True Life: My Mom Is Addicted To TJ Maxx

A store front with a red sign
Joe Hendrickson /

I hate shopping with too many people around. Gives me anxiety.

Heat flashes, panic, agitation – get me the fuck out of here. I was thinking about that store anxiety and dug deeper into my childhood. Back when my mom would “go run errands” with me, which actually meant go to TJ Maxx.

“Don’t tell your dad.”

OK, mom. I’m along for the ride, how bad can it be?

Bad. People with a lot of money don’t know the war zone otherwise known as TJ Maxx. It’s apocalyptic. It’s the worst nightmare of every person suffering from OCD, or any person who’s remotely neat. TJ Maxx looks like it was organized by shooting products from a cannon 15 miles away into a general area. It looks like you blindfolded people, gave them Ambien, handed them shit, and said put this somewhere. None of it makes sense. It’s a nuclear bomb of confusion and anxiety. It’s every shopper for themselves. People aren’t saying “excuse me” like they do at Macy’s or even Burlington Coat Factory – no, no. This is different.

A kitchen with a sink and a toaster oven

You better grab that NFL jersey from a player that retired eight seasons ago or Linda is gonna railroad you and take what’s hers. It’s a free-for-all. You better come to fight. I wasn’t prepared for this madness, but mom was. Mom always was. It was like the beginning of a battle scene in Braveheart before mom entered. She would whisper “stay close” as I looked up at her paralyzed with fear. We walked in.

TJ Maxx has terrible lighting, color schemes, and layouts. That’s the first thing you notice. This never phased mom. She was in her element. She was locked in like Jordan in Game 7.

“Meet me back here in 15 minutes” she would say as she pointed to a box of imported Italian crackers sitting by the women’s clothing.

I didn’t know what 15 minutes was. I had no phone. Mom trusted me though. Nobody is looking to steal a kid at TJ Maxx. Everybody is on their own mission to buy as much shit as they don’t need as possible.

Sometimes mom would need my help, however. She’d scream out my name and I’d coming running back, ready to work.

“How can I help?”

Mom usually found a shoe (one shoe) she liked, but couldn’t find the other. She’d send me on a scavenger hunt throughout the store to find the other shoe. “Where the fuck is this shoe?” I’d ask my 2nd grade self.

A kitchen with a sink and a toaster oven

HOLY SHIT. I found the other shoe. It was euphoric. I’d tell mom I found the other shoe over by the Olive Oil and Turkish Coffee. Somebody had accidentally placed it in a box that was originally used for a toaster oven. That’s just TJ Maxx, as I learned. Only the strong survived, and got the deals.

Mom would treat me with whatever I wanted too. I’d grab a Nike shirt with an obnoxious pattern, some strawberry jam from France, maybe a half-flat football that had some tumor growth on it. It was all mine. You didn’t ask questions. You just filled the cart until you could no longer see it. Over-sized suits for dad that he didn’t want, dresses, lamps, shoes, kitchen utensils, olive oil, candles, bad art, and so much more.

The biggest relief would come when I realized we were approaching the checkout lane. Finally. I can breathe easy, right? Not so fast.

The checkout lane (if you can even call it that) is its own beast. The last battle before you exit. All the shit the store can’t sell is put up front so people wating in line just pile on. It’s April 24th, but there’s Christmas wrapping paper sitting there. Fuck it, throw it in the cart. Christmas was only eight months away after all.

A row of colorful cans

Finally, we’d pay. They’d bag up our 76 items, and put them into the largest plastic bags ever known to man. They don’t make ’em like that anymore. We’d put the 76 impulse purchases in the trunk, and drive home.

Dad didn’t leave for work yet. We’d wait until he left, go get the 76 items we just bought and strategically place them in the home, blending them into out current belongings like a chameleon so he wouldn’t notice we bought 76 things from TJ Maxx.

It always worked.

TJ Maxx may have given me store anxiety that’ll stick with me for the rest of my life, but it taught me how to fight. It taught me how to find what I needed, and most importantly, find what I didn’t need.

A beer bottle on a dock


A beer bottle on a dock