I am looking at an Instagram Story frame: pasta packets sit on a kitchen counter, the tops scrunched up or rolled over themselves. Imposed over the image, an animation bounces up and down: “Tap to Tidy!” it says.
I do as I am asked, and press my thumb to the phone screen to see the next frame. The pasta is no longer in packets, but sorted satisfyingly by shape, into jars labelled “Spaghetti”, “Farfalle”, “Penne.” The jars are tidied away inside a cupboard where they fit snugly, as satisfying as a perfect interlocking of blocks in a game of Tetris. I exhale and close the Instagram app. I am sated.
“Tap to Tidy” is an Instagram trend in which users post a photo of a messy room or cupboard, followed by an image of the same space but tidied up. The before and after photos are usually taken from the same angle, so that when they are lined up together on an Instagram story followers can tap along to the next frame and immediately see the space in its cleaned up state. The visual effect reminds me of old TV shows like Bewitched or Sabrina – a quick wiggle of the nose, point of the finger or tap of a screen, and everything is fixed, like magic.
The trend was popularised by the TV personality and former X Factor contestant Stacey Solomon, who will soon also release a “Tap to Tidy” book (it’s subtitled “Organising, Crafting & Creating Happiness in a Messy World”, and has risen to the top of Amazon’s Non-Fiction chart a week ahead of its release). Tap to Tidies are posted almost daily on Solomon’s warm, fun Instagram feed, as she documents balancing her work life with home-schooling her children during lockdown.
Inspired by Stacey, other celebrities post their own Tap to Tidies – Mrs Hinch, Instagram’s First Lady of cleaning, gets involved, as does über-influencer Molly-Mae, who frequently posts photos of the mess around her Manchester home (recently she jokingly posted a hoovering tutorial on her Instagram story). In a January article about Tap to Tidy, Grazia’s Rhiannon Evans wrote about the trend’s ubiquitousness, noting that it’s not just famous people enjoying it: “It’s something that has really chimed with normal people across the country – Stacey’s TTTs have spawned a league of fans who now do their own TTTs and send them to her. She watches them, tells them she’s proud and even reposts some of the best ones.”
I find Tap to Tidy particularly interesting because it appeals to two different areas of my psyche. The smoothest part of my brain loves the instant gratification; the mental head massage of seeing something fit, just so. This is the part that also spurs me on to compulsively watch internet videos of Botox and filler injections, rapt as the needle enters the skin, something about the moment of contact scratching an itch that others tell me they fulfil with pimple popping videos, slime videos, videos of people perfectly dicing vegetables, videos of people decorating cakes with perfect palette knife dexterity.
The other part of my psychology that Tap to Tidy appeals to is the one focused on my reality - a reality where most of my belongings are shoved into the bedroom I rent from a friend, rather than stylishly packed away
Here, it is tempting to make a sweeping point. I could say that my brain’s pleasure centres light up at the sight of a Tap to Tidy because I’m living vicariously through Instagrammers with bigger homes and better storage solutions, and speculate that if I am doing so, others might be too. But there are loads of other contemporary conditions that I could also link the trend to.
I could probably argue that Tapping to Tidy feels nice because it’s a small act of imposing neatness while everything in the world is upside down (the headline – the kind someone would make a joke about seeing on a website like this – writes itself: “Tap to Tidy Reminds Me There Can Be Order in a Chaotic World”). I could also say that the trend is helping people to connect using two of the only spaces available to them – their homes and the internet – across a lonely lockdown. I might suggest that said lockdown is making us more house proud, and people are using Tap to Tidy to show off; maybe could I link Tap to Tidy to the fact that many people have been doing home improvements while furloughed, out of work or working from home.
As Tap to Tidy is simple and most people can get involved, it’s kind of like a mirror to our cultural weather: it’s the result of all of the above and then some, and ultimately, this is why it’s become popular enough to spawn a book. It’s the type of online trend that you don’t have to be part of a subculture – or even Extremely Online – to get. Everyone can see their concerns reflected back through it, whether they’re a parent homeschooling children, or, like me, just a deeply bored plastic surgery video enthusiast endlessly scrolling their phone.