Thrift Stores Are Overwhelmed With Donations, Thanks to Marie Kondo

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CC BY 2.0. Mike Mozart

This is both a blessing and curse.

The thrift stores never saw it coming. As soon as Netflix cleverly launched "Tidying up with Marie Kondo" on New Year's Day, when everyone was feeling most untidy, it struck a nerve with viewers. Over the past month, thrift stores the world over have been inundated with donations of clothes, books, and home furnishings that have failed the notorious "spark joy" test.

While the uptick in donations can't be linked definitively to the Kondo effect, it does offer a solid explanation for the surplus of stuff coming in at a usually slow time of year. Combined with the U.S. government shutdown, which gave many federal employees the time to comb through their closets, it's safe to say that conditions were perfect.

Ravenswood Used Bookstore in Chicago said it received a month's worth of donations in two days and attributed it to Kondo's show. They posted on Facebook, "The good news is, we have a LOT of new books. The bad news is, we need a nap! Phew!"

Beacon's Closet in New York City said it usually doesn't get a lot of donation in January because the weather is cold and people don't want to bother. But this year has been different, according to store manager Leah Giampietro. She told CNN:

"[There] have been really large bags. Ikea bags, suitcases or garbage bags. It's really hard to estimate the amount but it has been a ton of stuff, but I can say thousands of pieces a day."

Goodwills in the D.C. area said donations were up 66 percent over last year in the first week of 2019, and one location saw a 372 percent increase. Photos circulated around the Internet of cars lining up to drop off donations.

On the other side of the world, thrift stores in Australia are struggling to cope with the deluge. One charity, Lifeline, is begging people to stop dumping goods outside of donation bins that are already overflowing; these items are considered contaminated and cannot be resold, no matter how they look. They must go to landfill, which already costs Australian charities $13 million per year, due in large part to the number of broken and damaged goods that are donated.

It's both a blessing and curse to these stores, many of which have been struggling to stay afloat in recent years. CityLab calls it "a weird time for thrift stores" and calls them a "dying breed." They have trouble competing with fast fashion outlets, which sell clothes for dirt-cheap, and yet are inundated with donations because people don't keep these cheap clothes for long. Now employees are witnessing people thanking their belongings when handing them over, which is something that Kondo teaches. CityLab analyzes this behavior:

"Marie Kondo reminds people to acknowledge that inherent value; and at least starts to challenge them to think more about where its second life should begin. Partly, this is the great irony of her theory of austerity: Decluttering is what happens after you’ve accumulated mountains of goods, and it’s most freeing when you know you can replace whatever, if you really need or want to. It’s as much a product of the fast-fashion moment as a reaction to it."

Donations, however, are only the first part of a thrift store's business model. It also relies on people who are willing to shop second-hand in order to move all that product. I have a niggling suspicion that the decluttering impetus we're seeing these days is less about environmentalism and reducing one's footprint than it is about the aesthetic of minimalism and participating in a fad (albeit a fairly sensible one).

It seems like a stretch to imagine that the same people queuing up to drop off dozens of bags of clothing are going to head back to Goodwill when it comes time for a wardrobe update. But who knows? Hopefully I'm wrong. At the very least, the dedicated thrifters like myself are in for a treat over the next few months, once these goods are sorted and priced!