Self Storage Explosion

Jun 13, 2012 by

self storage units

People pay money for this.

I hope I don’t come across as too judgmental in this article, but please:

Why would anyone pay money to rent a covered concrete pad to store stuff they rarely or never use and don’t need?

Now, before all of you sensible self-storers drop straight down to the bottom of this post and start with the nasty comments, let me say this: Some of my best friends are self-storers. My father’s a self-storer. Self storage is an honorable, legitimate business. But I can’t help but think—given the explosion in self storage space and consumer debt in the U.S. over the past couple of decades—that, collectively, we’ve gone a wee bit overboard on the material accumulation front, don’t you think?

In Defense of Self Storage

Confession: My wife and I once rented self storage space. We suffered a two-month gap between selling house A and moving into house B, and believe me, we were gratified to have the self storage option. And there are many other great reasons for renting self storage space:

  • Choosing to live in a small place but supplementing it by renting storage space for seasonally or occasionally used belongings can save money, simplify, and cut down clutter in one’s living space.
  • Temporarily storing a sudden surge in possessions—say from an inheritance—lets one buy time to rummage thoughtfully through the stuff.
  • Storing sentimental keepsakes or collections that would be unwieldy in one’s home and to which one only rarely needs access might be preferable to squeezing these items into a home. (I’d probably rather liquidate and have the cash than the sentiment, but that’s me.)
  • Temporarily storing belongings during home renovations or other disruptions (a fire, for example) is very handy and makes a lot of sense.

And I’m sure there are many other sensible uses of self storage I’ve not mentioned. But still…

Do We Really Need All This Self Storage Space??

According to the Self Storage Association:

  • As of the fourth quarter of 2010, the U.S. boasted 2.22 billion square feet of rentable self storage space. That works out to about seven square feet for every American or, say, an extra moderate sized closet for each.
  • Self storage has been one of the fastest-growing sectors of the U.S. commercial real estate industry over the last 35 years.
  • As of year-end 2009, 46,500 primary—and another 4,000 secondary—self storage facilities operated in the U.S. (“Primary” means that self storage is the main business revenue source.) By contrast, Starbucks coffee shops—which seem to occupy every other city street corner—number only about 13,000 in the U.S. And even the ubiquitous Tim Horton’s chain in Canada has only 3,000 locations.
  • Primary U.S. self storage facility gross revenues for 2010 were approximately $22.0 billion, or a national average of $9.52 per rentable square foot.
  • Nearly 1 in 10 U.S. households  rents a self storage unit, an increase of approximately 65 percent over the last 15 years. Total U.S. self storage space inventory equals 19.2 square feet per household.

Clearly the rental storage industry has cashed in huge on Americans’ seemingly insatiable appetite for stuff. Sensible use of self storage can’t possibly explain all or even most of the blowout the industry’s seen over the past couple of decades.

Scrutinize Your Self Storage Self

If you rent storage space, you may have excellent reasons. But especially if you’re in debt and not saving enough and short of cash, take an honest, objective look at why and how you’re using self storage. Could it possibly be that you’re buying too much, and compounding that financial challenge by paying money to make room for the stuff that you probably shouldn’t be buying in the first place? If so:

  • Liquidate: Convert enough of your belongings to cash to make rented storage space unneeded. EBay, yard sales, and Craigslist are great cash machines.
  • Donate: If you can’t sell it, give it away. The financial gain is the storage space for which you won’t be paying.
  • Terminate: Stop bringing more stuff into your home until your rented storage space is empty and the contract ended.

Think of aiming to eliminate self storage rental from your life as a double bonus: You’ll save not just the hefty monthly rental charge but also through liquidation you’ll earn some cash. Once you’ve closed the door on self storage forever, if you want to buy something but the house is full,  don’t rent space. Instead, sell a couple pieces of useless junk to make room!

Do You Self Store?

Have I been too hard on self storers? Do you have great reasons for renting storage space, or might you be enabling a costly over consumption habit?

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