Khloé Kardashian’s color-coded hair-extension closet might sound like some kind of art installation about late-stage capitalism, but it’s actually a thing that exists in Kardashian’s Los Angeles home, and it’s exactly what it sounds like: a carpeted room dedicated entirely to 50 or so clip-in extensions arranged on uniform black hangers in order of lightest to darkest, beginning with a sheet of bleached-out, nearly white strands and culminating in a swatch of strawberry-tinged almost brown.
In January, Kardashian shared a picture of the room, with the caption “50 shades of blonde,” with her 120 million Instagram followers. The closet was an extreme example of a trend that had been apparent in celebrity and influencer culture for a while: aspirational organization, tidiness as a sort of luxury item. At the forefront of this work is the Home Edit, a Nashville-based home-organization company owned by Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin, that was responsible for Kardashian’s closet.
Even if you’re not one of the Home Edit’s 1.6 million Instagram followers, you’ve almost certainly seen the aesthetic that it has, if not invented, at the very least codified; a look that can best be summed up as Pinterest organization porn: rows of pristine white shelves filled to no more than 75 percent capacity, pantries with paper towels artfully arranged in the shape of a pyramid and, its hallmark, items organized in order of Roygbiv (an acronym for the order of the colors as they appear in a rainbow — red-orange-yellow, etc.). If you search for the hashtag #pantry on Instagram, you’ll turn up 400,000 images, many of them kitchen closets organized in the style of the Home Edit.
This aesthetic has earned the Home Edit a roster of A-list celebrity fans like the Kardashians (Kim, Kourtney, Khloé and their mother, Kris Jenner), Reese Witherspoon and Gwyneth Paltrow — all of whom are not only clients but Home Edit evangelists. (Khloé Kardashian referred to Shearer and Teplin as her “soul mates.”) The Home Edit has a line of organization accessories available at the Container Store, a best-selling book title and another set to be published later this month. On Sept. 9, Shearer and Teplin’s show, “Get Organized With the Home Edit,” will debut on Netflix.
The Home Edit’s success would be singular were it not for the fact that this decade has already ushered in a home-organization brand with a Netflix show and best-selling book: Marie Kondo. When Kondo famously encouraged followers to shed parts of their lives that no longer “sparked joy,” she was essentially peddling a form of self-help. It was a promise laid bare even in the title of Kondo’s book: “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” The Home Edit, by contrast, isn’t trying to sell you an improved life — they’re selling you permission not to improve your life (at least outside of your closet). Highly stylized home-organization content is only half of the Home Edit’s output on social media. The other half is the founders’ quotidian ups and downs, which they document on Instagram Stories. These vignettes illustrate what the founders describe as their “low-bar lifestyle”: their contempt for working out, the trouble they have getting their children to sleep, their neuroses (Teplin has an exhaustively documented fear of battery acid). This has earned them such a dedicated audience that even supporting cast members, like Shearer’s mother, Roberta — an impossibly regal figure who routinely, to borrow internet parlance, “throws low-key shade” at her daughter — get stopped in airports by fans asking for selfies. On the brand’s website, alongside organization merchandise, they sell T-shirts with sayings such as “Surviving Not Thriving,” “Caffeine Until Cocktail Hour” and “Champagne Is Basically Sparkling Water.”
I first met Shearer and Teplin in February, at a cocktail bar in the Gramercy neighborhood of Manhattan connected to the hotel where they were staying. They had just come from meetings at Martha Stewart Living magazine and Instagram. It’s not hard to understand why someone would give them a TV show: Shearer and Teplin have a Penn-and-Teller chemistry, with Teplin the straight man and Shearer, who speaks about 90 percent more, the jokester. (It’s a dynamic exaggerated by their physicality. Teplin, a 5-foot-1 blonde, is a head and change shorter than the dark brunette Shearer.) When Shearer began to tell me about how she would look forward to spring break in middle school as an opportunity to clean her room, Teplin cut her off. “She’s so chill,” Teplin said, rolling her eyes. They spoke in an on-brand patois. “I’m surviving not thriving by 8 p.m. with a glass of wine,” Shearer said to me at one point.
