How Much Stuff Is In Storage?

Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash

Not long ago I took the trolley from National City where I live to the train station in downtown San Diego and from there to Santa Ana where I was picked up by my youngest son and grandson for a day’s visit. It’s about a two-hour trip. The occasion was my youngest granddaughter’s season-end gymnastic competition — amazing what 9 year old girls can do on parallel bars and such. Both exciting and scary.

I take the train not so much out of environmental consciousness, but as a way to avoid driving on Interstate 5 which often jams up in either direction. I love the train trip because I love looking at the scenery, even when it’s a route I know well. Confession: I also love sneering at the car drivers when the freeway does jam up.

This time, in addition to a wonderful view of the seashore, some interesting wetlands, and peeks at interesting neighborhoods, I was also noticing the amazing number of self-storage places along the route. Some are just dull buildings, others attempt, under some city council’s guidance I’m sure, to disguise themselves with phony windows, and other slapped on details that won’t fool anyone.

Why they caught my attention this time is anyone’s guess, but they did, and I started wondering about them and what they say about our culture.

Storage stats

I’m not surprised we try to disguise these buildings… not just because they are ugly, but because the cover up what I consider is our shameful collection of stuff. According to the Self-Storage Association (who knew) in 2014 the self-storage industry is estimated to have generated some $24 billion in annual revenue.

That’s not the only statistic that I find shocking:

Total self storage rentable space in the US is just above 2.3 billion square feet (as of Q4–2014) [approximately 210 million square meters]. That figure represents more than 78 square miles of rentable self storage space, under roof — or an area well more than 3 times the size of Manhattan Island (NY)

The average revenue per square foot varies from facility to facility; however, here are the data for Q4 2014: $1.18 PSF for a non-climate controlled 10 x 10 unit and $1.51 PSF for a climate controlled 10 x 10 unit.

The asking rent for a 10'x10′ unit in the U.S. (Q4–2014) is averaged at: non-climate controlled $118/month; climate-controlled $151/month. (It’s undoubtedly gone up.)

There is 7.3 sq. ft. of self storage space for every man, woman and child in the nation; thus, it is physically possible that every American could stand — all at the same time — under the total canopy of self storage roofing.

Some 47% of all self storage renters have an annual household income of less than $50,000 per year; 63% have an annual household income of less than $75,000 per year.

More than 1.5 million self storage units nationwide are rented to military personnel (6% of all units); however, in communities adjacent to domestic US military bases, military occupancy can be from 20% to 95% of all rented units.

Seventy-eight square miles of storage? I find this utterly insane.

Somehow the idea that we buy so much stuff we can’t even store it in our own homes, but need to pay to have it kept for us somewhere away exemplifies much of what’s wrong with the so-called free market and unbridled capitalism.

Yes, I know that’s an inflammatory statement. No matter how I slice it, however, the amount of self-storage that exists and the money people spend on storing their stuff seems a direct result of over consumption. Buying more stuff has been sold to us as a way to make us feel better.

The Story of Stuff

In December 2007, Annie Leonard and her friends at Free Range Studios put together a 20-minute movie about the way we make, use, and throw away Stuff. Called the Story of Stuff, it’s been viewed at least 40 million times! It takes a bit over 21 minutes to watch.

Five years later the same group created and released the Story of Solutions. Here they talk about the game called “More” which is what we’ve more or less been playing, and suggesting replacing it with a different game. The video is perhaps over-simplistic, or maybe not. It provides a ton of food for thought, points in a good direction and provides a new way to begin thinking through our own decisions about the stuff we have and the stuff we may want to buy. I also love that it’s focused on solutions. It’s just over 9 minutes long and worth it IMO.

Someplace along the line, the website, Story of Stuff was launched. I’m both horrified and enjoying what I’m reading there.

I’m examining how much I do and don’t collect. I rented a self-storage well over 30 years ago and lost everything there because I didn't keep up the payments. I’m not the only one that’s happened to either — hence reality shows about buying the contents of such places.

I’m also working to notice just when I want to buy stuff to make me feel better. Mostly I just let the idea go and don’t buy, but occasionally…

What’s your relationship with the stuff in your life?

Love, blessings, and abundance,

Originally published at on June 12, 2015.

Writer, life and writing coach, book ghostwriter, Grandmother, Buddhist. Liberal who listens to the other side, political

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