A Place to Stuff the Stuff for My Place


Almost exactly one year ago, Reston closed its last large bookstore. There’s still a small place that sells used books down by the lake. It has low turnover; in fact I’m not sure how it even stays open because the store seems to have stalled sometime in 1985 and its shelves froze in time. Anyway, Barnes and Noble closed last February, leaving a 25,000 square foot space for The Container Store.

Container Store. Wow.

For months I ridiculed the concept of a Container Store. Once I had to move several thousand shelf-feet in library. I bought boxes from a company in Oakland called Box Brothers. I assembled the boxes, I moved the books to a new room, empty shelves and what-not, and folded the boxes and put them away, after my staff and I moved the books to my satisfaction. I never thought of those boxes again until just now. On the ladder of “Things I Think Are Important”, containers are quite low. Somewhere around marmite and bitcoins.

About a week ago I went into Container Store for the very first time, just so I’d know what I was ridiculing without being unduly petty. It turns out my ridicule is right on point. It was–literally–a stylish department store full of places to put your stuff.  Spare bathroom shelving, pencil boxes, shoe organizers, used-feminine-hygiene receptacles that look like nothing so much as a tiny R2D2’s fourth cousin, a treasure chest(!), sea trunks with brass buckles and latches, toothbrush holders, soap holders, Brillo pad holders, necktie holders; even garage containers to keep your nuts and balls. At least the owners of the Container Store wouldn’t be accused of false advertising. They are a Type-A hoarder’s wet dream.

Now I may sound horrifyingly old-fashioned but I don’t know if there’s a need for a store like this. I mean a real need. I can’t imagine having a container emergency of a magnitude so large that I have to make a trip there. The place made me nervous, as if I–the cataloger, the organizer of all kinds of knowledge–was somehow deficient, because I didn’t have an umbrella holder fashioned from an elephant’s foot. You could buy any or all this stuff at Target or Walmart. The tougher finds you could find at Home Depot, or daresay, online at Amazon.

I’ve been inside the offices of dozens of catalogers and they all have one thing in common: it’s impossible to find anything on their desk. Weird huh? Our house is a little like that. My wife makes the good point when she says, as a family, we’re aspiring organizers. We’ll occasionally go to Target and buy a half-dozen containers which, because we’re all tired out from our long shopping day, will sit in a corner for a few weeks. Inevitably these empty boxes will wind up in a closet, still empty, and our house just as disorganized, with a bit more clutter in a closet. Sometimes I’ve wondered what archaeologists would think if, a thousand years after a Pompeii-like disaster, they uncovered our house to find a closet full of empty. Storage to store our storage. I imagine they’d chalk it up to an offering we made to some empty, compartmentalized god.

“Little bit o’ closet clutter.” It’s fun to say. Easy to do! Come to the container store and buy a box for all your boxing needs. Then put them in a closet. A place for our stuff. Stuff with a place. Container Store, you’re definitely a first-world solution to a first-world problem. I miss Barnes and Noble. At least when I fill my mind while reading a book, I can take it all with me. And I only need one container.

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