Their dynamic during our drinks matched their Instagram presence so closely that when Shearer ordered Champagne, I stifled a laugh. Shearer knew why. “Some people see us in a restaurant or at an airport or something like that, they come up to us, ‘Oh, my God, you really order Champagne?’” she said. “It’s wild to me that people think I wouldn’t.”
But the fact is they do seem like characters. The experience of watching the Home Edit’s Stories is like watching a sitcom — a network sitcom. There are catchphrases, recurring bits and issues that get neatly resolved within the span of a few posts. It’s focused and digestible — you feel as if you know these women well, even if you only know a few things about them, like that Shearer’s favorite drink is Champagne. The women’s relatability, and its disconnect from their work, isn’t lost on them; in fact, it is part of the pitch for their service: “If we can figure out how to organize a pantry, we promise any of you can.”
In 2015, the year the two women met, Teplin and Shearer were in their early 30s, mothers of young children and recent transplants to Nashville (Teplin from San Francisco; Shearer from Los Angeles). They are also both Jewish, which made them something of a novelty in their new hometown. (“There were, like, 11 of us,” they joke.) It wasn’t long before they found themselves in each other’s orbit. Each had relocated for her husband’s job and was looking for her next act. Shearer had a background in social media, having worked for brands like Nickelodeon and Myspace; Teplin had owned a few businesses, including a greeting-card company. “It’s funny, we never asked the question ‘Would you mind going into business together?’” Shearer said. “We never did; we just started talking.”
Technically, their business was organizing clients’ homes in Nashville. But even from the start, they were laying the foundation for something bigger. Part of that meant creating a signature look. Even as the Home Edit has inspired many knockoffs, some critics might call the brand’s style unoriginal — certainly the Home Edit aesthetic drew from different visual references already popular online. The genius was reimagining it in the context of home organization. Beauty blogs had kicked off the trend of personal belongings artfully arranged in medicine cabinets and helped spur coinage of the word “shelfie.” Shearer and Teplin saw an opportunity for content in other places no one ever bothered to make pretty — linen closets, pantries, junk drawers, the inside of a fridge, laundry rooms. A.S.M.R., a phenomenon that found certain simple stimuli (for example, a whisper) can cause mild euphoria, had fueled the rise of mindless content intended to delight the senses. Shearer and Teplin designed tableaus that were not just visually appealing but almost put the viewer into a trancelike calm: pantries devoid of garish grocery-store packaging in favor of soothingly uniform containers (tall plastic cylinders, raffia baskets) outfitted with twee cursive labels to denote their contents: stevia, sugar, brown sugar. (The Home Edit’s distinctive labels are actually Shearer’s handwriting, which they made into a font; writing each label by hand wasn’t scalable.)
Perhaps the most obvious inspiration was the trend of bookshelves grouped according to the color of book jacket and arranged in Roygbiv order — a look that appeared in the pages of glossy magazines like Domino in the late aughts and spread quickly on Pinterest. “We didn’t invent the rainbow,” Shearer said. “But we leveraged it.”
But it wasn’t until Instagram introduced Stories, about a year into their business, that the Home Edit really gained traction. As with their aesthetic, Shearer and Teplin played with a subculture that was already popular on Instagram, one that’s come to be known as “wine mom,” in which women broadcast their not having it all together. They remember the first time they, as Teplin put it, “pulled back the curtain”: four years ago, en route to Dallas for business. “Until that point, all you saw was picture perfect, picture perfect,” Teplin said. “Let’s show people what it’s really like to fly with us, and all of our airport rituals, all of our things, and having to sit at the gate and watch people and poll people as they get off the plane” — they like to ask passengers getting off the plane they’re about to get on what they can expect — “and interview the pilot.” Immediately, they saw a “crazy” response.
Their husbands, children and the aforementioned Roberta make appearances on their Stories, but it’s mostly the women, who spend more time together than they do with their families. They travel together for work up to six times a month and prefer to stay in the same hotel room, “like the grandparents in the Chocolate Factory,” Shearer told me, where they text each other from the adjoining beds. Their codependence is another huge part of their shtick. “There is no time when there’s separation between us,” Teplin said at the bar, and Shearer continued: “Remember when you opened the door and I was in the shower? And I was like, ‘Is this an emergency? Can. You. Write. It. Down? I’m literally showering.’”
