Retail Therapy Comes Home


I don’t usually burst out laughing while reading The Wall St. Journal, but today’s “Excuse Me, Do you Work Here? No, I Just Need to Fold Clothes” gave me a well-needed belly laugh. Writer Jennifer Saranow reveals that an entire generation of Americans who worked stints at The Gap, now channel their obsessive folding skills to neaten up everyone else’s lives.

Saranow cites U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics counting store clerks at clothing and accessory stores at an annual high of 1.3million. She writes, “The Gap Inc… has trained ‘hundreds of thousands’… in the art of folding since the late 1980s.”

These proudly obsessive neatniks can’t keep themselves from folding everybody else’s stuff, even ‘straining marriages…and straightening up sloppy displays while shopping.”

Are all the former Wal-Mart greeters welcoming people home on their front porches? At dinner, are the McDonald refugees asking the kids, “Fries with that?”

I started to consider my own leftover habits and asked my Just Ask a Woman colleagues to weigh in. Thanks to four years as a bank teller, I count bills like a card shark, ordering denominations big to small, all facing in the same direction.  Jen’s haunted by an early pharmacy job to “turn the labels of all of my products in my medicine cabinet or fridge forward like they would be on a shelf.”  She also confides that she knows how to jump a too-long prescription line. “It is probably illegal, but if you write Dr. in front of your name on the RX, they usually will fill you first.” (I guess I used to know how to rob a bank, but I’ve unfortunately forgotten.)

Lily is obsessive about the way she slices fruit and dries glasses from her bartending gigs, and Tracy can’t help straightening the Hallmark card displays. “It drives me crazy when they’re out of order,” she says.  “I’ve even been asked for help because they think I work there.” 

Perhaps there are millions of women who now bring their oddball service quirks to daily life. Maybe there’s something calming about taking control or we use the excuse of “the way it should be done” to neaten life’s sloppy edges. Or maybe, we are just creating a little fantasy corner of calm. Jean, who hopes to work in retail someday (not too soon, I hope) uses her closet as her make-believe store. “I hang all my clothes and fill my drawers by type then category, then color,” she says. “Same with shoes. If they’re not in order, I can’t go to sleep at night!” 

Seems like retail therapy goes even farther than we think.

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June 14, 2024
by Mary Lou Quinlan

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