The OHIO method of decluttering

The OHIO method of decluttering - sorting clothes

OHIO – only handle it once – was devised for managing emails. The nifty acronym dictates that opening and dealing with an email in one fell swoop optimises efficiency.

The OHIO method of decluttering

Likewise with decluttering. The OHIO method means making a decision on every item we touch. Choose a box, any box – keep, donate, discard. But please “close the loop” and finish it off, at least cognitively. Picking an item up and putting it back down without deciding its fate, means going around in circles, or churning our stuff. In other words wasting time and mental energy.

Well, that’s the theory. And it makes sense. But like any neat idea that sounds too easy to be true, in many cases it is. A once-off, crystal-clear decision is not always possible until we have looked at the big picture or done some research. 

There are some items that just can’t be dealt with on first handling.

An example is tackling a DOOM box you have found in the spare room. It has a bit of everything in it. 

  1. three odd socks
  2. some pens
  3. an energy bill
  4. an old T-shirt

In the following situation, the OHIO method of decluttering is advisable:

  1. the odd socks are not useable, and you know you don’t want to keep them.
  2. the pens have leaked or are broken.
  3. the energy bill is not from your current provider and is ten years old.
  4. the T-shirt does not fit and has a hole in it.

In that case, you could place all the items in the bin, or general recycling, or fabric recycling

In the following situation, the OHIO method of decluttering is NOT advisable:

  1. the odd socks are good quality and may need to be evaluated with the odd socks you keep in the laundry, to look for matches.
  2. the pens may or may not be required depending on whether they work and how many are already in your stationery caddy.
  3. the date on the energy bill is not clear and you need to check its status online.
  4. the T-shirt could be handy – but you want to go through your entire wardrobe to see what else you own that matches. 

In that case, double handling is inevitable, assuming you don’t have time to go down all four rabbit holes there and then. But you can still inch towards completion, by moving each item to the next level of action. I would suggest at the very least, you:

  1. bundle the odd socks with the collection in the laundry, to go through and consolidate another time.
  2. place the pens near or next to the stationery caddy, to test out when you are at your desk.
  3. put the energy bill next to your computer, for the next time you log in.
  4. put the T-shirt with your other T-shirts.

The OHIO method of decluttering – productive but not always practical

Organising, and grouping like with like is often a necessary step in decluttering, and this is where the overly-simplistic OHIO method of decluttering lets us down. It doesn’t take into account the big picture. Feeling compelled to Only Handle it Once may actually paralyse us with overwhelm and fear of failure.

In an ideal world, the steps in decluttering are:

  • declutter
  • organise what’s left

But usually it goes something like:

  • declutter what you can
  • organise / group like with like
  • declutter some more
  • organise again

And bingo, you can see there has been double-handling.

But that’s OK. The OHIO method of decluttering is often unrealistic, just like other hard and fast rules including ‘if you haven’t used it in a year it has to go’ or ‘if it sparks joy it should stay’. Decluttering and organising are about chipping away, focussing on an area and doing our best – often having to return for another pass or to finish the job. 

Finish? Actually there is no such thing. Decluttering and organising is a process, not a project. 

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