Using the 20/20 rule to make decluttering decisions

I should probably hang on to that widget/gadget/doodad just in case it comes in handy down the road.

Sound familiar?

I’m sure we are all guilty of saying something like this at one time or another, but did you know that holding onto items “just in case” is one of the biggest reasons we build up so much clutter over the years?

Or that using the word handy is one of the 3 words that can quickly sabotage your decluttering efforts?

Luckily, the 20/20 decluttering rule makes it easier to make difficult decluttering decisions, especially for those stubborn just in case and handy items!

20-20 decluttering rule

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A Case for the 20/20 Decluttering Rule

My 4th son William is into remote control cars big time.

He loves nothing more than to race his cars around the house at break-neck speed, going over kid-made obstacles and under chairs. Bonus points if the dog goes a little bonkers and joins the chase!

But the thing about RC cars is that they have a lifespan.

And when you’ve got a newer car to play with, the older ones start to look a little washed up. They sit abandoned on a shelf in the playroom, hoping that someone will notice them and play with them again.

But still, these cars still have plenty of play left in them. Even the batteries are still good!

So what should a mom do?

I’ve always got an eagle eye peeled for things that have lost their charm or are no longer being loved and used. (Plus, I think fewer toys is better for kids anyway.) And those cars are a prime target!

But it’s a tough call.

What if he decides he loves this car again? What if one of the other ones breaks?

This is the perfect time to pull out the 20-20 decluttering rule!

declutter coffee mugs 20-20 rule
Quickly declutter your coffee mugs (or any clutter) using the 20-20 decluttering rule.

What’s the 20-20 decluttering rule?

Glad you asked!

The 20-20 decluttering rule says that if you can replace something for less than $20 and in under 20 minutes, it can safely be decluttered.

OUT it goes! (Good read: the Minimalists talk more about this rule here.)

So that beat-up RC car that cost $15 and still works? The one I can get on Amazon in about 90 seconds flat (not counting the 2 day shipping turnaround)?

A no-brainer!

I package it up with remote and drop it at the thrift store with the rest of our donation items.

Some other kid will be thrilled to find this treasure.

More Examples Using the 20/20 Rule of Decluttering

That $12 eyeliner that I don’t love? Also a no-brainer (but this one goes into the trash).

I can easily get a new eyeliner for under $20 the next time I’m at Target. And I probably have 2 others that I like better in my makeup drawer anyway.

How about the 12 coffee mugs that nobody likes and never get picked out of the cupboard? Or those other kitchen items that seem like a useful tool but have yet to be used once?

Easy! Declutter those and free up all that precious space in your kitchen cabinets.

But the beautiful wool sweater that’s just missing a button and fits perfectly?

Well, it definitely cost more than $20 and finding another one might take months of searching online.

Nope – not a good candidate to declutter. Instead, find the missing button or buy a new package of buttons. It’s worth the effort to make it wearable again.

We passed that RC car on as a donation.

I’m sure some other kid will be psyched to score such a great win at thrift store prices.

And our playroom?

There’s one less duplicate item that’s just taking up space and not being used.

A win for everyone!

The Best Part of the 20/20 Rule?

The unspoken thing here is that MOST of the items you declutter using the 20-20 rule are things you’ll NEVER need again. They’re things that you were holding onto “just in case.”

And this rule gives you permission to finally let go of those stubborn, closet-cluttering, just-in-case items.

Note: Feel free to change this to the 30-30 rule or even 40-40 if, for instance, you live 25 minutes from the nearest store. The exact number isn’t important; embrace the concept behind the rule to make it work for you.

Have you ever used the 20/20 decluttering rule?


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33 thoughts on “Using the 20/20 rule to make decluttering decisions”

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this tip! I get so overwhelmed while trying to declutter that I just give up frustrated. Having a set rule for me to follow should help me peel away another layer. Loved it!

  2. I also love the 90/90 rule: If you haven’t used it in the next 90 days and you know you won’t use it in the next 90 days…get rid of it. (From the Minimalists)

  3. I’m so sorry, but this is the most rediculous thing I’ve ever seen. This is why our landfills are overflowing and our kids have entitlement issues. Spoiled much? I tell my kids, “if you love it, keep it well” and if you, don’t you never needed it. Find someone who does.

    • I was thinking about the overflowing landfills too and the extraction of resources from the earth. The good thing is that the model car went to another child!

    • Hi Kimberly did u race ahead when reading. The suggestion was to Recycle everything you are decluttering! The toys went to Charity Shop [what we call them in australia] and so forth. i totally agree with ANY rule that helps Declutter AND benefits someone else. Win~-Win 🙂

  4. With my budget, it would have to be at least cut down to the 10/10 rule! $20? Most of the time I can’t afford anything that costs $20, LOL! As far as a remote control car goes, why wouldn’t you keep it so that when a child comes to play they each have one to run? I’m not saying have a whole fleet of them, but to have one for when another child is there to play seems Very wise.

  5. Love it! My clothing, as you say, won’t necessarily work this way, but if I don’t wear it in 2 seasons, it’s gone! Donated! Depending on what shape other things are in, trash or donate! Who needs 20 sets of sheets? Lol!

