American Consequences - December 2017


entice us with organizational systems like the adorably named Elfa that nevertheless rival the federal tax code in their complexity. In fact, these companies encourage people who buy their closet organization systems to hire expert installers who, like good tax auditors, will come to their homes and corral their stuff. (See? More jobs!)

They show beautiful women surrounded by piles of expensive shoes and clothing (the fantasy). That’s because our feelings about our stuff are just that – feelings. It’s really about emotion, not consumerism run amok. We’re needy, slightly irrational humans, not neoliberal stooges.

For those of us who still measure their annual waste in landfill acreage, not mason jars, the past decade has provided us with countless best-selling books about how to become more organized and streamlined about our stuff.

These businesses have also learned the lessons of good marketing. Just as luxury watchmakers project their product as

When we see a drawer full of perfectly folded socks, what appeals to us isn’t the socks – it’s the promise of order and control that their perfect organization

catering to a certain kind of discriminating consumer, closet organizers are creating a specific image. Patek Philippe ads feature chiseled

suggests. This is why Martha Stewart never undermined the fantasy by showing us her junk drawer, only helpful tips for organizing our own. In the end, the reality isn’t that scary. We love our stuff, and many of us have too much of it. But if the price of living in a prosperous and free society is a small monthly storage fee for our things and intermittent scolding from the self-appointed cultural elite, then we’re getting a bargain. Ms. Rosen’s essays and reviews have appeared in publications such as The New York Times Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New Republic, The Weekly Standard, The American Historical Review, and The New England Journal of Medicine.

and prosperous-looking patriarchs sitting in mahogany-lined studies going over paperwork, not heavily-bearded dudes from “Duck Dynasty” decked out in camo and passing the time in their pickup trucks. And so closet organizing companies don’t feature images of bewildered Americans staring at piles of moldering paperbacks and VHS tapes in their dimly-lit storage units (the reality). Christine Rosen  is one of the founding editors of The New Atlantis , where she now serves as senior editor.  She is working on her forthcoming book, The Extinction of Experience , to be published byW.W. Norton. Her past books include Preaching Eugenics: Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement and My Fundamentalist Education .  

56 | December 2017

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