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The Self Storage Trap

I'm sure you've noticed storage units cropping up all over the place, but did you know there are seven times as many storage unit facilities as there are Starbucks?  That we now have more than seven square feet of self storage space for every man, woman, and child in America, so that it's "physically possible that every American could stand - all at the same time - under the total canopy of self-storage roofing"?  Because seriously, I didn't!  

The New York Times has a long and engrossing article about storage unit rental.  I expected it to be a diatribe against the wastefulness of self storage, the waste of money, of time, of land, and of clutter.  But Jon Mooallem has written a far more nuanced article than I would have expected.  

I find the topic of self storage particularly fascinating because I'm an ex-storager (and reformed stuff-aholic) myself.  In the late 1990s I worked as a Unix web server system administrator at the height of the dot com boom.  The hours were long, but after two years I was earning almost twice what I had at my previous job.

At the same time, I was living in Seattle, one of the most expensive cities in the country.  I was renting an apartment near Alki Beach for the ridiculously low rate of $575 per month.  I kept buying Stuff, and pretty soon I ran out of room to put the Stuff.  I considered renting a better (or at least larger) apartment, but it would have been half again what I was paying for my studio - and I can guarantee you I wouldn't be living 20 feet from the beach like I was then.  I finally decided to rent a storage space instead.  The way I looked at it, I was paying an extra $100 for a second bedroom, without having to move.

All well and good, but when I think back to what I crammed into that storage space, I cringe.  I could easily have dragged everything out into the parking lot and set it on fire.  It wouldn't have impacted my life a bit, and it would have saved me a lot of money!

The hard truth is that for most people, anything that isn't worth keeping in your home isn't worth keeping.   

Aside from the big picture stuff (and Mooallem has clearly done his research - the facts about self storage will blow your mind), Mooallem also apparently wandered around self storage facilities looking for renters to interview.  One woman was so ashamed of her stuff and her situation that she declined to give Mooallem her last name.  And shame is certainly one emotion on the docket here.

Self storage started in the 1960s, but it really exploded in the last 20 years, along with our national obsession with buying stuff.  ("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.") 

And where is all that stuff going to live?  Why, in storage, of course!