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Review: “Get Organized with The Home Edit” Is Infomercial Reality Television

In the past month, my Instagram ads have been increasingly occupied by shelves. I don’t know what triggered the invasion; maybe it was the fact that I followed a slew of vintage-furniture stores, or maybe I Google-searched credenzas one too many times, or said out loud that my apartment could use more shelving and got surveilled by my phone. Through these ads, I have discovered that there is a Web site called shelving.com, on which you can purchase arcane industrial products like wire shelves that slide on tracks, shelving for indoor agriculture, or an entire mezzanine, which is a shelf for humans. In recent issues of the London Review of Books, I also noticed an ad for Vitsoe, the mid-century-modern furniture company famous for its wall-mounted “universal shelving system,” which promises a utopian solution to your storage problems but can run thousands of dollars for even the smallest installation.

I’ve been drawn to the images of empty shelves, pristine and full of potential, because after six months of quarantining in one apartment I’ve come to think of organization less as a luxury than as a dire need. Our homes must serve more purposes than ever during the pandemic—office, classroom, gym, broadcasting studio—and so we have acquired new equipment to facilitate this versatility. But where do we put the pullup bar, Zoom microphone, or craft supplies? We want to be able to stash things away so that we don’t have to think about them, banishing them in a way not unlike how we banish our anxieties in order to continue going about daily life. Storage offers convenient repression. As Gaston Bachelard wrote in his book “The Poetics of Space,” from 1958, “Wardrobes with their shelves, desks with their drawers, and chests with their false bottoms are veritable organs of the secret psychological life.”

In this light, Netflix’s latest reality show, “Get Organized with The Home Edit,” should be positively Freudian. It is named for an organizing agency, founded in 2015, by two friends who met in Nashville, Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin, and who serve as the show’s hosts. In each episode, they take on two tidying projects, one for a celebrity—like Reese Witherspoon (also an executive producer), Khloé Kardashian, or Neil Patrick Harris—and one for a normal family, whose home is much messier. Along with their team of assistants, who all have the same wavy haircuts and branded black outfits, the hosts transform cluttered kitchens, offices, and closets into rigorously ordered spaces. Their main tools for doing so are vast collections of shelves and storage boxes, which the organizers stack and nest infinitely. In the parlance of the show, these devices are called “product,” the way hairdressers refer to conditioner or traffickers to drugs. Both hosts buzz with energy-drink fervor, but Teplin is usually optimistic whereas Shearer is the Daria of home organizing, doubting strategies or freaking out over deadlines. They offer a stream of cleaning platitudes like “small items don’t mean a small job” and “choose between the item or the space.”

Though it was developed and shot long beforehand, “Get Organized” has been pitched as perfect quarantine content. Like an A.S.M.R. video, it creates a fantasy that it’s your own home getting organized, that it might be possible to impose logic and structure on the unknowable confusion of life at the moment by starting with your possessions. When the hosts show up to organize Kardashian’s garage, which is crowded with her toddler daughter’s collection of ride-on cars, she exclaims that she feels “a sense of relief.” (Their solution is to create a mini parking lot with black cones and pink tape for striping.) Over the course of each fifteen- or twenty-minute segment, a system is imposed with its own governing logic and structure. Zones are created for specific types of accessories or supplies, which are diagrammed onscreen by text overlays, like an architect’s drawing. Every zone gets a label in a typeface made from Shearer’s own loopy cursive. The show should come with a trigger warning for librarians: books, like clothing, art supplies, and board games, get sorted by color. In one episode, a Los Angeles youth center is subsumed by such rainbows, down to a gradient of color coding on the cupboard doors.

“Get Organized,” if you haven’t noticed, is strikingly similar to another one of Netflix’s reality productions, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” which débuted in January, 2019. Kondo’s famous rule was that everything that doesn’t spark joy has to be discarded. She dealt with hoarders, empty nesters, and a grieving widow, proceeding through an emotionally charged cleansing ritual that had glancing reference to Kondo’s Shinto spirituality. But there is no emotion in “Get Organized”; it’s weirdly bloodless, which is why it ends up being so unsatisfying. Shearer and Teplin’s strategy is enshrined in the dry steps “Edit, Categorize, Contain, and Maintain.” “Purge” things you don’t need, designate your zones, then put everything into transparent plastic boxes, ideally on modular faux-Vitsoe shelving. The final step is the most difficult and goes largely unaddressed: things have to stay in their boxes. In the “after” montages, each room ends up looking the same, a monotonous grid of plastic. Reality TV requires some kind of drama to succeed, however minor. With Kondo, it was the cathartic decision to sacrifice some previously beloved object, but the biggest upset here is when Shearer and Teplin miscalculate the size of the bins needed. It’s the rare production that may have been better off on the short-form mobile streaming service Quibi, because there’s only ten minutes of meaningful content per episode.

“The Home Edit” is less a show than an elaborate infomercial, the kind where people struggle with some onerous household task in black-and-white and then relax into color when they obtain some new miracle product. Shearer and Teplin’s brand was already a commercial machine, with two hardcover instructional books (one released just after the show launched); branches in nine cities offering organizing for up to two hundred and fifty dollars per hour; a series of Home Edit bins and labels for sale online; and more than three million followers on Instagram, where they post shots of well-organized drawers, jokey video clips, and sponsored content for cleaning supplies. (The show’s subjects often proclaim fandoms predating their appearances; Ali, a New York City real-estate broker with a messy kitchen, says that she discovered them on the social-media platform.) Streaming television usually represents a jump up in terms of fame, a graduation from the tiny screen of social media to the more glamorous small screen, but in this case Netflix just seems like another marketing channel for these organizing influencers. Kondo at least waited until after her show to launch a Web store selling a signature collection of household accessories.

Kondo’s store and Shearer and Teplin’s brand ultimately operate on the same mixed message: dealing with your stuff is easier if you buy even more of it. “Get Organized” doesn’t engage with the problem of consumerism; there’s no acknowledgment of why clutter builds up or of the anxiety that causes people to obsess over “back stock,” the show’s term for extra bulk food and supplies that should be hidden away. Throughout the show, storage comes off less as a vessel for the “secret psychological life,” or for personal weirdness, than as a banal acceleration of capitalism in which every mass-produced object, from jewelry to breakfast cereal, is reified as precious, each encased in a transparent reliquary. In a way, though, the show has solved my shelving obsession. After watching the eight-episode season, I’m no longer so bothered by the unruly clutter in my apartment. Instead, I see it as a shred of personality and evidence that our domestic spaces don’t have to be completely perfect or packed up, especially when there are much bigger problems at hand than rainbow color coding.

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