The Internet's "Decanting" Obsession Is Making Me Tired

I deleted my social media accounts in 2022, I don't have internet at home, and yet I'm still very much aware of the internet's storage-container obsession. Whether I'm watching a house tour on YouTube or browsing articles online, it seems inescapable. Admittedly, there's something fascinating about it, too — I've consumed entire video essays dissecting what the immense popularity of decluttering, restocking, and resetting posts can tell us about class divides and late-stage capitalist societies.

Also referred to as "decanting," the trend of transferring pre-packaged products into clear, plastic containers is so huge that I don't even have to go online to find myself interacting with it. I rarely shop online these days, and I still can't stock up on groceries without seeing shelves of plastic containers for sale, almost always advertised as the answer to any and all of my assumed organizational woes.

To be clear (yes, pun intended), as a self-proclaimed, "Monica Gellar without the secret messy closet," I can understand the appeal of decanting videos. The act of cleaning and organizing has always soothed me. I enjoy taking care of my space and the spaces of my loved ones — I recently wrote an entire essay about why cleaning is my love language — and I'm a minimalist by necessity, so I declutter regularly.

I also won't pretend there's nothing satisfying about watching a pair of beautifully manicured hands transferring fresh products from their original containers into empty, spotless, clear ones. It's ASMR; it's escapism. It's beauty and order in an increasingly chaotic world where inflation is high, "shrinkflation" means consumers are paying more for less, and staggering wealth inequality seems to be ushering in a new Gilded Age, per Fortune.

I also know there are times when it makes sense to transfer perishable, pre-packaged items into more secure packaging. Whenever I bring home a fresh bag of cat food, I immediately transfer it into a big plastic container with an air and moisture resistant seal — primarily so my pets can't get into it, but also because I live in a humid, buggy region and quality cat food isn't cheap.

And I'm all for people making money in creative ways. As a creative person who's constantly thinking about finances, I'm glad so many content creators, particularly women, have found a way to earn money by creating content from the comfort of their homes. At the same time, I can't help feeling that — well-intentioned though it may be — their trending content is doing more harm than good.

Women — perhaps moms especially — are already held to unrealistically high standards regarding organization and home care. Women are expected to organize not only their own lives and belongings, but also those of the people around them, whether their children, partner, parents, or boss. Decanting is just one more task on a never-ending list.

I'm single and child-free, and I still feel exhausted just thinking about decanting every purchased item after a long day of running errands. Plus, all of those extra plastic containers means more to wash.

The wasted time and energy isn't what bothers me the most about decanting, though. Like so many other trends, the internet's plastic container obsession encourages two incredibly financially disadvantaged generations — millennials and Gen Z — to spend money on things they don't need.

It's pretty wasteful from a sustainability standpoint, too, because while they may not be clear, anyone who has ever bought anything has access to containers that can be reused for organizational purposes.

I keep my nail polishes in plastic tubs that used to hold CBD gummies. I store my lip balms and headphones in Altoids tins that I labeled "lips" and "listens" with a black permanent marker. My forks, knives, and spoons are sorted into three coffee mugs I received as gifts but never use for drinking because they're too big and heavy for my liking. I use my old prescription bottles to store paper clips and staples; old pepper tins to hold nail clippers and tweezers. My headbands and hair clips live in an old coffee can.

On a debt payoff journey myself, I'd reuse containers even if I could afford not to — not only since it produces less trash, but also because it's kind of cute. Aesthetically pleasing though they may be, clear plastic containers lack flair and personality. Reusing receptacles is certainly more sustainable, and that's great; but it's also more creative, more fun.

Ultimately, home care is personal, organization is personal, and the internet's decanting obsession is huge for a reason: a lot of people like it. But it's not the only way — or the best way, in my opinion — to stay organized. What works for me might not work for others, but I'm happy with my repurposed containers, and a clean fridge full of pre-packaged food and drinks is good enough for me.

Elizabeth "Liz" Enochs is a queer writer from southeast Missouri. She's the author of the nonfiction prose chapbook "Leaving the House Unlocked."