my inertia (ahem laziness), it isn’t really photo ready… and isn’t likely to be while I own it…(looks down shamefully)…

        Just so that I don’t get into trouble with Colleen, I need to mention that I refrained from buying anything last time we went to the Amish store! But they do have good prices on bath rugs and I need one… So I will make that purchase next time. 🙂

        • Peggy – what is an Armish store? I’m from New Zealand and we don’t have Armish communities though I know what the Armish are.

          • Hi Moni,

            It’s a store run by Amish people, sort of a general store. They have household goods, fabric, clothing, bedding, toys, paint, garden stuff, etc. Most of their prices are very good. You’re just as likely to see a horse and buggy parked there as a car. I think the girls that work the registers might be Mennonite rather than Amish because they wear more colorful, sometimes printed dresses. I believe they are closed on Sundays, due to their religious beliefs. I was tempted there by some inexpensive fleecy sleep pants because I get so cold. But I resisted 🙂

        • Hi, Peggy. If your dollhouse isn’t photo-ready now, would you (or any relative) by any chance have photos of it from your younger days? That way, you’d still be able to have the memories of it in better days.

        • Hi Peggy,
          That Amish store sounds like a fab place to meet & reconnect. And I’m sure any future purchases you decide to make will only be well considered ones 🙂
          By the way, I wouldn’t worry too much about items being ‘photo ready’; some things are special precisely because they’re slightly imperfect, they might even carry the scars of old memories. And that’s o.k. As long as you’re ready to let go, don’t let a little thing like a less-than-perfect picture stop you clearing the clutter!

          And thanks to Colleen for another timely reminder!
          I’ve bought a few things in the January sales this year (still sticking to my ‘No more than 10 items in 2015’ target), but I’ve more than balanced it out with 2 enormous bags of clothing & unwanted gifts/bags for charity. I like to think of it as a gradual process of shrinking my home: the fewer possessions I have to look after, the smaller & lighter my space is (and less cleaning/tidying up required!) Other than groceries, I don’t need to shop for most of the year, so hopefully, with continued decluttering, I will end up with a much ‘smaller home’ by Xmas. Here’s hoping!

    • Peggy, re the dollhouse – please take some photos of it before it goes. At least you will have memories you can look at.

  4. Personally, I believe that the “one in-one out” rule really only works once you are on clutter maintenance.

    • Hi Kimberley, as I said in the post, the one in one out rule is best run alongside your other decluttering. Other wise you can end up taking one step forward two steps. Either that or stop acquiring altogether unless absolutely necessary. The first thing I did when I began decluttering was to cut way back on purchasing, which saved me the bother of doing too much one in one out decluttering while I focused on my one thing a day.

  5. Yes, Kimberley … it works beautifully when you are on maintenance mode. Someone who is starting to declutter or still has a long way to go, will have to employ several strategies in the battle against clutter. Apart from the physical clearing of stuff, there are also psychological and emotional aspects involved. An awareness of yourself and your habits (or lack thereof), as well as knowledge of your enemy (clutter) are required in this fight. There are several layers involved. And while you can be vigilant for clutter creep, you might have to live with someone else who is not, so it can happen independently of you. I’ve seen this happen before. And if Life throws you a curve ball, you might be helplessly inundated with clutter creep, depending on the situation.

    • Hi Nicole V, as I just said in my comment to Kimberley, it is important to be doing both decluttering and following the one in one out at the same time. Or better still stop the incoming stuff altogether where possible. That is what I did when I began decluttering. In fact even before that. The process of decluttering constantly and deliberately, focusing on every item you let go, is certainly the time to learn about yourself and your issue of purchasing and cluttering. I have sure learned a lot about myself over the last five years and mostly in the first year of my declutter journey.

  6. Yup, I know your post mentioned clearly that other decluttering needs to be going on as well, Colleen. I was thinking about someone I used to know when I related some of the other steps involved, steps that this person refused to take. And I so agree with you about the personal learning journey one undergoes during decluttering.

    • I am glad about that Nicole. And the personal journey is the biggest advantage to decluttering slowly. I do plenty of occasional quick declutterings in the past which only lead to another sometime later on. This time things are very different and I will never have a big declutter to do ever again. I am certain of that.

  7. Decluttering has also taught me important lessons about what I should and should not do, lessons that are firmly imprinted in my mind.

