The 90 Percent Rule

Lately, Mark’s been sharing a lot of ideas he’s excited about on how to live a better/more efficient/more effective/more pleasant life from a site he discovered called It’s great stuff — pragmatic approaches, innovative ideas, cool tips. Some of the lifehacker ideas have made me think about the things that work or don’t work in my life.

If I have an idea worth living by lately, it’s the 90 percent rule. It started coming to light when we installed a new built-in closet for me a few weeks ago. As I pulled all the stuff out of my old closet and started organizing everything, I realized how many items were things I really rarely wore — evening gowns, out-of-season pieces, weird sparkly holiday crap, stuff that really should go in some kind of costume box. I asked myself what I accessed the most, and it was stuff like workout clothes, pajamas, well-fitting Gap khakis, a couple great sweaters that feel great everytime I put them on.   Decent jeans.  And the staples, like socks.  Underwear.  (And headbands. I’m growing out my bangs).  It was fascinating to me how buried all my everyday gear was, while there were tons of things on top that had so little to do with my usual life patterns.

I vowed to make a change. I wanted to face the facts. What does the majority of my life require for me to feel good about it? What tools do I need? How do I dress for it? What do I do with my hours? What are the bulk of my food choices? With whom do I spend my time? And toward what end? I looked at the hard truth: I’m living with and holding on to WAY too much stuff for contingencies. I’m storing, managing, maintaining, and moving around all these things that I use incredibly rarely, 10 percent of the time in a very generous assessment. It’s time to break it down to percentages…maximum effectiveness per shelf inch, per hour spent. I am going to pare my life down to the stuff I’m USING, ENJOYING, or ASPIRING TO 90 percent of the time.

Can I really let go of the things I only need once in awhile? After all, most of this stuff didn’t just fall into my life — I bought it, or someone gave it to me, maybe I even made it. If you’re like me, you really think you need everything you have. And then you become more annoyed than comforted by your things, and so you start to think about streamlining. The urge to simplify has probably reached most of us in some way these days, but that nagging sense that “I might need it someday” still causes hesitation for me as I try to clear things out. But the 90 percent rule helps with this. Is this an item I use in my most-of-the-time life? If not, can I borrow it? Rent it? Make it? Trust that I can figure something out when the time comes?

This is trickier than it looks, to start glancing about with a critical eye at all your excess supplies, clothing, tools. It asks you to be realistic about the way you’re really living, and to be honest about how close that is to your ideal life. It made me realize that there are two versions of myself: the one I imagine that I am, and the one I ACTUALLY am. There’s the me that loves the idea of yoga, but not the actual doing of it. (Except for that great part at the end, savasana, where you get to lie down and relax. I love that part.) I love the idea of a beautifully tailored, perfectly made bed everyday, but the reality is that giving our comfy down duvet a good fluff in the morning is about all I’m willing to do. I love giving dinner parties, but with a new baby in the house and time more crunched than ever, I think it’s probably wise to put the fancy china in the back cupboards for awhile.

I sleep a good nine hours a night (which is awesome for a new parent — I appreciate little Daisy's habits more every day!), so my bed, sheets, pajamas, and sleeping companion better all be great. (They are!). I work out a few times a week and tend to do errands in my workout clothes for a few hours afterwards. This makes up the majority of my time in public lately. Are my workout clothes comfortable? Pleasant to wear? Flattering? Well, they weren’t until a week ago. But they are now. (Thank you nice helper girl at Nordstrom.) If I’m going to be living in these clothes for most of my days, I’m not going to wear ratty faded crappy fraying leggings with an ill-fitting top and a fleece with a hole in it. Not anymore I’m not.

Once on Oprah, she had on two guys helping viewers clean out their closets. The guys suggested you ask yourself three questions:
1. Do I love this?
2. Does it fit?
3 Does this support the image I want to present to the world?
That last one really gets me. And fits with my 90 percent approach. It’s not just clothes either. It might be the bike you haven’t ridden in five years, the chip carving set, the rice cooker/juicer/pasta roller machine, the ‘learn to crochet’ dvd, the Anthony Robbins cassettes, the five hammocks in your store room. Even if these things once represented who you were or wanted to be, if they're not current, it’s time to let the go so that new, better, more appropriate items can be beckoned in (OR so the space exists for you to discover what may be next for you!). I find myself asking over and over: is this supportive of the life I am living and want to live? If not, it’s out of here.

I’m now encroaching upon my sacred hours of sleep, so I’ll sign off. But let me know where the 90 percent rule might make sense in your life (if anywhere). It’s helping me in little ways and I’d love to hear about what you think.

Things I’m Thankful For Today:
1. That I figured out how to clear old bookmarks off my mac’s surfing program
2. That Daisy was so cute and sweet on our walk
3. That I made yummy 15 bean soup and zucchini bread today
4. That it smells and feels so perfectly crisp as fall settles in
5. That the BEAR in our yard Saturday morning didn’t hurt us or come to any harm itself ! yikes!

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