The Pareto Principle is an economic concept named after Italian economist Wilfredo Pareto who basically demonstrated that 80% of the wealth in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. In the organizing industry we have taken that idea and applied it to all of the stuff in our lives.
To the professional organizer the 80/20 rule (another name for the Pareto Principle) means that the average person uses 20% of their XYZ (fill in the blank – clothes, papers, CDs) 80% of the time. Why? Because we are creatures of habit and comfort. We like to wear the same clothes, use the same drinking glass, listen to the same music over and over again. I know my son would be more than happy to wear the same 3-4 shirts again and again if I washed frequently enough.
So when a client tells me they wear everything in their closet, it is because of the 80/20 rule that I am pretty sure their perception is not reality. This is where we can make great strides in decluttering their clothes closet and dresser drawers.
One easy way to tell which clothes you have truly worn is the backwards hanger trick. At the beginning of a season, turn all of your hangers backwards (meaning with the open part of the hook facing you instead of facing the wall). As you wear you clothes, launder them and return them to the hanger, turn the hanger around and hang the item correctly. At the end of the season anything you haven’t worn will still be hanging backwards on the rod. This is a very clear indication that you haven’t worn it and you should consider tossing it.
Another way to pare down that 80% that rarely gets worn is to ask yourself several questions and act accordingly.
- Do I love it or do I just love the idea of it? – If you just love the idea of skinny jeans but can never make yourself never wear them, let them go.
- Does it make me feel good about myself? – Why keep anything that doesn’t make you feel fabulous about the wonderfully unique person you are.
- Am I just keeping it because it was expensive? – That is a hard one for many people. Just because it was expensive doesn’t mean it needs to stay in your life. Take it to a consignment shop or donate it and take the tax write off and get the regrets out of your life.
I’m not saying get rid of everything you haven’t worn in a long time. I always keep a little black dress just in case a special occasion arises but that is certainly not once a season. Also I have a heavy parka that I bought when we lived in northern Pennsylvania. It’s not so useful here in Georgia but I have hung onto it for trips back north. However, I don’t keep it in my main closet. The coat and other cold weather gear are stored in a bin in the attic.
So go take a look in your closet with the 80/20 rule in mind. What are your 20% clothes and what are your 80% clothes?