  8. Hi Colleen,
    Another great post. I have been a big fan of the one in and one out, which as several people have said, works well for maintenance. However, the one in and two or three out works well in the beginning, or when you see the clutter creeping back. I have to get back on track because I am seeing the creep again due to a busy life:)

  9. I thought clutter creep was real…the little people who live in the walls do it. Just kidding. This was a great post.

    • Ah ha, do I detect a sense of humour here? Hi Brittany P and welcome to 365 Less things. I think you need to comment more often in future, my readers always enjoy a good laugh. Nice blog you have there by the way.

  10. Clothes have been the easiest category to have the one-in-one-out rule.
    My closet is at the perfect state of function right now, so I know that if I want another pair of slacks then an existing pair of slacks HAS TO GO for the balance to be maintained. It’s a great deterrent for shopping because it means I have to get rid of something I already like and/or use. I can’t calculate how much money I may have saved since enforcing this rule!

    • Not to mention the how much more environmentally friends your actions have become, creativeme.

      • I’m with Creativeme in the clothing department. Some other areas I might not be so good in.

        Colleen, you crack me up – – cockroach invasion! I borrowed one of Peter Walsh’s books from the library last week to keep the motivation/inspiration up. Oh and an update for you: we cancelled the new windows, at least for now. We had some rather hefty medical expenses and some big vet expenses when our cat suddenly became seriously ill. Everybody is better now, but windows are on hold. I have been doing some more decluttering and that has been very successful.

        • Hi, Michelle. I’d be interested to hear about any useful nuggets of info that you come across in that book, if it’s not too much bother. Thank you 🙂

          • HI Nicole V. I returned it on Friday, but one thing that he said is that we are not “historians” This stayed in my head because I’m back to document decluttering. I have kept a ton of newspaper articles that I honestly should let go. Probably that information could be found online and I don’t really have a need to retain that info anyway. I also kept news clippings on weddings, births, deaths of friends from high school and family. Ok, I haven’t talked to any of these people since I graduated in 1988, so I suspect that information can go bye-bye too!! 😉

        • Hi Michelle, I am sorry to hear not that there has been illness in the family and that you are now going to have to put your windows on hold as a result. Perhaps it is a probortunity that hasn’t shown the opportunity side of the equation yet. Fingers crossed that is the case.

          • Thanks Colleen. I suppose things work out the way they are supposed to. We didn’t have the full funds on hand for the windows. We were going to have to basically zero out our savings and finance a portion, and that made me uncomfortable. The illnesses of hubby and kitty may have been saying that we don’t have the money to do this. Strangely enough, having made the decision to X the windows has lessened my stress level. 🙂

            Today I was telling a lady about your community and the things that we all are trying to accomplish and she was pretty darn impressed. She related a story to me about a family she knows in tight circumstances. We bought a window AC unit last year though a family member that (stupidly!) we hadn’t measured. It is about a half inch too big. I’m going to ask her if her friend’s family can use it. If not, I’m going to check with the cat rescue to see if they can use it in one of their foster homes.

          • Well Michelle, I would say you have already worked out the plus side of that unfortunate circumstance. I too would have been stressed under those conditions. If there is one thing that freaks me out is stretching finances. Being cautious has certainly worked for us in the long term though so maybe it is a good thing.

        • Thanks, Michelle. I’ve waded through a load of paper clutter, too … I know how it can get. Keep plugging away at it and I hope that you’ll soon be done and dusted.

  11. Forgot to mention a use it up challenge I finally won! I had a scented lotion that I loved… but I bought it years ago and had trouble using it up because of my work (can’t wear scents) and 2 other competing fragrances I wear on my days off… just taking too long… So I took the remainder to my favorite coffee shop and left it in the Ladies Room for all the ladies’ chapped hands (it’s cold here right now). I visited the coffee shop again this morning and saw the level of lotion had gone down significantly. So happy that I could pass it along and others can use it!

    My husband and I both play Sudoku… We don’t like the easier puzzles… So next time I need to wait in a waiting room somewhere, those easy puzzles are going to wait (permanently) there too LOL

  12. One of my friends I have been helping to declutter was surprised to hear that Im still decluttering. I don’t have the big transformations that she is experiencing but I do find it still needs regular maintenance and effort. I also know that there are items which don’t justify their existence but have been allowed to remain on the basis of sufficient space and items which have future expiry dates that need reviewing.

    One in, one out. I think it begins happening naturally after decluttering for a while. I think the more familiar one becomes with the household stuff thru re-visiting, it comes a normal way of thinking.

    • Hi Moni, it also becomes a habit simply because we don’t want to end up back at square one. That is why I am forever vigilant.

