I Tried the “OHIO Method” and It Got My Messiest Counter Clear of Clutter

published May 8, 2023
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Cluttered kitchen countertops before using Ohio Method.
Credit: Shifrah Combiths

The other day, I texted my friend a picture of my youngest daughter bringing me food she made in her toy kitchen. You could see how proud she was and the meal, made of wood and plastic and felt, was quite a spread. My friend was distracted, though. “How is your kitchen counter so clean?” she demanded. 

The big-picture answer to this is that clutter makes me feel like I’m under attack. A messy counter kicks my nervous system into high alert. But recognizing this and being able to address it are two very different things; knowing that a clear counter makes me feel calmer doesn’t mean it’s simple to keep it that way. It usually feels like a constant uphill battle to claim this space from the creeping clutter that accumulates. 

Credit: Shifrah Combiths

Recently, however, I came across a method that’s helped me keep the counter clean. First, a little background: This counter is the most active surface in my entire house. It’s where we dump groceries, the kids set all their (mountains of) school papers, make lunches, prepare and eat snacks, and so forth. We do our best to clear and clean it after every “activity” that takes place on it, but it’s also a space where things that are in limbo live. For instance, it’s not unusual for papers that need action or small items that need to go upstairs to stay on that countertop for days or even weeks. 

When I came across the Instagram account @forgoodcode’s mention of the OHIO method, it struck me. He connects this method to make the most out of your Gmail account, explaining that, with the OHIO or Only Handle It Once method, “the goal is only to handle things once. If you read an email, then reply to the recipient right away. If you are handling junky emails, decide at that moment if you are deleting them. If the email needs a response, answer it, or if you decide to unsubscribe to avoid future messages from that address, hit that button.”

Credit: Shifrah Combiths

The method instantly reminded me of something my mother taught us when we were kids, also sometimes dubbed the “one touch rule.” This rule means dealing with what’s in your hands while it’s in your hands. It prevents clutter from accumulating in the first place. For me, the distinction between the OHIO method and the “one touch rule” is in how I remember it. “OHIO” pops into my head far more readily than remembering to only handle something once. 

The power of the acronym makes the difference between following the rule and forgetting it when I’m about to set something down. Ultimately, it’s made the difference between counters that have to be reset and ones that stay pretty clear perpetually. 

Credit: Shifrah Combiths

Here is how the OHIO method might play out on a typical day. Instead of setting the electric skillet down on the counter halfway to the garage where it belongs, I just carry it to the garage as soon as it’s dry and ready to be put away. When my kindergartener puts his school papers on the counter, I categorize them into keep, action, and recycle piles — and then deal with those piles on the spot. I’ll put papers I’m going to keep in the designated sorter on my wall; either take action right at the moment, add the paper to our magnetic board, or scan any action papers; and toss the rest in recycling. 

Groceries get put away without setting them on the counter and items like water bottles either get washed or put in the water bottle area of the counter, purposefully. Items that need to go upstairs at the very least get carried to the staircase. And jackets get hung up while they’re in hand. 

The OHIO method keeps you from having to clear the counter as a separate daily chore. Additionally, it’s a powerful tool that prevents clutter in the first place, giving the gift of a regularly cleared-off space and the peace of mind that comes with it.