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Restocking Season Is Getting Out of Hand

Restocking Season Is Getting Out of Hand

Now that the frenzy of the holidays has spat you out into the harsh light of the new year, you might be tempted to look around your disheveled home and decide that it’s time to get your life together. Maybe your fridge is empty, or your pantry is full of the stuff you bought for Christmas baking projects you never quite got around to, or the laundry from your family’s trip to visit Grandma and Grandpa still isn’t done. The internet is full of suggestions on exactly how you might rectify this domestic chaos, but if you go looking for organizational inspiration, the tips and tricks you find will center disproportionately on a single object: the humble clear acrylic storage container.

If you’re unsure what to do with one, an entire video genre has sprung up on social media over the past few years to provide some inspiration. Watch a couple, and the tropes become clear. A pair of disembodied, feminine hands—wrinkle free, well manicured, adorned with trendy jewelry—unpacks consumer goods from their original containers and arranges them neatly inside their new acrylic homes, sometimes adorning the exterior with a customized label that identifies the contents. The videos are sped up so that the hands move with maximum efficiency and purpose; some include the same set of hands cleaning the containers and storage area to spotless perfection before the main event. There’s little to no narration or background music to be found—just the amplified sounds of objects plunking and crunching against hard plastic.

Restocking videos, as the genre is called, can make a subject out of anything in your home that could plausibly be stored in a clear bin of some kind, and often in enormous quantities: Snack-size pouches of Oreos or Doritos or applesauce are lined up alongside one another in transparent boxes in immaculate pantries. Laundry pods and beads and powders are transferred into matching containers with their own little scoops. Pens and highlighters and colorful paper clips are arranged in desk drawers lined with tiny clear receptacles. On pristine bathroom vanities, little jars fill with cotton rounds and bobby pins and hair elastics. No liquid soap, shampoo, or body lotion goes undecanted. Disinfecting towelettes are removed from their own tubs and tucked into new tubs specially designed to receive your rehomed wet wipes. Coffee creamers and flavored syrups are funneled into identical bottles to display at elaborate household coffee stations, alongside bins filled with enough Nespresso pods to keep a family of four caffeinated until the heat death of the universe.

These videos have grown to enormous popularity over the past few years on Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok, where the form has blossomed—and where they have amassed tens of billions of views. The makers of consumer packaged goods now routinely pay organizing and cleaning influencers to include their products in restock videos, and acrylic storage products are now fabricated in nearly every size and configuration you could imagine, meant to showcase neat collections of durable goods such as sunglasses and and eyeshadow palettes as well as products that need regular refills. It’s clear plastic’s world; we’re just living in it.

Plastic storage containers have existed for generations, but the proliferation of this particular type of inflexible, minimalist, crystal-clear container can be placed on a much more recent timeline. On September 9, 2020, Get Organized With The Home Edit debuted on Netflix. The show followed an Instagram-famous organizing company as its two founders straightened up Reese Witherspoon’s closet and Khloé Kardashian’s garage and Jordana Brewster’s refrigerator, among other cluttered storage areas of the rich and fabulous. Within a week, Google searches for the duo’s signature organizational tool—clear plastic bins—shot up to what was then an all-time high.

The show was nothing if not accidentally very timely. Interest in similar bins had been steadily increasing for years, in part because of their popularity with professional organizers and lifestyle influencers—The Home Edit launched its own line of them at The Container Store in 2019—but all of the eyes on Netflix during the early pandemic proved a powerful accelerant. Americans were spending a lot of time cooped up and had begun to find their homes wanting. Those with extra cash on hand spent it on home goods of every conceivable type, spiking sales of storage and decor products. Membership in Costco, BJ’s, and other wholesale clubs also boomed, as did sales at grocery and big-box stores as people spooked by seemingly random shortages of all kinds looked to stock up. Many people’s pantries and freezers and closets grew crowded, and those who bought in bulk had little to do but sit at home all day and grow irritated at this newfound clutter.

