Maxxed Out {One Mom’s Confession}

I have a confession to make.

Target is not my weakness.

Oh don’t get me wrong, the red target symbol calls to me when I drive by.  I’ll admit I’ve bought one too many cardigans, and that my kids have littered the floor with one too many bags of popcorn there.  I’ve bought my fair share of unnecessary items from the dollar spot, skirted past the toy aisles before my kids notice the flashing end-caps, and I’ll admit that it doesn’t help that most Targets have groceries now.  Because we all need groceries.  So why not get a cardigan, too? It’s only eight extra steps.

Ah, but I digress.  As I said, Target is not my weakness.  But I DO have one.  Oh, I definitely have one.  And mine also shows up in red and begins with a “T”.


There you have it.  T.J. Maxx.  Or Marshall’s.  Or anything of the sort.  I can’t help myself.  In fact, this past week when we were on vacation in Texas, I found myself in the aisles with my sister in law and my husband’s aunt, rummaging around the same items that we surely have at our store in Iowa, but on the small chance that they might have something extra special at the Texas location.

I love people-watching at T.J. Maxx.  Their wardrobe alone tells the story of their bargain-hunting journey.  The hair is neatly done, make-up as well.  She spent some time preparing for the trip.  Nice, fashionable tops and jackets (no doubt from T.J. Maxx), paired with uber-comfortable (but still fairly attractive) yoga pants, a necessity for the “bottom-of-the- clearance-rack squats” that one must do in order to find the hidden treasures.  And the tennis shoes.  Oh, the tennis shoes.  I myself do not own a pair of tennis shoes (insert your shocked gasps here), but if I did, there is only one place I would feel the need to wear them, and that is T.J. Maxx.  This wardrobe ensemble, this top-to-bottom fashion “walk of shame” (nice on the top, ok in the middle, and just plain mom-nerd on the bottom), is the uniform of a woman on a mission, and I can’t say I blame them.  Although I do hope that they pick out some better shoes in aisle 7 and leave the tennis shoes for the people who actually exercise.

As soon as these women enter the store, you can watch them beeline for their desired section.  For me, it’s housewares.  And stationery.  Oh, don’t even get me started on the stationery.  I seriously need an intervention, y’all.  A couple months ago, I found the perfect to-do list notepad hiding in the back of the very bottom shelf of the stationery aisle (hence the need for the uber-comfortable yoga pants).  I turned it over and saw the price: $4.99.  Of course it was.  Everything in that aisle is $2.99 and $4.99.  Never over-the-top expensive, and yet, it’s still no dollar section.  Anyhow, I threw it in my cart and smiled, knowing that I had just found the best graduation present for my cousin.  When I got it home that night, I put it in my “gift closet” (i.e. basically an exact replica of aisle 14 of T.J. Maxx, with a little dash of Target for taste).  And there it stayed, staring at me, for three weeks.  I’m embarrassed to admit how many times I wanted to rip off the plastic and use the notepad for myself.  But, I resisted the temptation.

And then, a T.J. Maxx lover’s miracle happened.  A friend came and stayed at our house, and when she left the next morning, she left a sweet little note, thanking me for my hospitality.  And underneath the note?  The perfect to-do list!! The exact same one that I had bought for my cousin, that had been staring at me in my closet.  How did she know??  I won’t even begin to talk about the happy dance that ensued.  Not to mention how ridiculously excited my cousin and I are to have twinsie to-do lists.

photo 1Such is life in the housewares & stationery section of T.J. Maxx, is it not?  These frantic women, pushing around their carts full of coffee mugs and throw pillows and other “necessities”.  The hair starts to get a little wild on the edges, and the makeup smears from the sweat of the clearance-squats, or the tears of joy at finding a rug that perfectly matches your new bedroom set.  I mean seriously, someone should start a reality show about those twenty feet of shelves full of mismatched, random, bargain-priced household items, because I would totally watch that.

Our trip to the Texas T.J.Maxx was fruitful (three cartfuls of fruitful, to be exact), but the truth is, it wasn’t about the $2.99 items or the fabulous outdoor cushions for summer.  It was about being together, having a moment of “just the girls”, without all of the kids and the husbands (Don’t take your husbands to T.J. Maxx. Just don’t do it.).  It made me think back on all of the fun times I’ve had with my own mom, shopping those aisles and yelling to each other across the store, “look at this! how cute is this!”.

I don’t know much about marketing, but I know this:  T.J. Maxx is doing it right.  From the $2.99 to the “their price, our price” to the can’t-find-anywhere-else items, it just sucks me in every time.  And the check-out lane?  Oh, do not even get me started on that.  If you haven’t been there recently, you need to go.  In fact, that reality show could be based entirely on the impulse-buys at the end of the visit.  You walk up, ready to brace yourself for the total on the receipt, and all of the sudden you are faced with a whole new aisle of housewares, and stationery, and gourmet candies.  Oh, and kids’ books.  Which then reminds you that you have children, possibly buried in the cart you are pushing around, and then you feel guilty about all of the throw pillows and you toss a princess book into the mix, for good measure.  Because good moms read to their kids, right?

When I walked into our local store this week, I smiled at the thought of our girls’ trip the past week in Texas, and how I missed the faraway family already.  I checked for some cushions for my husband’s aunt, and looked for some pillows that I had seen for my new bedroom set.  No luck on either count.  But there, between the cushions and the pillows, was my weakness.  The stationery aisle.  Because, you just never know when your BFF will need a new notepad, or your cousin will have a birthday and need some new thank-you notes.  And besides, they’re only $2.99!

Twenty minutes later, I was strapping my daughter into her carseat (sans guilt-stricken, impulse-bought book of the month)and putting the red and white bag on the seat next to me in the van.  What in the world did I buy??  (I’m sure you Target-lovers can attest to that question).  Well, you know what I bought?  $36 worth of note pads, y’all. Thirty. six. dollars.

Anyone want to guess the first thing I’m writing down on those to-do lists?

Stop going to T.J. Maxx.




Sara and her husband Matt (sweethearts since they were just 16) got married in 2007, and since then have welcomed four beautiful children (Sam in 2008, Cooper in 2010, Nora in 2012, and Adam James in December 2015). A born-and-raised Iowan, Sara received both her Bachelor's and Master's Degrees (in Spanish Literature) from the University of Iowa. She's still teaching Spanish wherever and whenever she can, but her true passion is owning Iowa City Moms and building this community alongside her amazing team. Sara is also the Community Engagement Coordinator for City Mom Collective, and the owner of Cowork Collective downtown Iowa City. Common denominator in all of these jobs: community, community, community.


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