The 80/20 Principle
Every year when I go to Mexico, I’m astounded by the amount of things I think I need to take with me on vacation. I’m a fairly light packer, but I still end up with a suitcase packed to the gills. In the past, I’ve had to frantically throw stuff from my suitcase into another zip-out bag in the middle of the airport check-in line because I’ve exceeded the 50# weight limit. This year, I crept in at 49.5#. The airline agent told me to watch my weight in Mexico. For sure. How much stuff do I really need for two weeks in a tropical climate? Some bathing suits, flip flops and lightweight clothes. How does that end up weighing 50 pounds? Adding snacks, books, and an assortment of sunscreens, lotions and products really adds up!
What would happen if I boarded a plane with only the clothes I was wearing and a purse to hold my wallet and prescription medicines? How much would it cost to buy the essentials once I got to Mexico (or wherever I was traveling)? That idea is very appealing to me. Going a bit further, what would happen if I walked away from everything I own? I’m moving to DC in a few days. What if I just got in my car and left everything behind? I’ve already pared down my belongings quite a bit, but I’m curious about the consequences of leaving everything - all my files, my clothes, my household accoutrements. I’d really find out how much stuff I actually need.
I’ve been reading The 80/20 Principle and thinking about its non-business applications. I’d say that I use roughly 20% of my stuff 80% of the time. I could probably get rid of the little-used 80% of my belongings without missing much. I’ve already started paring down, getting rid of perhaps 60% of my clothes, 20% of our books, 75% of my files, and 20% of various household items and cooking utensils. I can do better. I don’t have an exact count of how many items I own, so I can’t do a precise accounting of the winnowing process, but I think I can make a fairly accurate estimation of how much I pare down my belongings.
Though it is tempting to leave everything behind and start over, I’m not ready to make that leap. Some things are far too expensive to replace (my laptop and all of the information saved on it) or too meaningful to leave behind (family heirlooms, souvenirs). Also, I have to consider GC. He might not enjoy the extreme minimalist lifestyle I seek. I can, however, pare down to only the most important things. Our move to DC will happen in two stages. I’ll go first, taking with me only what fits in my car. This naturally makes me pick the most important and useful things that I don’t think I could live without for three months, like my laptop (and computer-related accessories), Bowflex dumbbells and avocado knife. Many of the things I decide to leave behind (other than GC and Fat Larry, of course) are the things that I can probably get rid of. We’ll take another pass through these things in a few months when GC moves to DC. We’ll have a moving truck, so there won’t be extreme space constraints, but hopefully we won’t fall into the trap of “we have space in the moving van, so let’s go ahead and keep this (insert name of little-used item).”
To prevent that from happening, I’m trying to get rid of stuff now, before I go and while I have an impossibly short deadline. No time for waffling over every little decision. I’ve already made the first sweep through the house, selling or earmarking for a garage sale the most obvious items that we don’t want/need/use/love. In the next few days, I’ll make a second sweep through the house, trying to reduce the number of things in each room by 80%.
Starting right now.