Forget yoga, acupuncture, meditation or medication. When I’m in need of something to really take the edge off, I visit The Container Store. It is a most wonderful and joyous place. For those of you unfamiliar, or unlucky to not have one where you live, it’s a home/office organization store devoted to selling boxes and bins of all shapes and sizes to put your crap into. You walk in, and with the help of the least attitudinal salespeople to have ever worked in Manhattan, you can organize your life down to the tiniest, junkiest, scariest drawer in your home. There is a container, or a hook, or a dry erase board, or a filing box that is sure to suit your needs and make you feel as if your life is absolutely not spinning out of control.
The ethos behind The Container Store is either genius or diabolical, depending on where you fall on spending yourself out of a problem. These days, I’m pretty much for it.
Sometimes I go there just to breathe the lavender and cedar scented air in the extensive closet department, where I can ponder the potential of all wooden hangers in my perfectly edited, sorted-by-color-and-style dream closet (no wire hangers for Mommy!). I wander the aisles, wide-eyed, present, and pulsing with the desire to de-clutter, snatching random crap that I know will make my life better and make me a super awesome parent and all around person to be envied: gift wrap and tape to always have on hand; shelf dividers so I can see all the snacks in the cavern that is our snack shelf; sensible, dishwasher-safe reusable baggies for school lunches my 4-year-old daughter won’t eat; a tchotchke to gather the wires under my desk into a beautiful little bundle.
I even found the tiniest (and cheapest) container in the place: one-inch-square Lucite boxes in an assortment of rainbow colors, which totally delighted my daughter (39 cents!). But I can’t be sure that my almost 1-year-old son didn’t eat the hot pink one, as I saw him gumming enthusiastically it the other day and haven’t seen it since.
When I was pregnant last summer with my second kid, I was nesting like a meshuganah. Always a lover of containers, I became frighteningly obsessive, dragging home bins on a weekly basis (and I mean dragging – nine months pregnant and hoisting things home on the subway like a cavewoman dragging home her kill). The desire to purge and fold and stack was physical, like I could somehow alleviate the anxiety of parenthood by sorting and saving and labeling with my label maker: things to pass on to friends, things to keep for the baby, things to go to storage. My husband joked that he was worried to go to sleep for fear of waking up in a man-shaped bin. I was certainly tempted.
I had then, and still have now, an intense need to put things into things. Bins and shelves and the promise of an orderly exterior somehow make me feel like I can do it, I can handle the intensity of raising these children. I was not always like this! I could let things go – not do dishes immediately or throw things in a heap until later. But now that I’ve talked about it with other parents, I know so many mothers and fathers who crave order in this same somewhat obsessive way. There are so many things to think about that we cannot control, that sometimes it feels safe to fixate about things we can. Like bins.
I am aware that buying things will not lead to happiness in the long run. But sometimes it seems like if you have the right things, carefully chosen and perfectly curated – like if Martha Stewart were walking beside you in The Container Store, making recommendations on filing systems or giving you tips on the right hamper to fit into your tiny little closet – then maybe, just maybe, you’ll be okay.
We all have our stuff, both metaphorical and physical. No matter how organized that stuff is, or where we put it, it will always be ours.