Moving, Storage, and Macroeconomics


I hate it. EVERYONE hates it. The US Census says that “At age 18, a person can expect to move another 9.1 times in their remaining lifetime, but by age 45, the expected number of moves is only 2.7.”

I just turned 45, so I guess I’m almost done. That’s good. We’re now in the process of downsizing to a house 50% smaller than the one we’re currently in. Maybe that’s how they calculate the fractional moves I have left – downsizing doesn’t count for a full move?

That’s bringing a lot of anxiety into the mix. We’re not quite reconciled to actually getting rid of much, I have too many scars from throwing crap away because I’m SURE I’ll never need it, only to buy the same thing a month later. My wife bemoans how few cabinets are in the new house.  So the next best thing? STORAGE!

Which got me thinking. Upon research & review, I’ve decided that the self-storage industry represents everything wrong with America. Or at least middle-class suburban Northwest-coast America. We buy more than we can afford, more than we need, and we refuse to get rid of it. Forget about being agile, we’re now saddled down with needless crap we (empirically) don’t want or use anymore, spending our disposable dollars to ensure we can get to it whenever we want. Which, apparently, isn’t often. Sometimes it’s infrequent enough that we actually forget what we’re storing.

And some of it ISN’T crap. Some of it’s actually very valuable. SO valuable, in fact, that now we have a meta-industry (complete with a reality TV series) centered around people paying yet MORE money to get access to someone’s abandoned storage unit hoping to find a forgotten treasure. The economics astound me.

“The self storage industry in the United States generated more than $24 billion in annual U.S. revenues (2013 – estimate). The industry has been the fastest growing segment of the commercial real estate industry over the last 40 years and has been considered by Wall Street analysts to be “recession resistant” based on its performance since the economic recession of September, 2008.” – Self-Storage Association.

That statement really says something about our values. $24bn per year: and that’s just the revenue directly associated with the unit rental fees, and doesn’t take into account the secondary markets. The fastest growing segment of that sector for the last 40 years? Are you kidding me?

But taking the cake: “recession resistant”. Wow. Forget savings, and we may now need to refocus Junior on community college, but that $100/month storage unit to keep our sofa from 1984 and long-since rotted through box of Junior’s kindergarten clothes? Put that bill on auto-pay lest we forget!

So think about the economics. Dare we look at the full opportunity cost?

–       Redirecting the dollars spend on needless crap in the first place (assume what? 30% of what we are storing never should have left the store in our shopping cart?)

–       Discretionary dollars spent storing the stuff. $24bn/year.

–       Potential re-direction in investment vs into this ‘industry’

And if you really want to go downstream:

–       Wasted dollars building, heating, and cooling houses that we lived in once that were large enough to store this stuff when we bought it

–       Effort, time, and mental energy opportunity cost) deciding what to keep, what to store, the boxes to put it in, the trucks to load & unload, and the salary of the dude who has to press the buzzer to let us in & out.

–       Alternative use of the space and the potential increased economic output (2013 estimate was 8.67 sq./ft. of storage PER PERSON in the US! – Cushman & Wakefield)

Let’s hold a nationwide garage sale. Let’s pick a day, and everyone open ALL of the storage units from 8-12 on a Saturday, and balance everything out (the rules: you can’t move anything INTO your storage unit at the end of the day as a result of a purchase!) Whatever is left over: you get to keep 10% of it. Let’s face it, if it was a serious memento you would already have a shrine of Aunt Alice somewhere in your house and it would be there. The remaining 90%: separate it into recyclables, compostable (yup, terrifying as it is I bet there will be some!) and burnable. Get rid of it, and put the money you save every month into QQQ. Thank me later.

So that’s it. Storage units. The scourge of our economy.

Mine will be CHOCK FULL by the end of the weekend.

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