      • Yes indeed, Moni, I agree. Sometimes it is hard to believe that years later we are still decluttering. Some things we just can’t/won’t address until the time is right. That is okay. When I discovered this blog, one of the first things I went through were old documents. Sure, I got rid of a bunch, but some other things, I just couldn’t seem to get rid of. That was, what?, about three years ago? It could be time to revisit those boxes and send more stuff to recycling or the shredder.

  13. My house is presently a clutter nightmare. With the bathroom renovation progressing slowly there are tools and materials in the kitchen and lounge room. It is harder to do much with dust and tools around. A daily clean up after still leaves the place looking cluttered. I have removed everything from the bookshelf as well and I’m in the process of sorting through it. We have twenty books less now.
    I have also been going through the boxes of kitchen stuff we put aside for my daughter four years ago in anticipation of her leaving home. There was twenty tea and coffee cups in the box. When I mentioned to her that she doesn’t drink either they were removed. The trouble with keeping these items is finding somewhere to store them and keeping them from getting mouldy and really, will she ever need or use them?

    • Oh Wendy, renovation can be a disaster! Ugh! Of course you’ll be happy with the end result, but the day to day life can sure be annoying. I bet you are excited to get the project completed. 🙂

      • Very excited , I’ve been telling Colleen about the shower screens , they are treated to repel water so will be easy to keep clean. Plus there are cabinets to store medical supplies and soaps and shampoos. Not too many, but they will all be in the one location. Cheers

        • Oh! Stop rubbing it in Wendy, you know how envious I am of those shower screens. 😆

          As for that stuff for your daughter, Bridget certainly uses the stuff I put aside for her. Although we went through it each to she visited to be sure she wanted the stuff I put in there between visits. That being said, if they are likely to be ruined in the meantime then perhaps it isn’t a good idea to keep them. Many items are so easy to pick up at the thrift shop for just about nothing anyway.

    • Hi Wendy! You can’t win this one at the moment I am afraid. I just did a paint job in one of the bedrooms in my house (mind you, I just PAINTED the place, nothing else) and I had so much stuff going back and forth and my house was so messy that I just wanted to turn my back on it all. Happily the painting job was completed, the room assembled in a more orderly way and all the clutter and mess that had been bugging me were dealt with. Be patient, when the job is finished I am sure you will feel a urge to declutter and your house will look greater than ever! Good luck!

      • Yes Andre’ia I’m already discussing what else can go to the waste centre or sold on Gumtree whilst we are in a state of clutter. Hubby is on board as he is the one doing the renovation and is getting a bit over the clutter. He just spent the morning looking for a painting pole to paint the ceiling. It could not be found . We will find it when the cleanup is completed .

    • Four words, Wendy F: This, too, shall pass.
      You will get through this avalanche of dust, clutter and chaos.

  14. Hello !
    how I manage one-in one-out
    clothes, shoes : yes
    jewelry : yes
    houseware : yes
    craft tools : yes
    Books : definitely NO First, it is nearly impossible to sell used books nowadays moreover I don’t find books about theology in nearby libraries, fortunely many of then are OOP 😉

  15. What an excellent post! I started a simple tally sheet back in October, just a piece of paper on the table by the door with a row per month and three columns per row: In, Out, and Total. Consumables (groceries, toiletries) don’t get tallied, but if it’s something to be stored or worn, it gets a tick mark in the In column on the day it comes through the front door. Items to discard get a tick mark only when I take them out the door to go to their destination, whether charity shop or recycling or trash. At the end of the month I put the net number in the Total column. It’s been an interesting exercise; I had thought I was adhering to “one in one out” but it turns out I wasn’t. I’m going to try to keep up the tally for a year.

  16. We started this method at my home this month. I made a one in/one out list to keep up with it all. My husband is on board with it so far, and hopefully will stay with it. The list also helps because I don’t expect my husband to get rid of an item the minute something else comes into the house. As long as we keep up with it on paper, I’m fine purging those items once a month or so. So far the items that have come in are:

    large coffee mug from mom to husband
    2 charging cords
    2 newspapers (mom brings hers from my hometown when she is finished with the weekly edition. This is a good reminder to me to look through them and not set them aside like I tend to do!)
    lunchbbox for dh (easy–the old one is only trash worthy)
    new running shoes (two pairs are boxed up to send to be recycled by Nike)
    2 reusable K-cups

    • Hi Mrs. GV, I like the idea of making a list. I might have to give that a try. Seeing the evidence in writing would certainly keep a person on a even keel. This week I would be ahead of the game for sure. My husband moved his desk out of the living room and into the spare room and that sure has caused an avalanche of decluttering tasks. My out list will be in so much credit it will take a year for the in list to catch up. Not that I will ever let it.