the 80/20 rule (the pareto principle)

in 1906, vilfredo pareto created a mathematical formula to describe the unequal distribution of wealth in his country, observing that 20% of the people own 80% of the wealth.  since then, this equation (principle) has been applied broadly and is now considered a valuable tool to help manage effectively: for example, it is said that 80% of your sales will come from 20% of your workforce. and while 80% is not the exact percentage in all areas of life, the general principle typically holds true (the 80/20 principle: the secret to success by achieving more with less).

thinking about this principle, i began to wonder where it could be applied to my belongings.  i started a quick list of areas in my life where the principle (generally) hold true.

  • clothing
  • shoes
  • music
  • television channels
  • children’s toys
  • kitchen utensils/appliances
  • resource books
  • computer programs
  • toiletries
  • video games
  • tools
  • cleaning supplies
  • chairs
  • magazines/newspapers

understanding this principle can help me manage/minimalize more effectively.  

  1. the items in the 20% category should be more easily accessible to me.
  2. the items in the 80% category should be stored out of sight and out of the way or eliminated completely.
  3. the items in the 80% percentile that are used 0% of the time should definitely be eliminated immediately.

it was a helpful exercise to walk around my house and identify categories where this principle applies.  it was also encouraging… i don’t think i found anything that was 80/20, most of it was closer to 60/40 (i wouldn’t have been able to say that 18 months ago).

what else could you/i add to the list where this principle holds true?

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    I love this! Thanks for the great article. It really makes me wonder how much of my life (80% apparently) is distracting me from those items in my life that are truly useful or will help me someway in achieving my goals. I appreciate it! :)

  2. says

    Hmm, I didn’t see DVD’s unless I’m missing it, and I saw you had Resource books but not general reading books. It’s very possible you don;t have any of either, but they’d be on my list.

    This is actually a great idea for a guy who is a math nerd like me. I could easily see myself going thru all of my categories and eliminating 80% had I not already started the 100 Thing Challenge this year. Perhaps I will do that with everything I put into storage, awaiting the results of my experiment.

    – Charley

  3. says

    But then does the principle self perpetuate? You eliminate 80% and keep 20%. Does the remaining 20% then divide into its own 80/20?

    Now, THAT’S a minimalist’s dream come true!

  4. Greg says

    I see this popping up all the time and I truly believe it is correct. Even at Church we talk about how 20% of the people do 80% of the work! Or how 80% of what you file will never see the light of day again! Even as I have purged my closet, I still wear the same few shirts over and over (ask my wife)!

    I think I spend 80% of the time doing things that really have little to do with the “big picture” in my life.

    By pointing this out, we become aware of the simple principle and should think about re-setting our priorities…again!

  5. says

    I was thinking about this the other day when it came to enjoyment of my stuff… does 80% of my enjoyment come from 20% of the stuff I own? I also came up with the same answer as you, probably not, just because I have been trying to simplify so much lately. (unless you count books…)

    And as for television channels, I think it’s more like 98% to 2%! (which is one of the reasons I got rid of cable)

  6. says

    The Pareto principle is my favourite. 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 (especially my own) ; )

    liking the comment from Willow..

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