Are some pantries rooted in racist and sexist social structures? I recently considered the origins of the pantry after stumbling across articles examining ‘Pantry Porn.’ What a loaded question. Perhaps we’re wading into unexpected territory for a professional organizer.
I like to get theoretical. To look at things from a deeper, critical place. While slowly considering the history of spaces and the roles we “play” in the theater of our lives. This is especially important, considering the role of white women, since I am one.
Gender and race are hugely consequential in domestic spaces, whether we are conscious of it or not.
I’ve also read a lot about domestic space. I recommend the following books if you want to learn more about how the modern-day Home has evolved. Home: A Short History of an Idea by Witold Rybczynski and AT HOME: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson were both very enlightening.
A more recent Dilettant Army article, ‘Merchandising the Void,’ has me thinking about the space next to or in the kitchen, called the pantry. Social media influencers and celebrities have recently shared voyeuristic views. I find this strange. Who wants to be in competition for the best-looking pantry space? Apparently, influencers, professional organizers (their clients), and some celebrities. I might pay more attention if these spaces were more interesting, not just replicas of what we see on supermarket shelves. The SAMENESS of what is shared has grabbed my attention.
Austere modern whiteness is rooted in classism and racism.
During the 1930s, the era of stark architecture, a movement labeled by MOMA as “International Style,” was not meant to be lived in. Yet, we continue to conform ourselves to this uncomfortable aesthetic of clean, cold, and hard…aka “simple.”
I can’t deny that most of the organizers I follow are white women. Most of them are the ones repeating this stereotypical aesthetic. The performance of domestic spaces shared via social media to yield influence is twisted (and that’s the world we live in!). Check the tags and article linked here for more on this trend. Hello, #cleanToc Gen Z and Millennials using hashtags: #PantryOrganization & #FridgeRestock. What was once considered ‘minimalist’ is no longer about simplicity or living without excess. It has become its own aesthetic driven by brands and performance (ASMR/Music Mashups), with a not-so-subtle marker of status.
“I suggest the design and contents of Khloé’s pantry point to an evolution in the contemporary public role of the American kitchen and the role of the homemaker who labors and performs in this space. The ritualized stockpiling and organizing of goods, the oversized scale and format of the shelves and bins-this is a space where the performance of logistics is as important as the performance of domesticity.”1
If your home or pantry looks like a warehouse, you might want to dial it back and ask yourself why. If it feels like labor keep up with everything in your home, you might want to reconsider your priorities. Perhaps simplify? To simplify is not the same as to stage. Speaking of stages…
Pandemic hoarding had its time and place.
For now, and for most of us, that time is over. I’m not going to delve into the privilege of ‘prepping.’ Dare I say; this topic extends to our current topic, though.
“…organization is not just cleaning. It is design, a shift that allows the logistics and labor of contemporary homemaking to be revisioned as a hobby and a lifestyle.”2
Does homemaking feel like a hobby to you? Yeah, me neither. I’ll be examining this more in future posts.
I’m not attempting to perform domestic perfection for my clients or myself. I love it when I get calls to come to help someone set up their newly moved-into or remodeled kitchen/pantry. I cringe when they focus on buying new products to make everything look like a store (row-upon-row of products, decanted to perfection). This is NOT what organizing is (or should be) about. I am not in the business of creating the illusion of perfection. Nor do I want to create more work for my clients or myself via revisiting overly manicured high-maintenance spaces.
I am asking each of us to consider WHY we need to see perfectly decanted, row upon row of stockpiled household goods.
I appreciate an aesthetically pleasing environment. Yet, I do not strive for greige, gridded, decanted repetition and hoarded household goods. This is akin to filling every void like an empty spreadsheet! Is this kind of minimalism a matter of taste? Or is it more like a white cube-sterile, austere-institutional, and classist?
Can you see the irony here? Are empty spaces and white walls refilled with more consumable goods than we need? There is so much hypocrisy in the ‘staged minimalism’ of the luxuriously rich. The term minimalism has been co-opted from the art world, an aesthetic originally applied to art in institutional spaces that were never intended to be lived in.
‘minimalism presents the illusion of intellectual simplicity — morally good, anti-consumerist — while being just as complicit in the problems of capitalism as anything else. Empty interiors often end up only emphasizing what’s left over as more valuable, more desirable’.3
Ask yourself whose aesthetic you are striving for.
Here are some questions that might help you decide what your priorities are.
- Does living within a sterile white space make you happy?
- How does hoarding materials make your life feel more abundant or simple?
- Can taking the time to remove things from one container and put them into another simplify your life or make routines easier?
Containers, grids, and sparse aesthetics are not the solutions to simplifying our lives or bringing more joy.
Here are my takeaways:
Cleaning isn’t organizing.
Organizing isn’t design.
Homemaking is labor.
Cleaning and organizing are labor.
If creating a simple-looking lifestyle requires more labor, it’s not simple.
Overly manicured spaces are high-maintenance spaces.
Don’t believe the hype.
Beware of the aesthetics you are consuming.
Clearly, I am NOT an organizing influencer!
*This post was first published on 8-3-23 on my Substack. Please join me there if that is your preferred reading app!