Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
I’ve learned my lesson. I’m just saying no to The Container Store.
The Container Store is an amazing place. They stock every kind of container, gizmo and gadget you might need to help get yourself, your family or your work organized. The neat lines of jars, the array of hooks and endless options for shelving are not only a work of art, they hold within them the promise that my life too can look this beautiful. By the look of it, I can tell that buying these products will make me a better person, more organized.
And I want to be more organized.
Staring at the rows of nesting boxes that goal seems in reach.
Yet when I get home, reality sets in. This approach is never going to work. I know from experience, if I’m ever going to get more organized, it won’t start with the containers. After all, if I already knew how to use them, I would probably already have all my stuff in containers well organized.
Aspiring to be better is good, great even. We all have room for improvement, in our personal lives, in our connections with others, in our connection to community, in our connection to the environment. There is lots of need for improvement all round.
But if we are not careful, aspiring to be better can also be soul crushing. Looking around at the pretty color-coded hangers on sale, I am reminded of what I am not. I am not as able to find things in my closet as other are. I see not only the potential for improvement but a reminder of my own shortcomings. These products fit into my aspirational self. But the ultimate failure of these products to be the cure-all only serves to make me feel that my shortcomings are deep failures of which I ought to be ashamed.
When looking toward self-improvement, we need to be wary of the snake oil sellers in the market place. This is not to say that The Container Store don’t have what to offer. My teen daughter, for example, would love nothing more than to win a shopping spree in the organizational Disneyland, which would undoubtedly turn her room into an even more structured work of art. But these are not the tools for me. With self-improvement there is no one size fits all and there is no singular measure of success.
A year ago I went sneaker shopping with my son. A woman my age was buying shoes for her daily several miles jogging. I aspired to be more fit and for a moment considered the magical power of the shoes she was trying on. Ultimately, common sense prevailed. Wearing a high-intensity shoe for sitting on the couch would do nothing but remind me in a tangible form of what I was not doing.
Midway through the year, I made a commitment to get fit. I started off slow with some strength training and gentle work on the elliptical. I kept my goals within reach and began to make progress. And then one day, running 5k seemed a possibility.
Never in this process of aspiring to be healthier did I give thought to the woman in the store but as I began to train for the 5k, I found myself in a similar store buying proper footwear for jogging. On my feet as I write, sitting on my couch, the shoes are not magic nor a burden. They are a sign of my progress and a tool for my success.
All around us are visions of a better self and people glad to sell us the tools for reaching those objectives. So if the Container Store fits into your vision of self and will be a productive tool in your quest, go for it.
But the tools no matter how shiny should not set the agenda. We need to sort through all the possible places we can improve and set our goals accordingly. The truth is my closet could use work but I do manage to get out of the house in a presentable manner most days. We need to focus on building skills for making the important changes happen. And if tools will help in the process, only then is it worth considering them.
For me, a bunch of new containers would mean more chaos not more organization. So for now, I’m going to push back against temptation and just say no to The Container Store.