Eva Chen, head of fashion partnerships at Instagram and a Home Edit client, explained to me why Stories was such a boon for them. “Their work is all about detail and everything is in its place. Then you watch their Stories and it’s their life and everything is not in its place. Their flights are delayed, and they have issues just like us. That’s the best combination.”
That combination has turned out to be even more appealing since the pandemic; in some ways, it’s hard to imagine a brand more uniquely suited to the needs of this new reality than the Home Edit. Lockdowns changed people’s relationship to their spaces, made them more aware of the flaws in their homes: The fact that the shelf designated for coffee mugs is nowhere near the dishwasher really grates when people are unloading that dishwasher multiple times a week. Overnight, homes had to become an office, a classroom, a restaurant and a Zoom-worthy backdrop. People have been eager for projects — and something they can control. But it’s also the Home Edit’s “low bar” ethos that resonates with the moment. On its website, slogan T-shirts addressed the pandemic more directly: “What Day Is It?” And “This Is Schitty” (a reference to one of their favorite TV shows, “Schitt’s Creek”). Its Instagram account gained 100,000 followers this spring. In June, when most companies were uncertain about their futures, the Home Edit announced it was starting operations in 11 new cities, in addition to existing ones in New York, L.A. and Nashville. In July, the women announced a forthcoming line of products, including soap and hand sanitizer — an extension they described as “organizing adjacent.”
The tension between the two sides of the Home Edit brand — high aspirations combined with low expectations — is built into the structure of their Netflix show. Like 2019’s “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo” — which was a hit with audiences — the show will document home-reorganization makeovers. Each episode will feature two — a regular person’s and a celebrity’s. Brandon Riegg, the Netflix executive who greenlit their show, says viewers will get as much practical service from the celebrity segments as they will from the segments featuring, as he put it, “civilians.” “I think they have a very accessible but sophisticated aesthetic. You’re not just watching something thinking: Oh, if only I had that closet. If only I had that room.” He explained that the show will “bookend what was started with Marie Kondo. With Marie, it was all about decluttering. With the Home Edit, it’s about arranging.” Guests for the season include Khloé Kardashian and Witherspoon, whose production company, Hello Sunshine, helped produce the show and who first discovered the Home Edit on Instagram. (When I asked what she liked about Shearer and Teplin, Witherspoon emailed me a picture of her pantry — her cookbooks color-coded and snacks in glass containers.)
Shearer, who is married to a photographer who often shoots country-music stars (it’s why they moved to Nashville), had a proximity to celebrity that has proved useful. Her friends Selma Blair and Christina Applegate helped spread the word about her business — in particular to Gwyneth Paltrow, who was their first big get, in 2017, after she enlisted Shearer and Teplin to redo the playroom at her house in East Hampton.
Rare is the celebrity whose endorsement can be enough to hang an entire career on; there are probably only a handful. One is Paltrow. Another is any Kardashian family member. The Home Edit might be one of the few brands that has managed to secure the endorsement of both. “In the Jewish religion, it’s called ‘Dayenu,’” Teplin said, referring to the Hebrew refrain, traditionally invoked during Passover Seder, that roughly translates to “it would have been enough.”
Kris Jenner told me she first heard about the brand two years ago, when she visited her daughter Khloé’s house and saw her pantry, which Shearer and Teplin had redone. “It was like nothing I’d ever seen before,” Jenner said. “Everything from the fruit and vegetables on her countertops and the cookies and cupcakes and the way they styled everything in her cabinet. To me, it was nirvana.”
It’s easy to understand why the Kardashians, who can easily pay the Home Edit rate, which ranges from $185 to $250 an hour, and then employ people who can help maintain the order the women establish, would be drawn to their services. But their aesthetic is so rigorous, it’s sometimes hard to imagine why the average person would even want to attempt it. Shearer and Teplin have an answer: If something looks nice, you’re more likely to maintain it. (One of their favorite sayings is “Form plus function equals magic.”)
