The 80/20 Rule and You

Have you ever noticed that with all the possessions that have come and gone from your life, there are very few at any one time that are actually your “go-to” items? “Go-to” items are the ones you reach for frequently because they always work for you. Often, they meet multiple needs, such as how an iPhone comes to replace many tools and toys, such as a wristwatch (Clock), a CD collection and stereo (iTunes and Pandora), print books (Amazon Kindle and the public library’s  Overdrive app), talk radio (Stitcher), and perhaps even a laptop (I’m drafting this post with one thumb on my iPhone in the WordPress app), in addition to replacing a landline phone.

One of the most life-changing ideas that I have encountered (via Tim Ferriss’s The Four Hour Workweek) is the 80/20 Rule, or Pareto Principle, named for the Italian economist credited with first recognizing it.

The 80/20 Rule states that just around 20% of your efforts, or resources, create about 80% of your desired results. For example, in my middle school library, about 20% of the collection results in about 80% of our circulation (in our case, popular fiction–especially fantasy). Likewise, you probably wear about 20% of your wardrobe 80% of the time: your favorite shoes, your favorite jeans, your favorite leather jacket, etc. Chances are you reach for them because they are just right for you (fit, color, style) work for many occasions (work and weekend, casual and dressy), and go with many other items in your closet.

So, for those seeking simplicity, frugality, and a closet that does not resemble an overstuffed sales rack at Filene’s Basement, this one’s for you.

But, how do you quickly identify that 20%? You could come up with scientifically sound methods–but let’s apply the 80/20 Rule to this, too: instead of spending hours over the course of weeks trying to track what you reach for in your closet, try my 4-Stars shortcut. That is, if on a 5-star scale you would rate something in your life at least 4 stars (likely a top 20%) in terms of how much satisfaction it brings to you, than it’s probably worth keeping in your life. So, going back to the wardrobe example, take a look at your closet (clothing, shoes, accessories) with fresh eyes and ask yourself, “Is this a 4- or 5-star item for me?” If so, hang onto it. If not, stop hoarding it and donate it to charity where someone else may decide it’s a 4- or 5-star item for them.

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