LET THEM EAT … LABELS?!
If you’re a Netflix watcher like I am, you’ve probably at least seen the trailer for The Home Edit.
The show caught my eye, and not just because it’s about one of my favorite topics: home organization.
It pops because it’s beautiful.
There are wide shots of color-coded walk-in closets, tidy rows of books arranged by size, and shelves propping up dozens of neatly-labeled containers.
And then there’s the clientele.
Many of them are celebrities, so you’ve got that “wow” factor of seeing inside Reese Witherspoon’s home on top of it all.
In short: it’s lovely to look at. But it doesn’t even scratch the surface of what it takes to get truly organized.
Also, how many of us have that kind of space? Reese Witherspoon’s closet is bigger than some Manhattan apartments.
Now, no shade to Ms. Witherspoon or the Home Edit gals—the homes they visit end up looking lovely. ROYGBIV’d-out closets have great curb appeal—or at least the closet equivalent.
But ultimately, more than caring about how things LOOK, you really want to focus on how they WORK.
So, if you don’t have staff or a bunch of free time to play house … are you really going to spend that much time and money making stuff pretty … instead of functional?
I can already hear some of you shouting, “Can’t I have both? Can’t I have beauty AND functionality?!”
And of course, you can have both … if you have the resources—meaning time AND money.
Just like my celebrity and HNW clients do.
But if you don’t have those resources or just don’t want to invest them in turning organizing into a full-blown design project, you still need to be able to find what you want when you want it.
So aspiring to have the world’s most beautiful walk-in closet of labeled tubs could be a goal of yours—but it’s not likely to be one of your core values.
And if it’s NOT one of your values, then does it really serve you?
Is it an asset … or a colossal luxurious and fabulous distraction?
I can’t help thinking of Marie Antoinette … and maybe all that color and light isn’t helping at all ...
Maybe it’s all just more stuff … with a fancy bow.
WHY THE HOME EDIT . . . JUST ISN’T
I wrote this summer about why Marie Kondo’s methods don’t hit on the underlying issues that keep us stuck, and I’d put The Home Edit in that same bucket.
You can spend days color-coding and labeling everything you own. And if that brings you joy, go for it.
But if it DOESN’T make you happy … don’t feel like you have to get swept up in someone else’s idea of how you should be spending your time.
Because the problem isn’t really, label or don’t label …
The problem is with where you are putting your focus—and glamorizing the containers themselves.
They just become more stuff on top of the stuff you already have—how is that solving the underlying issue … of too much stuff?
All that beauty could fool you into thinking that labeling is the end of the process.
Labeling isn’t the end, it’s just the means to an end.
So let’s take a moment to explore what’s actually going on here.
The Home Edit is all about taking your piles of stuff, and arranging them—beautifully—so they no longer look like piles … they now look intentional.
But if the stuff you’ve surrounded yourself with has not ACTUALLY been intentionally gathered and held onto … if there is no current purpose for all of that stuff … you now just have RANDOM stuff that looks pretty.
Which might actually be worse, right? Because not only did you not let go of anything, but now even your stuff HAS stuff.
All of this just keeps you focused on the stuff, rather than any of the underlying issues that caused it to accumulate in sloppy piles to begin with.
I will bet you that it’s nearly impossible to keep up a Home Edit-style organizational system over the long term without doing any inner work … or once again, having staff.
You have to actually consider your belongings to truly edit them. If you don’t connect with the stuff you have and why it’s there, or why you’ve organized it the way you have, you’re not editing. You’re arranging.
In other words, it’s a question of making things look pretty, rather than asking ourselves if we have the right things to begin with.
If your stuff doesn’t serve you, how many containers of it do you really need to have?
ARE YOU BEING SERVED?
Labels are a band-aid.
Sometimes a visually stunning one, but a band-aid nonetheless. They don’t solve a problem in and of themselves. And sometimes they actually create new problems.
I don’t need to tell you what labels—on both sides of the political spectrum—are doing to our society right now, especially in the United States.
At a very basic level, our brains love to categorize things. It’s why organizing makes us feel so good. If we look at a row of neatly-labeled jars, we have the illusion of order and control.
So we put things into categories as though THAT were the answer, when in fact, it's just part of the process.
And stopping there, with perhaps a self-satisfied grin, can actually create more problems than it solves.
Let’s take the labeled shelf jars as an example. Images from The Home Edit show very specifically labeled containers. They don’t have a jar for “crackers.” They have a jar just for Triscuits.
So what happens when you eat all the Triscuits and buy a different snack that you don’t have a labeled container for?
Now you have an empty Triscuits jar AND an ugly new box that’s out of place on your beautiful pantry shelf.
And that’s assuming you wanted to spend a bunch of cash on uniform containers and labels in the first place.
Do you scratch out the Triscuits label? Make a new label? Buy more Triscuits?
None of those choices sound like they’re making your life simpler.
Which is the actual goal of getting organized.
Now, if you already don’t have enough free time for the relationships and activities that you love … do you really have time for another project … like making jars and labels for individual brands of crackers?
Also, the reason you sort things into categories is so that you can make a thorough decision about what stays and what goes by considering ALL like items at one time.
Making labels BEFORE you’ve decided what you’re keeping is a bit cart before the horse-ish.
And we probably shouldn’t confuse sorting with labeling, either.
Deciding what you will DO once you’ve settled on a category or label is where the real work begins.
Pivoting to look at a human label, consider this.
If your doctor tells you that you have diabetes, you now have a label that can be very useful to you. The label “diabetic” tells you to take steps to monitor your blood sugar and adjust your eating habits.
But if you don’t change anything about your behavior or your life, then the label is probably causing more stress than it promised to solve when you first identified it.
So back to the pantry.
When you decide to try a new non-Triscuit cracker … is that a cracker betrayal? How will you feel about the empty jar? Will you only ever eat Triscuits now to avoid this conflict?
You can see how something that promised to make life easier just made it possibly prettier but also amped up your stress level and in the process, created MORE clutter.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I have nothing against The Home Edit specifically.
But I do think it’s just another example of floating around on the surface of things and making them prettier instead of solving the root issue.
And a quick glance around us shows us over and over again how easy it is to get distracted by the wrong thing when we try to make lasting changes in our lives.
There’s nothing wrong with having an organizational system that’s beautiful—we’ll set aside the possible costs for now—though there are plenty of ways to create a beautiful system that is nearly free and works just as well.
The problems are focusing on aesthetics OR on the system itself, whether it’s color-coding your books or holding objects to see what sparks joy.
Both of them make STUFF more important than YOU and the people, places and experiences you love.
So, don’t get tripped up racing to the Container Store to buy matching apothecary mason jars.
Instead, take the time to consider what is actually meaningful to you.
How will you USE the stuff on your shelves, whether it’s labeled or not?
And more importantly, should that stuff even be there at all?
Stuff can be a huge source of tension that actually comes between us and the people we love. If stuff is causing fights in your home, check out my recorded masterclass on How to Stop Fighting Over Stuff.