The Touch-It-Once Rule {Family Boot Camp}

The Touch-It-Once Rule
source: Alex Griffioen

Last week I shared the first of our “Family Boot Camp” goals — to clean out the car every day so that it stays clean. For the most part, this was simply a matter of deciding we were going to do it. Not that we do it perfectly, but as far as habits go, it was a pretty easy one to put in place.

This next one is one we’re still struggling with: the Touch-It-Once Rule.

The idea behind this principle is that if you deal with things the first time you touch them, you’ll have less clutter, spend less time cleaning and organizing and simplify your life overall.

I know it works because I used to be pretty good at it, but somewhere along the way I’ve gotten lazy — and my family has followed my example — and we now spend our days creating piles on the kitchen counter, the entryway shelf, the steps and any other flat surface we can find. Then, we spend an hour each evening cleaning up all of these various piles rather than enjoying our time together.

My goal is to get us back into the habit of following the touch-it-once rule, but it’s a much harder habit to work on because it involves pretty much everything I do — all day, every day.

I started by identifying the reasons I’m creating piles instead of dealing with things immediately, and here’s what I’ve come up with:

Not Knowing Where Something Goes

I often create piles — especially those on the kitchen counter — when I’m not quite sure where something goes.

Right now, for example, I have a pile of letters/bills that need my attention as well as a few preschool activities to keep our youngest daughter busy while we do school. I am not currently using my office, and I’m not sure where to put paperwork (since I suffer from “out of sight, out of mind syndrome”, so I really need to take some time to think through that and come up with an actual inbox for those things. Similarly, we’ve been doing more preschool activities, so I need to make a place to keep that stuff rather than just piling it on the counter.

Doing Something Halfway

The other thing I’m guilty of is doing something halfway. I’ll unpack a box and then leave the box and packing material “for later” or clean out the refrigerator and pile the containers that need to be washed on the counter rather than emptying them right away.

I think this is a sign of being too busy, because I get halfway through a job before the pressure of all my other to-dos gets to me. My goal is to only start jobs when I can commit to finishing them!


Really, what it all comes down to is laziness on my part. I pile things on the stairs rather than carrying them up to the loft to be put away. I leave my shoes in the middle of the entryway rather than taking a few extra seconds to put them away in the closet. And the list goes on.

Unfortunately, I see my girls following my lead and looking for shortcuts and ways to do something halfway as well, and it’s not a trait I want to pass on!

Practicing the Touch-It-Once Rule

I have a feeling this one is going to take me a few months to really turn into a habit, but for now I’m simply making a conscious effort to deal with things while they’re in my hand the first time. The benefit of not having to deal with piles and piles of things in the evening is pretty good motivation, and I think practicing this principle is a good way to develop discipline in my life in general.

I’m also paying more attention to the girls in this area so that I can remind them right away to put away their shoes when they come inside or take their toys upstairs and put them away when they’re done playing. My hope is that we can develop this habit together and that it will lead to a less cluttered, simpler environment in our home!

Next week? Sitting properly at the table during meals.

Do you follow the touch-it-once rule? What’s the number one cause of piles in your home?