Believe me when I say that I had no choice but to go The Container Store yesterday. My daughter’s jewelry-making supplies scattered all over her floor made walking from the door to her bed hazardous, and I had shopped everywhere else I could think of for a plastic chest with lots of tiny drawers. Nowhere else had such a thing. I was out of options.
If you are not fortunate enough to live near one of The Container Store’s 52 locations, be advised that the name is self-explanatory: The Container Store sells stuff to put other stuff in. That’s it. But more than the underbed storage units, bamboo mail holders and overdoor towel racks, The Container Store sells the Big Lie that virtue and serenity are achievable through perfect, obsessive organization. Hanging from all over the ceiling were large yellow signs reading “Happy Organized Home Sale!” The word “organized” appears in the smallest type. The word that makes the cash register ring is “happy.” If every one of your beautiful possessions, if all the supplies that you use to work, eat, make yourself alluring, recreate, entertain and celebrate special occasions are stored when not in use in attractive containers, you will not just know where to find your stuff, you will not only be ready for the mythical unexpected company, but you will be happy. Really happy. And not just the ordinary, fleeting happiness that other people might get from a relaxing vacation, a nice pinot noir, or a night of exceptional sex, but a permanent state of imperturbable contentment, glazed with a sweet filmy layer of smugness. A performative happiness, designed for public consumption, like a glossy photograph of a politician’s smiling, good-looking family. This, the signs promise, is the kind of happiness you can actually buy, and it’s on sale for up to 35% off.
Within the first ten minutes, my daughter and I had found, of course, the ideal storage solution for her beads, wires, and tools . Within the next ten minutes, I began to feel like a paranoid schizophrenic, which, I’d just like to point out, I’m not. Paranoid schizophrenics, to save the human race from its inexorable destruction, warn us that certain things the rest of us perceive as normal, safe or desirable are, in fact, extremely dangerous. While the other shoppers pushed their carts through The Container Store’s bright, bland environment, selecting flip-flop clips and lucite lipstick organizers, I had to suppress the urge to run up and down the aisles warning the other shoppers that The Container Store endangers one’s immortal soul.
The Container Store is part of the larger oppressive cult of Martha Stewart and Real Simple magazine and any catalog whose cover features a softly-lit shot of a single shelf with a single folded white towel sitting on it, next to a bud vase bearing a single white flower. Middle-class women are shamed into buying their families the newest and best of everything, then berated for having a house full of junk and nowhere to put it all. They are held to a domestic standard of cleanliness and organization unachievable in a universe in which the Second Law of Thermodynamics is a governing principle, much less in a home with children, then made to feel guilty if they do not create a sense of serenity, order and joy for their husbands and families. But clutter is the inevitable result of consumerism. It is a perverse materialism indeed that demands that you shop ‘til you drop, then continue shopping until you have the ideal storage strategy for every object you’ve bought. Oh, and look good doing it, please. No one wants to see a tired, disorganized woman. It’s so….unserene.
The most insidious component of this Big Lie, however, is the idea that if you buy the right storage container, your life will somehow, magically, be organized. But organization is not an object. It is a constant, uphill fight in bad weather against entropy, an enemy that will always defeat you in the end. Buying a mail sorter does not sort your mail. You have to sort it. Buying a drawer organizer to keep your children’s socks segregated by color and length does not mean that they won’t just dump all the socks straight from the clean laundry basket onto the floor, or into the drawer you have so lovingly organized for them. The Sad Truth behind the Big Lie of The Container Store is that every container you buy to help you organize your possessions and make your life simpler represents more hours of work as you struggle first to utilize the new storage solution, then to maintain it, then to yell at your family for not being more organized, and finally, to feel like an abject failure as a mother, if not as a human being. And that is the moment you are most vulnerable to forking over seven bucks for the Better Homes and Gardens Special Organization Issue, or $100 per hour for the services of a professional organizer. Cults succeed by making it hard to escape.
Yeah, I bought a lot of stuff at The Container Store yesterday.