Consumers Reevaluating Their Decision To Pay To Store A Bunch of Junk

The NYT has a 6-page story about the self-storage phenomenon, the effect of which was to make us grateful for the internet because were we to have to physically store these NYT Magazine features we’d be destitute. In any case, its an interesting article. If you’ve ever wondered what people were doing with all the crap they were buying in the last decade — well, a lot of it ended up in storage.

From the NYT:

Across America, from 2000 to 2005, upward of 3,000 self-storage facilities went up every year. Somehow, Americans managed to fill that brand-new empty space. In June, Public Storage, the industry’s largest chain, reported that its 2,100 facilities in 38 states were, on average, still about 91 percent full. It raises a simple question: where was all that stuff before?

“A lot of it just comes down to the great American propensity toward accumulating stuff,” Litton explained. Between 1970 and 2008, real disposable personal income per capita doubled, and by 2008 we were spending nearly all of it – all but 2.7 percent – each year. Meanwhile, the price of much of what we were buying plunged. Even by the early ’90s, American families had, on average, twice as many possessions as they did 25 years earlier. By 2005, according to the Boston College sociologist Juliet B. Schor, the average consumer purchased one new piece of clothing every five and a half days.

That seems like an awful lot of clothing. Then again, I’m not the “average consumer.” The average consumer is apparently drowning in a sea of their own purchases:

A 2006 U.C.L.A. study found middle-class families in Los Angeles “battling a nearly universal overaccumulation of goods.” Garages were clogged. Toys and outdoor furniture collected in the corners of backyards. “The home-goods storage crisis has reached almost epic proportions,” the authors of the study wrote. A new kind of customer was being propelled, hands full, into self-storage.

You’ve probably assumed that the self-storage business would be booming with all the foreclosures — but the uptick in rentals of large storage units is being obliterated by the retreat of people who were paying to store a bunch of old crap they didn’t really need. So it goes.

If you don’t have the time for the whole article, skip to the end and read about the Vietnam Vet who put his stuff in storage and is camping out while he pays down his debt.

“It’s feeling good,” he said, “and it’s working. That’s the thing: it’s working. Debts are down to almost zippo right now.” We’re rooting for him.

The Self-Storage Self [NYT]

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.