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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  • Drew Flamm

    Great article! We buy stuff we don’t need to fill up our houses we can’t afford. 

    My wife and I have been working on giving our stuff away. Not only does it free up space but it is fun!

  • Ultimately self-storage is a complete waste of space and money. Furthermore, people are storing things that others in this world could enjoy far more than the fulfillment it’s providing the current owners.

  • Andy Hough

    Since I’m living in my van right now I’m using a storage unit for my excess stuff.  I am trying to sell, donate, or trash enough of it in the next couple months that I can give up the storage unit.

    I’ve attended a few self-storage auctions and it appears that a lot of people are storing stuff that isn’t worth as much as a few month’s rent on the storage units will cost them. 

  • John @MarriedWithDebt

    Like you we only used it for a few months while we decluttered to sell our home. If we move again, I will just throw out the stuff that remains unpacked from the last move. Other than that, maybe using it to store a boat or motorcycle makes sense, but if you have it full of junk, maybe time to rent a dumpster.

  • I’ve never had a storage, but my wife and I feel the same as you do. We de-clutter every year, asking the questions “have we touched it in the last year”, “no”, “does it have high sentimental value”, “no”, then we sell it or toss it. I don’t see a point in keeping that much stuff. After living with parents who stuffed the garage to the ceiling and also had a storage, I vowed never to have or need that much stuff!

  • There is a clear cost to hoarding, or maybe better put: being cluttered.  It can truly help one’s finances to periodically clear junk out, things that you really don’t need and haven’t used in ages can often be sold or tossed.  For whatever reason, there is an emotional attachment people have to many material things that just isn’t rational.

    Also, it costs time and often money to haul things to a storage facility.  Once it’s there, you’re making monthly payments. Those payments seem to go on for longer than some people might have originally expected! Who needs another liability?

  • I think there are legitimate reasons for storing things, like the one you mentioned – having a gap in moving from one house to another.  We did the same thing back in 2006 when we built our current house. We had 3 months where we had to live with the in-laws until our house was built, and we needed a place for all our belongings.  We got the first month free and two months for relatively cheap since we got a small locker after minimizing our things and donating a ton. 

    The problem is far too many people are probably using storage because they’re “collectors” and have an overly developed attachment to things.  I think far too many people develop an attachment to things as a replacement for something else in their lives, and to get rid of things in a way causes them to lose a bit of themself.. It’s sad really.

  • I would never rent a storage space for the long term. That’s just hoarding stuff. If I don’t use it, I’ll sell it, donate it, or trash it. There is no point in putting it in storage. People have way too much stuff already and they need to find a graceful way to get rid of them .

  • My answer in my head to your first question was “because you’re a hoarder!”  After reading some of your other reasons, I decided that maybe I’m a bit judgmental.  My husband does have a distant relative who’s a hoarder.  She has 4 or 5 storage cells filled with crap and she’s had visits from law enforcement concerning the fire hazard/landfill/breeding-zone-for-you-don’t-wanna-know…so knowing her has tainted my views of anyone who would pay for someone to hold onto their crap for them.  Like I said though, you did list some good reasons for having one…but I don’t think it should be a long-term arrangement.
    -M

  • EXACTLY! I dont get the use of these things. If you have too much stuff, GET RID of it. 

  • I have always wondered the same thing. If you are storing the item, why are you keeping it? You obviously aren’t using it? 

    What amazes me is how many of these places are popping up everywhere and they are full. It’s like the addiction to consumerism has gone to a whole new level. 

    I do agree with Peter though. Sometimes there are legit reasons where you may need to use one of these things. The key is though to know that only under special circumstances should they be used.

    • Economically Humble

      Yeah, I wonder the same thing.  If it is in storage you can’t enjoy it and instead are throwing money away.

  • I’m actually a fan of investing in self storage companies because they pay a great dividend and so many people use them.  I personally would sell stuff instead of store it, but hey, why not make money off others!

  • My in-laws inherited a lot of furniture that had a great deal of sentimental value to them.  They rented a storage unit to hold it until they moved into their retirement home.  The cost really added up but it enabled them to keep something that was dear to them.

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