When it comes to downsizing, it’s much easier to do nothing than to make a change – at least that’s what we’ve found.
But we were determined to simplify our lives and found an unlikely friend in Vilfredo Pareto, the father of the 80/20 Rule.
In 1906 Pareto, an Italian economist and wicked-observant gardener, noticed that 20% of his pea pods produced 80% of his peas. Hmmm … And in what must certainly be history’s most inventive stretch of an analogy, he later went on to prove that 80% of Italy’s wealth belonged to 20% of its population. This 80/20 Rule (for the wealth, not the peas) went on to become known as the Pareto Principle, which is still taught in economics schools today.
Originally, the principle was applied in economics, but other researchers discovered that it had applications to many fields – like fundraising. Basically, the idea is that 80% of results come from 20% of the effort or resources. For instance: business people say they get 80% of their income from 20% of clients.
After mulling this over for a while, we had an AHA! moment: on a daily basis, we probably use 20% of our possessions to accomplish 80% of our normal activities. And if our goal is downsizing and simplifying, whether it’s an overstuffed closet, a garage we can’t park in, or a junk-littered email box, that “rarely used 80%” would be an easy place to start.
We’ve proven this maxim time and again in our own lives. For instance, we’ve completed a couple of round-the-world trips, and on these trips each of us lived out of a small, carry-on bag for 6-8 months. So we used 20% of our belongings, while 80% languished in a storage unit back home. Backpackers, you know what we’re talking about.
On our recent home sale, staging the house meant moving loads of clothes, decorations, furniture, and garage gear to a rented storage unit. Every day we’d prioritize what to pack to schlep to storage, and what to keep at home. The process was telling.
Once we moved all the boxes and put the house on the market, we were living the “new normal,” and it was just fine. Why? Because we’d thought it through and kept the “vital few” and moved out the “trivial many,” to use the terminology of business expert Dr. Joseph Duran.
So for us, there’s no doubt that the 80/20 Rule helped us plan and start our process of downsizing – and it can for you as well.
For example, people wear around 20% of their clothes 80% of the time. So if your goal is to simplify your wardrobe to save the Lovely 20% and ditch the Mediocre 80% of your clothes, you could:
Or if you want to finally whip your garage into shape, here are suggestions from the:
Just choose an approach that works best for you; then only keep the things you want, need, and use every day to live a life that makes you happy. Focus on the 20% of stuff that really matters, then start considering how to get rid of the 80% that doesn’t.
Unless you’re an aspiring monk, we don’t recommend that you live a life stripped to the bone. We certainly don’t. But what we do suggest is that you have a serious, objective look at what’s truly important to you – then clear out the clutter. The 80/20 Rule is a good tool to help begin this process.
And remember, it all started with peas!
James & Terri
If you’re intrigued, here’s an exhaustive list of 100 Examples of the 80/20 Rule