  6. I was donating so many items to the charity shop each week (and trying not to buy things) and suddenly noticed just how easily I could buy just about anything at the charity shops if I really needed a teapot or whatever. It has helped so much.

    • It’s true, great minds think alike. As I was reading this the same thought was running through my mind, how easy it is to replace things at thrift stores and yard sales. Maybe with this mindset forefront while decluttering we could challenge ourselves with an ever higher amount 50/50 since these more expensive items are a fraction of the cost second-hand.

      • I am always amazed at how much nicer the items at the thrift store look when compared with the “treasures” I’m hanging on to!

  7. I love this Rule. It would really work well with an assortment of kitchen gadgets so that I could pare down the well used spatulas (the local homeless camp is appreciative of my assortment of plastic cups and random, mismatched items) and keep the ones I love.

  8. This is a helpful rule to have and each of us can find the number that works best for us. I have to say though, that I agree with Sue on the car issue. I would have kept the remote car for when other children visit so that they both have one, but that is probably not something that pops up often.
    Thanks for sharing.

  9. Bless your wonderful heart, sweet Sarah! This concept immensely has cut down my decluttering time. I LIKE the concept of “others can use it better,” and many of those “others” don’t have an extra $20 to spend, either on purpose or on a whim. It’s the reason I love to donate things that just take up space in my house but can be valued in another.

  10. I have never tried your 20/20 rule, I’ve never even heard about it, but I’m about to. I am awaiting info on assisted living because climbing stairs is no longer an option & because I’m on Oxygen 24/7. My children are God Sends, they have been connecting me to new doctors, setting up appts., and I have an apartment that needs to be emptied. All furniture is being donated, some appliances, books, knick knacks, it is the things that will be the problem. Plus the fact that I can’t be there while they are going through everything. That’s my biggest problem.

    • Put a red dot or heart, whatever coloured stickers you have or can get and let them know the things you love and maybe a different colour for the things you like. That way whoever downsizes for you will know which things to definitely keep. You can get packs if these at the dollar store or office supply store.

  11. I love this idea! Really helpful as I have lots of clutter that fits into this category. This concept makes the decision making so much easier!
    Another idea I heard elsewhere that is along these same lines is to think of the thrift stores as storage. Instead of paying for additional storage to keep rarely used but replaceable items, donate them. If you need another one later, just pick one up at the thrift store. This concept helped me to let go some of my kitchen clutter that I don’t really use much.

    • What a great way of thinking about using a thrift store to declutter & restock as really needed. This thinking will definitely help my decluttering process. Thx!

    • My mother “makes” me numerous ceramic items that I do not want or need. She is just so proud of them. I have asked her not to make anything else for me as we do not have the room, at all! They are considered clutter to me but treasures to her. I have rented a small storage unit to keep said items in as well as things that are not replaceable (children’s clothes/baby keepsakes/items that do not fall under the 20/20)

  12. For those concerned about filling landfills… the item already exists. Keeping something you don’t need doesn’t change the fact that the item is “here”. Don’t turn your home into a makeshift landfill/thrift shop by believing the lie that you must keep all things you have purchased or otherwise acquired. Absolutely donate or recycle whenever you can, but if it is truely garbage, then throw it out!

    • I disagree with the logic. Yes, the item already exists, but the concept is to toss if it can be replaced, with the assumption, as the author states, that she’ll pick up another one at Target. We have one planet and this throwaway consumerism is irresponsible.

      • Wendy,
        This is something I’ve struggled with too, to the point of allowing my home to be refuge from the landfill for way too much crap.
        I think the emphasis is on “in the event that you DO need it”, where 99% of the time (or more) you don’t ever end up needing it. Or you have so much crap you don’t even know what you have, so you go buy a new ___ anyway. I don’t think that this idea, or the people so committed to self-improvement, are the types to take the rule so far that they’re causing great environmental damage.
        Also, as a few people mentioned, most things of use get donated – and then IF you end up needing to repurchase, you go buy it 2nd hand.
        This idea that Sarah has brought up has been so freeing for so many people. Many of us who were raised with little / nothing, or whose parents grew up during the Depression, are not faring well in this new world of “stuff”. Making the decision to get rid of things is debilitating. Living in an environment that creates stress 24/7, with no escape, no sanctuary – we can’t expect people to stay living like that because of the small micron of negative environmental impact their decluttering MIGHT have. There are bigger battles to fight that WILL have a greater impact – reducing industrial agriculture (chicken farms, cows, pigs), coal powered plants. Heck, let’s get people on board with just recycling their cans and bottles and let them declutter in peace (or in the hope thereof).
        I do totally get what you’re saying – I just don’t think it’s applicable or beneficial in this space.

  13. This has been up for a while, but just read about the 20/20 rule.
    Thank you so much Sarah! I am in the 28 day reboot and working on the bathroom, this week!!! This rule will FREE me so much to be able to let go of items that need to go!!!
    I am very excited to use this tomorrow!!!!


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Welcome. I’m Sarah!


I’m the creator of Decluttering School (formerly known as Early Bird Mom), lover of organized spaces, encourager to women and mom to four boys. Click here to read more!

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