Beware of misplaced gratitude

Neuroscientists tell us that gratitude is good for us. They say that each act of gratitude gives us a psychological boost. However, some types of gratitude can be completely misplaced.


There’s a disturbing trend I’ve noticed in the online clutter clearing courses I teach. It used to be that people would sort through the items they owned and make decisions about what to keep and discard. But I’ve noticed that something new has crept in in recent years. Some people now believe that the correct way to do this is to first thank their belongings before letting them go.

My courses usually have participants from about 20 countries around the world, so they represent a fair cross-section of global declutterers. What concerns me most is how easily this practice has been accepted by some of them, with no real discernment into what it actually means.

Gratitude is good for us

Studies show that people who are grateful tend to have better health, better quality of sleep and are more satisfied with life in general. And those who actively express gratitude instead of just internalizing it develop stronger relationships with the people around them.

So it’s very clear that being grateful and expressing thanks are beneficial to everyone.  Gratitude is also a quality we can choose to actively cultivate, along with other soul forces such as integrity, enthusiasm, empathy, heartness and joy. They are essential to anyone engaged on a path of personal development.

But gratitude can also be misplaced.

Thanking your belongings as you let them go

People tell me that the advice to thank their belongings before tossing them in a charity box or throwing them in the bin can be traced back to the influence of Marie Kondo’s books. At first, it seems to be a reasonable, considerate and kind-hearted idea. But when you take the time to think it through, it is seriously flawed and has worrying repercussions.

Suppose you decide to let go of some socks. Kondo advises us to first say to the socks, ‘Thank you for giving me joy when I bought you,’ or ‘Thank you for teaching me what doesn’t suit me.’ In that way, you express gratitude for them being in your life. And if you never wore them, instead of regretting wasting your money, you can thank them for teaching you not to buy things you don’t really need or like.

But wait. The socks can’t hear you. They don’t have ears. And they are certainly not conscious. They can’t understand the words you say or appreciate the feelings behind them. They are inanimate objects. Pouring your thanks into them goes nowhere. It is misplaced gratitude.

Well-placed gratitude

There is a way that you can incorporate gratitude into clutter clearing as you let your unloved or unwanted possessions go. However, a very different approach is needed.

The purpose of clutter clearing is to find the right balance – not so many possessions that they hold you back, but enough to be able to live your life to the full. So when you let go of something that you no longer need or love, first acknowledge yourself for having the wisdom and courage to move forward instead of being stuck in the past. Learn from owning the item so that you can make better choices in future.

In this way, it will have served a purpose in your life, even if it was an impulse purchase or a poor choice that turned out to be clutter in the end. Instead of beating yourself up, you can get value from the experience. Take a moment to understand how keeping the item helped you to move forward or held you back.

Then, to express gratitude for having owned it, thank the high spiritual forces that support you in your journey through life. Call this whatever you will (God, the Universe, a Higher Power). But direct your thanks upwards, not downwards to the physical world, which locks you into materialism.

Spiritual connection

Thanking your belongings before letting them go says there’s you and the physical world and that’s all there is. Each time you do this, it’s a nail in the coffin of spiritual connection for you and the entire human race. You may have been persuaded that it’s oh-so-spiritual to relate to your things in this way but, in fact, it’s the exact opposite. It disconnects and isolates you from those levels.

Being so immersed in the physical world is a sure recipe for getting to the end of your existence and having no idea what it was all about. Consciously choosing to open to higher realms takes more effort, it’s true, but brings much more meaning, purpose and joy to your life.

So next time you find yourself tempted to thank your socks or your shoes or your home or your car, think bigger. Go outside your own little world and consider the forces of creation that made all these things. Connect to your own higher purpose and how owning things can hinder or help you on your path. Then make your decision from that standpoint about whether to keep something or let it go and how to express your gratitude for having had the use of it.

Copyright © Karen Kingston 2020

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About Karen Kingston

Karen Kingston is a leading expert in clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui and healthy homes. Her two international bestselling books have combined sales of over three million copies in 26 languages and have established themselves as "must read" classics in their fields. Her best-known title, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, is now in its fourth edition. She is best known for her perspective-changing insights and practical solutions that enable more conscious navigation of 21st-century living.
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10 Responses to Beware of misplaced gratitude

  1. Thank you for this article, Karen. It is a helpful reminder about how to subtly change the way we are grateful for things in our lives and I’ve found it a useful ‘course redirection’. 🙂

  2. Perhaps thanking items you discard is the adult version of the little song parents sing to their toddler when he or she feels sad to leave a place or put something away. “Bye-bye ball, bye-bye ball, we’ll see you another day.” I see no harm in thanking an item you are discarding. The item ultimately came from the earth and (in my opinion) the earth is our home entrusted to us by our Heavenly Parent. By thanking the item I feel I am also acknowledging the creator who allowed me to use it.

  3. Anna, Marie Kondo doesn’t teach that you should throw away one item every day. Quite the opposite, she suggests decluttering is a once-in-a-lifetime event, and after the process you will be clutter-free forever. Of course, it doesn’t quite work that way, because you will have to get rid of clutter continuously, even if not on a daily basis.

