The Self Storage Society
September 9, 2009 9:21 AM   Subscribe

“There’s a lot of junk stored in our properties,” Ronald L. Havner Jr., Public Storage’s chief executive, told a symposium in New York in June. Walking through his company’s facilities around the country, he explained, “I’ve sometimes said that we could put a torch to this building and it would have zero effect on the local economy — because that’s how much junk is stored in our properties.”

His candor is refreshing, if not totally shocking.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:32 AM on September 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

There is an estimated 2.194 billion square feet of rentable self-storage space in the United States, an area roughly 858 times the size of the U.S. National Archives, as displayed in this infographic (re-posted).

"Green" self-storage possibilities (print view), except the effort involved in making these basic structures suitable for anything else is significant (vs repurposing a restaurant into an office or vis-versa), so they're likely to remain as self storage structures for a good long while. And as long as people have more things than they have space for, there's no reason to change these metal shells into other uses.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:35 AM on September 9, 2009

I have a large storage unit whose maintenance I rationalize by pretending I am paying a small amount of extra rent to have a large but very inconvenient room added to my living space — so far, that rationalization has worked out for me.

Just moving much of my stuff into it gave me more space to move around at home. I found all kinds of fabulous things to throw away in the process, and I also rediscovered all kinds of things which I had been unable to locate. It is also good exercise for me to walk a couple of miles to get to the location, carrying something in a backpack, then spend a while sorting and pitching while I'm already sweaty, anyway. It's also a good location for off-site backups.

I have often wondered if the new business model for these goes like apartment:storage unit :: condominium:storage condominium — the rental cost would be significantly lower, but just like a condo, you would have to pay maintenance fees. If you look at the agreement for a storage unit, they disclaim responsibility for everything, so the legal model is not as different as it could be. People are holding onto these things for many, many years as it is, why not a storage condo?
posted by adipocere at 9:43 AM on September 9, 2009

I started pulling interesting/shocking quotes, and had to stop because there were too many. But this one, my brain can't stop boggling at:

“My parents were Depression babies,” Litton told me, “and what they taught me was, it’s the accumulation of things that defines you as an American, and to throw anything away was being wasteful.”

My grandparents were Depression babies, and the lesson they seemed to learn (and passed on to my parents) was that you wring EVERY LAST BIT of life out of whatever you own before you're done with it, then you hang on to it just in case, and you don't buy anything you don't need (especially if you can cobble something together out of what you've already got). I've absorbed that attitude enough that I can understand the second half of Litton's lesson, but I absolutely cannot wrap my head around the idea that the accumulation of things defines someone as American. I can sort of conceptualize the attitude, but it just seems so incredibly strange.
posted by EvaDestruction at 9:50 AM on September 9, 2009 [11 favorites]

Interesting idea, adipecere. I imagine one of the biggest hurdles would be getting people to think of the storage space as a long-term thing.
posted by exogenous at 9:51 AM on September 9, 2009

Addendum: the infographic states 2.194 billion square feet, while the article states 2.3 billion square feet, and:
The Self Storage Association notes that, with more than seven square feet for every man, woman and child, it’s now “physically possible that every American could stand — all at the same time — under the total canopy of self-storage roofing.”
Forget hands across America, it's time for Huddling in our Tin Shells. Other fun facts from the article:
Between 1970 and 2008, real disposable personal income per capita doubled, and by 2008 we were spending nearly all of it — all but 2.7 percent — each year. Meanwhile, the price of much of what we were buying plunged. Even by the early ’90s, American families had, on average, twice as many possessions as they did 25 years earlier. By 2005, according to the Boston College sociologist Juliet B. Schor, the average consumer purchased one new piece of clothing every five and a half days.
On top of all of that, houses were getting bigger, yet not in scale to the amount of stuff accumulated. Somewhere, out there, is a person doing a lot of buying on my behalf. I'm not sure if I should thank them or shake my head in disbelief. However, I am fully in support of overwhelming collections of music.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:52 AM on September 9, 2009

“There’s a lot of junk stored in our properties,”
His candor is refreshing, if not totally shocking.

It's easy to be forthcoming when it's not your collection of beer cans and hula-girl lamps.

I need one of these places, or a big Salvation Army truck, or the patience to have some kind of giant rummage sale. I have way too much crap, and sometimes it feels like an anchor.
posted by rokusan at 10:04 AM on September 9, 2009

I've heard that land-owners refer to businesses like self-storage facilities as "ground cover;" just something to make the land pay a little something while waiting for its value to appreciate.

I wonder if self-storage played an under-appreciated role in encouraging the cycle of unending materialist suburban sprawl that has led us to banking meltdown. Construct a self-storage business on the outskirts of a suburb; encourage growth of the suburb and enable an insane material-hoarding way of life that causes people to wish for bigger houses; bulldoze the self-storage facility and sell the newly valuable land, where someone will build those bigger houses; move a little further out from the new exurban center and start again. Rinse, lather, repeat.
posted by Western Infidels at 10:05 AM on September 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

That's an interesting idea, Western Infidels. My thought is that it would be counterproductive to the business model of storage units if they were being torn down on anything resembling a regular basis - it seems to me (I've never been a storage unit owner, though, so I could be wildly off-base) is that part of what the "new class" of storage renters is paying for is the illusion of a permanent solution to their junk issue, in the form of, as adipocere puts it, "a large but very inconvenient room added to my living space." It seems like it wouldn't be in the storage unit owner/operators' interest to feed/create a perception that their services wouldn't always be there.

Also, anecdotally, I feel like I've never seen a storage unit center torn down and replaced with something else, but I have most definitely seen the reverse happen. