Decorating the 80/20 Way: Do Less; Enjoy Your Home More

by hookedonhouses on January 27, 2011

back door-Traditional Home

Richard Koch’s book Living the 80/20 Way encourages us to “work less, worry less, succeed more, and enjoy more.” It’s based on the Pareto Principle: 80% of results come from 20% of your efforts. After I finished reading it recently, it occurred to me that the concept applies to our homes and decorating, too.

It only takes a few beautiful or special things in a room to make it memorable and wow-worthy. But we continue to worry that we should buy more impressive stuff to fill our rooms with and complete more impressive projects until everything is perfect and “finished.” We fret about the state of our rooms as if Margaret Russell might be stopping by any day now to inspect the place.

Well, let’s stop knocking ourselves out. It’s time to get off that treadmill.

apothecary-jars-fruit-BHGThink about the houses you have really loved in your life. Not houses you admired, or envied because they looked perfectly put together, but ones you wanted to linger in. What did you love about them? They probably had their flaws and their quirks, some outdated decor and worn spots. But you were drawn to them anyway. Why?

Figure out what means “home” to you. What is that important 20% that would make the biggest difference? Focus on those few things that make you feel really happy and forget the rest. Put your time and money into what really matters.

Life’s too short to waste it chasing that other 80%, don’t you think?

(Photos via Traditional Home and BHG.)

Now tell me: What’s in Your Dream House?

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susie January 27, 2011 at 8:37 am

Great post. I remember my first house. It was small but full of love and fun times!

Sally January 27, 2011 at 8:42 am

Amen Sister. It has long been my intention to “simplify.” This year, in particular, at Christmas & more recently w/ Valentine decorations…. I purged more than I put out. It feels good to let go of “stuff” – especially when it’s just collected stuff & doesn’t really have any sentimental value.

What’s in my Dream House? Well, it’s a little bit bigger house, but with less stuff!

Jane January 27, 2011 at 8:47 am

What a good post Julia!

Ricki Jill Treleaven January 27, 2011 at 8:51 am

Great post, Julia! My dream home would have an art studio for me and my 13 year old daughter. It is about to become a reality when I convert our never-used formal living room into a studio. *squee* I can’t wait! We will be finished with the project by late spring. :D

Amanda @ Serenity Now January 27, 2011 at 8:54 am

I think I need to read that book! :) Thanks for sharing…it definitely gave me something to think about this morning. :)

Sabrina January 27, 2011 at 8:57 am

great timing! My resolution this year is to love the house I’m in…some days are (much) harder than others since our house is 140 years old and always seems to be in several different states of remodeling! I needed a reminder to take one day at a time and enjoy the process.

Pat January 27, 2011 at 8:58 am

I like this theory, kind of like Sandra Lee’s semi home made cooking!
I lean toward older used furnishings that have a sturdiness to them. When I buy new, and I have to put it together…I’m usually sorry I bought it. I do love that picture of the entry you posted!
My dream house? Land and a great view would be #1. I realize that isn’t a house, but it would be most important. Also, fewer but bigger rooms.

Wanda Richey January 27, 2011 at 9:00 am

I have a small house…easier to change the look!! I get bored easily…I do have a basement, so I can store my different pictures, lamps,pillows etc…bonus I do have a big yard..and spend time most of my time there in my gardens..lucky me ! Wanda Ann ~London ont. Canada

Mom in High Heels January 27, 2011 at 9:01 am

Great post! Now, would you like to come over and get rid of 20% of my stuff? Or would that be 80%? :)

Josanne January 27, 2011 at 9:01 am

I totally agree with “less is more”, especially in decorating. I feel that when you have too many knick knacks, pictures, florals, pieces of furniture etc. that line every wall of the room, it causes un-ease in the mind. The fewer things you have, the easier it is to relax, and your mind doesn’t feel overwhelmed with “stuff”.
Not to mention tons of knick knacks need regular dusting, and when the time isn’t taken to display them dust-free, they don’t look nearly as nice, which defeats the purpose of having them.

