Fans say it’s like having their brains scratched
Few platforms are currently driving trends in the same way as TikTok, where everything from dances to pasta dishes have the potential for incredible viral success. But perhaps the most curious of these successes is the rise of restocking videos, in which millions of TikTokers tune in regularly to watch creators fill their pantries with snacks, decant their condiments into chic containers, and morph even the messiest of junk drawers into an aesthetically pleasing scene.
The restocking videos largely follow a similar format: a disembodied hand filling clear acrylic organizing containers with packs of healthy snacks and pouring orange juice from its paper carton into a sleek carafe. Sometimes the videos focus elsewhere in the home, like the bathroom, but the bulk seem to be focused on kitchens, perhaps because there’s no space in the home more prone to disorganization thanks to the slew of sauces, spices, grains, and other home staples that are sold in all sorts of different types of packages. And for some of these creators, like Kaeli McEwen, our collective obsession with aesthetic organization has created an entirely new career path.
Back in March of 2020, McEwen was a Starbucks barista who’d just started posting videos to TikTok. At the time, the COVID-19 pandemic was just kicking off in earnest, and McEwen became obsessed with the organization videos she’d seen on the platform. With all this newfound time on her hands, she decided to try her hand at making her own restocking videos. The first, which features McEwen stocking a mini-fridge in her home with snacks and tiny bottles of water, instantly started racking up views. “I had this mini-fridge in my bedroom, and I’d seen other fridge restock videos at the time, so I just bought a bunch of snacks and recorded myself filling it up,” McEwen says. “The first one did go viral, so from then on, I started to really focus on that niche.” As her account started to take off, she quit her job at Starbucks. Now, McEwen has more than 8 million followers on the platform, and is a full-time TikToker, complete with major brand sponsorships.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of videos like McEwen’s is the decanting. Almost all kitchen restock videos feature a creator pouring something from its original packaging into a new container that fits the creator’s aesthetic. Everything from water to coffee creamer to dried spices can be an optimal candidate for decanting, and there is no shortage of specialized containers to meet these needs. If you’re looking for the perfect size carafe for storing a quart of milk or a bin that neatly organizes dishwasher detergent pods into a stackable cube, that product can be easily purchased on Amazon or any random Target.
“It’s easier to keep clean and organized,” McEwen says. “Not necessarily every container I use makes everything easier, but it just looks nicer when everything matches and fits together.” And because TikTok is like any other digital platform, videos like McEwen’s are often met with a flood of oppositional comments, especially after they go viral. Some complain that McEwan’s enthusiasm for plastic organizers is killing the planet, while others are simply taken aback at the amount of effort she’s willing to go to in order to have a “pretty” fridge interior.
Outside of the aesthetic, though, decanting and hyper-organizing your kitchen can have some serious practical benefits. As Kandice Breinholt, a Utah stay-at-home mom and full-time content creator notes, decanting can actually make a lot of sense for people who struggle with limited pantry (or fridge) space. “My pantry is small, but it has a ton of vertical space,” she says. “When you use uniform containers, you can fit so much more into your pantry and see it very clearly rather than wondering how much you have left, or digging through everything to find the ingredient you need.”
Breinholt also notes that she regularly receives comments from her followers who deal with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and struggle with object permanence or remembering what they have in the pantry when it’s tucked away out of sight. “It’s super helpful for people with ADHD to see what they have. That’s always been a recurring comment over and over on my account,” Breinholt says. “People really love that this is a way that you can make your pantry and your groceries more accessible.”
Another, less tangible appeal of restocking videos is that many of them are recorded with autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR, in mind. Using certain soft sounds, ASMR videos are intended to provoke a response that feels like “tickling” or “tingling” in the brain. According to creator Ashley Guzman, that ASMR effect can come from the strangest places. “I get so many comments from people telling me that they love the sound of me refilling salt,” she says. “Someone even said it felt like the sound ‘scratched their brain.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, the growing obsession with organizing and decanting everything has also corresponded with increased sales of the products you’ll need to make your pantry fit the popular aesthetic. The Container Store has been around for decades, but it’s more likely that this rise can be explained in part by the explosive popularity of The Home Edit, an organizing company and subject of a Netflix series with the same name, in which co-owners Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin use all manner of clear acrylic containers to organize someone’s living space.
In January, Shearer and Teplin launched their first-ever line of organizing containers like the Pantry Edit, a $25 assemblage of containers intended to corral all the errant canned goods and droopy bags of rice that are inevitably strewn around the bottom of your pantry at this very moment. McEwen hopes to follow in the path of Shearer and Teplin, and says that launching her own line of home organizing tools would be “the ultimate dream.”
Perhaps it’s because most (read: my) kitchens are a messy nightmare that we’re so interested in aspirational organization. It’s highly unlikely that I’m ever going to corral my own pantry into anything approaching organized, but I can still appreciate the calm, clean order that McEwen and Breinholt produce. That most of us will never in a million years be as organized as any of these TikTok creators, with their perfectly decanted sugar and flour, doesn’t make these videos any less soothing.