I found decluttering exhausting – then I tried the 'one touch' tidying rule

The 'one touch' rule could be the solution if keeping your home tidy feels like a never ending challenge

A pile of folded clothes next to a coffee cup
(Image credit: Alamy)

We're all guilty of placing something down on the kitchen counter rather than storing it away properly. Maybe it’s because it lives in a different room, or maybe because it is just slightly more convenient. 

The 'one touch' rule is one of the easiest cleaning tips I have ever tried, and it really helps to make a habit of putting things back where they belong the moment you finish using them. One of the biggest tidying mistakes we make is creating piles of things that are near to, but not actually in, their proper ‘homes’.

Here, I explain what the one touch rule for tidying is, and how it totally transformed how I clean and tidy my home.

What is the one touch tidying rule?

The one touch rule is something I have been trying to follow in my home for a while, but only recently found the discipline to make it a daily habit. Thought to be originally conceived by productivity consultant Ann Gomez of Clear Concept Inc, the method's mantra is: ‘Don’t put it down, put it away.’ 

The goal is to put things away as soon as you have used them and avoid having to touch them a second time to get them back in their home. I was always guilty of hanging my coat on the back of my dining chair, rather than on the hooks in my entryway closet. Having to move it from the chair to the closet was the second touch, showing that it takes more effort to put things in the wrong place the first time than to put them away properly in the first place.

Bad habits like these always led to an untidy home, and cleaning and decluttering it each weekend often felt exhausting. 

Ann Gomez
Ann Gomez

Ann Gomez is a productivity coach and speaker. She is also the founding president of Clear Concept Inc. and the best-selling author of The Email Warrior and is passionate about helping people do their best work.  

Trying the one touch tidying rule

entryway closet with doors open, hanging clothes and drawers inside, rug on the floor

(Image credit: The Cotswold Company)

Trying to make the one touch rule a habit took some getting used to as I am not someone who can build habits easily. However, when I realized that I didn't have to declutter areas like my dining room or living room coffee table each evening the satisfaction started to fuel my desire to make a change. 

I dove head first into the rule and started applying it to everything I used in my house, from my coats to keys to laundry. All I had to do when I was about to put something down was repeat the mantra 'Don't put it down, put it away' to myself. 

I found that the rule had the biggest impact on doing laundry in my house. In the past, I would usually bring the hamper downstairs and then leave it close to my washing machine until later in the day. Using this method, I discipline myself to load the machine, put the hamper away, and set the washing machine to run in one go. 

Foldable bamboo hamper | $25.99 at Wayfair

Foldable bamboo hamper | $25.99 at Wayfair
I use these sleek laundry baskets to help declutter my home and sort my laundry. Their foldable design means they are easy to hide out of sight when not in use, too. 

Similarly, I made a habit of retrieving, folding, and storing dried clothes as soon as I began to unload my clothes airer, rather than putting the basket down in my bedroom to empty with a second touch later (and, let's face it, leave it for at least two days before finally putting it all away).

In the end, I got a lot more laundry done in less time and I didn't end up with a backlog that took me a full week to tackle. What's more, my hamper was already empty and ready for new clothes so starting the next load was easier. 

I even found that the one touch method helped me to tidy my digital space too. As someone who receives and reads countless emails per day, I started making myself reply to an email as I opened it, as opposed to opening them and telling myself I would reply later. On the whole, I felt more productive and my inbox began to look a lot more organized than usual – and I thought it was already pretty tidy to begin with!  

custom clothing storage with shelving and drawers

(Image credit: Kitesgrove)

I inspired the Homes & Gardens office to give it a go too — Millie Hurst, Section Editor is also a big fan. 'The one touch tidying rule is such a useful tidying hack! I kept the "Don't put it down, put it away" mantra in mind when sorting out my apartment over the weekend and it makes you realize just how often you put something down where it doesn't belong,' says Millie. 'It feels a bit like having a parent with me while tidying, nagging me to put my running shoes away properly, to stop leaving piles of folded laundry around or letting clutter gather on my dining table.'

millie hurst news writer
Millie Hurst

Millie Hurst the Section Editor of Homes & Gardens, oversees the Solved section, which provides readers with practical advice for their homes. Millie has written about and tried out countless cleaning and DIY hacks in the six years since she became a journalist, and has worked in both London and New York. She is currently completing a diploma in interior design with the Interior Design Institute.

One thing that made the one touch rule more effective in my home was ensuring that I had adequate storage solutions such as bedroom storage and living room storage around my home. Creating a place for everything helped me keep track of where I needed to move certain items each time I used them. 

I set a designated place for my toolbox in my home office, for example, to help put my small DIY tools away after fixing something around my home, but you may wish to create a spot for important mail in your kitchen, or create some hallway shoe storage space to organize common problem areas. 

There was one place I allowed myself to be a little more relaxed with the one touch tidying method, however. When I had used something downstairs that needed to go away upstairs, I allowed myself to leave them in a stair basket at the base of my stairwell. 

As someone with a condition that makes stairs difficult sometimes, allowing myself some leeway with the rule made it more practical for my home and health. My one stipulation, however, was I had to put the item straight into the basket rather than on a surface, and I had to take the basket or its contents upstairs to sort it the next time I used the stairs. 

It was an important lesson in allowing yourself small breaks and tweaks to tidying tips so as not to become burnt out or force yourself to declutter when overwhelmed

My verdict

Overall, repeating the mantra ‘Don’t put it down, put it away’, whenever I went to abandon something in the wrong spot such as my coat, I managed to discipline myself into putting it away with one touch. After realizing this made it easier and quicker to clean my home at the end of the week, it cemented its importance in my day-to-day routine.


Does decluttering help with productivity?

Decluttering has been proven to greatly improve individuals' mental health and well-being, making you more productive too. This doesn't just apply to your office and desk space either, in fact, decluttering your whole home and finding balance with your belongings can help you to destress and be more productive in your hobbies and chores too. 

Finding quick and easy methods of decluttering and organizing, such as the one-touch tidying rule, can make this process quicker and easier and lead to higher productivity sooner without any major routine changes. 

How do I make tidying easier?

You can make tidying easier by researching a good tidying method that suits your home or personality. If you like to get up and get things done quickly, then a method such as the five-minute blast could help you to race around one spot and tidy the area in one fell swoop. If you prefer to take your time, then trying the basket method to collect items that belong in other rooms and move around your home slowly may be better suited to you.

How do I stop being overwhelmed by cleaning?

One of the best ways to prevent being overwhelmed by cleaning is to set a timer for a short amount of time, say 20 to 30 minutes, and dedicate that time to cleaning or tidying your home. Once the timer goes off you can stop your task no matter where you are with it and rest. Cleaning or tidying in short stints like this can help you to get through priority tasks with the sound knowledge that it will not last forever and you can rest immediately after. 

Chiana Dickson
Content Editor

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for two years, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.