Janell Beals January 27, 2011 at 9:02 am

Great post! I loved our little rental in SF, all 800 sf. So simple, a rose bush had grown up to the windows in one room and I loved opening the windows to let them reach in during great weather.

linda @ Lime in the coconut January 27, 2011 at 9:09 am

Here here! Now I just need to get rid of 80 percent of my junk!

Becky @ Farmgirl Paints January 27, 2011 at 9:20 am

My husband would love that book. I’ll have to remember it. I totally agree with what you said Julia. It makes sense.

Debra Kimball January 27, 2011 at 9:20 am

This is exactly what has been crossing through my mind the past weeks as I search with a perfection seeking couple for a home to purchase. Their desires for their dream home with every door knob, floor finish and book shelf trim has caused me to consider that my own home must be “less than” due to the fact that several of my own door knobs are of a well-worn gold finish. As a Realtor, I sincerely want to find them what they want and to please them, but there are more important things out there. I keep encouraging them to just love the location, the look of the home and to see if they can visualize themselves living there happily. The checklist has taken over!!!

TerritoryMom January 27, 2011 at 9:38 am

I love this. I believe less is more. This is funny, my stepdad always says 20% of the people in church do 80% of the work, so true. Do you watch “If Walls Could Talk”? Whenever I watch it I think of you and your site.

Karena January 27, 2011 at 9:41 am


I truly have purged a lot. I may say ooh and ahh a lot, in reality I am buying very little and have given away alot.

Now there is still that double closet in my office that need s to be torn apart!

Art by Karena

Luciane at January 27, 2011 at 9:48 am

Bingo, Julia!

Life is too short, but better yet, it’s too precious to waste time worrying about this that will end up in the trash one day! Enjoying your life and things that you love is the smart idea!

Have a fantastic Thursday!!! :-)


Luciane at

POst of the Day:

Skye January 27, 2011 at 9:50 am

Love this post – thanks for sharing! :)

Heather January 27, 2011 at 9:50 am

wow Julia, I couldn’t have read more perfectly encouraging words for me!
I am always re-arranging, worrying, and looking at other folk’s houses thinking “why can’t MINE look like that!”. But, you are so totally right. I love that you wrote this today, and it was really the perfect time for me to read it! (I just did ANOTHER living room overhaul two days ago…….still not satisfied! LOL!)
Thank you so much for everything you do!


karin/ January 27, 2011 at 9:59 am

I agree! The most important things in my home (aside from the people) are music, books and art. All of which I have, although none of it is important or expensive, just loved. Thanks for this post!

karen @ our slo house January 27, 2011 at 10:02 am

I have always been a fan of the 80/20 principle! It relates to SO many (if not all) areas of life.

I will have to check out this book you mentioned — I hadn’t heard of it.
another book recommendation: Style Statement: Live by your own design. A great read, also talks about the 80/20 principle.

hookedonhouses January 27, 2011 at 10:42 am

I haven’t heard of that one. Thanks, Karen!

Spring January 27, 2011 at 10:57 am

I love this idea. It’s why I rarely buy the pretty things I see in stores. I have to ask myself if it is something I want to dust for the next 30 years and usually the answer is no.

I hate dusting. :)

Tanya from January 27, 2011 at 11:04 am

Great post. I think about the rooms and homes we’re shown in magazines that have been staged just so. I always want a fancier house after flipping through a design magazine, until I realize how much “stuff” is in magazine shots and I think how much more time it would take to dust and clean than my simple home.

Kelly Berg January 27, 2011 at 11:23 am

Julia – I couldn’t agree with you more! Great post. (And really, what are the chances that Ms. Russell will swing by?)

Pam January 27, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Thanks, Julia! I really needed this!

