“You can’t take it with you but you can certainly find a place to stash it away.” – Tom Vanderbilt

I’m captivated by the self-storage industry. More notably, my business sense is boggled trying to understand the demand for it and why people waste money to store their stuff. Sure, there are good reasons… most are temporary like moving and you’re caught in between homes. With one in ten households renting a storage unit, the reasons for most have nothing to do with being in transition but rather choosing to store items we no longer need or want.

I’ve written about this before when I linked to this excellent article in Slate. But this weekend, The New York Times Magazine visited the self-storage self with fresh eyes noting that the “non-economic use” has been purged by the recession:

But the collapsing economy created an opportunity, and in some cases an ultimatum, for Americans to reassess the raft of obligations and the loads of stuff we accumulated before things went wrong. We’ve been making difficult decisions, and for a lot of us, that has involved rolling up the door of a storage unit and carting property in or out. The storage industry’s expansion in the first flush years of this decade was both enabled by, and helped enable, the extreme consumption that defined America then. The people coming through the gates now are defining who we will be when this turmoil is over.

The article winds down with this:

Maybe the recession really is making American consumers serious about scaling back, about decluttering and de-leveraging. But there are upward of 51,000 storage facilities across this country — more than seven times the number of Starbucks. Storage is part of our national infrastructure now. And all it is, is empty space: something Americans have always colonized and capitalized on in good times, and retreated into to regroup when things soured. It’s tough to imagine a product more malleable to whatever turns our individual life stories take, wherever we’re collectively heading.

The trade magazine, Inside Self Storage captured the essence with this summary:

What makes it good, though—and I do think it’s good—are the stories it shares about our tenants. “The truth is, there is no typical storage customer,” Mooallem writes after poking into the lives (and units) of a few renters, peering at the emotional/mental mechanisms that drive their storage choices. Why they had stored, how they felt about it, the delicate pros/cons balancing act many are doing in their minds to justify spending on storage… or finally giving up the ghost and moving out. In short, it’s the tale of how America fell in love with self-storage and how, now, with the economy sagging perilously like a wet cardboard box, people are asking themselves if storage is “The One” or a co-dependency gone sour.

So what are your stories of self-storage? When is it okay to pay for a place to store your stuff?

Photo credit: Flickr.