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Marie Kondo and Consumer Minimalism: Are Changing Attitudes Changing eCommerce?

Unless you’ve been living under a bridge, you’ve probably come across the terms “KonMari” and “consumer minimalism” more than once. But you may not know what they mean. Ironically, if you have been living under a bridge, you probably understand both terms better than anyone else.

KonMari and the wider consumer minimalism trend are changing the way that a significant portion of the western world thinks about shopping and consumerism in general. This can seem like a threat to many eCommerce companies; however, that may not be the case. Let’s explore these trends in detail and find out just what they mean for eCommerce brands of all shapes and sizes.

The Tidiness Trend Explained

Marie Kondo, and her lifestyle brand KonMari, are at the forefront of a tidiness movement. Through books, Netflix and popular culture, Kondo is encouraging millions of people across the world to declutter their homes, treasure their items and throw away anything that doesn’t “spark joy.”

Keele University Psychology Lecturer Chris Stiff explains that Kondo’s method goes way beyond tidiness. “The KonMari method prescribes not just simple tidiness, which removes objects from sight, but the paring down and organizing belongings so that you have precisely what you need, where you need it.” There are several steps to the method, he says:

  1. Tidy the entire house.
  2. Tidy by group (clothes, books, etc.).
  3. Discard what you don’t want.
  4. Only keep items that bring you joy.

Eco-Chick Founder Starre Vartan says that it isn’t so much about tidying as it is about considering items in a different way. “Our things, whether clothing, decorative objects, tools or kitchen appliances, take time, attention and energy, so only those worthy of that expenditure are worth keeping.”

Items that are unused or unloved end up being a distraction that causes us both guilt and stress. By using Kondo’s approach, you become more thoughtful about your possessions, care for them more and end up consuming less.

The KonMari method isn’t stopping at tidying the home, writes Fortune’s Rachel King. Consumer minimalism is being introduced to every corner of our lives. “Searches related to Kondo, KonMari and even “folding shirts” hit breakout levels in conjunction with the Netflix release, based on Google Trends data,” she explains, referring to the reality show “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” released on January 1, 2019.

It isn’t just Marie Kondo pushing the pursuit of less, notes Jonny Hughes, CEO of the World Conservation Monitoring Centre. He points to one group in particular, the Minimalists, who claim to have helped more than 20 million people live meaningful lives with less.

People aren’t just taking this approach for their own well-being, says Hughes. They are also doing it for the environment. “Reduced demand for consumer goods cuts pollution and energy consumption, and takes pressure off global ecosystems. Even if we manage to recycle 100 percent of materials in a circular economy and achieve 100 per cent renewable energy, purchasing fewer products in the first place will still be the best option for reducing our environmental impact,” he explains.

Nor are the Minimalists the only influencers.

Renee Juliene Karunungan at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research notes, “There is also Project 333, a minimalist fashion project that invites people to dress with 33 items or less for 3 months and 100 Thing Challenge, started by David Bruno, who challenged himself to own only 100 things. And then there is also the tiny house movement, a movement that encourages simple living by living in, yes, tiny houses. Add to that the zero waste movement, challenging people to live with, you guessed it, zero waste.”

But the Trend isn’t Universally Adopted

Millions follow the teachings of Marie Kondo and other minimalists; however, the pursuit of less isn’t embraced by everyone. It’s fair to say that there are a fair share of detractors.

While people may think minimalism is a protest against capitalism, this approach to living actually relies on it, says Erin Stewart at Overland. “Streamlined spaces are for streamlined people who lead streamlined existences. It’s a labour-intense and potentially expensive way to live.”

That’s not the only issue Stewart has with the movement. Clutter is heavily frowned upon to the point where people who suffer from disabilities or lack the financial resources to live without storing things can feel shame.

There’s also the environmental impact of throwing so much out, notes Alexandra Spring at The Guardian. The bags of discarded items at the end of a Marie Kondo cleaning session don’t just drop off the face of the earth. They have to go somewhere and often that place is the landfill, even if you donate them to charity first.

