This 100-year-old decluttering rule might be just what you need to finally master a minimalist home

Want to live a fuller life with with less stuff? This decluttering rule is hailed by professional organizers as the best way to embrace minimalism

Dining area with polished concrete floor, wooden table, chairs and stools, white painted brick wall and wood panel.
(Image credit: Jon Day Photography)

When faced with decluttering a room, it's the first step that's always the hardest. Many of us are looking to embrace a more minimalist decor in our homes, but letting go of all the stuff we've accumulated that we think we need can prove challenging. Sometimes following a simple rule can be all the guidance you need to help you, and that's why nifty little maxims like the 80/20 principle exist. 

There's no shame in setting yourself some customs to help to declutter a room. When it comes to decluttering the home, our sentimental attachments often overrule our logical decisions, making rules all the more useful. 

Here, we've asked a professional organizer to explain the 80/20 rule and how we can apply it to decluttering. Not only will it help you say goodbye to all those unnecessary items you have no use for, but it's the first step to living a fuller life with less. 

Lilith headshot for bio
Lilith Hudson

Lilith is an expert at following news and trends across the world of interior design. A strong believer that a tidy home is a happy one, she's committed to helping readers organize their spaces through sharing practical tips and guides. For this piece she asked a professional declutter to explain the 80/20 rule and how it can help us all to embrace a more minimalist lifestyle

What is the 80/20 decluttering rule? 

White bedroom with gray floor and crisp white sheets

(Image credit: Dune House / Welcome Beyond)

Unlike the 20/20 decluttering rule, the 80/20 rule originated outside the world of home organization. Otherwise known as Pareto's Principle, the concept was developed by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto in 1906 after he noticed that 80 percent of Italian land was owned by 20 percent of the people. At its core as an economic principle, it's all about identifying the best assets of something and using them efficiently to reap the maximum benefit. 

When applied to our homes, the 80/20 rule suggests that we roughly use 20% of what we own around 80% of the time. The remaining amount serves little purpose, taking up space and mostly just gathering dust. Think about it - how many of the utensils in your kitchen crock do you use daily? Probably very few! And how many have you gone years without using...? 

'Pareto's Principle says that 80% of the results come from 20% of the causes,' explains home organizer, Melissa Gugni (opens in new tab). 'In regards to one's closet, for example, it means that an average person wears 20% of their clothes 80% of the time. Do those dresses that are taking up so much space and have only been worn once in the past ten years deserve to be there? Applying Pareto's Principle can be a reality check.'

How can the 80/20 rule help us embrace minimalism?

A minimalist living room with glass table, assorted chairs

(Image credit: Paul Raeside)

For fans of minimalism in interior design, the 80/20 rule might be the best decluttering tip to start making the most of living with less. The principle highlights just how many things serve a function frequently, helping us to recognize the value of those household items (and the lack of contribution from the rest of our stuff). 

'A minimalist lifestyle isn't for everyone, but as one myself, I love that it makes everyday decisions easier to make,' says Melissa. 'Once I started looking at the things that I actually use and love and giving them the best access in my home, life feels more peaceful.'

While not all of us are hoarders, we are all guilty of hanging onto things that we don't use regularly, or that don't contribute to our overall design style. As a result, we store said items in boxes for years on end, unable to part with them just in case they might come in handy one day.  

'"Analysis paralysis" is real, and I find that having too many options or things can make it so much harder to decide to keep or throw away,' Melissa adds. 'I encourage my clients to imagine a life where they are surrounded only by the things that they like and use, and then I try to get them there.'

Which spaces in the home is the 80/20 rule best applied to?

House of Grey kitchen design

(Image credit: House of Grey. Photo credit: Michael Sinclair)

It's no surprise that the 80/20 rule comes in especially handy when it comes to how to organize a room with too much stuff in, but which spaces in the home does the rule prove most effective in? 

While this decluttering principle works wonders wherever you use it, it's best applied to spaces where you store lots of things that serve little purpose. 'Kitchens are a fun place to practice 80/20, particularly for those who love kitchen gadgets,' notes Melissa. 'That ice cream machine might have been that year's "must have" but it just isn't practical for every home and cook. I encourage giving things a deadline and if they haven't been used by that time, they need to be donated or tossed.'

By making use of the 80/20 rule you can also cut down on items where you have lots of duplicates, while still allowing yourself to keep the most treasured ones. As Melissa explains: 'A recent client had over 100 coffee mugs (for 2 adults!) and when we looked at them with 80/20 in mind, we were able to set aside the 10 they used regularly, another 10 or so they loved, and donated the rest.'

Remember to be kind to yourself

While it helps to adopt a ruthless attitude when you're decluttering, it's important to be kind to yourself. It's okay to feel sentimental over family heirlooms or gifts, and you shouldn't force yourself to let go of them if you find the thought upsetting. 

As Melissa summarizes: 'I think many people feel a lot of shame for the things they have bought that they didn't wear, use or fit into - or sometimes even like - and that shame can keep them from letting those things go. But with practice, it gets easier, and having a better sense of what they really want to have in their homes becomes more natural.'

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Lilith Hudson
Junior writer

Lilith Hudson is the Junior Writer on Livingetc, and an expert at decoding trends and reporting on them as they happen. Writing news articles for our digital platform, she's the go-to person for all the latest micro-trends, interior hacks, and color inspiration that you need in your home. She discovered a love for lifestyle journalism during her BA in English and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham where she spent more time writing for her student magazine than she did studying. Lilith now holds an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London (a degree where she could combine both) and has previously worked at the Saturday Times Magazine, ES Magazine, DJ Mag and The Simple Things Magazine.