The one a day decluttering method might do more harm than good

The one-a-day cleaning or decluttering method has been quite popular recently. But while it sounds like a good idea – and appeals as it seems like less work – just decluttering one item a day rarely helps. If you have a significant clutter problem, here’s why it might not be the best approach for you.

Avoidance and denial

Clutter is decisions that haven’t been made and actions that haven’t been taken. If you have a serious clutter issue, doing one item a day can simply be a way of further avoiding those decisions and not getting into action. Are you simply deceiving yourself into thinking you are tackling the issue when you really aren’t?

I encourage you to have an honest chat with yourself and get clear about the the extent of the problem. Only from that clarity can you create a realistic plan to bring about the change in your home that you want.

You need to make a mess to get tidy

Like any home transformation, (think refurbishment), when it comes to decluttering there is usually some chaos and mess before harmony. You need to be brave to break through the stuckness and get everything in flux in order to make real change.

If you skirt around the edges of a clutter problem, rather than tackling it head on, you may find yourself just moving things from one place to another, and not making any real progress. I call this the washing machine effect, and this will ultimately demotivate you.

Sound familiar?

It takes just longer

Decluttering in tiny bites takes a lot longer overall. While one-a-day sounds like a good idea – and appeals as it seems less work – just decluttering one item a day rarely helps. It is better than just doing nothing, and as a maintenance strategy. But imagine taking the same approach to a huge pile of washing up after a party: would rinsing one glass a day get you very far?

I recommend rolling up your sleeves and setting aside a decent block of time to really get to grips with those piles of clutter and spring cleaning deep into those corners.

One a day is better than none a day, but not much.

If you are really stuck, and find it impossible to commit time to a thorough and intensive clutter shift, then removing one item a day might help you get started and address the overwhelm. Seeing small, regular results will make use of the brains dopamine reward system, which may help build a little momentum and perhaps motivate you to take on more.

So, yes, tackling one item a day may start to help break the deadlock, but ultimately you will need to roll up your sleeves and apply some perspiration.

It is great for maintaining order

The best way to use the one-a-day method is to build new habits, and to maintain order after your clutter has gone and you have cleared your home.

It is vital to understand and shift your clutter habits: the behaviours and beliefs that cause clutter to accumulate in the first place. Otherwise, your clutter will return, as surely as those weeds in your garden when you haven’t pulled up the roots.

Using habits or rules such as one-in-one-out and decluttering something every day can help build those new supportive ways of being in your home and preventing clutter building up again.

The best way forward

In conclusion, the one a day method rarely helps people who have clutter that has accumulated over many years. It doesn’t take into account the complexity of reasons why people have clutter in the first place, or the time commitment needed to really create a transformation in the home.

A far better approach is to honestly assess the full scale of the problem, establish a clear vision, and make a realistic and achievable plan of action. Then, take some time off and treat it like the refurbishment project it is and get down to some serious decision making and clearing!

Do this and you will be so happy with the amazing results you achieve. And if you get down to the root causes of your clutter, it will not go back to how it was before.



  1. Tricia Smith

    Thank you Helen. I’ve been really good at renovation projects over the years. Part of my clutter problems have arisen due to these renovations. The new heating system meant things got moved out into a storage unit. Then the living-dining room had a total makeover back to bare walls and more stuff moved to the storage unit. Add another project of new windows and total renovation of our two big bedrooms with more stuff going into storage. It was very useful moving everything out so the projects could go smoothly but the stuff stayed there for years. The decluttering project starts and stops, rinse and repeat. We emptied the storage unit in 2019 after 9 years of renovations. But it’s now in the house “storage” dining room and a bedroom.
    I’m now on a mission to treat this just like I would a renovation project. With timelines, deadlines, goals and results. I am so happy to read this blog. It’s spurred me on to treat the clutter in a different way. As a professional project and commercial manager in my past working life, I can’t believe that I haven’t seen my “work” skills as a gift that can be applied to these boxes of stuff.

    I’m off to my ‘day job’ now but I now have a new job “home renovator” and the project is my clutter.
    Thank you.

    • Helen

      Hi Tricia. I’m so pleased to hear that the blog has helped you find a way to connect your existing skills with renovating your home.
      I often find a disconnect between how people are at home and at work, in fact this was the subject of my Masters research project.
      I hope it goes well, and please let me know if I can support you in any way. Helen

  2. Margaret Brown

    That is so true. I now have a new garage roof and all the clutter that was there and got soaked during the 3 years I had to wait for the work to be done has been removed in a x skips . My clutter problem is now in the recent black sacks I filled as started to put things back in the garage that I would like to keep there. I moved the dry ‘stuff’ from the garage a while ago to the sun room and shed and as I sort these areas I fill more black sacks with things I did not really need to store all this time. I feel as if these things are multiplying faster than I can keep up. I know from my experience with Helen that lot can be accomplished in 3 days so I must be resolute and persevere. I must not be satisfied with the paltry progress I have made since the builders left but must dedicate a massive amount of time and do it now.

    • Helen

      Keep going Margaret! So pleased to hear that the leak has been fixed and that you can reclaim the sunroom for wonderful summer days again.
      Yes it is true that we can become accustomed to how things are we need to push through to achieve the results we want.
      Sometimes it helps to be accountable to someone, either a coach or a group.
      You have got this!


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