Anna January 27, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Great post! I remember one house in particular. My aunt was renting a house (ahem cottage) just up the street from the beach. I remember walking in and smelling fresh bread and… dog. She had a giant golden retriever in that tiny house. She had old books and antique baskets piled purposefully and artistically all over. There was a handmade quilt that rested on the couch and antique vessels (anything from creamers, to tea cups to turquoise mason jars) that peppered the place; each full of flowers from the neighbor’s garden. Despite the dog hair all over the place, I remember thinking “I want to live like this someday… surrounded by things I love.” I left that day believing my aunt was very rich in life (despite her financial woes).
Thanks for the memory!

hookedonhouses January 27, 2011 at 1:54 pm

I love that story! Thanks, Anna.

Tricia Rose January 27, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Aspect and light, or the potential for it. So many things can be corrected – layout, decor, even structural issues – but aspect is one of the great fundamentals. (I bought one of the ugliest houses in history – low ceilings, nasty windows weird layout, no privacy, but I knew I could change those things and I love its situation and aspect).

Kim January 27, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Great post Julia! I have learned over the years, to appreciate and be grateful for what I have. I mean it’s not about having the nicest things, but to make your home a comfort and happy place to be. Even if that means letting some spots clutter up.

Cheri@IHeartOldHouses January 27, 2011 at 1:56 pm

This is exactly what I needed to hear! I’m always drooling over magazine shoots and blogs, rearranging rooms in my mind and wondering why I can’t get our house to look like so-and-so’s. Duh, because it’s our house, not someone else’s!

In the future I’m going to try to focus on a few special things we really love – like art or well-loved furniture – and let the rest fall into place.

Heather January 27, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Anyone out there find that they are spending MORE TIME and MONEY on their houses since home decor/home decorating/remodeling blogging has become so popular? (i’m slumping in my chair and raising my hand right now.)

Lisa Mackin January 27, 2011 at 2:28 pm

It’s funny I was just thinking about this same principle. Keep it simple. I don’t want to cut the sleeves off an old sweater to make a new pillow… blah, blah, blah. Just throw it out! I like that front hall – so perfect, functional, classic – without the fuss. With about 30″ of snow closing in on me – I want less in my life. I already feel claustrophobic. It amazes me how much stuff we manage to accumulate as a family.

jana January 27, 2011 at 2:57 pm

I have friends with a real knack for antiquing and thrift store shopping and creating these great displays with all of this stuff that they acquire from all over. But my philosophy has always been less and bigger. But it has to be the PERFECT less and bigger so even that hangs me up! I love it when I can shop my own house and realize the right thing was there all the time. I’ll never stop though, my home is my hobby!

IAMSNWFLAKE January 27, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Great wisdom in your post! I feel we sometimes forget we’re creating a home rather than a show house.

Sally January 27, 2011 at 3:22 pm

I haven’t really felt at home since leaving a tiny little concrete block house that had windows across the living room. I loved that the kitchen and baths had navy blue tile. Goodness, I miss that place as I sit here in a “new” house that does nothing to compare. Great post, Julia. :)

Maaike Quinn @ Life with FlyLady January 27, 2011 at 3:28 pm

You are so right. And looking at it this way, it doesn’t seem to be so hard to change a room for the better. I sometimes get carried away by all the options there are. I get so enthusiastic, I want to change it all and then I end up doing nothing because I’m totally overwhelmed. I should seriously stop doing that lol. Thanks Julia!

Stacy @ Design Something Better January 27, 2011 at 3:51 pm

I know how much better and less harried I when there is less ‘stuff’ surrounding me. Honestly, I would choose a small, well thought out space over a perfectly apointed large or small space any day.

I will have to check out this book! I think it is important to try not to feel ‘less than’ about your interiors or crazied in search of the latest must-have – which is easier said than done in what seems like a design boom everywhere all the time.

Thanks for this post, Julia!

Rachel January 27, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Very good point! I concur (and you make me feel so much better!)

