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The Cathartic Pleasures of T.J.Maxx's Home Goods Section

I thought "self care" was precious until I realized I could achieve it by browsing throw pillows.

Here is a perfect afternoon. It’s raining outside — a light mist that’s enough to make loitering on the street or sitting outside impossibly irritating. Because I spent the night before watching something low-key horrible on television, I am awake early. There are loose plans later in the day, orchestrated through a series of non-committal and open-ended texts with friends. For now, an entire Saturday afternoon stretches before me. I'm not hungover, just restless. The bustling of my roommates makes me feel like I should be doing something with myself. They're going to brunch and taking showers and eating healthy meals in our kitchen as the cat winds her body around their legs. I am in my pajamas watching "The Great British Baking Show" on my iPad, sinking further into my sloth, letting the week’s tiny anxieties tumble around in my head. If I stay at home for much longer, they will grow legs and run laps around my apartment.

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I shower. I get dressed. I spend more time than I would on a work day putting on makeup. I leave my house, get on the train and head straight to my happy place: the home goods section of T.J.Maxx.

It’s the perfect place to kill time. In a pinch, any discount retailer’s home goods section will do, but the ol’ Maxx is superior. Marshalls lacks the variety and is too small, with tiny aisles organized in a way that makes no sense. Ross works. Target is too overwhelming, with too many distractions. In a pinch, the same results can be achieved by browsing discount beauty supplies and trying on FitFlops at Nordstrom Rack, but the Maxx is really where it’s at.

In a pinch, any discount retailer’s home goods section will do, but the ol’ Maxx is superior.

The best method is to have no time limit at all. Just wander in with an iced tea and something loud and good in your headphones, and an afternoon that previously had no purpose is validated. Once I set foot in the store, my meanderings are contextualized. Walking aimlessly around my neighborhood feels pointless. Touching cut-rate cast iron pans and testing all the salad spinners does not.

I start in the beauty section first, gleefully sniffing body lotions and perfumes, while considering wrinkle creams and serums. I work out whatever’s going on in my head as I browse. The time I take to contemplate duvet covers and bath towels sharpens the edges on the issue, crystallizing it and bringing it into sharp relief. Each duvet cover I consider brings me one step closer to figuring my issue out.

Window shopping for home goods allows you to parse out perceived life improvements that feel manageable. Shopping for clothes in this state is no good. The itch to buy something — a new shirt, a dress, a pair of unrealistic sandals — is too strong. Walking into an H&M in this mood makes me realize that the stretched out jersey dress I’m wearing is both unflattering and unintentionally transparent, like the rest of my clothing. To follow this train of thought to its end is dangerous; it leads to rash spending and crippling self doubt. Clothes shopping is loaded. Bodies are a sensitive subject. If you’re trying to figure out whether or not you should go for that promotion, browsing the sale section of Old Navy is going to send you into a tailspin. Trying to work a pair of jeans over the expanse of your sweaty thighs as you consider breaking up with your boyfriend will only make you feel worse. Your mood has a place and that place is T.J.Maxx.

It’s usually chaotic. There are discarded scented candles sitting on top of piles of non-stick saute pans, with a hand towel thrown across the top for good measure. Someone has inevitably left a half-empty Starbucks cup directly on top of the pot you’re trying to maneuver off a shelf. If you make your way to the packaged food section, you’ll find that the package of Key lime flavored, chocolate dipped coconut patties you’ve selected with the intent to purchase is already opened. It’s not perfect, but that’s why it’s so great.


Image: Getty Images

Looking for home goods is fun. It’s easy self-improvement, without the sticky trap of mental self-sabotage. It’s the best kind of shopping you can do. Everyone uses the same three Ikea pans they’ve had since college, their non-stick bottoms scratched off tens of hundreds of omelettes ago. Acknowledging the fact that you need a new set of Tupperware and possibly a jar of jalapeno jelly to spread over thickly buttered toast feels like radical self-improvement. Unlike the clothes you put on your body or the lipstick you buy in pairs at Duane Reade, home goods aren’t about impressing anyone except yourself. They’re the easiest way to upgrade your life, guilt-free. The items I consider while on these wanderings are all about what I need to level up in my life.

Spending money on something like a blender feels very adult. It indicates a rigorous commitment to juicing, to gazpacho, to waking up half an hour early to drop bits of kale into grapefruit and blending virtuously. Making a decision to replace the pot your roommate used to cook weed butter in is unlocking an achievement in one swipe of your credit card. I think about how easy it would be to bring the blender, or the tea kettle or the bento boxes for packing a lunch every day into my home. I think about how it would bring my kitchen — and by extension my life — one step closer to the Pinterest board I have in secret, full of earthen crockware and fussily composed salads and Turkish hand towels. There’s no witchcraft in this solution. It’s capitalism at its most base — buying things to make you feel better about the things you can’t necessarily control — but, it works.

It’s easy self-improvement, without the sticky trap of mental self-sabotage. It’s the best kind of shopping you can do.

Purchasing anything at all, aside from a Dr. Pepper from the checkout aisle cooler, is not necessary. The purpose of this exercise is to use the chaos to soothe your mind. Looking for tea kettles is a neat trick to rechannel the energy you spent worrying about whether or not the thing you said last Tuesday in a throwaway Gchat was out of line. As you debate the merits of the $20 model versus the $30 model, the issue unknots itself. The mere act of just digging through a shelf of sheets to find the queen size set is soothing. You can consider throw pillows as a way of life — could you live with them? Do you need them? — and what’s bothering you slowly starts to dissipate.

I’ve always scoffed at "self-care". The phrase always seemed too delicate and precious for the often gritty and laborious work of taking care of yourself; the vital effort we put forth to feel like a person. I didn’t think that anything I did in my off-time qualified as traditional "self-care." But what I’ve learned is that all it is is taking care of yourself, your feelings, and making sure everything is on track so that you present the best part of you to the world. I didn’t have to do anything different to make strides in this department. It turns out that I’ve been doing it all along.


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