A few years ago, I watched from my window what I thought was the construction of a new apartment building.
I was wrong. Instead, I discovered it was a new self-storage facility: seven floors with 800+ units, air conditioned with an elevator and security cameras.
It was then I became intrigued with the self-storage business. And it’s a huge and growing industry.
It’s estimated that there are 49,233 facilities in the US alone.
These are the largest companies and the top six are publicly traded:
Extra Space Storage
National Storage Affiliates
Prime Storage Group
SmartShop Asset Management
Metro Storage LLC
There are smaller enterprises which are privately owned.
Here are statistics gleaned from Self-Storage Almanac, the go-to industrial resource. It was first published in 1985:
Self-storage facilities users:
32% Baby Boomers (1946 – 1964)
32% Generation X (1965 – 1981)
28% Millennials (1982 – 2000)
8% Greatest Generation (1901 – 1924 & over age 75)
Most common sizes and average mid-Atlantic monthly cost (2020):
5’ x 5’ $56.48
5’ x 10’ $81.67
10’ x 10’ $131.79
10’ x 15’ $166.00
10’ x 20’ $190.69
Length of Rental – Residential Users:
< 3 months 23.6%
3 – 6 months 17.2%
7 – 12 months 19.9%
1 – 2 years 26.5%
Longer than 2 years 23.5%
Most common reasons for getting a self-storage unit:
Lack of space at home
These statistics lead me to explore the psychology behind our compulsive drive to acquire things and the guilt of too much stuff and not enough room for it.
Frequent reasons cited that encourage us to collect stuff: Memories, eras of our lives, our past selves, aspirations, the death of loved ones, achievements and security.
Self-storage goes hand-in-hand with the currently popular trend of minimalism, professional organizing and our fascination with hoarding side-by- side with traditional collecting. There a spectrum of stuff and a range of responses to help us manage it or rid ourselves of it.
Series such as “Hoarders” and “Storage Wars” sparked visibility and interest in hoarding and storage unit auctions.
Collecting junk isn’t restricted to the human race, the animal kingdom has its own popular hoarders: pack rats. They gather all sorts of things and store them in their nests that can extend up to four feet in length.
Traditionally, we stored our stuff in our basements, garages and attics or those of family and friends.
With growing consumerism and cheaper prices, people buy and keep more things.
We now outsource much of our stuff to the self-storage industry.
A viable alternative in the near future might be self-storage facilities in outer space as the commercial space business grows and becomes less expensive.
Ironically, though, even in outer space, junk is a growing concern.
More than 27,000 pieces of orbital debris, or “space junk,” are tracked by the Department of Defense's global Space Surveillance Network (SSN) sensors. Much more debris -- too small to be tracked, but large enough to threaten human spaceflight and robotic missions -- exists in the near-Earth space environment.
I hope this post gives you an introduction to the U.S. self-storage industry and a few of the reasons that are fueling this flourishing sector of our economy. And perhaps, it’ll give you pause to consider the stuff in your own life and what you want to do with it.
Stewart, Alison. Junk : Digging through America's love affair with stuff. Chicago, Chicago Review Press, Inc., 2016.
Zasio, Robin. The hoarder in you : how to live a happier, healthier, unclutter life. Emmaus, PA: Rodale, 2011
Decker, Jessica. 365 days of organizing : a little help every day to become organized. Bowker, 2020.
Kondo, Marie. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Berkeley, CA, Ten Speed Press, 2014.
Marie, Kondo. Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up. Berkeley, CA, Ten Speed Press, 2016.
Curiosity Corner writer & contributor:
Helen Beckert, Reference Librarian at the Glen Ridge Public Library