Sparks and stuff

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Does it spark joy?

That question has been on the lips and minds of consumers for a few years, thanks to Japanese tidying guru Marie Kondo. Her 2014 book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” and new Netflix series “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” both tout her organizational method: Keep the items that spark joy; pitch those that don’t.

I’ve tried this — and think I must be doing something wrong. I hold items in my hands and am completely conflicted. It’s just a T-shirt. It doesn’t necessarily spark joy per se, but is that the only measure of value? It’s multi-purpose: Sometimes it’s perfect with jeans and booties, sometimes it’s the layer of choice under a scratchy sweater and, to be honest, when I’m feeling really lazy, it’s great to sleep in. Does that constitute joy — i.e., delight, rapture, elation? Not exactly, but I’m in no rush to part with it.

I might be overthinking this, but the reasons people buy things and choose to keep them are imbued with more emotions than just joy. Today’s consumer is motivated to purchase due to factors like an affinity for what a brand stands for, whether the brand’s ethos aligns with the shopper and if the product and the storytelling that surround an item are authentic.

Shopping at Brandless brings me joy, for example: I buy into the somewhat minimalist approach of the brand. It donates meals to those in need, the vast majority of its products are just $3 and the company invests time and energy to source the best products. And shoppers are invited to build their cart based on their values, be it certified organic, gluten-free or plant-based. That brings me joy.  (As do the dark chocolate quinoa bites, but I digress.)

Likewise, consumers find joy in brands that appeal to their moral standards — and they support those brands with their wallets. Think Gillette, whose recent ad campaign questions traditional ideas of masculinity and urges more enlightened role models. Nike is another great example, and part of the rationale why folks line up at Starbucks includes an affinity for ethical sourcing, social justice and environmental progress.

Holding an item to determine joy is only part of the Tidying Up method. Ultimately, it’s about eliminating clutter — and that’s a message that resonates loud and clear with shoppers who have proven to be more enamored by experiences than stuff. They’re renting rather than owning for a multitude of reasons, but eschewing stuff and clutter are top primacies.

So what does that all mean for retailers? The challenge they’ve faced for some time is getting tougher. Retailers must be sure they stand for something. They need to be certain that the physical spaces they’re creating are inviting and experiential and that the items on their shelves truly spark joy. That will be especially true as shoppers who have invested time in tidying up become more thoughtful about reintroducing new stuff into their personal spaces.

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