It’s not just the item that we discard, either, Spring adds. “We’re chucking out more than greying T-shirts and old tax receipts. While that cotton T-shirt only cost you $10, there were countless resources that went into it: the materials, the water, the energy, the labour, the transport and the packaging is all being wasted too.”

Matching demographics to trends is never easy or straightforward, but if there is one generation aligning themselves with minimalism more than any other it is millennials. As consumers, they have a particular set of values shaped by the recession, a slow job market and soaring student debt, which means they prefer shopping less than other generations, says Retail Analyst Deborah Weinswig. Rather than buy stuff, they prefer to spend money on experiences. When they do buy products, they often favor ethical and sustainable items.

What it Means for eCommerce Brands

On the face of it, consumer minimalism seems like a threat to eCommerce as a whole. Fewer people buying fewer things is bad for business. But dig into the trend a little deeper and there are plenty of opportunities.

“While retailers may cringe at the rise of the minimalist movement, which preaches sustainability by encouraging people to downsize wardrobes and give away possessions, others wonder if the decluttering trend has created an incongruous push for consumers to buy more stuff,” says CBC Reporter Duncan McCue.

Plenty of companies are already cashing in on the minimalist movement. “Minimalist products” such as shelves, racks and other storage options, allow clutter conscious consumers to make the most of their space. You can buy how-to books, take online courses and have consultants KonMari your home.

For those wanting a minimalist home environment but still have all of the comforts of modern life, eCommerce offers a handy solution. There’s no need to stockpile items when they can be delivered to your door at the click of a button, after all.

The use of technology to quickly service needs is something that has even been touted by Kazuma Yamauchi, the Co-founder of KonMari Media. With something like Amazon Dash, for example, necessities can be restocked at the push of a button. “We no longer live in a time where we have as much attachment to keeping and wanting to have as many items. The idea of attachment and consumption is changing,” he says.

clean desk, consumer minimalism concept

Focus on Quality and Joy of Ownership

Consumer minimalism isn’t so much about not buying anything, it’s more about loving what you own. If eCommerce brands want to build brand loyalty even among consumer minimalists, focusing on producing quality products is going to be essential.

This is the opinion of Seattle-based Interior Designer Brian Paquette. “My thoughts on her teachings are actually less about organizing and clutter and more about how things in your home must ‘spark joy.’ From the sofa, to searching months and months for the perfect vintage rug, right on down to the towels and napkins [clients] use on a daily basis, it all should spark joy.”

Consumers are sick of mass-produced goods, writes the team at Flagship Bank. Instead, they want quality products that make them seem unique. Rather than buying lots of products, they want fewer pieces with more impact — and they are willing to pay more for them.

This is perfect for retailers, notes Flagship. Brands can create something really meaningful while enjoying the higher profit margins that come with selling less for more.

eCommerce can Embrace Digital Minimalism

It’s not just in their products that eCommerce brands can take lessons from the consumer minimalism movement. Marketing efforts could also be better off with a minimalist approach, writes Business Journalist Nicola Kemp. “Digital communication has undoubtedly become disposable, with consumers proving brutal in their dismissal of uninspiring marketing. In line with this shift, many in the industry believe that brands should fundamentally rethink their approach to engaging consumers.”

This is especially important if you are trying to target millennials, writes Millennial Marketing Consultant Jeff Fromm. “There’s physical and digital clutter, with clogged social media feeds peppered with mindless updates and a constant barrage of unwanted online ads. Making sure that your brand is not only talking about value but living a valuable brand life is vital in being meaningful to millennials.”

Consumer minimalism should not be ignored by any eCommerce brand. That doesn’t mean that every eCommerce company has to act on it, however. Clearly, some stores are better suited to adopting elements of the trend and targeting purchase-conscious customers than others. Nor should stores adopt minimalist or quality-based approaches for the sake of gaining customers. That kind of blatant advertising is the antithesis of the movement and will be quickly sniffed out by the very customers you’re trying to attract.

Images by: Bench Accounting, Onur Bahçıvancılar, Norbert Levajsics