Have we reached Peak Storage?

Storage units
CC BY 2.0 Mike Mozart on Flickr

There are signs that the industry is cooling down, but we still all have so much stuff.

Self-storage is relatively new to Britain, but since it was introduced in 1977 it has grown dramatically. Daniel Cohen writes about it in the Financial Times: “We deal with the three most stressful things: moving, death and divorce,” says Susie Fabre, who runs A&A Storage, an independent firm in north London. Cohen describes how people have less space than they used to:

Houses used to have spaces of their own — basements, lofts — where one could store things. But as demand for property has increased, many of these have been converted to create more rooms.

But it not just about having space, it is about having stuff, which seems to fill the space, no matter how much you have.

For Frederic de Ryckman de Betz, who owns Attic Storage in London, self-storage reveals something about human nature. “We have this human condition called hoarding that we can’t seem to get away from,” he says. “If you have a studio flat, you will run out of space. And if you have a four-bedroom house, you will come to a point where you run out of space.”

I noted earlier this year that I had finally emptied and got rid of my storage locker in Toronto with the help of the Furniture Bank. I wrote at the time that the industry is huge, but the explosive growth of the industry may well be coming to an end. As one operator notes in the Times, “If we look at a site, it could well be one that a discount food retailer is looking at, car showrooms, budget hotels, student housing.”

The industry is having similar issues in the USA, where it was invented; it is finally slowing down. I would have thought that it would be booming, thanks to the older baby boomers downsizing and the younger ones storing their parents’ stuff, but no, the millennials are screwing things up again. According to Peter Grant in the Wall Street Journal,

Demographic trends, meanwhile, raise concerns about the strength of future demand. Aging baby boomers can be expected to absorb a lot of new supply as they leave large houses for smaller apartments. But household formation has generally been slow in the U.S. economy. Also, urban-living millennials have tended to accumulate less stuff than their parents up until now. “When you live in urban settings, you live small.”

Patrick Sissons writes in Curbed that storage facilities are also meeting opposition from cities. Storage buildings are great when there is a lot of empty buildings and land sitting around, but in hot economies, there might be better uses like commercial or industrial that create jobs instead of just storing boxes.

In New York City, which has roughly 50 million square feet of self-storage spread over 920 locations, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a bill late last year that restricted new facilities in the city’s Industrial Business Zones, where much of New York’s remaining manufacturing takes place. Both Miami and San Francisco have also passed restrictions that limit where self-storage units can be built.

So have we reached Peak Storage?

The late George Carlin once defined a house as “just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.” And once the house is full, we fill the storage locker with stuff. We loved Marie Kondo’s question about stuff: “Does it spark joy?” If the answer is no, get rid of it. And now even she is selling boxes to store stuff in.

Storage may get more expensive and less convenient, but until we reach peak stuff, I find it hard to believe that we will hit peak storage.

And here's George Carlin on Stuff:

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