Welcome to The Trend Times, a column that explores design fads in the age of doomscrolling.
I’ve been obsessed with organizing since I was conscious—and probably even before. My mother tells me this behavior started shockingly early. When I was six, she opened one of my drawers and found all my possessions meticulously arranged by likeness and color. As I got older, and during times of stress, the endearing quirk turned into a self-soothing compulsion that consumed my time and mental capacity. A sock without a partner or asymmetrical bookshelf could send me into a tailspin. Until I got treatment for my OCD, the principle that "everything has its place" was not an inspirational homemaking adage; instead, it imprisoned me.
My exposure therapy as an adult involved sitting in the discomfort of mess without "fixing it," a kind of reverse Konmari Method for sickos who believe possessions are oppressive and no objects spark joy. It’s been interesting to treat my disorder during an era that’s kneeled at the altar of minimalism; pop-culture has made me aware that most of the population have the opposite problem. They have too much stuff, it’s everywhere, and they don’t want to part with it. This is the entire premise of popular Netflix shows (and attached media/product empires) like Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up and The Home Edit, in which professional organizers help people declutter, framing minimalism as a kind of holy pursuit.
But far more pervasive is the power of organization content on TikTok and Instagram—sometimes posted by professionals and sometimes not—that is algorithmically pushed on people, whether they’re the type to get horny for neatly folded fitted sheets or not. (It’s so ubiquitous that a clutter aesthetic is now trending as a response). There are different strains of this "organization porn": sometimes it’s an organizer helping out a client with ADHD by transforming their closet from a sweater bomb into a neatly organized oasis. Other times it’s ASMR-adjacent "restocking" content, where people take snacks or Tide pods or tampons and put them into more aesthetically pleasing and organization-friendly containers. (I believe Khloe Kardashian’s pantry did some major work in making this type of organization an aspirational marker of wealth). And sometimes it’s just a disembodied hand arranging a drawer, the ripping open of a Post-it package and the clacking of pens hitting plastic a plastic cube a kind of auditory balm.
People love these videos for all types of reasons; they can be relaxing or educational or inspirational. As others have pointed out about the aforementioned TV shows, which are framed as a kind of anti-capitalist response to The Problem of Shopping Too Much, this type of content often tacitly pushes the idea that you need to buy more in order to properly de-clutter. (Both Kondo and The Home Edit have their own product lines). The psychology is basically The Container Store in content form: Yes, I have too much stuff, and I’ll get rid of some, but I need to buy some more stuff to hold the stuff that remains.
Organizing influencers link to Amazon storefronts full of colored jars and tubs and boxes that take organizing from a functional practice to an aesthetic one. It’s not enough that a space is organized, it also needs to look organized. It has to be Tidycore. Watch too many of these videos in a row and you’ll be convinced that if cereal stays in the box it came in, someone will die. Though these practices—which are notably almost entirely carried out and publicized by women—are framed as "hacks," is putting everything in rainbow order really anything other than classic homemaking with a contemporary spin?
"The whole process seems to celebrate excess on a much deeper level than the one-off purchase of some boxes," wrote Megan Burns on Image, when The Home Edit first premiered. "It turns your possessions into a feature, a display, in the way that we might use art or photographs to add personality to a space. The style of display is undoubtedly Instagram-centric, with colour-coordination and white space between objects helping everything to pop nicely on a screen, encouraging us to show them off to others."
You’d think that, given my OCD, I’d love this content, and I admit that as a means of dissociative scrolling, I do. As I’ve now given up tidying my own home to an unhealthy degree, I get a sense of relief watching other people do it. I also appreciate that it helps people who really struggle with cleaning, for whatever reason, find a sense of peace in their space. But even I must admit Tidycore is a reactive solution to the real problem of compulsive purchasing—a core minimalist principle most organizing influencers won’t touch, perhaps because it would put them out of business. The problem of "having too much stuff" starts with buying it. If you don’t implement this perspective as your shopping, you will spend your whole life decluttering only to re-amass stuff you don’t need shortly thereafter.
And take it from me: though it may look like "a vibe," the last thing you want is to always be decluttering.
Top illustration by Ryan Johnson.
Get the Dwell Newsletter
Be the first to see our latest home tours, design news, and more.