According to The Self Storage Association, there are roughly 49,000 storage facilities in the U.S. alone. Self storage has consistently been the fastest growing area of the commercial real estate industry, representing $22 billion in annual U.S. revenues in 2011. But why? Why are Americans so willing to saddle themselves with material albatrosses that sap their monthly income? Have we become such a nomadic and unsettled people that our consumerism can only keep up with our lifestyles through acres of augmented storage? I’ll leave that up to the social and cultural critics to decide.
If you’re considering entering the fray and renting a storage unit, or if you’re rethinking the value you get out of your current storage arrangement, let me offer a few arguments against these businesses that dot our landscape. Here are seven reasons why renting a self-storage unit is a bad idea. (See also: The Tyranny of Stuff)
1. Most Stored Objects Depreciate in Value
Unless you’re storing gold or silver (an ill-advised move at most storage facilities), the objects you’re housing are probably depreciating in value. Though I know some storage situations are unavoidable (i.e., a last minute move for a job, family emergency, divorce), the pay-off long-term just doesn’t seem worth it when you consider the replacement cost of the stored items.
2. Extra Offsite Storage Promotes Acquisition
Having overflow storage options at the ready encourages needless acquisition. Often, storage units enable hoarding tendencies and prevent us from moving on from objects and the places and times in our lives that they represent.
3. Storage Fees Can Be a Financial Drain
This one is obvious, but still insidious. There’s something overwhelming about having a storage unit full of stuff. We tend to ignore it, become exhausted at the thought of moving it, and avoid figuring out how to get rid of it. Inertia sets in and we (almost gladly) fork over the $65.00 or $75.00 a month to maintain the status quo. After a few years of paying our monthly dues, we’ve spent enough to buy to good used car and have nothing to show for it besides the same old anxiety-producing pile of stuff.
4. Storage Facilities Often Lack Adequate Security
There doesn’t appear to be any uniform approach to security measures across the self-storage industry. Some facilities are well-lit, some aren’t; some have attendants on-site, some don’t; some units have solid walls and metal doors, others are made of wire and plywood. For an industry that’s basking in the riches of a society on the move, why is there no self-governance, no rating system, and no standardized security?
5. If You Can Store It for Years, You Can Live Without It
Professional organizers and decluttering experts sing the same refrain — if you haven’t used it in six months or a year, you can live without it. The same logic applies to the objects we’re warehousing in our storage units. If you can box it up and lock it up for years, do you really need it? If it’s not used regularly, what’s its real value?
6. Unpaid Storage Bills Equal Secured Debt
Many folks don’t think about the contents of their unit as security against delinquent storage payments. But it only takes few episodes of “Storage Wars” to be set straight on that point. Unpaid storage fees are made up, in part, by auctioning off the contents of each unit. In many cases, the contents can be sold and renters are still liable for the remaining balance. If you’re storing family photos, heirlooms, or other memorabilia, is it worth the risk to potentially have your items held captive or sold to the highest bidder?
7. Storage Services Are a Questionable Value
Considering the cost, the tendency for objects to depreciate in value while in storage, the inertia that off-site storage can lead to, and the lack of uniform security of facilities, I have a hard time seeing the value in long-term storage services. It begs the question — wouldn’t our money be better spent processing and organizing the items we have and purging what’s left over?
I realize that self-storage can be like a huge convenience when life throws you a curve ball. But as an ongoing strategy for managing the “stuff” in our lives, it’s a losing proposition. Maybe it’s time to grab a few friends, throw the doors open, load up the trunk, and have a yard sale.