Amy Button January 27, 2011 at 4:09 pm

I’m pretty sure I could never achieve perfection so I haven’t really tried but I do want things to be comfortable and inviting. My warmest memories are of the house I grew up in. My brother and I jumped on the furniture and climbed the dressers (I guess we were a bit rambunctious) but the furniture was a roller coaster and the dresser was Mount Everest. It wasn’t stylishly perfect but it was comfortable. That’s my vision of perfection.

Marie January 27, 2011 at 4:16 pm

I think we would all enjoy our houses so much more if we could get rid of all the clutter. When I was young 30 years ago, I look back at photos my mom spontaneously took of us kids, and there is no clutter in the background! Nowdays, if I take a photo of my kiddos, I have to clear out the clutter in the background before I shoot the picture!

Julie January 29, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Agreed! I sometimes think I have so much clutter because I’m trying to “keep up”. Keep up with what and who exactly? I never felt more at home than when I was a kid & couldn’t tell you a THING about the way it was “decorated” other than it was all stuff that meant something to my family!!

Bre January 27, 2011 at 4:35 pm

I love this post, it’s so true! I want my home to be like my closet, only filled with things that I really need and love. I love when homes reveal the homeowners personal style and taste. My mom’s house, for example, is filled with items that she has collected over the years, it’s been hand painted by her (including the border of the 20 ft high foyer-her on scaffolding-that was nerve wracking to watch). It’s country in style (definitely not my style) and includes items that have meaning, gifts from family and friends, and puzzles from her patients in the hospital. She has a style all her own and a knack for turning a house into a home. We may not share the same aesthetic, but I too want to decorate my own home one day with items that I truly love. I think the 80/20 idea is wonderful to implement.

Colette Marceau January 27, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Julia, where is the house in the photo? It’s nothing but the entry, but I love it!

hookedonhouses January 27, 2011 at 5:17 pm

I saved it from Traditional Home magazine months ago and now no longer recall which issue or anything. Sorry! -Julia

mwg January 27, 2011 at 7:13 pm

I strive for “homey” — a house that my kids will fondly remember — but your post has allowed me, at least for tonight, to feel good about sitting tight with my crooked and drafty beach house filled with a husband, 3 kids, a dog, a cat, and our mismatched tag sale finds!

Ann January 27, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Great post! My mantra is if you don’t really, really love it, don’t buy it. It saves money and there is less clutter.

Amanda- Hip House Girl January 27, 2011 at 7:32 pm

Lovely post! I struggle with how to make my home stylish but also “homey”. I always think of my grandpa’s house. It’s pretty dang dated (not depressingly so, but enough), but everyone LOVES to hang out there. Maybe that’s just because of him, though. :)

Natalie@inthenightsky January 27, 2011 at 7:32 pm

Sounds like a great read, thanks for sharing (via a great post)!

Holley January 27, 2011 at 8:16 pm

I very much needed to read something like this after my husband from the realtor who helped us buy this house. She wants to see what we’ve done with this place.

All I can think is not nearly enough. So much work remains to be done that I don’t want to bring people over yet. We need to refinish the floor, paint the living room and dining room and get a few more pieces of furniture and one or two more rugs. We need to remove the built-in desk in the bedroom and finish that off.


Su January 27, 2011 at 9:41 pm

When I think about all the houses I have linger’d on/in…I always go back to this house
with great light. My favourite features in this home was the oak stairway. It had two landings, winding from the first floor to the second.
The grand Sunroom. It was attached on the left side of the home, and the cottage like windows with panes; opened outwards from the bottom.
Third, I loved and will always love the foyer. An enclosed entryway with dark wood and one window looking out into the family room. I believe this is also called a mudroom, but its size was quite modest. Great functional house design is underrated indeed!

Bridget January 27, 2011 at 9:42 pm

I agree with all that mentioned this was a great post! It is! My dream house was my Grandmother’s little 2bdrm, 1bath bungelow on D Street in Petaluma, CA.

