Use the 90/90 Method to Purge (or Keep) Items You Only Use Occasionally

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Some of the best decluttering techniques work because they set strict timelines. With the “packing party” method, for instance, if you don’t use an item within three weeks of packing it up, it’s time to consider parting ways with it. While having concrete time periods to work with can help you if you struggle with deliberating or making excuses about certain potentially useless possessions, these rigid schedules can also be a bit limiting, as they don’t leave room for holding onto those things that you really only use occasionally, but do use. That’s where the 90/90 rule comes in. 

What is the 90/90 rule? 

Like the packing party, this rule comes from the Minimalists, who advocate for a pared-down lifestyle, at least when it comes to physical possessions. With books, documentaries, and a successful blog, they’re leaders in the space, and their tips are almost always solid.

Here, they suggest asking yourself two questions about each item as you seek to declutter: Have you used it in the last 90 days? Will you use it in the next ۹۰ days? If the answers are no, you can feel free to toss it out. 

The Minimalists are a little more lenient with this rule than some of their others, too, giving you space to decide on what an appropriate time period looks like. If you really want to declutter and do it big, stick with 90 or even scoot down to 60, but if it’s not urgent or you feel overwhelmed, bump it up to 120. 

Why the 90/90 rule works

This rule is great if you feel overwhelmed by having to decide what should be thrown out and what should be kept. So often, decluttering is stressful not only because of the strategizing and actual work involved, but because it means you have to part with things you could have sentimental attachment to or be worried about needing to use again in the future. 

This technique works best for those things that do have a use, but not a frequent use, like novelty cooking devices or special-occasion clothing. I recently got rid of a waffle maker I haven’t used in years, but doing so did give me a scary moment of, “But what if I want waffles one day?” If I want waffles, which I almost never do, I can go buy some at a cafe. I haven’t used that waffle maker in 90 days (by which I mean I haven’t used it in hundreds and hundreds of days) and certainly won’t in the next three months, either, so it can go. Give yourself permission to buy a replacement or at least an approximation in the unlikely event you do need the thing again, and then get rid of it. 

Obviously, where this technique really shines is the closet. Clothes you haven’t worn in the last three months and won’t wear in the next three months can be donated, and you almost surely won’t miss them. That six-month span is enough time to account for different seasons, weather, and events, so it gives you a fair, easy guideline for getting rid of what just isn’t necessary.

While the 90/90 rule gives you a little leeway for holding onto things that are used sporadically, it still provides some much-needed structure, which is the key to decluttering in a meaningful way. You need a plan and a set of rules to stick to, which this still provides while being slightly less overbearing than other techniques.

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