Tuesday, July 19, 2005

American Junk 'N Stuff

From the popular-culture-meets-material-culture files, Tom Vanderbilt writes about the burgeoning trade in self-storage units in the U.S. in today's edition of Slate.

What this translates into, apart from one hell of a lot of stationary bikes kept behind padlocked metal doors, is an industry that now exceeds the revenues of Hollywood (and doesn't have to deal with Tom Cruise). One in 11 American households, according to a recent survey, owns self-storage space—an increase of some 75 percent from 1995. Most operators of self-storage facilities report 90 percent occupancy, with average stints among its renters of 15 months. Last year alone saw a 24 percent spike in the number of self-storage units on the market.

How did self storage, or "mini storage," as it's sometimes called, become such an enormous enterprise? And what on earth are people keeping in there?

In a word? Junk! I've dealt with the accumulation of multiple lifetimes when my father remarried several years ago. Dad and my stepmom had sizeable collections of furniture, art, and things that annoyingly clutter any stable shelf in a household. Merging two households into one would seem to most folk a problem requiring cleaning, selling, and organizing what's left. They opted for the new American course of "putting in storage," including two storage units and a garage that can no longer accomodate a car. And every time I'm summoned to help the elders resort and relabel (which they do often, but never get rid of it), I feel a bit like a reluctant archaeologist (not my field of expertise, nor my liking).

Enough of my rants. It's been a bad week.

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