Principles of Simplicity: The 80-20 Rule & Less is More

The Pareto Principle  (aka The 80-20 Rule)

This principle was first conceived in over 100 years ago by an Italian who observed that 80% of the land in his country was owned by 20% of the people.  We’ve all heard in the classroom how 80% of the trouble is caused by 20% of the students.  So what does this have to do with Simplicity?  Actually, quite a bit:

We are all looking for efficiency and efficacy in our over busy, over stuffed worlds.  Figuring out what 20% matters- in what we own and what we do, would be huge.  Even if it’s not 80% wasted time or unused possessions, most of us have a great deal of fat in our schedules and bloat in our stuff.

Less is more

How you say?  For example-
How much of the contents of your closet never see the light of day?
How many of your children’s toys never come out of the toy box (if you were lucky enough to have them corralled to begin with)?

How much of the backlog of magazines, journals and papers will never be read?

How much of the stockpile of staples in your pantry will expire before being consumed?

How much of what’s on your calendar or agenda is productive, necessary and meaningful?

Maybe eliminating the 80% that isn’t used, enjoyed, productive and meaningful, could take you a long way toward accomplishing more of your goals.  Activities and commitments that are “low value” or “no value” may need to go.  The same is true of the unused, unloved, outdated clothes, toys, foodstuffs, and paper piles.

If you haven’t used something for a while, ask yourself why you are keeping it?  Because I might need it one day, or it’s too much trouble to make the cull are not good excuses.  If you’re saying yes to commitments out of fear or embarrassment, reconsider your motives. Before the onslaught of new stuff from the holidays and new obligations with the new year, get the old stuff under control.  Remember, better the right 20% than the wrong 100%!


Parkinson’s Law

(aka Nature abhors a vacuum)

A 20th century British naval historian made the observation that-

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”

The “stuff “ corollary is that things expand to fill the space available.   It seems that empty or unfilled spaces and time are unnatural and begged to be filled.

How you say?  For example-

A closet you just purged or the desktop you just cleared is soon in need of attention again.

A bigger home doesn’t mean more breathing space but more opportunity to shop and fill.

A leanly stocked pantry or supply closet isn’t a sign that you’re managing your home inventory efficiently, but a signal that it’s time to whip out the credit card.

You feel not a sense of calm and relief when you see lots of open spaces in your calendar, but a sense of panic that you’re missing out on something or that you’re not considered a valuable contributor.

We are generally big on procrastination and not so bullish on actually getting things done.   In this 24/7 world where work can be anytime, anywhere, we’ve forgotten that it’s healthy and reasonable to limit how much time we spend on any task.  Be realistic about how long a task or project should take and limit yourself.  Maybe even give yourself a bit less time than you think you’ll need to really light a fire!  (This works well for children’s homework too.) Check to see how quickly you actually finished the task.  If you eliminate the dithering and handwringing, you’ll be surprised by how quickly things can be accomplished.

As to your material world, appreciate that less is more.  That needs and wants are not the same and that sometimes better is the enemy of good.

Either of these two principles can be helpful but there are synergies if you apply them in tandem.  When your friends, family and co-workers ask the secret of your new successes, just say Pareto and Parkinson!
Good luck!