The 80/20 Rule is Your Friend

80/20 RuleOne of my favorite concepts in life is The 80/20 Rule.

What is it?

The 80/20 Rule, a.k.a. the Pareto principle, stems from observations made by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto in 1906, including the fact that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. Or, generalizing to other situations, roughly 80% of consequences come from 20% of the causes.

But why do I like it so much, and why it is your friend?

Because it can help you make decisions…and not worry so much…and get stuff done!


The 80/20 Rule (a.k.a. the Pareto principle), can help you make decisions, and not worry so much, and get stuff done! Click To Tweet

Here are some examples of The 80/20 Rule:


You wear 20% of your clothing 80% of the time. Think about it. I know I do. To prove it, turn all of the hangers in your closet around backwards. Turn each one back right-side around only after you have worn that item of clothing, washed it, and hung it back up. After a few weeks or months it will be obvious which clothing you aren’t actually wearing.  It doesn’t really matter why. (Doesn’t fit? Doesn’t flatter? Needs repair?) What matters is that you can safely and comfortably donate more of them than you though you could, thus creating more space in your closet.


You only ever refer back to 20% of the papers in your filing cabinet. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t file papers, but it does perhaps free your mind to get rid of the other 80% (OK…how ’bout 50%?) in your annual purge, realizing you didn’t need them after all. Look for duplicate documents and outdated annual policies. Think twice about what you are filing. Keep a shredder and a recycle bin handy.

Garage, Pantry, Craft Room

You probably only use 20% of what you store there on a regular basis (or, 80% of the time). So why keep all that other stuff? Could you get rid of 50% of it? You’d still have the 20% you use, and 30% left for occasional use or I-might-need-it-someday purposes. Just imagine the space you’d free up in the process!


80% of your sales (and income) comes from 20% of your clients. Knowing this makes it possible to determine which clients on which to focus your advertising and customer service efforts.

Time Management & Productivity

20% of your time yields 80% of your results. So, choose wisely how you spend your time! The corollary is that the last 20% of a project takes 80% of the time spent on that project, which is a good reason to avoid perfectionism. Usually (I’m gonna say…um…80% of the time?) good enough is just exactly that — good enough!  As Voltaire said, “Perfect is the enemy of good.” (It’s also the enemy of DONE.)

Random Example

I recently watched a documentary on the Appalachian Trail which stated that the first 80% of it (if you’ve gone south to north) takes only 20% of the effort. Which means you might want to rethink that last 20%!

80/20 Rule applications I am making up off the top of my head as I write this

80% of the benefits of cleaning your home come from cleaning the most-used 20% of the space (including kitchen and bath). Same goes for a de-cluttering and organizing project (which room, or rooms, bother you the most?), and for tidying up for last-minute company (which spaces are they most likely to see?).

If you spend 20% of your time planning your activities, the other 80% — DOING the things you planned — will be SO MUCH EASIER!

You spend 80% of your time with 20% of your friends (both in person, and online)…don’t you?


What other applications — useful, or just-for-fun — can YOU think of for The 80/20 Rule?

Please share them in the comments below!

Copyright 2013-2021 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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  1. Janet Barclay on March 14, 2013 at 11:24 am

    My VA group did an “ideal client” exercise at our last meeting, and came upon the fact that 80% of our income comes form 20% of our clients. It’s pretty amazing how this rule applies to so many things. I wonder if it’s ever been proven?

    • Hazel Thornton on March 14, 2013 at 10:48 pm

      It’s probably safer to call it a useful “principle” than a “rule” that begs to be proven. But examples are seemingly endless!

  2. Becca Clark on March 21, 2013 at 10:34 am

    Hi Hazel,

    This is a super article and I’d love to share it (whole page) on my blog. Do you mind?

    Hope to see you in New Orleans next month!

    Becca Clark
    NAPOVC member

    • Hazel Thornton on March 21, 2013 at 7:08 pm

      Thanks, Becca, I’d be honored if you shared it! You could just write an introductory paragraph and link directly to this page, or you could cut and paste and include this statement at the end: “Hazel Thornton is the owner of Organized For Life, and the creator of The Clutter Flow Chart Collection and Custom Branded Clutter Flow Charts — for professionals who want more business!” with links to website and both flow chart pages.

      • Becca Clark on April 14, 2013 at 5:59 pm

        Hi Hazel,

        I didn’t get this before, so thanks for following up and for allowing me to share it with my clients and friends.

        See you in New Orleans!


    • Hazel Thornton on April 12, 2014 at 8:04 am

      Great minds think alike! (I am the author of your related post, The 80/20 Rule is Your Friend.)

  3. Julie Bestry on June 21, 2021 at 1:01 pm

    Eternal wisdom, my friend. And 80% of my blogging joy comes from reading posts by wise, fabulous colleagues and friends like you!

    I probably wear 5% of my wardrobe…I keep reducing it, and I’ve haven’t purchased anything but “undergirding” necessities since before the pandemic, but I still have an aspirational wardrobe.

    Your posts reminds me that I need to walk the talk, and that means applying Pareto to my clipped articles on organizing!

    • Hazel Thornton on June 22, 2021 at 6:10 am

      Awww…thanks, Julie!

  4. Katherine Macey on June 21, 2021 at 1:59 pm

    Great article! I like the tip about turning your clothes around in the closet! That’s a great way to see how you’re actually using your clothes.

    • Hazel Thornton on June 22, 2021 at 6:10 am

      Thanks, Katherine! Will you give it a try?

  5. Seana Turner on June 21, 2021 at 3:42 pm

    It’s pretty wild how this principle really affects all of our lives. It is helpful to keep in mind when you are trying to make decluttering decisions – in all these different areas that you mention.

    I think paperwork is the hardest because you aren’t sure which 20% you need. This is when guidelines are helpful. When it comes to the rest, go with your heart. Prioritize your space and time for the 20% you really love, right?

    • Hazel Thornton on June 22, 2021 at 6:13 am

      Right! And being aware of the 20% helps us focus on the 20%.

  6. Linda Samuels on June 23, 2021 at 7:56 am

    The 80/20 rule is so useful and I mention it frequently with clients. It helps a lot during the editing phase. I’ve noticed it in my own life too with clothing, food in the pantry, papers in my filing cabinets, “stuff” in the garage, linens in the linen closet, clothes packed on a trip, and the list goes on.

    The unused or less used 80% is where I focus when it’s edit time. I know the things I use frequently. And the rest. Well it’s either just taking up space, or there’s a reason I have it, even if it gets less of my attention. But when it’s in the never need, refer to, want, categories, it’s time to say good bye.

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