By early 2021, creators on TikTok—another company that saw its American popularity explode during the early days of the pandemic—had picked up on this latent interest in aesthetically pleasing bulk organization and were making videos filling and arranging their own clear plastic bins, tubs, and bottles. And by later that year, brands had started looking for ways to get their products into the containers in those videos.

You don’t have to watch many restocks to get a sense of why people find them compelling. Part of it has nothing to do with organizing itself: The videos fall into the broad, wildly popular genre of ASMR, which means that their audio is intended to generate an autonomous sensory meridian response—i.e., brain tingles—that can feel soothing or relaxing. That’s why the sounds of crunching and plunking and tapping are so heavily amplified, and also one of the reasons acrylic (and, to a lesser extent, glass) containers—hard, unyielding, cacophonous when thumped—are such a ubiquitous tool of the trade. But the visual content of the clips broadens their appeal much further. The clips are satisfying—meaning, in this case, that you get to watch disorder transformed into aesthetically pleasing order—and aspirational, meaning that they give viewers ideas about products or services they might want to buy or behaviors they might want to emulate. Your fridge and pantry and junk drawer and medicine cabinet probably are a mess. Wouldn’t it be nice to straighten them up a bit?

As tends to happen when anything becomes wildly popular online, the clear plastic bins have gotten a little out of hand. Using them to more efficiently fill vertical storage space, replace messy or uneven manufacturer packaging, or more easily keep tabs on what you’re running out of is no more inherently ridiculous than putting your clothes on hangers to store them in your closet. But the videos take the notion of restocking to its logical extreme. Videos described as depicting a normal grocery run include whole convenience stores’ worth of packaged snacks arranged in rainbow order. Some influencers chop up and store more bite-size veggies than a family of 10 could possibly eat before they go bad, or make tray after tray of colored, flavored, or flower-and-fruit-stuffed ice cubes for elaborate “ice restocks” in their enormous freezer drawers. Shelves above gleaming side-by-side washers and dryers are lined with canisters of powders, pearls, and crystals, some of them useful only to imbue clean clothes with a particular scent. Every guest bathroom is stocked with a full complement of hair, skin, and bath products, just waiting to one day be needed. These videos offer a glimpse of what it might be like to live in a store—everything you could possibly want is neatly arranged, exactly in its place, close at hand. Simply pluck it off the shelf.

These videos are quite literally performances, of course, but the activities they depict are also performances, of a different type. As social media has transformed formerly intimate areas of homes into backdrops for public communication, it’s also changed the ways people think about how those spaces should be arranged and whom they should please. Pantries, closets, and refrigerators are no longer where the messy background work of domesticity is hidden from view. Instead, the curatorial work of filling and arranging those spaces is proof of a new, highly prized form of domestic mastery. Keeping a gargantuan open kitchen filled to the brim with anything your family might want is clearly a luxury. It requires ample money, space, and time (or at least the time of a housekeeper you’ve hired). It’s no surprise, then, that many of the early adopters of the acrylic-bin lifestyle were celebrities. The Kardashian-Jenner clan in particular has been providing the general public with glimpses inside their enormous, pristine household storage areas for years; one of the most enduringly intriguing things about the family is their years-long public enactment of the fantasy of owning everything you’ve ever wanted.

The restock genre is a continuation of domestic expectations that began to form when these influencers’ grandmothers and great-grandmothers were homemakers. In Never Done: A History of American Housework, the historian Susan Strasser writes that after World War II, as electric washing machines, freezers, chemically complex detergents, and other products designed to make housework easier became more widely available, the skilled physical labor of cooking and cleaning became a bit passé. Instead, women were judged on how well they shopped. Trying all of these new products and spinning up new routines based on them was the province of the well-off, just like the immaculate clear plastic full of the bounty yielded from Amazon orders and Target runs is today. It became a new form of domestic aspiration, founded on the glory of American abundance—on all that you could build for yourself and your family if you were a diligent consumer at your local stores. Now, with stacks and stacks of clear plastic containers, success amounts to rebuilding the store inside your home.

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