KonMari: Is it time to de-clutter your collections?

The Marie Kondo “decluttering” craze has created a mini-crisis in the thrift industry and shaken the confidence of some collectors.
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The Marie Kondo “decluttering” craze has created a mini-crisis in the thrift industry and shaken the confidence of some collectors.

Kondo, author of the best-selling book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” and host of the Netflix show “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” [https://www.netflix.com/title/80209379] touts the KonMari method of decluttering and organizing. KonMari advises users to discover if items in their home “spark joy” and, if they don’t, to discard them. To “spark joy” means to elicit a positive emotional response.

The popularity of the method has caused thrift donations to increase dramatically nationwide and collectors to revisit their collections, wondering if some items should be discarded.

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There must be a lot of consumer goods in America that don’t “spark joy.” Amy Lyons, spokesperson for Goodwill Industries of Monocacy Valley (Frederick, Maryland) told the Today show [https://on.today.com/2su9ZT5] that donations have increased 42% since January 1 of this year. Today.com reports that at Goodwill stores in the Washington, DC, area, donations were up 66% in the first week of January, with one donation center seeing a 367% increase over the same period last year. (ibid)

Not all donations are worthwhile, though; some of what is being donated is worthless. In their article “Marie-Kondo Effect: Goodwill Doesn’t Want Your Junk,” Fox Business News reports that the increased donations have brought a multitude of headaches and extra work for thrift workers. The Salvation Army’s national spokesperson Lt. Col. Ward Matthews proffers: “If someone gives us something that we can’t use, like a broken refrigerator that we have to take to the landfill, or a stroller that’s been recalled, or shredded or ripped clothing, we do our best to educate them about the transaction, but they can get testy.” [https://fxn.ws/2JhkuCR]

A discussion of KonMari on Reddit [https://bit.ly/2URRIuA] revealed the mindset of collectors who seek to “declutter” their collections. Comments include:

  • “A big thing for me was breaking collections up... I was surprised at what I held onto because it was part of a collection. Another thing I took notice of was whether I mindlessly bought things to add to the collection. Started paying more attention to that as well and ended up buying less often.”
  • “I am [an] adult fan of LEGO, and I wasn’t about to go through all my pieces individually lol. Instead I went through and thought about the sets. This set sparked joy, stayed assembled. This one didn’t, got disassembled and added to the sea of pieces (all organized of course). I guess the takeaway is it can be broken down into smaller sub collections, as long as that grouping brings you joy.”
  • “I’ve collected Barbies for almost 30 years and have a love-hate relationship with my collection ... it takes more time, space, and energy than I’d like to give it. Recently, I’ve started de-boxing the dolls. This change was difficult first, but it has helped me to part with more dolls and really figure out what I’m looking for in my Barbie collection. The best part is I’ve enjoyed my collection more in the past few weeks than I have for the past 30 years.”

The above discussion hints that collectors struggle with what should be included in a collection. In a broad sense, the difference between a collection and an accumulation is more than a matter of semantics.

I’m reminded of an estate I once auctioned, in which the deceased had an accumulation of more than 300 ceramic roosters, purchased from highway stores over a period of decades. The roosters varied in quality, finish, and condition: prime candidates for a KonMari sorting. The heirs were convinced that this was a valuable collection by virtue of quantity alone. It wasn’t.

Perhaps these items “sparked joy” for the owner, but my estate buyers left them untouched.

A well-thought out collection is more than just an accumulation of trinkets; it will have:

  • An underlying theme. A tool box full of hand tools is just an accumulation of individual items, but an antique toolbox full of antique tools is a collection.
  • The individual components will have a synergistic effect on the collection as a whole. In a good collection, the whole is worth more than the sum of its parts. For example, a complete set of baseball cards of the 1980 Philadelphia Phillies is worth more than the price of the cards priced individually. The fact that the Phillies won the World Series that year makes the set even more valuable.
  • Consistent quality and condition. Items that are torn, worn, or damaged are good candidates for the “declutter pile.”

The KonMari system can provide collectors with a fresh way to view their treasures. Items that were “mindlessly purchased” in order to expand a collection can be removed, so that the collection may “spark joy.”

Like other organizing systems, the method seeks to give people some semblance of control over their environment.

I get it: The more things I own, the less they mean. My most liberating experience in a decade was when my wife Jill and I downsized. But I kept my collections and my memorabilia.

Conscientious collectors are careful about what they buy. For the most part, I prefer cash in my pocket to whatever trinket I might be inspecting. For me to part with my money an item must spark joy — and a lot of it.

Is KonMari for everyone? Hardly.

Book collectors have taken issue with Kondo’s approach to decluttering. Ron Charles, writing for the Washington Post, says in his article “Keep your tidy, spark-joy hands off my book piles, Marie Kondo” [https://wapo.st/2GVuUVA] expresses the opinion:

“We don’t keep books because we know ‘what kind of information is important to us at this moment.’ We keep them because we don’t know. So, take your tidy, magic hands off my piles, if you please. That great jumble of fond memories, intellectual challenges and future delights doesn’t just spark, it warms the whole house.”

That’s what cherished collections should do: Warm the whole house (or at least warm the heart of the collector).

Don’t be shy about reevaluating your collections using the KonMari method.

You may find, like the Reddit commenter above, that you enjoy your collections more.

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