The three-second decluttering rule – the quick-time hack organizers swear by

This trick will help even the most indecisive of people clear clutter quick

The Margot free standing wardrobe with a partially open door full of lcothes, beside a small white square pouffe stool
(Image credit: Loaf)

If you get stuck in an endless cycle of ‘maybe’ piles when decluttering your home, then the three-second decluttering rule may be perfect for you. 

One of the many decluttering strategies minimalists swear by, the three-second decluttering rule forces you to make quick black-and-white decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of to avoid maybe piles from gathering dust in your hallway. 

This is what professional organizers think of the three-second decluttering rule, and when to use it to help cut the clutter.

The three-second decluttering rule

Whether you want to declutter your clothes fast or downsize your home, the three-second decluttering rule, created by professional organizer Kayleen Kelly, helps you make quick decisions while avoiding decision fatigue.

The idea is to only allow yourself three seconds to decide whether or not to keep an item, Kayleen says:

'It's a gentle technique I've created through my 10 years of being a professional organizer and working with clients who struggle with decision-making. I advise them to categorize their items to see what they have and make a decision on each item. Yes = Keep, No = Go. If they hesitate for more than three seconds it's an automatic KEEP. 

'This allows them to gain momentum, see results quickly, begin to trust their gut, and removes any punishment for indecision. It's a safety net.' 

modern bathroom vanity and cabinetry by Studio LIFESTYLE

(Image credit: Studio LIFE/STYLE)

While three seconds may not sound like enough time, the whole point of the method is to go with your gut instinct and avoid overthinking. This not only makes decluttering quick but also prevents fatigue and stops you from feeling overwhelmed by the process. 

‘This speedy rule is great because it cuts through all that humming and hawing. There is no overthinking, no maybe-this-maybe-that. It’s about making snappy, clear-cut decisions, which can be a real clutter-buster, especially for stuff that doesn't tug at your heartstrings like decluttering sentimental items, which may require more time,’ Kelleigh Beckett, professional organizer and founder of Imperfect Homemaking, says.  

Kelleigh Beckett
Kelleigh Beckett

Kelleigh Beckett is a homemaking strategist, lifestyle blogger, and mom of 6. She runs Imperfect Homemaking, where, using her 15 years of experience, she spills the beans on cleaning, organizing, the art of homemaking, and the beauty of simple living.

When to use the three-second rule

warm wooden kitchen cabinets

(Image credit: Reform)

While the three-second decluttering rule can technically be used anywhere in your home, it is best saved for really cramped spots filled with everyday items such as kitchen gadgets, clothing, and home decor – items that do not hold significant sway over your daily routine or your emotions.  

That being said, this rule may not work for everyone – especially if you are new to decluttering and making decisions about your own belongings, continues Marine André, home organizer and CSR expert at En Route to Joy: 

‘I think it's important to find a rule that suits individual requirements and personal preference. In my opinion, the rule of three needs some level of experience when it comes to decluttering. The objective is to keep an item with confidence or discard it with confidence, and adding a three-second limit means you might shift to panic mode and keep everything because you feel pressured to choose immediately. If you're the type of person who needs to process to avoid disappointment, it's not for you.’

This is not to say that the rule doesn’t work, however, she adds. ‘In my opinion, the rule is better adapted for more experienced individuals who have trained their decision-making and can decide quicker without impacting the quality of their choice.’

Marine André
Marine André

Marine is an accredited KonMari® consultant. She specializes in teaching her clients the six rules of Marie Kondo's world-renowned tidying method and, more importantly, showing them how to implement these guidelines at home to create maximum impact.

Distressed vintage dresser in white bedroom

(Image credit: Marie Flanigan Interiors/Julie Soefer)

'If this sounds like you, then you can alter the three-second rule to help you tidy your home and relocate clutter as practice,' suggests Ed Burton, co-founder and CEO of Upmove. Rather than having three seconds to decide whether to toss something, he recommends taking three seconds to locate an item and find a home for it instead. 

‘Not only would this help maintain a tidier living space, but it can also encourage a positive cleaning habit,’ he assures. This can also help train your brain to make quicker decisions. 

All-in-One Declutter Planner | View at Etsy

All-in-One Declutter Planner | View at Etsy
This printable decluttering planner is all you need to help tackle your home's mess without missing a step. It is perfect for both keeping track of your belongings and starting your first big clearout.

FAQs

What should I remove first when decluttering?

When starting decluttering, begin in a cramped area that is full of items that are simple to make decisions about, such as your kitchen or bathroom counters. More often than not, these areas are filled with items that can easily be put away or thrown in the trash, helping you to make quick decisions and see fast results. This, in turn, inspires you to continue around the rest of your home, working up to bigger tasks and decluttering projects such as the closet. A similar technique worth trying is the snowball decluttering method.  

What should you never throw out when decluttering? 

When decluttering your home, you should never throw out anything with any sentimental value. These items should be pondered on before you make any rash decisions you might regret. If you need to declutter, consider whether you can take photos of things to store for your memories or digitize photos and documents for safekeeping while reducing how much physical stuff you have in your home.  


As with any home organizing and decluttering tricks, the three-second rule is a great approach to try or mix and match with alternative approaches when clearing out your home. Using trial and error to help make decluttering fun and effective while maintaining balance is the best way to ultimately reach your goal. 

Chiana Dickson
Writer

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for a year, 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.