Here's What the 80/20 House Cleaning Rule Means

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Home Consultant

Cleaning to-do lists can be dizzying. When it feels like you don't have enough time to power through each list item, it's hard to determine what's worth compromising on. Does dusting get pushed to the bottom? Can you go another day without mopping?

Even if you do find the time to spend hours cleaning, it can feel like you've only made a barely noticeable dent in the never-ending pile of tasks. When one load of laundry is done another seems to always be waiting and as soon as you clear the clutter from one space, the mess in another room is lurking just around the corner. It doesn't help that cleaning isn't the most enjoyable way to spend time either.

Figuring out how to wrangle a messy house and stay on top of it seems unhackable. But there's an unexpected place where cleaning method inspiration can be found: Italian economic concepts.

Meet the Expert

Becky Rapinchuk is the founder of Clean Mama, a site that specializes in cleaning routines and home cleaning products.

What Is the 80/20 Rule?

You haven't misread that last sentence. Who would've guessed that an Italian economist's principle would become a source of cracking down on a house in disarray? But it's true: the 80/20 cleaning method is a reinterpretation of an economic idea called the Pareto Principle—coined by Vilfredo Pareto in 1906.

The original concept explains that 80 percent of results come from 20 percent of the action, which he discovered through Italian pea pods and wealth distribution. Though it was thought up through a financial (and gardening) lens, it's helpful when it comes to cleaning and organizing a home. It also shows that there's an imbalance in getting results that's pretty beneficial for residents trying to get their rooms in tip-top shape—great results can happen with much less effort—if the right task is picked, at least.

There are so many different cleaning tasks, but when approached with an 80/20 mindset, it can translate into a home that gets and looks clean faster with a smaller portion of work. Chores that result in a big visual impact tend to be best for this.

These certain tasks leave a home feeling tidy quicker and more drastically clean than others, even if there wasn't an immense amount of effort involved. While cleaning out a coat closet might be useful, it won't be nearly as impactful as, say, putting all your laundry away or picking up clutter around the house.

Clean and organized wall of home

The House on Hillside Lane / Instagram

How to Approach the 80/20 Cleaning Rule

What's the best way to apply the 80/20 rule in your own home? "Think of cleaning tasks that you can batch or focus on and complete quickly," explains cleaning expert Becky Rapinchuk, the founder of Clean Mama. "Instead of looking around your whole home, narrow your focus to specific tasks."

Thinking this way can also help cut down on the general overwhelm and stress that comes when faced with a messy home as it breaks the whole space down into digestible, manageable actions. Rooms will also feel cleaner faster when you pick the right chores.

As mentioned, while every task is helpful in a cleaning routine, there are some in particular that can make more of a difference than others. "Focus on cleaning tasks that have the biggest impact," says Rapinchuk. "For me, it's my daily tasks: Make beds, check floors, clutter, laundry, wipe counters." Other ideas include clearing unsuspecting corners and countertops of any accumulated messes, putting clothes away, and clearing the sink and cooking area of dishes. Despite being single jobs, their difference is certainly noticeable.

Separating out the most impactful chores throughout your schedule can provide a long-lasting clean as well. "I also split up my weekly tasks by days of the week—Mondays I clean bathrooms, Tuesdays I dust, Wednesdays I vacuum, etc.," explains Rapinchuk. "You could also use this technique for seasonal cleaning—wash windows, clean baseboards, etc." 

Considerations for the 80/20 Cleaning Method

Helpful hacks and cleaning concepts are fantastic, but they're not applicable in all situations. When it comes to the 80/20 cleaning method, there are certain instances where this may not be the best approach. Rapinchuk notes, "If you prefer to clean an entire room all at once and don't like to clean in a batched tasks way, this isn't for you!"

Anyone looking to do a deep clean of their home or do a full reorganization may also want to rely on different methods. Regardless, for a quick clean in less time, or to chip away at a home that's become a little too cluttered for your liking, the 80/20 rule is a great place to begin.

Article Sources
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  1. Pareto, Vilfredo. Piccola biblioteca scientifica. Societa Editrice, Milano, 1906.