Everyone Is 'Tidying Up.' Are Thrift Stores Bursting at the Seams?

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Thrift stores seem unusually full for this time of year. (Photo: Robin Shreeves)

Recently, I went from thrift store to thrift store with my friend Dana (she of the scruffy hospitality house). I was looking to see if the stores seemed any different than usual — if the items seemed more abundant or of better quality than normal.

I've been reading that thrift stores are seeing an uptick in donations due to the Netflix show "Tidying Up with Marie Kondo." For example, Goodwill stores throughout Tampa Bay saw a 3 percent increase in donations — a staggering extra 5 million pounds in just one month, reports The Tampa Bay Times. “Our donations departments keep getting calls from people saying they’ve been inspired to clean out their clutter,” said Goodwill spokesperson Chris Ward.

I was curious to know if that was the case here in New Jersey. This is my experience on one day in a handful of stores, so it's just a snapshot, but it's interesting.

If you're unfamiliar with the program, Kondo uses the method she wrote about in her 2014 book, "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up" to help people de-clutter their homes. Her main advice is to keep the items that "spark joy" and get rid of most everything else.

I read the book more than a year ago, but I didn't put what she calls the "KonMarie method" into practice in my home. I may consider it at some point, but today wasn't about tidying up. Today was about seeing if the thrift stores that Dana and I frequently haunt seemed like they had an abundance of items that someone else found joyless.

Roaming thrift store aisles

toys thrift store
Shelves of thrift store toys waiting for a new child to play with them. (Photo: Robin Shreeves)

Our first stop was a Habitat for Humanity ReStore. This is a store I visit frequently, particularly when I'm doing a home project because it has building materials and painting tools as well as furniture, rugs and artwork. I noticed that the store was fuller than usual with some better-quality items. We asked one of the employees if she knew if there was an uptick in donations specifically because of the Netflix show, and she said she didn't know. She had never heard of the show and no one had mentioned Kondo to her.

We headed next to a large thrift store that carries clothing, housewares and toys. The store was very organized. Every shelf was full and every rack had clothing from beginning to end. It's one I hadn't been to in a while, but Dana goes there frequently. She said she didn't notice a difference in the quantity or quality of items we saw today. We moved on to a small thrift store — one with a few racks of clothing and a few shelves of housewares, books and jewelry. It was full, but no more than usual.

Finally, we went to a Goodwill store that recently opened. Since it was new, we weren't able to figure out if the items were better quality than they usually are, but there did seem be a good selection of some quality items that were unusual for the Goodwills in my area in general. (There are several of them within a 15-minute drive from my home.) I was going to ask the cashier about Marie Kondo but right as we started to make our purchases, the fire alarm went off and everyone was whisked outside. By the time we were let back in and able to finish the transaction, it slipped my mind.

dishes, thrift store
Thrift stores are always a good place to buy dishes and glassware if you like retro style. (Photo: Robin Shreeves)

Our conclusion was that the stores were full, but not necessarily full of excellent quality items you'd expect if everyone in the region has started to donate their possessions that didn't spark joy.

What did seem unusual, however, was the sheer amount of people out shopping midday on a Thursday at these stores. Granted, I tend to thrift on the weekends, but the stores were incredibly busy. I wish I had the nerve to just call out, "Is anyone here because they read that the thrift stores have an abundance of good things because of the Marie Kondo Netflix show?"

Still, I wonder, even if the stores aren't seeing an increase in donations because of "Tidying Up with Marie Kondo," are they seeing an uptick in customers hoping to find joy in something that did not spark joy in its original owner? If people are choosing to buy used instead of new because of the show, it's a win either way.