Before the pandemic, I never spent much time in my apartment’s tiny galley-style kitchen, preferring to dine out (or take out). Stay-at-home orders changed all of that. My refrigerator has never been more full, and while I’ve actually come to enjoy cooking, I found that recipes were taking twice as long as they should because of my overflowing spice cabinet. I’d sift through jars of turmeric and Everything But the Bagel blends, pushing past pumpkin-pie spice and paprika to search for garlic powder, only to realize I was out.
In the midst of my frustration, TikTok’s For You page, which seems to have an algorithm that knows me better than I do, surfaced an organizational video by Brooklyn-based blogger Teresa Caruso that details how she turned her “hot mess” of a spice cabinet into a pristine display. (Lest you think TikTok is just dancing teens, the #diy hashtag has nearly 40 billion views.) Caruso’s project seemed entirely doable, if a little time consuming. But the real sell for me was the streamlined white stickers she placed on each of her spice jars. Something clearly resonated with other people too: Her how-to has since been viewed over 3.4 million times.
Caruso first got the idea to revamp her cabinet after seeing a similar project by carpenter and blogger Jen Woodhouse on Pinterest. “My bottles were just multiplying — I’d buy things, forget them in the back of the cabinet, and all of a sudden was left with three huge bottles of crushed red pepper,” Woodhouse told me. She came across custom spice labels by Kim Negaard, a Minnesota graphic designer and blogger who runs Paper & Pear on Etsy. Woodhouse appreciated the stickers’ “clean, modern look,” as did her followers — after she posted about the undertaking on Instagram, she was inundated with requests for where she bought them.
While Etsy offers plenty of similarly spare spice labels by a host of sellers, Negaard’s designs are among the most popular — her minimalist and modern labels have over 2,300 reviews. When I got in touch with Negaard to learn more about her brand, she said the business was inspired by a personal need: A few years ago, in an effort to “reduce packaging waste and the environmental impact” of cooking, she and her husband started buying bulk spices at their local food co-op and storing them in old jars. But the upcycled containers lacked labels, and when she couldn’t find any options she liked, she decided to make her own. An Etsy shop soon followed.
And while TikTok has certainly boosted her fan base, she says she began noticing an uptick in business in February, just before the country went into lockdown. Suddenly, “there was this unique combination of people with extra time on their hands to tackle home projects who also couldn’t eat out,” she explains. Negaard says she and her husband are now operating at ten times the amount of sales compared to the end of 2019; from January to March 2020, sales were 3.5 times what they were during the same period last year.
The labels have experienced notoriety on other social-media platforms. Earlier this year, Domino highlighted organizer Shira Gill’s overhaul of a kitchen belonging to Identité Collective founder Anastasia Casey, and the resulting spice cabinet — featuring Negaard’s signature labels — has been regrammed and pinned hundreds of times. Negaard believes the design is so popular because “it’s something that photographs well and can easily create a visually satisfying before-and-after effect that both TikTok and Instagram thrive on,” she says.
Casey told me that, though she loves her kitchen’s Paper & Pear labels, she believes the appeal of pantry overhauls on social media extends beyond some thoughtfully designed spice jars. “Those little moments of organization bring some calm to the storm and are a welcome mental break,” providing people with a small sense of accomplishment and control, Casey says. Adds professional organizer and Pinch of Help founder Brittani Allen, “The uniformity of the bottles and stickers eliminates just about all of the visual clutter of different spice bottles,” she says. “Our brain has less to process without all of the different packaging, which provides a calming effect every time you open your spice cabinet.” And these days, many of us welcome a little bit of calm anywhere we can find it.
Everything you need for your own TikTok-worthy spice cabinet
Negaard’s popular design even includes a label for my beloved Everything But the Bagel seasoning. But you can even fully customize the labels to fit your own spice collection.
Gill likes these 6-ounce bottles, which are larger than the average spice container, so they’ll fit an oversize jar of oregano or rosemary without causing you to throw away the extra.
Caruso loves these acrylic shelves, which she installed onto her pantry wall. Another tip? “If you’re going to switch to uniform bottles, consider adding a small sticker to the bottom of the bottle with the expiration date,” she says.
This lazy Susan, which both Allen and Gill recommend, allows you to see everything in your cabinet without sticking your arm all the way into the back corner.
Allen is a big fan of spice drawers, particularly if you can repurpose a junk drawer into a more functional space.
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