What is the 12-12-12 decluttering method? The genius challenge that makes organizing a space easier than ever

This method sets a clear target for decluttering, plus you can adapt it to your individual needs to make it more manageable

Dining room by Chango & Co
(Image credit: Chango & Co. Photo credit: Nicole Franzen)

We all love a challenge, right? Setting yourself an ambitious target and a clear goal can be the best way to motivate your efforts and produce effective outcomes, especially when it comes to the likes of decluttering. That's why you should know about the 12-12-12 method. 

If you're hoping to live a more minimalist lifestyle and part with a load of stuff you've been clinging onto for years, this challenge really steps things up a gear. It might be ruthless - and it's certainly not one for the faint of heart - but it's a great technique to adopt when decluttering a room if you want to start living well with less. 

Curious to know more? We asked some experts to explain how this decluttering method works and when to apply it, alongside some tips on how to adapt it to your individual needs to make it more manageable. Here's what they had to say. 

What is the 12-12-12 decluttering challenge? 

minimalist living room with light colors, curved sofa and fireplace

(Image credit: Marco Ricca. Design: Ali Budd Interiors)

If you're looking for a decluttering tip that will really shake up your home and help you part with stuff, then look no further. Set yourself a challenge and get serious with this proactive method. 

'The 12-12-12 decluttering rule was first presented by the author of the book The Minimalist Home: A Room-by-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Refocused Life, by Joshua Becker, and it consists of a challenge to help people break down the to-dos of decluttering a space into achievable, manageable tasks,' explains Di Ter Avest, owner of Di is Organized. 

The rules of the challenge are simple. 'Choose a room, a closet, a cabinet, or any space you would like to declutter then pick 12 items to throw away, 12 to donate, and 12 to be returned to their proper home,' says Di. A closet, bookshelves, or playrooms are great places to start, plus having a set target to work towards will help you stay focussed and make the job far more manageable.

What type of decluttering situations is it best for?

A kitchen countertop made from concrete

(Image credit: ddreps. Design: Kimberley Peck Architects)

Decluttering techniques like this aren't one-size-fits-all. There are some situations where you'll find it more useful than others, so having an idea of where and when to apply it will make your efforts more successful. 

'The 12-12-12 rule can be effective for overwhelmed people who don't know how to start decluttering,' says Di. 'Having a number to follow can keep you focused on the goal and make the decluttering process fun.'

If you're prone to shy away from big decluttering jobs, this numbered approach can also help you deal with overwhelm. 'This rule is best for people who need a strategy or basic plan to get started,' notes Macie Kreutzer, professional organizer and owner of For the Love of Simple. 'It's also helpful for busy households who want to keep their home tidy and clutter-free and can apply the 12-12-12 rule on a regular basis.' 

The beauty of the challenge is that it can easily be adapted to suit your personal circumstances, too. 'If you want to make it speedier, try 12-12-12-12,' says Di. 'Find 12 items to throw away, 12 to donate, and 12 to be returned to their proper home, all within 12 minutes.' 

If, however, you're prone to declutter's regret or suffer from decision fatigue, you might struggle with this method. If this sounds like you, try pairing it with kinder, longer term decluttering solutions like the six-month rule where anything you haven’t used in the past six months can be let go of, helping to quell the fear of regret you have when deciding whether to throw something away. 

Tips for applying the 12-12-12 decluttering method to your home

Beige bedroom

(Image credit: Framework Studio)

If you're dealing with smaller spaces or simply want to set a more reasonable target for decluttering, you might want to adjust the 12-12-12 rule. 'Everyone has a different lifestyle, goals for their homes, and different starting points,' notes Di. 'If 36 items (12-12-12) are too much, you can easily start with three items (1-1-1).' In other cases, you might want to set more than 36 items if you really want to notice results. 

Being confident in your decision-making is also key. 'Don't allow yourself analysis paralysis by laboring over what to toss, donate, or return to its home,' says Macie. 'If your home is very cluttered it should not be difficult to find 12 items within each category. When you look at your home with this mindset you may be surprised by how much you really don't need!' 

Finally, you can just apply one element challenge if you're not planning to get rid of anything right now by focusing on 12 things to return to their proper home. 'Oftentimes our everyday household essentials end up all over the house,' explains Macie. 'Go room-to-room throughout your home and you will easily find 12 items that belong elsewhere!' Doing this decluttering habit daily will help to keep your space more organized so that everywhere has a home, and you'll spend far less time searching for those misplaced items. Even if you're not throwing anything out, that's still a win in our book!

Color & Trends Editor

Lilith Hudson is the Color & Trends Editor at Livingetc. 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.