Destiny January 27, 2011 at 9:58 pm

I’m all about, working on achieving, simplicity and balance in every area of my life, including my decorating and home. Last year I made the choice to really focus on meaningful art and that has brought an unexpected warmth and joy to our home; it’s really personal and cozy.

Susan January 28, 2011 at 12:08 am

Here, here! I couldn’t agree with you more. I love decor and playing with it, but sometimes less really is more.

carol January 28, 2011 at 1:04 am

14 years ago we downsized from a large 4 bedroom home with a huge family room, a recently remodeled kitchen and abundant storage. We moved into a little cottage on the beach and EVERYONE thought we were nuts. That move was the best step we have taken in our lives. The minute I step in the door after work, I feel like I am on an instant vacation. We walk the beach EVERY morning before work and most nights try to catch the sunset too! I read once that living in a cottage meant living with only those things that you truly love. With less “stuff” we have more time. When friends come for the first time I say, “stand here and you can see into every room- now let’s hit the beach”.

E. George January 28, 2011 at 1:09 am

Hai Julia great post. I used to go out shopping and as soon as something caught my eye I would buy without thinking where will it go and after a while I would realise hey it doesn’t belong anywhere and I really don’t like it. I don’t do that anymore I gave away so much stuff all that wasted money now if I see something I walk away and think about it and come to the conclusion that my cup runneth over and forget about it. You come to a time in your life that you want to live and enjoy not be a slave to the house cause it will never be perfect there is no such thing. But I still love to see beautiful decor magazines, blogs what would we do without them….. Thanks Julia Regards Esther from a very hot Sydney PS love that entrance….. It’s ok to be tempted…..

le@thirdontheright January 29, 2011 at 3:46 am

this is a lovely post Julia – you really are a great writer :) best le xox

rie January 29, 2011 at 7:03 am

I really loved this post. It’s so true. When I think back on houses I’ve wanted linger in, it really wasn’t as much about the perfect decor, it was about a hominess I can’t put words to. Thanks for the reminder!

Amy from China Shepherdess January 29, 2011 at 10:43 am

Thank you for this post. I am so humbled by some of the photos people post of their perfect homes that I get paralyzed and don’t do a thing because I feel like I can’t measure up.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy January 29, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Wow. I love this idea.

Carrie Bake-Wong January 30, 2011 at 1:40 pm

This is so true – I hadn’t thought of applying the Pareto principal to home decor, but it makes sense. Sometimes a home that is completely “done” doesn’t seem homey. A little wabi-sabi can add something and also save the pocketbook. If a home is to last one owner more than five years, there is something to be said for doing a little bit at a time. That way, ten or fifteen years later, the whole house won’t feel “dated”. Love your website!

Lesley @ TheDesignFile January 30, 2011 at 9:07 pm

This is great advice and I’m so glad you posted about it. I used to visit friends that a home that was incredibly warm and cozy and I just wanted to hang out there for hours. But it had plenty of issues and way too much clutter and I’m sure it would drive some people crazy. But I loved it. I should think more about that.

Gina May 26, 2011 at 10:11 am

I am so grateful to have stumbled upon your blog today! Thank you for introducing me to the 80/20 Pareto Principal. Now that I think about it – my perspective on a lot is opening. I love the way you applied it to a home. I can’t wait to apply it to mine! Have a wonderful day!!

Alex April 25, 2012 at 10:03 am

i am struggling w/ this concept right now at our beach house. i had deocorated simply at first because of budget but then over time, i’ve loaded it with nic-knacks and too many throw pillows, etc. it’s lost that “feel” that i love about beach homes to begin with. i’m not sure how to go about downsizing & down-decorating it.. but i read your post & it helped me put into words what it is i think i need to do.

thanks. next time i’m going out to the house i’m going through each room asking myself “do i love it? does it mean something to me/us??” if not, it’s probably just filling a space i thought was ‘empty’ when the space probably should be empty.

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