Applying the 80/20 Rule to Organization and Decluttering

Applying the 80/20 Rule to Organization and Decluttering


Have you ever heard of the 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle? I learned of it years ago, and I think it really can apply to the process of getting your home and/or office more organized, and also, re-examining your schedule to be more productive. In essence, the 80/20 rule says that 80 percent of results will come from 20 percent of action.

Applying this principle to all of your “stuff” works like this: many people only use 20 percent of the things they own on a daily or even semi-daily basis. For example, owning 10 pairs of shoes but reliably only wearing two. 20 cookbooks sit on a shelf but only 4 show quality kitchen love.

Back in terms of time productivity, I flip this explanation a bit and approach it from one other perspective as well. Oftentimes, when I am working on something, the last 20 percent of the work, takes 80 percent of the time! Many times I will think “oh, it’s only going to take me 10 minutes to finish the last of this project.” Only to realize that is actually going to take twice as long, or more. Some how what should be the easiest “finishing” part always turns out to be the longest last mile.

And when it comes to a big organizing or tidying project, inevitably, only in the last 20 percent of the project will 80 percent of the result be realized. That is why it is so hard for people who don’t truly have a passion for organizing (like me or Marie Kondo who says herself, she “loves messes”) have such a hard time staying motivated at the beginning—or even middle— stages of an organizing task. It’s because it looks like no progress is being made.

So, question is, either based on the classic definition, or my own unique interpretation, what lessons can be taken from the 80/20 rule that can be proactively applied to living a more organized and productive life?

Number One: Just because the 80/20 rule happens in life, doesn’t mean it has to happen in your life. But acknowledging that it is, or can, is a big first step in doing some self-reflection work that can be a realistic foundation for improvement. What’s that old saying?: The first step is admitting it. Make some time to sit down and inventory your current 24-schedule, and home/work spaces, and see where some problem areas exist.

Number Two: Once you have identified time-sucks in your schedule, and excesses in your stuff, think about how you can re-prioritize to be more efficient. What do you really need to do? What do you really use most often? Who can you look to in your life (friends, family members or colleagues) to help support your goals. How can you make sure you have what you need at the ready, every day, to help you be the most productive you can be.

Number Three: After you re-prioritize, whatever falls to the bottom of your “lists,” either your to-do lists or your “stuff” lists, should be up for purging and removal. Something I did recently in my own life, was set up all of our family’s prescriptions for mail order. Yes, we need our medications, but, did I really need to go to the pharmacy every month? No. Settling up for mail delivery saves me valuable time.

De-cluttering your possessions down to your most valued and essential will help you appreciate what you have so much more. By no longer being overwhelmed with so much “stuff” you will be able to always find what you need, use what you have, and learn what the term “less is more” really means.

Minimalism is not a lack of something. It is the perfect amount of something.
– Nicholas Burroughs

Number Four: Challenge old habits. Make enough of a change that it feels weird at first. This is how you will know that you are really making a significant effort. Eliminate your wardrobe down to less than you think you will need. If you can’t bring yourself to donate the extra clothes right away, put them in storage for a couple months. If you don’t miss them, you know you don’t need or want them.

Be okay with the newness of having “free time.” For some people busy-ness can become addictive. Filling time with tasks that are routine are easy. Slowing down enough to allow for new ideas, adventures or aspirations can be sometimes be intimidating, scary and overwhelming. You don’t need to turn your life upside down and inside out to make some impactful change. Even just a consistent new 20-minutes a day can open up a new world of possibilities. If nothing less than to prove that you are capable of change.

Number Five: Celebrate!! Now that you have extra time in your schedule, and hopefully lightened your load of personal belongings, don’t be in a rush to fill it back up. Take some extra time for yourself and get back in touch with an old friend. Treat yourself to a spa day or a nice lunch. Whatever it is, make a conscience effort to celebrate the work you’ve done to declutter your schedule and your sock drawer.

Over time, inevitably, both will get filled back up again.