How to Get Rid of Clutter Piles Once and for All

Learn how to get rid of clutter piles once and for all so your home stays neat, tidy, and organized!

Organized White Kitchen with a Large Island

We all have them. Those surfaces in our homes that seem to attract clutter no matter what we do. In our townhouse it was the dining room table. It was so easy to just walk in the door and drop whatever was in our hands on the table to deal with “later.”

Small, organized dining room in a townhouse

In our current house it’s our kitchen island. It’s a big, flat surface in the middle of the main level, and it seems to collect clutter like crazy. And since there was always so much junk in such a central location, it really made our whole main living area feel messy and cluttered. I really didn’t like that.

Aqua Demijohn on a Large Kitchen Island in a White Kitchen

How to Get Rid of Clutter Piles Once and for All

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.

One day when I was cleaning off the island for what felt like the 10th time, I decided that I had had enough. There was no reason that one spot should be such an organization pain point.

I decided to enact a simple rule for our family. And though we’re still a work in progress, it has seemed to help a lot in my quest to get rid of clutter piles so far. So what is this magical formula?

It’s the One Touch Rule.

Now I wish I could say I was the oh-so-genius person who came up with this rule in the first place. I wasn’t. It has been around for a while. But it is so simple and so smart at the same time, and it’s something I really want to work on putting into place in our house this year.

So what is the One Touch Rule?

Well, it’s pretty much what it sounds like. Instead of throwing down a pile of stuff on the empty surfaces in our home to be dealt with “later,” we instead immediately take each item to its designated spot in our home.

If it’s the mail, we sort through it, throw away the junk right then and there, and put any bills or paperwork that need to be processed in the “inbox” that Donnie scans and files digitally a few times per week.

Managing paperwok digitally on a laptop computer

If it’s the boys’ school paperwork, we throw away anything that we no longer need, display any pieces that they’re especially proud of, and take photos of items we want to save long-term so we don’t have to create clutter. (You can read more about how we handle kids’ paperwork in this post.)

Kids' Paperwork Organized in Slim Photo Books

If the boys are finished with a toy, instead of just throwing it on the counter and moving on to the next one, they put the first toy away and then choose their next item.

If I’m bringing in shopping bags, I unload them right away, finding a designated spot for any new items instead of just throwing them in a pile to deal with later.

Sounds easy enough, right? 

It is easy, but we also have to be pretty intentional about it. Let’s be honest, sometimes I feel tired and don’t really want to walk all the way upstairs to put something away. Sometimes I’m really tempted to say “Oh, I’ll just do it later. It’s not a big deal.” And sometimes it’s not. But many times it opens the door to keep piling and piling until we again have the cluttered mess that we were trying to avoid.

Getting the Family on Board with the One Touch Rule

It also takes cooperation. If I’m the only one in my house committed to the One Touch Rule, then I end up getting frustrated because I’m spending a lot of my time picking up everybody else’s stuff. Everyone has to be on board. (For more info on getting your husband and kids on board with organizing, see this post.)

We all have to agree that it’s much nicer to live in a house that is uncluttered and organized (where you can always find what you need because it’s put away in its designated spot!).

Dad, mom, and two sons sitting on a bridge

photo by elle and arre photography

Get Rid of Clutter Piles: Final Thoughts

So while the concept of the One Touch Rule itself is easy, the implementation may take some work, some changing of habits, and some teamwork.

Habits aren’t going to change instantaneously. We’ll have to be patient. We’ll need some reminders. (Post it notes in strategic places when you’re first starting a new habit can help!) But over time, we’ll get more and more used to implementing the One Touch Rule, and it can be a total game changer!

Implementation is definitely not perfect at our house by any means, but as we work at it more and more, we find that we are able to better enjoy our living spaces and our time together. And that is the ultimate goal!

The One Touch Rule: Frequently Asked Questions

If you’re having trouble making the One Touch Rule a habit, try using it in just one area. Commit to using the One Touch Rule when you bring in the mail, for example. Or use the one touch rule with clothing when you’re changing.

Once you’re fairly consistent with one area, choose another area to focus on. You’ll find that as you master the One Touch Rule in one area, it will quickly become a habit in other areas as well.

Absolutely! The earlier we can start teaching kids positive organizing habits, the sooner they’ll start to stick long-term. Kids won’t be perfect at it and they may need some extra prompting, but if we’re consistent, their habits will continue to improve over time.

First introduced by David Allen in his book Getting Things Done, the two minute rule states that if you can complete an action in two minutes or less, do it immediately. If a task will take longer than two minutes, we can add it to our task manager and make a plan to do it later.

The two minute rule is another productivity tool that can help us quickly decide how to make the best use of our time.

Want to save this post to revisit later? Be sure to pin the image below so you can find it easily!

How to Get Rid of Clutter Piles Once and for All

Have you ever implemented the One Touch Rule in your home? I’d love to hear your thoughts about it in the comments!

Thank you so much for following along! Have a wonderful day!

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.


  1. This sounds like one of those rules that is so, so simple, but that’s why it works! We’ve never defined the rule, but we also have this rule in our house. Granted, we don’t have children like you do, but there’s definitely a place where clutter just seems to collect naturally.. for us it’s the coffee bar. I also think always keeping the house organized makes us take the extra step to maintain that decluttered, clean environment. Great post!
    P.S. Hope you are recovering well! Prayers to you and your family!

  2. How funny! Just yesterday I was telling my youngest son, who is 13 years old, about the “On Touch Rule”. As he filled his empty used cup with papers, popsicle sticks and whatever else his comment was “it’s more like holding on to something”. Remember as your children grow, keep in mind that the frontal lobe is fully developed around 25 years of age.

