Pretty much every simplicity or minimalism site has posted an article about the terrible evils of self-storage and how it’s symptomatic of over-consumption in our society, proving that people just have so much junk that they can’t even keep it in their own homes.
I’m here to say “stop it.”
Condemning self-storage as a signal of American over-consumption is an unfair generalization of a complex industry. Most self-storage is being used for perfectly legitimate purposes that have nothing at all to do with “too much stuff.”
First, there are people whose lives are in flux. Many people use self-storage to hold their things as they stage their house to sell or else as they pack to move but want to keep the boxes out of the house while it’s being listed. Other people are on short-term assignments elsewhere and need a place for their things until they return. (The “solution” of ditching everything is prohibitively costly for the vast majority of people, never mind the waste. Ditching everything requires re-buying replacements unless you’re happy living without furniture or overpaying for rented furniture.) These people may be even keeping their house but renting it out while they’re gone. Other people have moved to a new city already but are temporarily renting a small apartment while they decide where to settle, or they’re living a small space while their home is being built.
The majority of self-storage uses are limited-time, like this. Some people might say that if you can survive without something for a few months, clearly you don’t need it. But I know of a family with 10 kids who lived in a single-wide trailer for two years while building their home. I think they would strongly disagree with the assertion that making it two years in a single-wide means that’s all they should be happy with! They view it as an exhausting and extremely difficult time in their lives that served a greater good in the end.
People also use self-storage for their hobbies and recreational vehicles–not just RVs (which usually are sitting in parking spaces at the lot) but also motorcycles, ATVs, and small boats and other water craft. They keep things like boogie boards, surf boards, and skiing equipment there, especially on the off season. These people live in communities where they can’t keep their things with them, and rather than move into a house from an apartment or into a bigger house or a place with a larger lot, they store these things offsite. This is an excellent use of space that should be praised, not condemned. People shouldn’t be told that if they can’t safely keep their $30,000 sport bike on their property, they don’t deserve to own it!
In high-rent places like Manhattan, people use offsite storage heavily for off-season goods, from clothing and sporting equipment to Christmas decorations. These people can’t afford a larger place, and their alternative is to either not have Christmas decorations or else throw them away every year. In this case, again, offsite storage is a very good use of resources.
Even that is just a portion of the self-storage story, though the largest segment. Many contractors use self-storage as a place to keep tools, materials, and even vehicles. Many small businesses that have outgrown the garage or spare room but don’t yet need larger digs use self-storage as an inventory warehouse. Some people have workshops there, doing everything from fine cabinetry to metal fabrication to sculpture. (Take a look at the self-storage ads that brag about the electrical service that the larger units have. That’s because there are people using them for heavy power equipment that they don’t have space for at home or that are too noisy for a residential zone.) There are even some self-storage centers set up for people to use the conditioned rooms as offices.
Yes, there are certainly people who use self-storage strictly as overflow from their houses. But there are many legitimate uses for it, as well. The extreme level of mobility of today’s population combined with a reduced need for retail space and an increased number of small-scale mom-and-pop virtual businesses are the major drivers of the industry.
Do I have a self-storage unit? Nope. Fortunately, all my goods are either tiny or virtual, so I don’t need it. But I don’t condemn those who do without understanding their circumstances.