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Marie Kondo and the charitable giver

As the tidying guru's quest to spark joy continues, Abi Jarvis asks what it means to be charitable

Anecdotal stories suggest that charities have seen a great upswing in donations this month, partially due to a Netflix series from tidiness expert Marie Kondo. 

Kondo’s show apparently encourages people to ask whether their possessions are giving them joy and if not, they’re advised to give them away. Shop staff have reported that they have been inundated with items that have Kondo’s signature fold’.

I’m all for decluttering. I’m a bit of a hoarder myself, especially with books, and always feel better when I get rid of some of the clutter. And I would absolutely encourage people to donate their unwanted items to charity stores, rather than throwing them away. But, despite their destination, I’m not sure I would call these donations an act of charity.

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Charity’ is a translation of the Greek word agapē, which also means love. But, are these donations made out of love or self-improvement? Is it possible that these donations are a way of coping with a consumer mentality that has filled people’s homes with things they don’t need?

I’m sure this isn’t true of everyone inspired by Kondo; a trailer for the show includes people struggling with giving up the belongings of loved ones who have passed away. It seems that many, however, have realised that possessions do not bring them joy. This seems like a great opportunity to ask questions about what does bring joy, and to speak about the God in whom we rejoice and who rejoices in us (Psalm 97:12; Luke 15:1 – 7, and throughout the Bible).

A better example of loving charity, to my mind, comes from my local community. Last week, a church leader posted to a Facebook group that the foodbank’s cupboards were bare. Within days, a boot-full of donations had been sent off, with another now awaiting collection. Only weeks before, the community had responded to the annual request for money and products to support the winter night shelter. 

They give generously out of a genuine desire to help others. Most of them don’t know or love Christ, but they participate in this act of love, which benefits the community itself as well asy the foodbank and shelter. Donations have at times been accompanied by a subtle, unspoken request for personal support that the church leader is then able to provide.

Of course, you might ask, does it really matter? As long as the charity shops and foodbanks get the resources they need, does it really matter whether it’s done out of love or pity or self-improvement or the result of a bad breakup? And, in one sense, it doesn’t – particularly amidst a decline that saw a net loss of 119 charity shops in the first half of 2018. According to the Charity Retail Association, the function of charity shops is to raise funds for the parent charity. The quality and resale value of the donations is much more important than why they were donated. And, of course, recycling is much better than filling landfills.

Christian theologian St Augustine said: Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.” But when it is an act of love, charity can motivate us to ask questions about justice. At the local level, we can ask why the foodbank has used financial donations that should have lasted 12 months in three weeks (there are policy and social concerns that have driven this huge increase in need). On the macro level, we can ask questions about the recent report from Oxfam that the world’s 26 richest people own as many assets as the poorest 50 per cent of the planet’s population. 

If we are charitable simply because it’s better than throwing stuff away or hoarding it at home, and not because we are loving our neighbours, we will not care how our donations are used, or why they are needed. But, giving out of love, and asking the big questions about the need, provides us the opportunity to be part of the solution.

In Acts 6, a group was chosen to oversee the daily distribution of food to widows because a need was brought to their attention – a particular group of widows was being overlooked. By looking first at the need, they were able to come up with a solution. Had they started first by looking at an excess of food, they may have made a different decision. Perhaps they wouldn’t have even got that far, as we have no idea whether the distribution required sacrifice by the rest of the community. Food was distributed because there was a need, and the early church responded out of love.

I’ve now watched a video of Kondo’s signature fold, and it would certainly make a vast improvement to the content of my drawers. But, I don’t want charity to be an occasional thing brought on by my own need to destress my life; I want it to be a regular part of my everyday life, in response to the needs of my local community, and the wider world. And I’ll try to stop buying quite so many books I never quite get around to reading, as well.

How is your relationship with Jesus compelling you to be charitable?

About the author

Abi Jarvis is the public leadership coordinator at the Evangelical Alliance, seeking to equip Christians with the skills and confidence to be leaders in the places where God has called them. She has responsibility for the SENT course and the Public Leader: England curriculum.

Abi has a BA in Ancient History and an MSc in Political Communication. She enjoys going to the theatre, watches too many American TV dramas, and somehow became responsible for daily office exercises despite her hatred of all things sporty.

Much to her dismay, Abi ticks the box for pretty much every stereotypical feature of a PK – a pastor's kid.

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