    Mary Ash founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics used the “One Touch Rule”. I guess you can say it may have helped her stay on track.

  3. Linda Freeto says:

    Hi, Abby. I know that you are beginning the healing process of your surgery. Be patient with yourself and take this time to rest. Thanks for the posts and the planning it took to get ready for this day. May God bless you in the healing process, and may God bless your family as they take care of you.

  4. Great post — enjoyed reading it so much. By the way, how do you edit you pics and add text boxes on them? Any online tools?

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Hi, Mostafa! Canva and PicMonkey are both great online options! Thanks!

      ~Abby =)

  5. Na'omi Keith says:

    Hey Abby,

    I love this rule. It is a simple rule that everyone can follow! Your comment of “I’ll do it later, it’s no big deal” really resonated with me because it is true of so many bad habits. The if you do whatever it is once because “it’s no big deal” thought process opens the flood gate. Love it, sweet and simple.

    Thank You

  6. Erin Baynham says:

    That’s a super simple rule that makes SO MUCH SENSE. I have to try this starting today, not just at home, but on my work email as well. My inbox stays cluttered because I swear I’ll address things later, and later never comes!

  7. I have a friend whose mother always said, “A stitch in time saves nine.” The first time she said it to me, I said, “Huh??” She explained it was an old saying describing that if you took care of a small hole when it first started, it saved you from developing a larger hole later on that would cost additional time and (nine) extra stitches. I also sometimes say to myself, “Be nice to your future self and take care of this now.” Thanks for the great read!

  8. Maria @ Leisurely Does It says:

    You definitely have to be committed to get rid of clutter. One tip is to make an area that is prone to clutter pretty. Once it looks good, we usually want to keep it that way. At least that’s what works for me!

  9. Rev. Suzanne says:

    My maternal grandmother told me of this concept when I was a child. She always said, “When you take off your coat, hang it up and you won’t have to come back to it later.” I have lived by that rule my whole 68+ years. My husband used to as well. And I taught it to my children and now grand and great grandchildren.

    The reason this concept doesn’t go out of style is, IT WORKS!

  10. Carole Carlson says:

    The one-touch rule is great. My problem is two-fold: 1. my husband is not on board and 2. it all goes to heck during my busy season. So at the end of each busy season, I spend a day getting everything back in order. After that, it is relatively easy to keep up, at least in “my “areas of the house. Kitchen is hubby’s domain, so I can only do what I can in there!

  11. MamaMurrey says:

    My mantra is “Don’t put it down–put it away!” I hear it in my head so often, and it really does help with the piles.

  12. Yes we have that rule too, apparently. They each touch it once and then when it’s my turn I put it away. Haha. No seriously, this is a big problem around here, and I am a culprit at times too. One area I have serious issues with is paper/mail. I am in the process of digging my way through piles and piles of old bills, junk mail and papers that I was going to get to “later” and never did. Now it is a huge burden. The past month or so, I have begun immediately going through and allocating my mail as soon as I enter the house with it. Bills get opened and filed in a current month folder (minus any envelopes/unneeded information), junk mail goes in recycle or gets shredded if a credit card offer or something like that. This has at least “stopped the bleeding” and I am making so much progress! It is so difficult to change bad habits! Baby steps! When I feel overwhelmed I tell myself It did not take a day to get that way and will not go away in a day. I almost have it licked, 🙂 Have a great day!

  13. I have downloaded your free printables, but the student summary sheet doesn’t appear to be included. Can you please provide us with a link to that printable? Thank you and I hope you are feeling well!

  14. I’ve heard of the One Touch Rule & have tried again and again to get my cluttered clan on board with me to use it. Unfortunately, I have yet to convince them. I’m the only female in a family of 5, and these boys just don’t mind a messy living area. I’m stumped with how to keep a clean/organized house with them all being unphased by clutter!

    1. justagirlabby says:

      That does make it tough! I’m not sure how old your boys are but if it helps, as mine have gotten older, it has gotten easier. (They’re 8 and 5 1/2 now; this would have been nearly impossible when they were, say, 2 and 5.) And we’re definitely not perfect at it either– it’s a learning experience for all of us! If the one touch rule isn’t happening for your kiddos, I use a timer sometimes to make it a “challenge” for my boys to see how fast they can clean up. That seems to work better than just telling them to clean up with no incentive or anything. I will also say that it is a lot easier to keep the main living spaces uncluttered in this house where the playroom is upstairs, rather than our last house where all of the toys were stored in the main living space (because that’s the only room we had!), so sometimes just house layout will affect the amount of clutter as well. All this to say, I definitely feel your pain! It can be a struggle and frustration for sure. I hope you’re able to find a system that works well for you! Hope you’re having a great week!

      ~Abby =)

  15. I too, hope your are recovering.Healing takes time! Had my first mammogram on Friday and thought of your sister and mom and you. My coworker calls this Ohio or only handle it once. Great reminder to get the whole crew on board. No use if Mom is the only follower!

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Thanks so much, Nadine! I’m feeling a little better each day! <3

      ~Abby =)

  16. Anita Andersen says:

    I am definitely going to implement this! I am tired of the mail piles, papers and picking up after everyone all day – One touch rule, here I come!

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Yay! Hope it helps, Anita!

      ~Abby =)

  17. Hi Abby,
    I love your blog! I’m a subscriber, but I don’t have the password to receive your printables. Can you send it to me?

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Hi, Requelle! The password is at the bottom of every Saturday email. If you aren’t able to find it, shoot us an email at hello {at} justagirlandherblog {dot} com and we’ll help you out. Thanks so much for subscribing!

      ~Abby =)

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