But elements of the Home Edit’s method can seem impractical. For instance, what happens when you have a pantry stocked with green glass bottles of Mountain Valley Spring Water — as Shearer and Teplin arranged for Mandy Moore — and you just bought a bottle of Coke Zero? Must you throw it out in the name of coordination? They have a term for that: “pantry paralysis.” Teplin explained, “You’ve got a bin for pasta, a bin for beans, and now you have a free floater.” She adopted a mock-dramatic tone, continuing, “All of a sudden, Oh, my God, your world is in anarchy.”
When I pointed out to Teplin that I never saw a free floater in any of their pictures, she replied, “Well, that’s for Instagram.” In other words, not all of the Home Edit’s output is meant literally. Teplin went on to explain that it’s enough to put that Coke Zero in the pantry with your other drinks or the fork in its rightful place in the utensil drawer; lining everything up so that it’s “picture perfect” is for their own satisfaction.
Eva Chen admitted that those picture perfect elements could be difficult to maintain. When the Home Edit organized her children’s play area last fall, Play-Doh tools were arranged in Roygbiv order, which, she said, “blew my mind.” But, she continued, “Now anytime one of my kids wants to take a cookie cutter out, I’ll be like, ‘You have to put it back — maintain the rainbow.’”
Chen was poking fun at herself, but there was truth to her comment. Instagram “has caused us to become slightly cartoonlike,” the fashion designer Tom Ford said last year. He was referring to clothes, but it applies to home décor as well. It’s not simply that you should make everything in your life beautiful so that you can document it on Instagram; now many people make things beautiful for Instagram.
When Netflix’s Riegg was describing the Home Edit’s show, this was part of his pitch: “They’re not trying to be anything other than who they are. There’s Instagram and then there’s real life.” Riegg meant that Shearer and Teplin have an obvious authenticity, which is an increasingly rare commodity in our Instagram-perfect world. But in the process, he had stumbled onto an inconsistency in the Home Edit. There’s probably no better illustration of the brand’s divergent identities than on its website, where a school-supply organization kit consisting of acrylic dividers meant to sort crayons into color order is on offer alongside a “Low Bar Lifestyle” slogan tee.
The whole reason the Home Edit’s routine about living a low-bar lifestyle resonates is because there are people on Instagram who are setting up unrealistic expectations about how perfect your life should look — a trend the Home Edit fuels. We want to buy a Low Bar Lifestyle T-shirt because there are people who keep showing off their color-coded drawers.
In early March, Shearer and Teplin attended a book signing for “The Home Edit: A Guide to Organizing and Realizing Your House Goals” at White’s Mercantile in Charleston, S.C., one of those gilded-age-meets-hipster boutiques, in the same vein of restaurants with the word “larder” in their name. Even though the book came out a year earlier and it was pouring rain, the turnout was impressive: a crowd of 70 — almost all women, most under 35, some wearing rainbows in honor of the authors — that snaked out the door at points. Awareness of the coronavirus was only starting to take hold, but the guests knew to bump elbows in lieu of shaking hands and made ample use of a station of hand sanitizer next to a tray of cocktails. (Still, that 70 unmasked people were packed into a space the size of a one-bedroom apartment seemed to faze no one.)
Revelers wound their way past repurposed apothecary tables stocked with items like a plant-based “sublingual spray” for insomnia and plush LickCroix dog chew toys to the front of the line, where the authors were standing at attention in front of an Instagram-ready balloon-bouquet backdrop. There was a group of women in their 20s who had clearly just come from work (their laptop-size nylon bags giving them away) and a local professional organizer who admired Shearer and Teplin’s work. One woman in her mid-50s, who had come with her two young-adult daughters, told a long joke about Moira Rose, the character played by the actress Catherine O’Hara on “Schitt’s Creek.”
The experience inside the store was not unlike being at a bizarro Star Trek convention — Shearer and Teplin had created this weird little world, and many of the people there seemed fluent in its culture. (“Surviving not thriving,” one woman said as she picked up a French fizz-style cocktail.) When one woman finally got to the front of the line, she apologized for being wet from the rain and getting the authors wet in the process. Shearer shrugged it off, “That’s low-bar life!” In that moment, it was hard not to think just how nicely that low-bar life was working out for Shearer and Teplin.
Amanda FitzSimons is a writer based in Brooklyn and a former editor at Elle magazine. Her last feature for this magazine was about the daytime talk show “The View.”