the Dark Side of Decluttering

In the newly released Netflix show “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” the eponymous host demonstrates the art and joy of conscious decluttering through a series of home makeovers. As illustrated by the widespread media coverage and social media excitement, the show clearly resonates with those of us who simply have too much and would be happier with less.

Amid the #konmari buzz came news of the tragic death of Crystal Papineau — a 35-year old homeless woman in Toronto who died while trapped in the deposit slot of a clothing donation bin. She had likely been searching for the warm clothes that would sustain her during the harsh winter months.

The nuisance of excess and the deadliness of deprivation make for a sharp and devastating outline of the binary reality of life under capitalism.

Indeed, Papineau’s death is devastating. But as housing and shelter activists have noted, it is not surprising. There are over 8,000 homeless people in Toronto, Canada’s largest city. The night Papineau died, Toronto shelters were, like so many other nights, at capacity. Amid these conditions of widespread homelessness and insufficient respite, 145 homeless people died in Toronto between January 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018. This year, Papineau has already been replaced as the latest death of a homeless person in the city.

Papineau’s death is devastating — but it is not unprecedented: at least six others in Canada have died after becoming stuck in donation bins. An incident in West Vancouver led to the closure of all of the city’s receptacles.

Papineau’s death is devastating and it should be ironic: a woman living in poverty was killed by the infrastructure specifically designed to facilitate charitable giving. But it is only ironic if we consider charity to be separate from, and counter to, the cruel and violent logic of capitalism. In reality, charity is not only compatible…

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