Applying the 80-20 Rule to Your Stuff

the 80-20 rule

You’re smart and witty and funny and you have great hair, so you probably already know about Pareto’s principle, also known as the 80-20 rule, which states that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. It has many applications:

  • 80% of your business will come from 20% of your clients
  • 80% of the complaints will come from 20% of your customers (though hopefully not the same 20% that are bringing in most of your income!)
  • 80% of the healthcare in the US is used by 20% of the population

and so on.

However, we can apply the 80-20 rule to minimalism, too. Hold on to your hats, because I’m about to blow your mind!

We Use 20% of our Things 80% of the Time

That’s right. 80% of the stuff in our closets, kitchen drawers, cabinets, linen closets, coat closets, filing cabinets, shoe racks, car trunks, purses, backpacks, and other stuff-hiding devices is used 20% of the time.

Some things are used even less often.

What does that mean?

This is the mind-blowing part.

You could get rid of up to 80% of your stuff without even feeling like you’re missing a thing.

Step one toward minimalism is acknowledging that yes, you do have too much stuff.

Step two is to get rid of the things you don’t use.

That’s the hardest step, and one you don’t have to take all at once. After all, 80% is, by all mathematics, most of your stuff.

So, iterate.

Start small. Ask yourself, self, how many can openers do I need?

Start asking that about everything. How many black tank tops do you need?

If you answered four, tell yourself, okay, that’s obviously not true, so let’s get rid of one and revisit this conversation in a month.

How many things can you get rid of today? 10%? Okay, awesome, let’s start there.

Trust me, it’ll make you feel better.

Get rid of ten things. Today. Come back and tell me how you feel.


  1. says

    I’m in the process of cleaning out my place – it’s disturbing how many “things” are in there that serve no purpose (even if that purpose is as simple as just “looking pretty”) and I won’t miss at all. I haven’t gotten around to the kitchen yet, but I know it’s going to be intense when I do get there. I’m still working on the upstairs space :)

  2. says

    One of the most exciting parts of planning to move aboard a sailboat next year is getting rid of my stuff. As I walk around my house, I look at everything in a whole new way knowing that only the most important things will be able to go with me.

  3. says

    This hits really close to home right now. I’ve been unofficially living with the boyfriend for over a year now. All my daily needs are at his place: Clothes, health and beauty stuff, etc. The more removed I become from my house, the more I realize how much stuff I have that I really don’t need. If my house burned down tomorrow, all I’d really miss are my pictures. It’s making it so much easier to start getting rid of things!

  4. says

    The Pareto principle is my favorite. I think it can be applied to any number of things and I use it everyday. I eat roughly to that rule, dress that way and try to plan my day according to it as well. I feel it fits in with human nature.

  5. Darrell says

    By definition, if I did this, wouldn’t I miss stuff 20% of the time? We don’t get 100% of our utility from 20% of our stuff…we get 80%.

    I do agree that we could and should get rid of stuff, though. I started this exercise, but stall often. For instance…I still had a whole bunch of PC components…but I use a Mac now. I had a landline phone in a drawer, and we’ve NEVER had service since I bought my house 3 years ago. I was surprised at how many things had similar stories. The harder part is for this gray area stuff, “well, I haven’t worn this in a long time, but I would.” I found myself wearing shirts I hadn’t worn in years to justify keeping them. Instead, I should think, how many shirts do I need? then pick my favorites to match that. Any tips with that? What area of the house did you find the biggest bang for the buck? (bang and buck being thrown out stuff)

  6. says

    I realized when I sold 99% of my stuff back in 2011 that I didn’t use majority of it. I would wear the same clothes, shoes and use the same things. I was just collecting stuff because I could. Now, I carefully assess how something will be used before I even consider purchasing it.

  7. says

    The idea of revisiting items regularly is a very good suggestion. Often we want to get rid of things but think we have to start with a massive purge, and then don’t do anything. But tackling it in chunks is another good way of approaching it.

  8. Angelia says

    I moved around a lot growing up so I never kept any things..Then after I went into the military and my husband and I moved I didn’t keep much but then when we moved here to settle down buy a house I because a hoarder (not extreme) but enough. This is the first place I ever had things on the walls. I love our home and the memories we have made. I have and do regularly donate to good will every month or other. But what happens to me is I will get rid of something then need it again. So I am careful to what I will donate when it comes to the kitchen I am a big cook and there are a lot of specialty pans equipment I use for cheese making, soap making, yogurt making so things really stack up..

  9. says

    This is exactly what I’m trying to do, reduce my belongings slowly but surely over time. I don’t need near as much stuff as I have, so I’m trying to get down to a much more reasonable amount of stuff, with the goal of being able to down-size my house too!

  10. mIchelle says

    For some who may be new to this idea, when I got started, I made a list of the roles in my life. When I considered an item, I asked if it helped me in those roles, if it didn’t help me, I passed it on to someone who might enjoy it or to charity. There are only a few tops that I miss but not that much. It’s so freeing, its worth missing a few things. I got to “lighten” my mother in law’s home and again, very freeing and much more easy to manage now. Sometimes with an item, I’ll say, “Would I go all the way back across town to retrieve this?” If the answer is “no”, out it goes. It becomes a lifestyle.

  11. Kyra says

    Mwahaha! My mother just left for our new house, and left me to pack and organize the old one. BOY IS SHE GONNA BE SURPRISED! I may show up with way less stuff than she was expecting (but still way more than we need)

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