Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Self Storage Units Overflow Our Borders

Because I've been reflecting recently on the circumstances that led to writing my book, Sorting It Out: One Disorganized Woman Solves the Problem of Too Much Stuff , I decided to revisit an issue that plagued our household for several years but ultimately provided a great incentive to unload excess stuff: renting a storage unit (or, for awhile, more than one, I'm embarrassed to say).

Renting storage space is generally one of the most useless expenses anyone can add to the household budget. I'm hard-pressed to come up with a legitimate reason for it, except for those rare instances when the rental facility is truly a temporary or seasonal solution to a storage problem. Temporary does not mean forever; that would be permanent. So, if you have stored something for longer than a year (a very generous length of time), it is probably no longer a temporary arrangement. If you haven't accessed what you have in storage during that year, unless you were off having a fine old time touring the continent (or facing the challenge of serving our country abroad), it's pretty safe to conclude that you don't need what you've stored. That means it's time to unload the burdens of the storage unit and all of its unnecessary contents.

Please don't think you're excused from taking action because rental storage has allowed you to keep your home nice and neat (really?) and "absolutely everyone" is storing their stuff in rental units. Well, you are correct about the popularity of self storage. Take a look at the following information and see if you agree that your personal storage situation reflects a general pattern of excess consumption of useless stuff.

Last year I obtained some statistics from the Self Storage Association that showed that their industry has grown about 9 percent every year for the past 20 years. In 2005, more than 2,800 new self-storage facilities were constructed across the land.

I went back to the Self Storage Association website today where I learned that they are celebrating their 32nd anniversary. They were founded in 1975, after a long period of growth and prosperity in our country that encouraged accumulation of consumer goods. The Association now serves owners and operators of . . .

". . . some 20,000 facilities in the United States. SSA is affiliated with 22 U.S. state and regional associations and 13 international self storage associations that represent another 15,000 facilities worldwide . . . . International members that utilize the services of the SSA come from 19 nations, including Canada, twelve European nations, Australia and Japan."

Yes, the self storage phenomenon and the excess stuff accumulation problem are international in scope. In addition to the state links, the site provides a link to the affiliated Federation of European Self Storage, founded in 2004:

"Its current membership includes the national associations of Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, The Netherlands, Czech Republic and the United Kingdom. It is hoped that associations from Austria, Ireland and Norway will join in the foreseeable future."

There is a link to Self Storage of Australasia:

"The Self Storage Association of Australasia represents over 800 facilities across Australia and New Zealand, representing approximately 90% of the storage space in the region . . . . [self storage] is one of the fastest growing industries in Australasia, with around 20% growth in the last three years."

And the Canadian Self Storage Association link indicates that there are 2800 facilities served.

If it's true that "as America goes, so goes the world," our stuff-accumulating habits already seem to have had quite an influence on the majority of industrialized societies. We've encouraged tremendous growth, not only in the consumption of goods, but in a business devoted to building nothing but empty rooms to hold all of the things that we can’t cram into our homes.

I have no doubt that there are occasions when the hard-working members of the Self Storage Association provide a valuable service, but the fact that a phenomenon that most often simply reflects acquisitiveness is spearheaded by the example of our country doesn't exactly fill me with patriotic pride.

I'd much prefer to have our country demonstrating to the rest of the world that it's not necessary for our citizens to own so much stuff that we can't even live with all of it. It would be more appealing to me if we presented ourselves as a society capable of providing basic needs to all of our citizens, not a society that calmly accepts the grotesque extremes of wealth and poverty that currently coexist throughout the nation.

Readers, we know we don't need most of the things we have stored, and there are so many others who do. Let's open up those storage units and let go of all that stuff! Otherwise, maybe we should just start identifying most instances self storage as exactly what they are: "selfish storage." Ouch.

(c) 2007 Cynthia Friedlob

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Jeri Dansky said...

I couldn't agree more, Cynthia. I wrote about self storage back in March - but in much less detail. I really like the global perspective you've brought to the discussion.

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Just read your post. Not surprisingly, we have the same point of view!

I don't usually like to make sweeping generalizations about entire countries or groups of countries, but I confess I was surprised by the Scandinavians hopping on the self storage bandwagon. I always associate appealing simplicity with Scandinavian design. I wonder if that's changed significantly.

stevie said...

Yes, strangely we have the same trend here in the UK, no wants the clutter in their own home but the wont throw out anything they think could be worth something in a few years and many home just do not have the storage space and so self storage is huge. I think what might happen is that all the stuff we are now holding onto will not increase in value as the value is in the rareness and if everyone keep things they wont become rare and therefore the value wont increase, wondering why people strive to keep everything now?

Cynthia Friedlob said...

"...wondering why people strive to keep everything now?"

Ah, the answers to that question could fill a book -- and I've written one!

I agree that people are usually mistaken when they think that things will increase in value if they just hold onto them long enough. It's true for some items, but, sadly, most of us are deluding ourselves about much of what we keep for that reason.

Thanks for your comment, Stevie!