Americans have a lot of stuff. So much so, we don’t have room enough in our houses, condos and apartments for it all. That is why the self-storage industry, yes it is an industry, is undergoing such rapid growth. First let’s put some numbers to the issue. Patrick Sisson writing at Curbed in 2018 noted:
One in 11 Americans pays an average of $91.14 per month to use self-storage, finding a place for the material overflow of the American dream. According to SpareFoot, a company that tracks the self-storage industry, the United States boasts more than 50,000 facilities and roughly 2.311 billion square feet of rentable space. In other words, the volume of self-storage units in the country could fill the Hoover Dam with old clothing, skis, and keepsakes more than 26 times.
The point of this isn’t to predict an oversupply in self-storage units. Although that is a definite possibility. It simply puts into perspective our collective desire to hold onto stuff. That is maybe one reason why Marie Kondo author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and her own Netflix show has become a cultural phenomenon. So much so, that thrift shops are being deluged with items that no longer spark joy from their owners.
It isn’t that Americans are inveterate hoarders. There is something else going on. Katherine Mangu-Ward at Reason has a really interesting explanation on what is really going on. She writes:
In this sense, Americans’ homes are crowded with too much stuff not because they’re too rich but because they’re still thinking of themselves as too poor. This seemingly counterintuitive notion is on display in the difference between the homes of the wealthy, which are nearly always large but devoid of visible extraneous objects, and the houses of the working class, which are much more likely to be crammed to the rafters. Poor people tend to keep everything. But the desire to hang on to lots of stuff originates in fear, not joy.
The fear of not having enough is very primal. Our ancestors survived for two reasons. The first is that they avoided predators. Second, they figured out ways to obtain, maintain and preserve enough goods to survive. So we should not be surprised when we lean toward keeping marginal items as opposed to throwing them out. Raise your hand if you don’t have a ‘junk drawer’ somewhere in your house filled with takeout chopsticks, random nuts and bolts and some rubber bands. Mangu-Ward continues:
Kondo, by contrast, is a pluralist. If there’s anything we’ve learned from the golden age of reality TV, it’s that people are weirder than you could possibly have imagined. Human beings are astonishingly various…Kondo is ultimately willing to leave people’s happiness in their own hands, to trust them to know themselves better than she does.
Nobody can tell you what sparks joy in your life. Others can help you sort through those things that you are hanging onto out of fear. Very few us can live in one those homes featured in Architectural Digest where there is nothing extraneous in the photo or out of place. But we can strive to live a more balanced life, one where we hold onto things of true value and avoid filling up self-storage units with things that, are by definition, out of sight and likely out of mind.