The One-In-One-Out Decluttering Rule Doesn’t Work During Gift Season—But Here’s a Tip That Does

published Nov 8, 2020
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cardboard box with clothes on coffee table

Apartment Therapy’s Holiday Cure is your 20-day guide to being comfortable, calm, and in control of a clean space during what can sometimes be a chaotic season. Sign up now (it’s free!) to get at-home holiday ideas delivered straight to your inbox

I am a big fan of decluttering mantras. Trying to streamline your stuff is already an overwhelming and emotional process, so you need to fortify your mental framework to make a dent in your collection of clutter.

The “one-in-one-out” rule is one really solid way to make sure you don’t let your storage overflow with too many needless things: If one thing is coming in to your apartment, one other thing needs to go out. Hello new sweater, goodbye old jeans.

But the one-in-one-out rule assumes only one thing is coming in at a time. And during the holiday gifting season, that might not be true. If you have kids with long wish lists of toys and books, or family members whose love language is giving gifts, you might be struggling to figure out how to maintain homeostasis with a 23-in-23-out rule instead. It doesn’t really work.

Instead, for the holiday gifting season, you can relax your rule—but you have to accomplish one thing first: A thorough decluttering of at least one category of things (that you’re likely to be gifted).

Taryn's Tips

The one-in-one-out decluttering rule doesn’t work during gift season. Instead, declutter by category well ahead of the holidays.

It’s ok to have complicated feelings about this. Preparing for people to shower you with gifts feels like a really narcissistic exercise. But people are predictable. Even if we don’t get to see each other every year, I know my parents and in-laws will be sending boxes full of gifts. I know I’ll need some room on the shelves for new books since I always save a ton on my Amazon wish list, and to clear out room in the junk drawer for the little life-savers my dad likes to stuff into my stocking every Christmas (side note: anyone need some hand warmers?). You’re not doing anyone any favors if you allow yourself to turn your family’s loving gestures into a stressful mess inside your home.

So with that said, lets get started on day two of the Holiday Cure…

Day 2: Declutter and make room for gifts.

The place where you focus your decluttering efforts today should be unique to you. It might be central to a single place in your space, or might be more of a category of things that live all over.

The first part of this task is to think about what you might be collecting more of this holiday gifting season. Here are a few suggestions that might jog your memory:

  • Clothes: If the holiday season involves new clothes (whether they’re on your wish list or something you treat yourself to), make some room in the dresser and closet.
  • Toys: If you know someone in your household gets sent home with a bunch of new toys every year, clear room in the toy chest or on the bedroom shelves.
  • Books: If you ask for books every year but your shelves are currently stacked side to side and double-deep, take away some books.
  • Hobby gear: Nothing like getting really into a hobby to make people want to gift you supplies. If you know you’ll get some gifts you want to hang on to, clear some room on your workspace or wherever you store supplies.
  • Tools: If you seem to procure new tools or home maintenance gear after the holiday season, give yourself some space on the workbench or in the garage.

Once you’ve zeroed in on one or more categories of things, make an effort to make some room for new gifts in the places where you store those things. You might remove and sell 10 garments from your closet, for instance. Or take three books off the shelf and add them to your neighborhood’s little library. Or clear out 5 toys from your kids’ stash (it’s up to you if you want to involve them in that process).

There’s no quota. Just make enough room, and then relax with the confidence that you’ve saved future-you from a post-holiday mess.

More Ways to Participate in the Holiday Cure: