On many Sundays, before the coronavirus outbreak made the outside into a cesspool of potentially deadly illness, I had a regular ritual that served as an exercise in self-care: going to TJ Maxx and Marshalls. Since non-essential stores are closed until further notice, and continued lockdown keeps us indoors with the occasional jaunt to the market or around the block to stretch the petrified meat sticks that used to be my legs, I find myself yearning for the small joy of perusing the aisles of discount designer goods heaven.
This weekend tradition was inherited from my mom, with whom I spent most Sunday afternoons back home enjoying a pleasant little lunch at the Nordstrom Cafe (extremely her shit) and following it up with a stroll to the Good TJ Maxx, followed by a stop at the Nice Marshalls, before parting ways. We never went to church; my mom is a Catholic who believes god is wherever you want him to be, and you don't need to pray in a church for the lord to hear you, which is chill because it freed up Sundays for living that Maxxinista life.
Instead of church, we'd go buy $75 worth of discounted Valjean Labs Hydrate hyaluronic acid + vitamin B5 face serum and bright yellow, boxy Anne Klein tops (for her). The Marshalls-purchased woven baskets set on a metal rack in my bathroom is filled with Big Sexy Hair mousse, 5.5, Medix Collagen + Caviar body lotion, and innumerable half-empty bottles of other skin plumpers, masks, scrubs, and hairsprays all bearing the faded price tag stickers emblazoned with the Marshalls or TJ Maxx logo. The same can be said about my kitchen, and the piles of Pyrex casserole dishes and cutesy Kate Spade dish towels that fill the cupboards. Hell, my Twitter name is Tijuana Maxx, an homage to my hometown and my favorite place on earth. My dedication knows few bounds.
I'm far from the only person that shares a deep love for these discount havens, and their sister store Home Goods, which sells basically whatever you need inside your home and a lot of shit you definitely don't need but want anyway (like grapefruit spoons, which I own two of. I don't even eat grapefruit). While I'd see a spattering of men on my visits to the golden triad of TJX Companies, Inc. subsidiaries, it's clear this is a space where women find comfort, serenity, and a fresh set of Betsy Johnson leopard-and-lipstick-print luggage. Frankly, I'm more shocked when I meet a woman who doesn't frequent these stores.
When I do encounter naysayers, their usual grievances are that they're crowded, messy, and overwhelming. There's simply too many racks of boot-cut jeans; too many shelves of hand soaps wrapped in flowery paper; too many walls lined with DKNY socks and control-top nylons. It's an assault on the senses! I understand this concern as someone whose anxiety is triggered by chaotic disorganization. But to those critics, I say you simply must find the Good and/or Nice franchise in your area. Suburban TJ Maxx and Marshalls stores are where it's at. They're sprawling, kempt, stacked with A+ products/brands and, because they're usually located in a strip mall, a stucco-and-stone Taco Bell is rarely far away, so you can get a post-shop Crunchwrap Supreme. It's a bit tougher in metropolitan cities since the population is far more dense, resulting in picked-over shelves and general disarray. Still, every so often you find a gem in a crowded downtown area that bears all the positives of a suburban Maxx. The only way to find them is by going inside every one you come across and making a mental note of its conditions. It's a very good sign if one of their employees yells at you for opening a box of makeup. They're running a tight ship, and everybody wins.
I think the thing I missed the most during quarantine is the reliability that TJ Maxx and Marshalls offer. In any city I've visited or lived, I can always find a store; it will always supply me with the unnecessary products that allow me to pamper myself; and I'm able to continue the tradition my mom instilled in me, making me feel closer to her even from far away. I find calmness in examining the products, mentally deciding if I must own them, adding them to my cart, and then an hour later, when I'm assessing my picks, deciding which need to go back before I pay. I don't think of any of the concerns that plague my life; it's just me and that cart full of shit that will take over the little bit of storage space I have in my apartment.
This is my unsponsored love letter to these beacons of facial serums, Steve Madden ankle boots, and Calvin Klein underwear sets. I'm not sure when I'll be able to hear the whoosh of the front door and the breeze of the indoors hitting my face again, but I know when I do I'll be greeted with perpetually annoyed employees and all the wine glasses that say "I make pour decisions" on them, and it'll feel like home.
Alex Zaragoza aka Tijuana Maxx is a senior staff writer at VICE. You can follow her on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on VICE US.