I have too much Stuff. Odds are, you do too. In fact, Americans own so much Stuff that they don't have room to store it all. Our basements and attics are full. Our garages and workshops are overflowing. Our passion for Stuff has spawned a growing industry devoted to providing space for all of the crap we own. This afternoon on NPR, Marketplace featured a story about the recession-proof self-storage industry.
Reporter Andrew Phelps originally rented a unit for what he thought would be a few months. Three years later he returned to find “Star Wars figures, little umbrella thingies that go in cocktails, and more trophies and old baseballs and yearbooks. Oh my God — my Nintendo 64!” For three years, he'd been paying a monthly fee to keep Stuff that he never used.
“I wound up throwing away, like, 98 percent of this Stuff,” he says. “I don't know why I kept it in the first place.” He's not alone.
According to Steve Northam, the manager of a self-storage facility in southern California, most customers are just like Phelps. “I try to tell people that kind of stuff. You know what you're gonna do, you're gonna be writing checks on this Stuff. You're gonna say I'm gonna be in there for six months or something like that and I'm going to see you five years later and you're still handing me money. And you've paid more than three times what that Stuff's worth and, in some cases, four or five times.”
I've never had a storage unit. Out of curiosity, I checked pricing at a facility near my home. Their smallest unit — 25 square feet — costs $56 a month! That's almost unbelievable. $56 a month! $672 per year! Prices for larger spaces range up to $278 a month. Wow.
Don't think I hold any sort of moral high ground, though. I, too, have lots of Stuff. I've just found ways to store it without a monthly fee. (Or maybe I'm paying even more — maybe I have a bigger mortgage to own a bigger house to store all my Stuff!)
Last summer when we returned from England and Ireland, I came to the realization that Stuff was ruling my life. For a couple months, I tried to purge the excess Stuff around me. I sold it on eBay. I gave it away on Craigslist. I hauled it to Goodwill. But I still have too much. I have one entire room currently devoted to Stuff I Want to Purge. The good news is that aside from personal finance books, I'm bringing less Stuff into the house. (That's one benefit of frugality, I guess.) I feel like the tide of battle has turned.
Not everyone is winning the war on Stuff, however. It seems the self-storage industry is largely immune to recession. People are squirreling away things just as much as ever. Marketplace spoke to the regional manager for a storage company, who said:
A big part of our business in some places recently has been people that are storing temporarily while they stage their home to buy, while they're between houses because they've just moved up. Now we're kind of getting the other side of that where maybe they're staging their stuff while they move down, or while they move out.
How many self-storage facilities can one find in Canada? The U.K.? Australia? Why do Americans feel compelled to horde so much Stuff? How can we overcome our need to always acquire more? And where do I go to buy into a share of the self-storage industry?
[Marketplace: Americans keep putting more in storage]