The 80/20 home decluttering rule – the century-old theory that will change how you tidy

This early-twentieth-century teaching is as influential as ever– here's how it will impact your cleaning habits for the better

Scandinavian decor with open plan space
(Image credit: JDP Interiors / Bess Friday)

Mastering the art of organization is easier said than done, no matter the size of your space. It may seem that no matter how often you try to regain control over your home, things have a way of slipping back into disarray – and you find yourself looking for more effective home-organizing ideas once again. 

While there are some contemporary decluttering tips that will help you achieve a tidy home, the best solution may be rooted in the past – in 1906 Italy, to be exact.

Enter – the Pareto Principle – an economic theory that stemmed from the work of Italian Vilfredo Pareto, who wrote about the '80/20 connection' while at the University of Lausanne. 

The original teaching may seem like a world away from the kitchen or closet organization ideas you crave now, but that is not the case. Here's how this theory translates into the home – and how it may change your tidying habits for the better.

The 80/20 rule – how to use it in your home

White scandinavian design living room with pink chair

(Image credit: Jon Day Photography)

You can incorporate the 80/20 rule in your home by filling in the time between a 'big clean' by tidying 20 percent of your things more regularly. This keeps your home looking tidy on the surface and makes it feel less daunting when it comes to deep cleaning the other 80 percent of your home. With this in mind, the small jobs (such as making your bed and keeping on top of washing up) are hugely impactful. 

Interiors Therapy expert Suzanne Roynon says there’s a lot to be said for using the 80/20 rule when it comes to keeping a home organized, clean and tidy.

'While a deep clean is incredibly good for the heart and soul of a home, having the option to do a whistlestop 20 percent version (so everything shines at surface level when guests are arriving or just to get you through the week) is better than doing nothing,' Suzanne says.

'You can accomplish a great deal visually with the best vacuum cleaner, some anti-bac wipes, and multi-purpose cleaner. Having sparkling taps, mirrors and clean kitchen surfaces can disguise sneaky pockets of dust elsewhere.'

Living room fire place with brown foot stool

(Image credit: Anna Stathaki / Future)

Plus, as the expert explains, the 80/20 rule is reflected in homes in many different ways beyond organizing a living room, kitchen, or bedroom. 'It’s well established that most people only wear 20 percent of the clothes in their wardrobe 80 percent of the time, and in reality, that extends to other possessions too,' Suzanne says. And this can be interpreted in regard to cleaning tips, too. 

'When we look at a home from an Interiors Therapy perspective, we start by identifying anything which is surplus, unused or unloved,' the expert adds. '

'Again, we find 20 percent of belongings actively in use whilst the rest languish in drawers, cupboards, and garages, maybe coming out once every couple of years, if at all. People who had been convinced they need to move house to gain storage space suddenly realize they have plenty of room to spare in the home they already own.'  

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Megan Slack
Head of Celebrity Style News

Megan is the Head of Celebrity Style News at Homes & Gardens. She first joined Future Plc as a News Writer across their interiors titles, including Livingetc and Real Homes, before becoming H&G's News Editor in April 2022. She now leads the Celebrity/ News team. Before joining Future, Megan worked as a News Explainer at The Telegraph, following her MA in International Journalism at the University of Leeds. During her BA in English Literature and Creative Writing, she gained writing experience in the US while studying in New York. Megan also focused on travel writing during her time living in Paris, where she produced content for a French travel site. She currently lives in London with her antique typewriter and an expansive collection of houseplants.