How the 20/20 Rule Helped Me Declutter My Messy Life

updated May 21, 2023
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A move can certainly put things in perspective. When my family bought our new home a few years ago, I spent days packing up cluttered closets, disorganized drawers, messy shelves, and overflowing toy bins. Did I really own all this stuff? Had I really bought all this stuff? And — oh my God — was it all coming with me?

I promised myself the new house would be different.

After we settled in, I started researching decluttering techniques online. I came across the concept of minimalism — the idea of living with less — and specifically the 20/20 rule created by The Minimalists, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. When struggling to make decluttering decisions, the 20/20 rule says you should consider letting go of an item if:

  • You can replace it for less than $20. 
  • And you can replace it in less than 20 minutes.

Does the 20/20 rule solve every decluttering dilemma? No. But it’s ideal for small items, and those were causing me the most trouble. I started going through my overstuffed spaces, finding lots of everyday objects I could do without (and quickly replace in an emergency):

  • Ten coffee mugs? I don’t even drink coffee.
  • Books. I’m in two book clubs, but even I’m not going to crack open “The DaVinci Code” again.
  • Makeup. Like that pinkish lipstick I wore to my niece’s wedding last summer. Yikes.
  • Duplicate kitchen items. How many potato peelers does one household need?
  • Toys. My three daughters had 80 Barbie dolls. 80! Time to downsize, girls.
  • Clothes. Goodbye, ill-fitting red turtleneck I thought I might wear to a Christmas party!
  • Small appliances. Reader, I still had an original George Foreman Grill.

Once I stopped saving hundreds of small items “just in case,” my home instantly became cleaner and more manageable. I also discovered I really didn’t need all the extra stuff. Instead, I could donate it to people who could use it. And if I did, one day, require an emergency pair of chandelier earrings, I knew I could replace them pretty quickly for a fairly low cost.

How the 20/20 Helped Me

The 20/20 rule also helped me resist the urge to keep collecting more and more, and that saved me a lot of money. Before, every shopping trip to Target involved buying things on a whim — like a cute wine bottle opener or a watering can shaped like a baby elephant. Now, I know I have the items I need at home, so I’m not tempted to make impulse purchases I’ll regret later.

But what I love most about the 20/20 rule is its practicality. I tried the KonMari method. I actually held a hammer in my hand, trying to decide if it “sparked joy.” Honestly, it was just too wishy-washy for me. The 20/20 rule has allowed me to set time and distance guidelines: “I don’t think I’ll need this blue nail polish anymore, but I know I can get a new bottle for about $6 at the drugstore five minutes from my house if I do.” Simple. Measurable. Lovely. 

You’re probably wondering if I’ve ever had to replace anything. The answer is: rarely. We did try functioning with only one spatula in the house for about a year before I broke down and bought a second one. Having just one official flipper during Sunday morning pancakes wasn’t cutting it.

If you’re struggling to get organized, you can always buy more storage solutions — or you can minimize your things and better enjoy the space you already have. For me, the 20/20 rule means extra stuff no longer takes up space in my home or my head. And that’s the best decluttering of all.