  4. In fact the idea of thanking belongings one has decided to discard is not something new that has crept in in recent years. You reported on it yourself in your blog post of 21 August 2007, which related more specifically to discarding dolls and toys. You stated that “Holding ceremonies for letters that for some reason are not able to reach their intended recipients, and everyday objects such as sewing needles, pens and ink brushes, to thank them for their services, has been part of Japenese (sic) history for a long time.” At the time you wrote the post, you found it a “fascinating practice.” Perhaps your opinions have changed, which happens to many of us over time.

    I have read your cluttering clearing book (and referred back to it many times in the past 20 or so years) and much of your advice was of great help to me. Some of your recent posts take issue, using quite critical language, with Marie Kondo’s opinions on clearing clutter (note – I have not as yet read her book). I read your blog each month (finding much of interest and food for thought) and had taken notice that you did not discuss Ms. Kondo (unless I have missed something). I had actually admired this and was glad that you seemed to be content to spread your own message and not criticize Ms. Kondo’s (or anyone else’s) theories. If you disagree with Ms. Kondo, that’s fine, but please remember that many people find help with clutter clearing from many sources, using what works for them and leaving the rest. I hope to continue to receive insight and practical advice on clutter clearing from you – no more diatribes against Ms. Kondo’s opinions please. With best wishes for a healthy and prosperous 2021.

    1. Hi Megan – I have said very little about Marie Kondo’s books until now. However, I have received countless questions from concerned or puzzled people about various aspects of her advice. This article and Do socks have feelings? are my way of replying to some of those questions without having to repeat myself over and over again.

  5. Thank you for your reply! Maybe I could do a course. It’s funny how, I’m sure many of us, create such an attachment and loyalty to old clothes…for me they represent nostalgia, youth, somekind of a golden era when I was younger and thinner, good memories and so on…Now the trouble is, that the closet is full of nostalgia and very little actual things to wear! Starts to feel like I’d need one “nostalgia closet” and another for everyday clothes…now the everyday clothes are placed for example in chairs.

    Re. Marie Kondo, or her advice. I love it when you give a “reality check”. I think many people took it as somekind of a dogma…it’s not rocket science, or any kind of science, it’s not the ultimate truth in this subject…it’s just one person’s ideas about cleaning and organizing 🙂

    What I didn’t like is (if I understood right), is when she suggests that everyone should throw away one item per day. Japan is a large nation and now that the book is read everywhere in the world…it just does not sound good to me to fill the landfills with more and more garbage. That everyone just happily throw things away. Irresponsible! But I think she didn’t define “throw”…I hope it also includes the idea of donate, recycle, sell etc.

    I also dislike when many people got the idea that Marie Kondo encourages ascetic or minimalist life, not sure if that’s what she meant? I think people confuse stuff and clutter. I think there’s nothing wrong with having a lot of stuff, if it’s meaningful, no negative associations and all in its place?

  6. Misplaced gratitude…I think I have fears around this topic. That it is good for us to be always grateful about everything, what we already have..but somehow this has lead me to fear of asking, wanting, something more, new, like wanting this would somehow make me ungrateful (therefore spiritually somehow wrong), bad, greedy person. So now I have closet full of old, worn out, even broken clothes that I hardly ever wear anymore…there isn’t even space for anything new…and this desire for new, pretty clothes feels somehow inherently superficial and wrong, something I’m not “entitled” to. If I would now have a first date, job interview, party or anything that would need “finer” clothes, I’d have nothing to wear! What is the root of the issue? Why I cannot allow myself such things, that it is ok to desire these things, to feel good, feel pretty, confident etc.?

    1. Hi Anna – In the Fast Track Clutter Clearing online courses I have been teaching since 1993, I have witnessed a never-ending stream of reasons why people keep clutter and feel so paralyzed by it. The underlying reasons for clutter are different for each person, but what they all have in common is that they can be traced back to a point in a person’s life where things went off-track. I warmly encourage you to take this course when it is next offered or, if you don’t want to wait so long to get started, book an online Clutter Clearing session with Richard to help you to reclaim your life.

  7. Marie Kondo’s work and attitude to thanking is not random, but is based in Shinto, the indigenous Japanese nature religion which believes in the nature or spirit present in all things. It is this she is thanking, not inanimate things. It’s part of the ritual behaviours, rather than doctrines, of shinto. Shinto regards the actual phenomena of the world itself as being divine. In other words, exactly the ‘high spiritual forces’ and ‘God, the Universe, a Higher Power’ that you suggest we should be thanking.

    1. The belief that everything is an emanation of the Divine lies at the heart of Shintoism and I fully endorse that. However, there is no mention of that in Kondo’s books. Instead, she is teaching people to form anthropomorphic relationships with their possessions, which is an exvoluted turning downwards to materialism instead of an involuted turning upwards to the Divine. The two paths are diametrically opposed.

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