Podcast 116: The perils of storage space

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This is podcast 116 and it’s about the perils of storage space. Are you scared? You should be!

I came across a post on the website Becoming Minimalist, which has some great tips on downsizing for families. This post cited statistics about how much stuff people own and how much room it takes up. Here are some of them.

The average size of the American home has nearly tripled in size over the past 50 years. That’s from a story on NPR‘s All Things Considered. The story is from 2006 though. From what I’ve seen where I live here in northern California, I think home sizes may have increased even more than triple.

Most of my clients, indeed, most people I know don’t park in their garages because they’re full of stuff. I’ve had people tell me that their perfectly good, medium-sized house is so small that they need the whole garage for storage.

Despite these McMansions, 1 out of every 10 Americans rents offsite storage—this is the fastest growing segment of the commercial real estate industry over the past four decades. That’s from the New York Times Magazine. This statistic is now old, ten years old, and once again, I’ll bet the percentage of storage renters could be higher. Here’s why I think that:

On the Spare Foot website, which is a news site about the storage industry, I discovered a US Census Bureau graphic of how much is spent on construction of self storage. In 2015 it was about $1 billion, where it’s been hovering since 2006, and three years later it was $5.5 billion and headed straight upward. Crazy!

The United States has upward of 50,000 storage facilities, more than five times the number of Starbucks. Of those who rent off-site storage, 65 percent have a garage, 47 percent have an attic, and 33 percent a basement. That info is from the Self Storage Association.

No wonder people are overwhelmed!

Do you remember that show from several years ago, Storage Wars? In the show, the contents of storage units that people had stopped paying rent on got auctioned off, sight unseen. In a lot of those cases, this means people paid good money to store things they weren’t even using and then …. they just let them go. All that money they spent, and now they have nothing.

So, I have one thing to say about renting outside storage space: don’t do it! Please! Okay, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I will say that sometimes it’s allowable. Here are a few examples. If your home really is tiny, like a studio apartment, and you need storage for seldom used items such as camping and sports equipment, off season clothes, holiday décor and memorabilia. If you are living somewhere temporarily (maybe you had to move without much notice for a job, or got divorced) but you have concrete plans to move somewhere big enough for your stuff.

I thought I could think of another reason but I can’t. unfortunately, a lot of those temporary situations turn out to drag on and on. The hard decisions that need to be made about what’s in storage get put off and meanwhile, you’re racking up bills.

Here are things you should not be storing; inherited furniture that you don’t like well enough to have it in your own home, clothing that doesn’t fit (unless a child will grow into it soon) and that treadmill you never used. I once had a client who had many pieces of inherited furniture in her garage.

I asked her what her plans were for it and she had none. I suggested that she get rid of her current living room furniture and put these items inside the house. She looked at me with horror. Oh, no, I’d never want this stuff in my house! She said. She didn’t even like it.

Clothes that don’t fit don’t fit in your life anymore. A few boxes of clothes in storage far away probably aren’t going to inspire you to lose weight. If you do lose weight, why not treat yourself to some wonderful brand new clothes? And that treadmill? If the reason you put it in storage is that it was mostly being used to hang clothes on, it’s not faring any better in a storage unit.

The funny, and sad, part of this mania for storage is that people don’t want to be wasteful by getting rid of perfectly good stuff, yet they waste tons of money storing and not using it.

The author of the Becoming Minimalist post I mentioned at the beginning says he was initially motivated to pare down when he was cleaning out his garage on a lovely afternoon and his neighbor commented that maybe he didn’t need to have all that stuff, stuff that was taking his attention away from playing with his kid and enjoying the day.

This is the crux of it. If maintaining your stuff takes time that you’d otherwise use to have fun or do something meaningful, it’s time to reconsider.

What you can do right now: If you have a storage unit, evaluate its contents ruthlessly. Make a list of pros and cons of spending money to stash all that stuff. Consider decluttering your home to make room for what you really want to keep. Treat space as finite, meaning its contents are also finite.