I Tried the “One-In, One-Out Rule” (with a Twist) and Got My Closet Under Control

published Jul 1, 2024
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Closet before decluttering using the one in one out method.
Credit: Rose Morrison

My family likes to give practical gifts — like clothing and gift cards — on special occasions. One of my favorite things to do is use them to refresh my wardrobe for the coming season. Wearing the items I’m gifted is one way I keep my loved ones close to my heart. 

My sentimental attachment to these items means I have a hard time letting go of them. I have limited closet space and storage to keep all the new clothing and gifted items, so regular decluttering is a must — and putting a unique spin on the “one-in, one-out rule” helped me streamline my wardrobe and home. 

What Is the One-In, One-Out Rule?

The one-in, one-out rule is a decluttering principle for managing clutter. It’s simple. Every time you bring a new item into your home, you also let go of one — preferably by selling, donating, or repurposing it. This basic rule helps you avoid having to do massive purges when the clutter in your home reaches chaotic levels. And the best way to use the one-in, one-out rule is by making it an ongoing habit.  

How I Used the One-In, One-Out Rule to Organize My Closet

I decided to level up the one-in, one-out rule to get my closet under control. I had a lot of clothes and realized that parting with only one item for each new one I put in my closet would leave my cupboards still brimming with endless summer dresses, cute athleisure wear, and bold-print tops. One-in, one-out is great for maintaining homeostasis, but it won’t reduce the number of yoga pants spilling out of my closet. So I decided to try the one-in, three-out rule to bring my closet to equilibrium. 

For example, there was no need for me to have 12 pairs of leggings at once. I kept my favorite four and donated the rest to a local thrift shop. The owner was thrilled, and I left feeling like I made a difference. Having space in my closet now to see more of what I have also feels terrific, and deciding what to wear is a lot more stress-free. My mood, in general, has also picked up, and I feel a sense of balance and harmony.

Credit: Rose Morrison

The Ripening Drawer with the One-In, One-Out Rule

The second twist I used on this classic rule nurtured my emotional self. I used something called a “ripening drawer” — a term coined by authors Judith Kolberg and Kathleen Nadeau in their book ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life that describes a designated place to put items you don’t want to toss but aren’t sure what to do with yet. In my case, I used the empty box my new horse-riding boots came in. 

Credit: Rose Morrison

The ripening drawer’s job is to hold onto the clothes I used for the one-in, one-out experiment but hesitated to part with because of their sentimental value. Any article of clothing that left me feeling torn took a brief vacation — one month — in the ripening drawer. 

If I thought of a particular item in the ripening drawer and wanted to retrieve and wear it, I did. However, if 30 days passed without me giving the contents a second thought, I loaded them up and took them to the thrift shop. It took the pressure off, as there was no need to make a snap decision on what to keep, and it reassured me that I applied a somewhat scientific method to my process. 

Stress-Free Decluttering

Using a ripening drawer combined with my remixed one-in, three-out magic finally allowed me to tame my overflowing closet and home. Now, I’m free to practice one-in, one-out going forward to keep things from getting cluttered again. I feel far less stressed now that I have control of my wardrobe.