Our life as a consumer is dominated by the noise driving us to purchase more, buy again, do more quicker, faster, easier. This drive has left our houses cluttered, our computers and our lives full of products we rarely use, and maybe don’t even need or like. We are trapped with these products because we can’t say goodbye. We don’t know how to because we have lost the capability to end relationships correctly - to have a good closure experience.
Where our ability to start a new consumer relationship (on-boarding) has been sharpened and crafted over generations by many industries focused on getting us to buy. In contrast, our ability at ending these relationships has few champions.
One person countering this is Marie Kondo, a self proclaimed declutterer from Japan, who has been helping hundreds clients declutter their homes. Although, according to Marie, there are many approaches to decluttering your home, and she has tried most, she believes that her's is the only approach that really works.
She believes, an area where many people fail is the approach to decluttering their home. Insisting that it cannot be done piecemeal. It has to be done with all items in each category at the same time. For example all clothes in the house, all books, etc. Any other approach fails as it becomes slow and looses its purpose.
The technique then requires people to reflect emotionally on each product. She asks the person to hold and feel each item. Handling them is vital, as it evokes important feelings and emotions about the item. Feeling for the item to ‘spark a feeling of joy’ If so, it should be kept and valued. If not the item should be ‘thanked and wished well for its future’ and disposed of appropriately.
What to throw away and what to keep is easier said then done. Many people find it difficult to say goodbye to products they have had for years. The product might mean something significant, but maybe not ‘joy’. This is a common blocker that Marie experiences daily and believes these emotions break down to 3 categories.
• an attachment to the past
• desire for stability in the future
• or a combination of both
People hold on to items out of fear of the future or attachment to the past. They are anxious to not lose that attachment to the past or that link with the future. With numerous clients that have gone through this she is confident that life with fewer objects is better and reassures many clients to be ruthless about what ‘brings them joy’ as a product.
The emotion that Marie brings to her technique is the most interesting. Instead of a cold hearted departure where the product ends it life in the waste bin, she insists that people say goodbye to the product they own, and wish it well.
Like wise she promotes a far more emotional relationship with all the products an individual keeps. Believing this increases a products life and gives greater value to ownership. This is nicely exampled in a passage from her book ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying’.
This is the routine I follow every day when I return from work first I lock the door and announce to my house “I’m home” picking up a pair of shoes I wore yesterday and left out in the hall I say “Thank you very much for your hard work” and put them away in the cupboard. I put my jacket and dress on a hanger and say “Good job!” I return to my bench and put my empty handbag in a bag and put it on the top shelf of the wardrobe saying “You did well have a good rest”.
Many of us would feel strange saying a clear “Thank you!”, “Well done” or a meaningful “Goodbye!” to products. Yet in Advertising and Branding we often tug on these emotional strings at the on-boarding stage of the relationship. Brand agencies often talk about giving the brand a “personality” or “brand promise” Advertisers talk about “having a conversation between the customer and the provider”. Are these not equally emotional triggers created to tempt us to commit to a product purchase? Isn’t it equally strange to have a conversation at the beginning of a customer relationship, as it would be to have a conversation at the end?
The difference is in the mode of thinking at the beginning and the end of the relationship. The beginning - on-boarding stage of the relationship triggers our aspirations. Telling us we will be better with this purchase. What should be in place at the end of a customer relationship is self-reflection. But this is sadly overlooked because it stops our focus for purchasing new items.
But this is where Marie Kondo, brings us something important for Closure Experiences and products. It is the opportunity for self-reflection on a products usage and its end.
The most many of us do when we dispose of a product is put it in the right recycling bin. This at most provides an emotionless thought about product materials, but it does nothing to provide emotional meaning to the end of a product relationship. And certainly doesn’t induce self-reflection.
To deal with something like climate change for consumers we are going to need better emotional persuasion than the dry and worthy arguments of Reduce, Recycle, Renew. We need to get emotional about endings and seize the opportunity for self-reflection. This would help us ask deeper questions about our personal consumption. And this would surely be the start of individual behaviour change.
So maybe saying goodbye to products is a good start. Try it next time you end a product relationship.