My professional practice is fundamentally oriented towards helping people simplify. When it comes to the stuff in your space, my first question is, "What can go away forever?"
Often clients struggle with how to approach a practical answer to this specific inquiry. This is when I describe the 80:20 Rule.
Paraphrased, it goes something like this: In general, most people truly only love about 20 percent of the stuff they possess. About 80 percent of their stuff they do not love. Since we only love about 20 percent of our stuff, about 80 percent of our space is preoccupied storing everything else. So, simplifying our lives is not as much about organizing what we have as it is about loving what we keep.
The wonderful thing about the 80:20 Rule is that it can apply to almost anything. Try exchanging the word "stuff" for whatever happens to be relevant at the time. Which friends we hang out with, how we spend our time, what foods we eat, what thoughts occupy our conscious mind, what television programs we watch, what music we listen to. All of these concepts can conveniently be applied to the 80:20 Rule with equal scrutiny.
The primary question becomes, who do we want to be and what do we want to achieve in this lifetime? Anything that does not support these two questions largely becomes irrelevant. A simple life is one unfettered by immaterial fripperies or extraneous encumbrances, and purely supports deliberately purposeful action. It is this elusive state of simplicity that often provides the necessary conditions for clarity of mind.
I work with a wide spectrum of people, including parents, students, teachers, retirees, CEO's, executives and program directors - some with considerable affluence, others who can scarcely afford practical amenities. The one thing many of them have in common is the lack of an effective day planner system.
The day planner is a good example of the 80:20 Rule because it illustrates the limitations associated with excess.
Think of all the information our brains currently store on the minutia of data relevant to daily life. Telephone numbers, addresses, birthdays, schedules, project proposals, grocery lists, task lists, endless content. There is so much required just to get through the day.
So, on a good day, most people retain, access and efficiently process about 20 percent of the relevant information stored in their brains for successfully navigating the work week. Eighty percent of what might be useful to them is lost to distraction.
A simple day planner system records all of those details, effectively increasing tangible space available for functional memory and the subsequent brain capacity for unencumbered thought.
The point of the 80:20 Rule is to attempt to leverage what is available to us without constantly having to step over and work around things we don't need.
Whether creating cabinet space, closet space, living space, room to park the car in the garage or brain power to think more clearly - purging that which we do not require fundamentally simplifies who we are and what we are able to achieve.
While circumstances constantly shift, so does our focus, our priorities and that which we need to be effective. Approaching the pursuit of simplicity with a watchful eye on what can be purged becomes addictive. More importantly, the results are virtually instantaneous.
When something is physically removed, it leaves behind tangible space. When we utilize that newly available space with intention, life becomes infinitely more meaningful. Try it for yourself and see if you don't experience a new sense of clarity, a transformed feeling of purpose, and a renewed love of life.
- "Life. Simplified." appears on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month. Evan Zislis is founder and principal consultant of www.MyIntentionalSolutions.com, delivering hands-on organizational solutions for households, businesses, nonprofits, students, and life transitions. For more information about simplifying your stuff and organizing your life, call 366.2532 or email evan@MyIntentionalSolutions.com.