america, stuff, and self-storage

self-storage-units

earlier this month, the new york times ran a piece on self-storage units in the united states of america.  while reading the story, i was again reminded of how much we love our stuff.  just notice some of these highlights:

  • the united states now has 2.3 billion square feet of self-storage space. (the self storage association notes that, with more than seven square feet for every man, woman and child, it’s now “physically possible that every american could stand — all at the same time — under the total canopy of self-storage roofing.”)
  • fifty percent of [self-storage] renters are now simply storing what won’t fit in their homes — even though the size of the average american house had almost doubled in the previous 50 years, to 2,300 square feet.
  • by 2007, a full 15 percent of customers told the self storage association they were storing items that they “no longer need or want.” it was the third-most-popular use for a unit and was projected to grow to 25 percent of renters the following year.
  • between 1970 and 2008, real disposable personal income per capita doubled, and by 2008 we were spending nearly all of it — all but 2.7 percent — each year. meanwhile, the price of much of what we were buying plunged. even by the early ’90s, american families had, on average, twice as many possessions as they did 25 years earlier. by 2005, according to the boston college sociologist juliet b. schor, the average consumer purchased one new piece of clothing every five and a half days.
  • “human laziness has always been a big friend of self-storage operators,” derek naylor, president of the consultant group storage marketing solutions, told me. “because once they’re in, nobody likes to spend all day moving their stuff out of storage. as long as they can afford it, and feel psychologically that they can afford it, they’ll leave that stuff in there forever.”

you can read the whole article here: the self-storage self.

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Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. says

    Self storage units have been popping up all over in my area. If I wasn’t putting my kids through college I’d buy property and make my own. It seems a great way to make a buck. Dereck Naylor is right, people are too lazy to move the stuff out once it’s in. Incredible, they pay for the junk to have it in their posession and then pay a monthly fee to keep it.

    Joe

  2. says

    It’s amazing to me… So many people I know are storing their grown kid’s furniture (kids who have now bought homes of their own), old junk, etc. It’s cleary stuff they don’t want enough to keep in their house, so why pay to store it???

  3. Grace says

    It is shameful that we can house stuff but we can’t provide shelter for the homeless. I propose we add communal running water and toilets and use those storage units as shelters for the homeless. Beats the streets. The storage units surpass the conditions that most people in third world countries live in.

    Grace

    • erin says

      I commented below already, but I wanted to comment on your post in particular. I have a storage unit, and I remember one of the first times i went there, I was/AM convinced there is someone living in one of the units. These units are in a giant warehouse that is temperature controlled. Granted, it is probably kept at 60 in the winter, but it is shelter for someone who cannot afford a home. I also think it is illegal, but if he doesn’t get caught…. so sad!! And even as someone who stores stuff (which I desperately want to stop!) I agree that it is sad that we can pay for things like storing junk but not house the homeless!

  4. Jana Bosma says

    Grace – I was thinking about that too. How so many people live in terrible conditions, and we worry more about keeping our possessions safe and dry than their welfare. It really is sad.

  5. says

    Amazing. It’s funny that we think storing stuff is a ‘solution’ to our hoarding and clutter. The last point you mention is the key. It’s the same mentality that starts with us creating ‘Miscellaneous’ categories in our filing cabinets, email programs and computer directories. We think we are getting organized, but all we’re really doing is putting off making a decision…

    Self-storage is the ‘Misc’ category for our lives. I don’t want to make the hard decisions (eg spend less, buy less, get rid of clutter, etc) but I do want to feel I’ve been proactive in some small way – out of sight, out of mind :-)

    • Kira says

      Another perspective…

      Although not the norm, paying for a small storage unit to store seasonal items can be a frugal alternative to living in a larger space. Obviously this solution’s effectiveness would vary with local housing prices and wouldn’t be appealing to a minimalist who only owns 100 items, but it’s a great option for a semi-minimalist who wants to live in a small space.

  6. says

    It blows me away that people actually pay to have their junk stored. I have my share of junk / stuff that needs to be purged ( we all do ), but seriously if it doesn’t physically fit in my house, why on earth would I want it?

  7. erin says

    I AM one of those people who has a storage unit! I got it 2 1/2 years ago when I got married and my husband’s family came over from Ireland. I pay $50 a month to store those items! It was supposed to be temporary while they were here, but when I realized how nice the house looked having all that stuff out, it was just so easy to keep paying the fee! Let me tell you what, it is the WORST investment EVER!! I know I have my camping stuff in there as well as my Christmas ornaments, but other than that, I have NO idea! The worst part is, I sorted through my stuff and stored the stuff I wanted to KEEP! I just realized that it feels natural to continue this in the “my story” area….Anyway, storage units are a waste of money as we all know, so don’t get one just keep reading this blog!!!

  8. says

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    in 3 completely different internet browsers and I must say this blog loads
    a lot quicker then most. Can you recommend a good internet hosting provider at a reasonable price?
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  9. says

    “…and what they taught me was, it’s the accumulation of things that defines you … and to throw anything away was being wasteful.’ The self-storage industry reconciles these opposing values: paying for storage is, paradoxically, thrifty.”
    That’s really something to think about – because you never really know when something will come in handy. Contrariwise, the accumulation of wealth has manifested itself into the accumulation of “stuff” and “things”. It’s amazing what we learn about the evolution of our own psyches when it comes to ownership and possession.

  10. says

    Hi Joshua,

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful insights with the world and in particular this post. I appreciate you sharing useful information in such a clear way.

    ‘Escaping excessive consumerism’ is such an important concept and I’m so glad there are people like yourself in the world promoting ways of living simply. The world is more than the materials we see!

    I regularly enjoy your reading your articles :) and I’ve mentioned you on my blog after The Minimalist just came to Melbourne.

    Thanks for contributing so much value to people all over the world!

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