I've tried a few decluttering and organizing tips and tricks as H&G's Solved section editor, and think that when we're feeling frustrated about a lack of space, it's almost always because we need to edit down our belongings.
As you can guess, famous American authors Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus – known as 'The Minimalists' – also advocate living with less. Their 'out in the open' decluttering rule is incredibly simple, and given that when I tried out their '30-day Minimalism Game' I managed to get rid of over 300 items, I decided to give it a go.
Last night, I applied the idea in my living room, which needed some attention anyway.
The 'out in the open' decluttering rule
If you're thinking of decluttering a small living room this weekend, this simple trick makes it easier to see what you can let go of, and motivates you to tidy things away again.
The decluttering rule explained
In this video, Joshua Fields Millburn makes the point that we often hide our belongings in drawers, cabinets, and credenzas as well as in our attics and closets.
And he says that one day he and fellow Minimalist Ryan Nicodemus, plus some colleagues emptied out their closet in the studio where they record their digital content, and came up with the 'out in the open' rule.
'We got everything out on the floor, everything out of the cabinets, we got everything out in the open, hence the name for this as the "out in the open" rule. And as soon as we put everything out in the open, what did it do? It forced us to deal with everything.'
Where I tried it and why
I applied their rule to my TV unit, which is wooden and midcentury and a real clutter magnet. It's in the living room, which doubles up as my dining space, and since the TV unit is a couple of steps away from my dining table, I tend to use it for dinnerware items, so I can get them out quickly to lay the table – extra placemats, napkins, taper candles, and tealights.
They're the kind of thing that would otherwise clutter up my kitchen storage space that I don't use when having a quick midweek dinner, but are nice to have when friends come over. It also holds lots of bottles of wine and spirits, and some random clutter.
It's the only closed living room storage that I have – aside from the TV unit I just have open shelving, which I love, but have to admit isn't as practical. Open shelving is more an area of curated items than somewhere to simply store things away, so requires a lot more discipline. The top drawer of the TV unit is all too easy to slide out and shove clutter into, which I do a lot.
Before I started clearing it out, I felt like I was opening up a can of worms, as I hadn't really paid it any attention since I moved in a few months ago. I just tackled the top drawer, because it's always best to do one drawer at a time and feel pleased about how that's gone than try and do too much.
Out came a dozen notebooks, some paper clutter that could go straight in the trash, two old iPhones, a box of envelopes, and a lot of 'new home' cards that I sifted through, keeping just a small selection.
There were also some unidentifiable cords, three vintage Bovril jars I know I have too many of but still love, two packs of playing cards, two pens, and some 'sticky stuff remover' spray I was planning to use on the TV screen but hadn't got around to doing. There were also some crafting items, like colored card and samples of wallpaper.
With everything out on the floor, I realized the only reason the TV unit was messy was because I haven't found homes for things in the apartment yet. For instance, the notepads, stationery and craft bits would make much more sense stored away in my home office, perhaps in a small free-standing cabinet or a corner bookcase like this at Wayfair. This wooden drawer and shelving unit, at Wayfair has plenty of space for the less pretty office paraphernalia, and a few shelves that can be styled.
Similarly, the playing cards would be better off kept together with my other card games in the TV unit ready for games nights this fall.
Apart from the old bills, mail and paper manual for my new headphones, there wasn't much that actually needed to be thrown away. I rearranged the drawer so it only houses placemats and things directly related to dinner parties and found temporary homes for the other bits and pieces. There's still plenty to sort out, but at least I've made a start.
What is the 50% rule in decluttering?
The 50% rule was coined on TikTok, and the idea is that you keep any storage areas only around 50% full. So your closet, underbed storage and kitchen cabinets would only be half full. This might be a good goal to have in mind while allowing ourselves some wiggle room. In theory, keeping plenty of empty space in our cabinets means we'll find it easier and more motivating to put things away.
Now that I've made some progress, I'm feeling more motivated to chip away at other cluttered areas that I gave up on after moving house. Rather than feeling like there's no space for things, I'm going to group items into categories and think about where would be the most convenient spot for them. It's a slow process, but it's making me feel more on top of things.
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Millie Hurst is the Solved Section Editor at Homes & Gardens. She has six years of experience in digital journalism, having previously worked as Senior SEO Editor at News UK in London and New York. She then gained experience writing for women's magazines before joining Future PLC in January 2021. Millie has written for an array of homes brands including Livingetc and Real Homes and was formerly Senior Content Editor at Ideal Home before taking on the position of Section Editor with Homes & Gardens. She has written and edited countless features on home organization, decluttering and interior design and always hopes to inspire readers with new ways to enjoy their homes. She lives in Sheffield, South Yorkshire and loves to weave nature-inspired decor and nods to time spent in Italy into her own home.
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