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Thrift store donations in Spokane rise with items not sparking joy

February 4, 2019

Melisa Waite’s kitchen appliances didn’t spark joy. Neither did the toys, the books or the clothes. Not even a welcome sign made by her grandfather, which was gathering dust bunnies in a forgotten corner of a closet.

“It all went into a bag,” said the 28-year-old mother, who lives in a small apartment in the Emerson-Garfield neighborhood in northwest Spokane with her fiancé and two children. “At least three bags, if I had to estimate.”

All it took was 10 minutes of Marie Kondo’s new Netflix show “Tidying Up” for the cleaning inspiration to boil over. Waite hit pause on the TV, picked a corner of her home, and “got rid of everything” she didn’t need. Or, as Kondo would put it, everything that didn’t spark joy.

“I’m still going through stuff,” Waite said. “I finally have my kitchen counter cleared off now.”

Ever since the show was released Jan. 1, the energetic and self-described lover of tidying from Japan, who’s written several books on home organization, has become an internet sensation. And it wasn’t long before her KonMari method – cleaning by category, and only keeping items that speak to the heart – went viral.

There are the memes: Hey girl, I really support your KonMari journey. The talk show appearances on “Ellen” (her first appearance there was actually back in 2016) and “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” where she helped organize a particularly messy office. Her trusty interpreter Marie Iida, who also appears on the Netflix show, helps to deliver some of the segment’s funniest and most heartwarming moments.

And in Spokane, a whirlwind of donations – and not just the ones from Waite’s living room. Thrift stores across the city are seeing a peculiar influx in product, even during cold winter months. Those stores typically don’t see an uptick in donations until spring.

“We actually had a meeting yesterday, and the guys who work on the back dock in receiving were commenting on how many people have been coming,” said Lee Brown, the director of In-Kind Resources at Union Gospel Mission. “And they were all talking about that show.”

Brown – who hasn’t seen the show himself, but hears it at night from the periphery of his book while his wife watches in bed – said compared to this time last year, there’s been about a 35 percent increase in donation events, from 2,440 to 3,308.

That’s an 868-item jump for an organization that typically sees about 3,500 donations a month on average.

“January is one of the slowest times for us,” he said. “After the holidays is generally our time to recover. But we’ve been consistent. We haven’t seen a slowdown versus the last four or five years.”

Same for Value Village. Between its two stores in the Spokane area, store manager Britney Morgan said they’ve seen a rise in clothing and household donations in the first weeks of the year.

“It’s great there is enthusiasm to de-clutter inspired by Marie Kondo, and we encourage people to pass along items that no longer spark joy to others,” she said in an emailed statement.

At Goodwill, Heather Alexander, senior director of marketing, reports about a 15 percent increase over last year’s January. At around 56,000 donation events, it was one of the organization’s busiest months in the Inland Northwest.

“It’s always hard to tell how much of it is was related to our very mild winter and how much of it is related to people who are seeing her series, who’ve read her book,” she said. “But obviously she has” had an effect.

At a recent tour of Goodwill’s downtown donation center, on the west end of the nonprofit’s first Spokane store on Third Avenue, Alexander said clothes have seen the biggest bump in donations. The multiple dumpster-sized bins near workers sorting, folding and tagging colorful clothing supported her hypothesis.

But there’s no limit on what won’t spark joy.

For Waite, who runs the Hillyard-Logan-Nevada area Buy Nothing group on Facebook – a community of about 600 people who’d rather give their items away to neighbors then see them at the bottom of a landfill – nothing is off-limits.

“There have been a few members, one recently who posted an entire garbage bag of clothing that she had gone through and was just getting rid of,” she said. “Yesterday there was a woman who posted an assortment of kitchen stuff. It’s just an increase of the things that Marie tells you to get rid of.”

Laura Gutierrez, one of the page’s members living in Hillyard, said she posted to the group’s wall a few weeks ago asking if anyone else had seen the show. After watching, she couldn’t believe the size of the piles she was hauling out the door.

“It was surprising that I had so much stuff when I didn’t feel like I did,” she said. “I think it’s kind of freeing. You don’t have anything in the back of your mind. If it doesn’t spark joy, it shouldn’t bother you to give it away. You don’t even think about it anymore.”

Brown, who oversees the two UGM thrift stores that employ up to six workers who are homeless and using the services, said the more donations the merrier. After all, one person’s trash might be another person’s interview clothes.

“It’s not just about giving somebody something to eat or somewhere to stay for the night,” he said. “We really do invest in men and women who want to change their lives around.”

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