How many times a day do you pick up an item only to put it back down somewhere it doesn't belong? We're all guilty of it. Maybe it's the heavy cast iron pan that takes too much effort to return to the top shelf of your cabinets, or maybe it's the papers on your desk that you're too busy to file again. There are a million excuses we can use to justify our actions, but the bottom line is, they're causing you clutter.
The fact is, our bad habits are the primary cause of clutter in our homes, and breaking them is key to having a healthier relationship with our stuff. The 'one touch' tidying rule aims to do just that. One of the biggest tidying mistakes we make is leaving stuff out on surfaces, often just inches away from where they actually belong, usually out of pure laziness alone. To declutter a room and stay on top of your stuff, putting it back properly is key.
Sound familiar? Here, I take a look at the best trick professional declutterers teach their clients to help them kick this kind of clutter for good.
Di Ter Avest is a professional home and lifestyle organizer and the owner of Di is Organized. Her in-person services, virtual projects, workshops, and digital book, Organize Yourself Healthy, help women create sustainable organizational systems for their homes and lives. Her expertise has been featured on Forbes, Today, ApartmentTherapy, Real Homes, and Kitchn; she has also given workshops at IKEA, West Elm, and Williams-Sonoma.
What is the 'one touch' rule?
As you may have inferred by now, the 'one touch' decluttering tip is all about putting things away after you've touched them. If your mom ever repeated the phrase 'if you pick it up, put it back' when you were a kid, you're probably already familiar with the concept.
More specifically, as a rule, the 'one-touch' idea has roots in the corporate world, used as a technique to boost productivity at work. 'Initially created by productivity consultant Ann Gomez, the one-touch rule is the action of putting things away or completing a task before you start a new one,' explains Di Ter Avest, founder of Di Is Organized.
While it's a useful way of staying on track with papers or tasks at work, it can of course easily be applied to our homes, too. 'Touching an item once - by not putting an object down but putting it away instead - will save you time and prevent clutter from building up in your space,' Di says.
3 tips for applying the 'one touch' tidying rule
Following this advice is hands down the best way to keep the surfaces of your home free of miscellaneous piles of stuff, but it's not strictly a decluttering rule. If you want to get rid of items rather than just hide them out of sight, you're going to want to pair this rule with some targeted approaches to letting stuff go.
1. Use it alongside good organizational systems
No tidying technique will ever truly be effective unless paired with some reliable organizers to help keep everything contained and clutter-free. From storage bins to drawer dividers, the best organizers work to your individual needs, pairing form and function in the best possible way.
'The 'one-touch' method can be very efficient when you already have systems in place to maintain this habit,' says Di. 'If you don't create a designated space for every item in your home and don't have systems in place, it would be complicated to know where to put things when applying the on-touch rule.'
If you find that piles of household bills are always littered across your kitchen countertops, buy a folder to keep them all in one place and store it on your shelves. If sets of keys are the culprit, invest in a key hook or catch-all and place it in your entryway. Assess what your primary clutter contenders are and I guarantee you'll find a solution out there.
2. Don't rely entirely on it
When we find a decluttering rule that works for us and our regime, it can be disappointing when we don't see results right away. While this trick is one of the best ways to change your daily habits towards the everyday items you use, it's not the sole solution for decluttering your home.
In fact, if your aim is to get rid of stuff, you might want to even flout the rule completely. 'I don't see this method being applied efficiently during purging,' says Di. 'Let's say you find a couple of pens in a room so you decide to either keep, donate, or trash them. You choose to put them in a box, but by the time you finish purging, you have a box overflowing with pens, so you'll need to touch them again to purge further and find a permanent home for them.'
In situations like these, you'll need to apply a more targeted rule, such as the six-month rule for getting rid of stuff. Don't rely on the 'one-touch' technique for every scenario or it might become more of a hindrance than a help.
3. Allow for exceptions
That leads us neatly onto exceptions. Understandably, this rule must allow for them. There are occasions where it's more practical to leave your stuff out, even if it's for a prolonged period, like when you know you're coming back to it in the morning. There're also emergencies, so don't apply the rule to medications or other essential items. There's also a blurred line when it comes to decluttering or organizing a room itself.
'While the one-touch rule may be helpful once you're organized and everything in your space has a home, I don't recommend using it during the process of getting organized itself,' notes Ben Soreff, a professional organizer at House to Home Organizing.
'The most important step in getting your home organized is the review. Since you have to gather up like with like and then review your items, touching them once isn't going to work. When you factor in storage solutions, getting an item into its home will require you to "touch" it many, many times.' His main takeaway? Make sure you stay realistic when applying the rule and remember its real value. 'This is all about habits and intent,' he says. 'Practice doesn't make perfect, but practice does make permanent.'
3 of the best decluttering books to help you change your mindset
If a decluttered home seems like a distant reality, this book by Dana White will help you get the job done. The decluttering expert identifies the emotional challenges that make it difficult to part with stuff we own, and provides workable solutions, like the six month rule, to break through and see noticeable results.
If you really want to kick the clutter for good, this book might be for you. Written by the Queen of organization, Marie Kondo, this book lays out the core principles of The KonMari Method, the revolutionary category-by-category system that promises effective decluttering results.
Probably the biggest thing holding you back from decluttering is your sentimental attachment. With empathy, expertise, and humor, Keep the Memories, Lose the Stuff, by Matt Paxton helps you to let go of what all the stuff that no longer serves you, helping you to live in the present moment
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Lilith Hudson is the News Editor at Livingetc, and an expert at decoding trends and reporting on them as they happen. Writing news, features, and explainers for our digital platform, she's the go-to person for all the latest micro-trends, interior hacks, and color inspiration you need in your home. Lilith discovered a love for lifestyle journalism during her BA in English and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham where she spent more time writing for her student magazine than she did studying. After graduating, she decided to take things a step further and now holds an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London, with previous experience at the Saturday Times Magazine, Evening Standard, DJ Mag, and The Simple Things Magazine. At weekends you'll find her renovating a tiny one-up, one-down annex next to her Dad's holiday cottage in the Derbyshire dales where she applies all the latest design ideas she's picked up through the week.
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