"I close my laptop, roll over and start watching TikTok," says Jasmine, a student who lives in London. "I think that there’s just something so pleasing about seeing someone else have their life so put together. I’d love to live in a world where my fridge is beautifully organized with neat little acrylic containers stacked on top of each other, but it’s just never going to happen."
In a digital world where aesthetic is everything, it’s hardly a surprise that impeccable organization is a top trend. For the influencers who dominate the sphere, organization goes far beyond a tidy desk. It isn’t uncommon to watch videos of laundry rooms where every product is decanted from its packaging into beautifully labelled containers, or of sanitary towels painstakingly arranged by absorption level. The #organizingtiktok hashtag currently has 1.6 billion views on the platform, while #organization has over 2.4 billion views. Influencers like Emily Mariko have taken TikTok by storm with videos of themselves repurposing leftovers or doing laundry, and ASMR-heavy clips of pantry restocks can attract millions of likes per upload.
Jasmine – like many viewers of organizational TikTok – rarely aims to incorporate the strategies that she sees online into her everyday routine. She lives in a tiny, 13-metre-square studio flat and often works from her bed. She started to watch videos that promised a more streamlined style of living when she was preparing to move to London to start a master’s degree, spending several evenings scrolling through the hashtag associated with a note-taking software to find templates and inspiration that would make her new life feel more structured. Organizational TikTok helped her to feel tethered during this major life transition but she admits that she rarely implements any of its techniques herself.
"I’ve definitely turned to organizational TikTok when I’m stressed and just need something really simplistic and satisfying to watch that creates some sense of order and control," she says. "I feel like organizational TikTok is a bit like back-to-school season: you buy all your pretty, coloured pens and fancy folders and tell yourself that this is the year you’re going to be on top of everything, then a few months down the line all you have left is one scrappy pencil and a bunch of handout sheets in the bottom of your backpack that you never actually filed. Anyone can buy products to help organize their life but it's deceptively hard to stick to."
Sunny Hermano is a social media expert and head of growth at Edisen, a content creation company. He believes that the community-oriented, tips-and-tricks nature of many organizational posts is perfect for TikTok’s core demographic: Gen Zs like Jasmine who are just beginning to be independent.
"For people who are starting to move into their own spaces and learning to take personal charge of the rhythm of their own lives, organizational content equips them with simple ideas on where and how to begin," he explains. "The pandemic is also a likely contributor to the rise of organizational TikTok. With most people staying at home, many trends have emerged that encouraged people to better their home spaces and make them more efficient – the perfect environment for content of this kind to thrive."
Like many organizational TikTok fans, Jasmine is young and female. Most of the top influencers in the field are women and the content is decidedly aspirational. It’s common to scroll through the comments of high-performing videos to see viewers lamenting that their own life and home is far less perfect. "In my house that would last five minutes," reads one of the top comments on a clip that attracted 4 million likes. Yet whatever your reason for watching someone tidy their kitchen cupboard – be it inspiration or escapism – it isn’t necessarily important.
"Our brains are very bad at distinguishing between imagining doing something and actually doing something. It’s what makes mindful meditation and visualization so powerful," says psychotherapist Brittany Morris. "Studies show that people tend to feel calmer when their space is clean and organized, and these videos allow you to receive those benefits without actually doing it yourself."
Although Morris argues that these videos can be a form of stress relief for busy individuals, she also believes that they speak to a wider cultural anxiety and a pressure on women to be endlessly optimizing. In an age when being 'that girl' – the kind of put-together person who drinks lemon water and wakes up at 5am to exercise – is seen as an aspirational aesthetic, organizational TikTok places yet another social expectation on young women. It takes the traditional and outdated idea of women as homemakers and makes it palatable for a digital-savvy audience, putting a filter on the demands that women have faced for generations.
"I could definitely see women feeling an extreme amount of pressure, especially if they are working from home and trying to run a household," says Morris. "I think that the cultural pressures speak to a need for individuals to be put together all of the time, which is a much bigger problem."
For Jasmine, it’s important to distinguish between the videos that she sees online and the limitations of her own living situation. She still dreams of those acrylic containers but she’s realistic about what she can achieve – and she’s aware of the pointed symbolism of a tidily stocked fridge.
"To live in a world where I can spend hours restocking my pretty pantry containers is to live in a world where I have no problems," she says. "These videos make it seem like the only thing that people have to worry about is organizing things all day, every day. That’s obviously not realistically the case – I know a lot of the women are probably housewives and stay-at-home mums. I don’t think that’s an easy job at all but it’s part of this idea of social media as a highlights reel."
"I’m still a student but I know for a fact that when I get a job my first paycheque will be spent on an Ikea trip to buy all new homeware – and lots of organizational containers. The idea of everything in my life being beautifully organized and restocked once a week is a fantasy where everything else is under control too. Who wouldn’t want to live a life that simple?"