Once you decide on a decluttering method to clean out your home, the real work begins. Almost every popular technique out there requires you to group your items into three or four categories: Keep, throw, donate, and possibly, sell. Putting each item in its correct pile is not as easy as the step-by-step rules make it seem, but there’s a trick called the five-second rule that you can use to keep the process efficient. 

What is the five-second rule?

The five-second rule is a widely-adaptable technique from organizational coach Mel Robbins, who advocates for it in her books. According to Robbins, you should make major decisions in under five seconds, actually counting down five, four, three, two, one. Your brain will know that at the end of that countdown, it has to make a choice; there’s a sense of urgency to it. This will push you to make quick, efficient decisions. I do this all the time, like when I have to rip off a bandage or open one of those popping cans of biscuits (which really freaks me out). There’s just something about the countdown that amps you up to do the thing you don’t want to do or are deliberating about. 

How does the five-second rule apply in decluttering?

Adapting the five-second rule for decluttering is a big tip that floats around minimalist spaces online. You can use it to spur yourself to start cleaning if you’re feeling overwhelmed, but most often, it’s applied to the moments you spend debating internally about whether or not something should be kept or tossed out. 

The less time you give yourself to make the choice, the better off you’ll be. You can rationalize keeping anything if you give yourself long enough to do it, but the goal of decluttering is to minimize the amount of stuff you have and organize the stuff that’s leftover, not make a bunch of excuses for why you can’t downsize. When you pick something up in the process of decluttering, you usually know instinctively if you really need it. Holding it and considering it for too long doesn’t take away from what you already know to be true so much as it gives you time to come up with reasons the thing should be kept. Commit to sorting everything you touch into a keep or get-rid-of pile as soon as you pick it up and in no more than five seconds, employing the countdown if you have to in a tough moment. 

For anything that really makes you struggle and can’t be so easily sorted in five seconds, follow the Minimalists’ 20/20 rule, asking yourself whether the thing you’re debating keeping could be replaced for under $20 and in under 20 minutes in the unlikely event you ever need it again. If you answer those questions with a yes, throw it out.

Training yourself to be quick and decisive in these instances will help you build the habit of parting with things easily and not assigning false sentimentality or need to items that simply have no business sticking around.