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Provocations #11 – On the Wisdom of Self Storage

Lately I have been thinking about “stuff.”   That is to say, how much stuff we have, which really boils down to how much we consume and waste. This is putting it kindly because most of it is, to be honest, worthless and needless crap.  And it comes with massive environmental and societal costs in the form of extraction, production, distribution, and disposal (everything in our culture is ultimately dumped into the environment), with cascading impacts on resources, ecological diversity, pollution, and so on.  There’s lots of debate about these issues, which in social discourse always ends up being about jobs versus the environment; ignoring the hidden truth that the corporate elite walk away with the vast majority of the benefits and the rest of us, and the environment, pay all of the costs: the profits are privatized and the risks are socialized.

Rather than heading down this well trodden theme, I’d like to ask you: have you thought about the personal costs of your love affair with stuff? 

The personal costs of stuff are substantial and begin with having to pay for it, and for many this also means going into debt.  Why are you enslaved “to the man?”  Because of stuff!  But there is also an emotional toll that stuff takes on us.  Think about this for a moment… we actually have to manage the stuff.  Daily.  By the hour, by the minute even. That miracle fitness gadget sitting in the corner of the basement?  Well, we now need that space for the latest, must-have widget. So we move the miracle to the garage.  And when the garage fills, then we turn to the ultimate modern contrivance, self storage.  It’s a kind of deferred disposal; a bizarre form of landfill (landfills are themselves a bizarre concept if you think about it).

How do I know this?  Well, it’s common sense really. But one only needs to stroll through any suburban neighborhood with one’s eyes open.  The first tell tale sign is that the cars not in the garage.   Confirmation comes when you finally pass an open garage and you see that there is so much junk in there that there’s barely room for a human to walk about, let alone to park a car in it.  Frankly I’d be too embarrassed to open my garage door if that were me.  But I digress.

Another telltale sign?  Again, just move through the world with your eyes open and look.  You will notice that we are gobbling up open land to build evermore Self Storage Units.  I’ve been noticing over the past few years that more and more are going up, and less and less of the local open space remains.  Putting this working hypothesis to the test, I did a little digging.  The evidence (data found here) is presented in the figure above, which shows self storage construction in billions of US dollars by year through October 2018, adjusted for inflation to 2018 dollars by the consumer price index.  This figure confirms my suspicion that there is pronounced increase in the rate of growth of construction of self storage facilities, beginning about four or five years ago.

I’ll let “The Minimalists” help you with your stuff problem.  Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus are great: they’re wise, witty, helpful, and most importantly, non-judgmental.  But for me the take home is that this is yet another example of the lack of wisdom of humanity (Provocations #2 – Whither Wisdom?).  We do not think through the consequences of our daily decisions and actions.  To wit, we’re willing to spend $100 a month, or more, to store the stuff we will never use again.  Seriously, who’s going to drive to some remote storage facility to dig out the miracle fitness thingy that they never used in the first place, and haul it home to use it?

So I admit that the title of this blog entry was a bit misleading; a bit of the old bait and switch.  I should really have called this ‘On the Lack of Wisdom of Self Storage.”

Copyright ©️ 2018 T. Schneider, All Rights Reserved

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