The Kondo effect: Donations surge as people purge

Local Goodwill stores have seen a nearly 20 percent increase in donations compared to this time last year, says District Manager Lisa Sexton, and she’s attributing it to the new Netflix show “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo.” Photo by Sanjay Suchak Local Goodwill stores have seen a nearly 20 percent increase in donations compared to this time last year, says District Manager Lisa Sexton, and she’s attributing it to the new Netflix show “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo.” Photo by Sanjay Suchak

Local Goodwill stores collected 13,800 donations in the month of January —an 18.5 percent increase from those gathered this time last year. And they’re attributing it to a Netflix special about a now world-famous Japanese decluttering expert named Marie Kondo.

Perhaps you’ve heard of her. Before starring in “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo,” she made a name for herself with a bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, in 2011. She has perfected what she calls the KonMari method, which encourages tidiers to only keep items that “spark joy,” after sorting through all of their possessions in five categories: clothing, books, papers, komono (miscellaneous things), and sentimental items.

“She’s clearly having an effect on donations,” says Lisa Sexton, the district manager of the five Goodwill thrift stores in the Charlottesville area, which includes Lake Monticello and Ruckersville.

On the show, Kondo teaches a unique way of folding clothing, including tucking shirts and pants into neat, tight rectangles that stand upright, and Sexton says some recent Goodwill donations have come in folded like that.

And people mostly seem to be ditching their old wardrobe and household items, she adds.

Says Sexton, “I guess a lot of clothes don’t spark joy.”

That’s the exact conclusion Sarah D’Louhy reached as she started decluttering her home. She competed in a local Facebook competition hosted by Goodwill, which encouraged folks to post a picture of their post-tidying donations for a chance to win a $25 gift card to the thrift store. Entries closed last week, and the winner will be announced February 7.

D’Louhy donated seven 13-gallon trash bags—mostly full of clothes—and says she also took two bags of nicer clothing to a consignment store.

“I never realized how much was in the closet until we took it all out,” she says. “There were things we hadn’t touched in two or three years.”

She and her husband actually forced themselves to keep some of their wardrobe. “It might not spark joy, but we’re running out of options,” says D’Louhy. “I can’t be naked!”

Lauren Jaminet, who read Kondo’s book in 2016 as she was preparing to move to Charlottesville, and who started watching the Netflix special when it debuted on New Year’s Day, describes that moment of calm after decluttering and re-organizing.

“It’s the moment I look at the new space, step back, and take a deep breath,” she says. “It feels like turning a page in my life. Like I’ve made space for new things to happen.”

She says the show inspired her to empty out items she had been avoiding, which led to redecorating her bedroom.

Over the past two years, Jaminet guesses that she’s purged at least three carloads of stuff, often donating her miscellaneous and sentimental items to a thrift shop or her local Buy Nothing Facebook group, where city and county residents share and receive free items, and where people enjoy making a connection with the recipient of their old stuff.

“I’m very happy to give items out on Buy Nothing in hopes of them finding a happy home,” she says. “You never know who has a shared experience and might treasure an item that I no longer need.”

Rebecca Coleman, who participates in Jaminet’s Buy Nothing community, actually hired a KonMari-certified consultant to help her family ditch their excess belongings.

“We have a toddler, two careers, and a house that had filled up with stuff that had no real place to live,” she says. “Our to-do list was growing and we couldn’t get it under control.”

Consultant and “stuff therapist” Jeannine Woods, whose website features a portrait of herself with Kondo, helped Coleman tidy her entire living space—including every closet and drawer—in five four-hour sessions, which Woods’ website prices around $1,400. A kickstart package that includes a consultation and one session is $350.

“I know that there is a lot of privilege in being able to declutter, and even more in being able to hire a consultant to help you do it,” Coleman says. “For us, this has been an investment in our mental health, and it is paying off.”

Coleman says it has made her family feel more competent and relaxed.

“Our counters aren’t covered with mail and preschool artwork anymore—there’s a place for those to go,” she adds. “My necklaces aren’t all tangled anymore, they have specified pockets in a hanging organizer. We even have an empty shelf in our linen closet. How is that a thing?”

She’s listed some of her items on Buy Nothing, consigned some, donated or recycled others, and threw the rest in the trash, though she says they’re not keen on the landfill effects of the KonMari method.

Goodwill’s Sexton ensures that none of their donations go to waste.

“Just about everything we can’t sell in the stores, we have a place to be able to recycle,” she says, noting varying after-markets in which clothes are sold by the pound, then sent to third-world countries. Recycled books can be made into new paper, and recycled shoes can be ground up into shingles. So don’t let it deter you from giving, she says.

Adds Sexton, “We need all donations. We are willing to take just about anything.”