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‘Marie Kondo Effect’ floods Chicago area thrift stores with donations

Matthew Talaga, manager at Brown Elephant Resale Lakeview, arranging new items received as a donations in the store located at 3020 N. Lincoln Ave.

Matthew Talaga, manager at Brown Elephant Resale Lakeview, arranging new items received as a donations in the store located at 3020 N. Lincoln Ave.| Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Japanese lifestyle consultant and tidying expert Marie Kondo has a simple message for anyone hoping to clean up their personal lives: start with rethinking and getting rid of the excess junk cluttering their homes. Anything that doesn’t “spark joy” has got to go.

Since the New Year’s Day release of her Netflix series “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” some of those unneeded possessions have made their way to Chicago-area thrift stores and charities that continue to be swamped with donations from inspired viewers.

“Even today I’ve had a couple people mention it,” Matthew Talaga, manager of Brown Elephant Resale’s Lake View store, said Thursday.

January is usually a slower month for donations, Talaga said. But not this year.

On a scale of one to 10, January donations normally would rate a two, he said. This month, however, “we’ve seen it at about a six or seven.”

Over the past month, the decluttering frenzy’s has taken hold nationwide. Thrift store locations from San Francisco to Boston have reported increases in donations from people explicitly mentioning Kondo’s show as their motivation.

Charitable organizations like Goodwill and Salvation Army have also seen increased donations to their Chicago centers. John Aren, who oversees Salvation Army’s Family Stores in the area, said he believes that’s partly due to the Netflix series.

He’s not alone.

Melissa Basilone co-owns two stores in Portage Park — Sputnik Books & Records and Thrift & Thrive, both near Austin Avenue and Irving Park Road. She said the stream of customers mentioning Kondo by name has been nearly constant. Both stores have seen a rise in donations, she said, but also an increase in the excitement of those bringing in what they’re giving away.

That “embrace of the concept of lightening the load,” Basilone added, isn’t just good for keeping shelves stocked.

“Obviously, it’s good for business,” Basilone said, “but I think it’s making people realize how much stuff they buy … and that’s healthy. You should be aware of that.”

Ravenswood Used Books, 2005 W. Montrose Ave., has had a similar experience. Just a few days into the new year, the store announced on its Facebook page it already had received a month’s worth of books.

“The first day, I was like ‘What’s going on here?’” store employee Barbara Strangeman said. “It was to the point where we had people lining up outside with boxes.”

The store normally takes about five or six boxes of books from people at a time, she said. That weekend, the store bought 30 boxes and “wouldn’t have been able to fit people through the front door” had they not turned others away.

Almost a full month later, donations still haven’t stopped. Just last weekend, she said, people came in mentioning Kondo’s series. Shop owner Jim Mall said not everything the store’s received, however, can be credited to Kondo.

Still, even when people don’t mention the decluttering expert, Strangeman said there’s something different about the attitude of those coming in and the quality of their donations.

“They’re the books that people will buy and say, “This looks really good, but I’ve got four other books I’m finishing ahead of it,’” Strangeman said. “Marie Kondo seems to be giving people permission to look at that and go, ‘I’m never going to get to that, why is it cluttering up my front room?’”

Matthew Talaga, manager at Brown Elephant Resale Lakeview arranging new items received as a donations in the store located at 3020 N. Lincoln Ave.

Matthew Talaga, manager at Brown Elephant Resale Lakeview arranging new items received as a donations in the store located at 3020 N. Lincoln Ave. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times