Text by Jolie Kerr / Illustration by Naomi Otsu
For 21of21, GOOGLE SHOPPING and PAPER came together to break down some of the most memorable shopping moments of 2021 based on Google's trending search data. It’s obvious one of our big resolutions for the new year was “be more organized.” Google search interest for “pantry organizer” hit an all-time high in January, while Google search interest for “jewelry storage solutions” was up 250% this year, both in the US.
If 2020 was the year we decided to organize everything, 2021 was the year when we leveled up and decided to organize everything... and then some.
The desire for a picture perfect pantry that looks like it was plucked straight out of The Container Store is nothing new, but the pandemic that ground the world to a halt accelerated the way in which we covet: TikTok became a playground for the hyper-organized and for those looking to be soothed by the ASMR of it all. Being at home all the time, needing something, anything, that we could control during the most stressful and chaotic time most of us have ever lived through, sped up our desire to organize.
The pandemic also changed what we organized. Gone were the days of whimsy-driven organizing. Yesterday's rainbow bookshelves and reality TV star-inspired cookie jars were replaced with the more practical: We poured laundry detergent into glass apothecary jars and spread butter into ceramic crocks. And if there was some Rae Dunn-style word art along the way to remind us of happier times, when a trip to the discount store didn't require a mask and hand sanitizer, well so be it.
Pandemic organizing trends took on some distinct themes, many of them driven by those practical concerns.We were shopping less, but for a lot more, as stay-at-home orders rendered us housebound. In the face of all these groceries, is it any surprise that organizing the refrigerator turned into a national pastime that begat the #fridgegoals hashtag on TikTok?
Under-sink organizing, too, became a craze as people stocked up on (hoarded, the correct term here is “hoarded”) cleaning supplies; makeup, skincare and other personal grooming items got in on the act too. We may not have been putting on lipstick — what's the point when it would just end up all over your mask (did we also organize our masks? Oh yes, we sure did!) — but we certainly found a way to organize it.
These practical concerns often inspired some rather, um, impractical solutions. The relative usefulness of egg organizers is debatable: sure, they're sturdier than the cardboard and styrofoam containers eggs are sold in, and are essential for people who have chickens at home — raise your hand if someone you know took up backyard chicken farming as their pandemic hobby!). While the relative usefulness of egg organizers is debatable — they're sturdier than the cardboard and styrofoam containers eggs are sold in, and are essential for people who have chickens at home (raise your hand if someone you know took up backyard chicken farming as their pandemic hobby!) — absolutely no one needs to buy containers into which to decant store-bought cold brew and coffee creamer that are sold in, yup, containers. And yet plenty of people did just that! So we now find ourselves living in a world where we are organizing our iced coffee.
Retailers have our number. The recommended products that appear alongside a plastic carafe set — which is marketed to use for everything from mimosas to laundry detergent — include an OXO Good Grips Pop Container Coffee Scoop and a set of Youngever Clear Plastic Apothecary Jars, enticing buyers to think about what else they might organize.
People who weren't organizing were watching org porn — the aforementioned #fridgegoals TikTok hashtag has racked up 91M views, the seemingly more niche #laundryrestock has 94.9M views and the granddaddy of them all, #organizingtiktok, has 1.4B views.
Why are we organizing, though? There are, of course, the practical reasons: when the refrigerator very suddenly goes from storing three to five days worth of groceries to housing weeks-worth of provisions, undertaking an organizing project and investing in items that create more space, and help to keep food fresher, longer just makes good sense.
But there's another, more animalistic reason why we organize during periods of high stress. Writing in Current Biology* in 2015, Martin Lang, then a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard University specializing in the relationship between ritualized behavior and anxiety, found that stress can result in ritualized behavior, and that inducing anxiety in test subjects led to "more redundant, repetitive, and rigid hand movements." This led to him concluding that "ritualization might be an anxiety-reducing coping strategy."
Lang codified what the overly tidy among us have always known: for a certain type of person, organizing, and its kissing cousin cleaning, are a quick way of establishing order and control when life becomes overwhelming. Surely, you know someone who loves to crow about how they find folding laundry relaxing, or for whom doing the dishes is an essential part of their evening wind down ritual. The use of cleaning and organizing as a coping strategy is nothing new, but the pandemic, with its hyperfocus on sterilizing surfaces and the need to stay home, converted a new flock of believers to the Church of Clean and Tidy.
This organizing obsession also allowed us to indulge in another popular stress-reliever: retail therapy. To paraphrase a million decorative pillows and cheeky tote bags, when the going got tough, the tough went shopping. In perhaps the most through-the-looking-glass example of the craze for organizing, not only did we spend on our organizing habit, we also found a way to organize our organizing habit. In August, a TikToker tallied up the cost of the products she purchased for a pantry reorg; she also added up the cost of the expired food that went to waste because it was lost in a black hole.
The spending on organizing products? $457. The value of the expired food? Almost $1,000.
*Reprinted from Current Biology, Vol 25 /Issue 14, Martin Lang, Jan Krátký, John H. Shaver, Danijela Jerotijević, Dimitris Xygalatas, Effects of Anxiety on Spontaneous Ritualized Behavior / Highlights, Pages 1892-1897, Copyright (2015), with permission from Elsevier.