80/20 rule – how to declutter your home with this 100-year old trick

On how to declutter your home, the most effective, time-tested method is hands down the 80/20 rule. Here's everything you need to know about it

A living room with wall storage
(Image credit: Nicole Franzen. Studio credit Jeremiah Brent Design)

How to declutter your home can feel a bit overwhelming in the beginning, as the first step is always the hardest. But if you go by what most professional organizers and designers suggest, the easiest way to get through this task is with the 80/20 rule.

'The 80/20 rule is the idea that 20% of the items we own are used 80% of the time,' says Amy Youngblood, principal designer of Amy Youngblood Interiors. 'This rule implies that the remaining 80% should either be donated, thrown out, or tucked away in storage.'

To understand this centuries-old trick better, we reached out to experts. Not only will it help you say goodbye to all those unnecessary items you have no use for, but it'll also aid in better interior design.

What is the 80/20 decluttering rule? 

White bedroom with grey 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, 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. 'The 20% that is used frequently makes sense to have out and easily accessible to use,' says Amy Youngblood. 'Think about what you use most and what would benefit your space if you stored it away. This rule is helpful if you have a smaller space or just want to minimize clutter and stress in your home.'

'Pareto's Principle says that 80% of the results come from 20% of the causes,' explains home organizer, Melissa Gugni. '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 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?

An all white kitchen with wooden elements

(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? 

'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,  a super simple decluttering habit is to be kind to yourself first. 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. 

'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,' says Melissa. 'But with practice, it gets easier, and having a better sense of what they want to have in their homes becomes more natural.'

Lilith Hudson
Staff Writer

Lilith Hudson is the Staff Writer on Livingetc, and an expert at decoding trends and reporting on them as they happen. Writing news, features, and explainers for our digital platform, she's the go-to person for all the latest micro-trends, interior hacks, and color inspiration you need in your home. Lilith 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. After graduating, she decided to take things a step further and now holds an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London, with previous experience at the Saturday Times Magazine, Evening Standard, DJ Mag, and The Simple Things Magazine. At weekends you'll find her renovating a tiny one-up, one-down annex next to her Dad's holiday cottage in the Derbyshire dales where she applies all the latest design ideas she's picked up through the week. 

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