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There are many demands on our time, which is a very precious resource that equals our life energy. There’s not only our “in real life” or “IRL” persona which includes work, family, and other obligations, but also our digital life, which includes social media, texts, cell phones and email. With all that’s going on, there’s certainly a perfect storm for information overload and overwhelm, and that’s not necessarily a good thing!
We’re filled to the brim and are looking for breathing room in our schedules, cluttered homes and mobile devices. While technology is a great tool for productivity, it’s downside is it doesn’t automatically shut off, being the 24/7 operation that it is.
We’re constantly taking in content and a study at the University of California, San Diego showed that we consume 15 hours of digital and mobile content per day. That’s the equivalent of a daily consumption of nine DVDs worth of data per person per day!
We all have the same 24 hours so it’s up to us as individuals to know when to shut off. How do we do that? Enter minimalism and the 80/20 Rule or Pareto Principle.
What is Minimalism?
Minimalism is an intentional way of living through which one deliberately chooses to live with less stuff—and less of a packed schedule— in order to enjoy more of the people and things that matter most. It’s a way to counteract the overwhelm people feel in the age of information overload and consumerism, not to mention numerous obligations that come up throughout our day.
Within the context of everyday, the 80/20 Rule to life can be a great way to keep sane in that we can declutter the things that do not matter (mostly 80%), allowing room for the things that do matter (mostly 20%).
Tim Ferriss shared the 80/20 Rule in his The 4-Hour Work Week, which is widely used by minimalists and those seeking a more flexible, location-independent lifestyle.
What is The Pareto Principle?
The Pareto Principle (80/20 Rule) is named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. Pareto came up with the principle that most things in life are not evenly distributed. In terms of wealth distribution 80% of the world’s wealth is owned by 20% of the world’s people. This principle expanded to other areas of business and life. In business, 80% of your sales comes from 20% of your clients. In home life, 80% of your clothing is only worn 20% of the time.
As an aside, I found it interesting in the Minimalists documentary on Netflix how Graham Hill, the founder of Life Edited, said they did a whole heat map test to see how much space is used in a typical home with an average of about 1,500 – 2,500 square feet. He said only 20% of the space is most often used.
By the way, 80/20 is not an exact measurement but a general benchmark. In terms of decluttering your stuff or overpacked schedule, you can go the route of 90/10, 70/30, 60/40 or whatever works for you.
How Much Should You Declutter?
So, if you’re going to declutter your stuff, how far should you go? Well, it depends on you, your goals, and your tolerance and comfort level with it.
In my book Fifty Shades of Simple: How to Prioritize in the Age of Information Overload, I explain three different grades of minimalism which are light grade, medium grade and hard core. Light grade would be getting started but not going through any drastic changes, such as taking your own grocery bags to go food shopping, as opposed to using plastic bags and adding that as clutter to the house. Medium would be thinking about moving, downsizing or expecting a life change, so some kind of downsizing would be necessary. Hard core would be going back to the land and homesteading in a country house or selling all your worldly belongings, going all out on the decluttering in order to do that. Or it means downsizing from a 5000 square foot home to a smaller space or even a tiny house.
So there really is no one way to practice minimalism. It just depends on what your desired outcome is. The goal of minimalism is purely to act as a tool to meet your individual goals and needs.
How Does One Get Started?
Start very small by decluttering a drawer. Depending on how cluttered it is, give yourself a half an hour to an hour. You want to be able to start and finish this quickly so you could also see the results and have a quick win on your side. Because any small win is going to help you to get started and keep some kind of momentum going. Once you have a drawer done, either move on to another drawer or find the smallest room in your house that’s decluttered and clear that space out.
If you ever had ever used Dave Ramsey’s “get out of debt snowball system,” he says to pay off the smallest debt first, and then move on to the credit cards with bigger debts later. That way you could see a quick win, get the emotional high of easily finishing something, then move on to the more difficult ones later. I would suggest the same thing with your physical space so you could easily see your progress.
And I find with clients that once they start decluttering, they almost don’t want to stop, and that’s a good thing because it can be such a cathartic and freeing experience! So start small first, then incrementally move on to the bigger rooms. Also take the “before and after pictures” like they do on HGTV so you can have a frame of reference and see the transformation. Post it on Instagram and have your friends comment and cheer you on.
If it’s hard for you to do yourself because you’re so close to it, it might be a good idea to have a third party take a look at your stuff. A friend, a family member, somebody who’s taste you admire. Or if you have the means, you can also hire a professional organizer to take a look.
So have no judgment, no shame or blame, the whole purpose of this assessment is to see where you are at so you could fix the problem. As Peter Drucker says, “What gets measured gets improved.” So taking a look at the tidiness of the rooms in your house, and the amount of storage space on digital devices like cell phones and tablets, will allow you a starting point so you can take stock of where you’re at now so that later on, you could either see how much further you’ve come along or how much more you need to improve.
How Not To Get Clutter in the First Place
As for acquisition, before you purchase something, ask yourself if it makes you happy and if you’ll use it 80% of the time. If not, don’t buy it. Also decide if you’d rather have a life of experiences over things and if shopping were not an option, what would you do instead. That way, instead of shopping for a material item on impulse, you may be more apt to save up for a once in a lifetime travel or similar type experience instead, and thus keep clutter at bay.
What decluttering projects will you tackle first in your life?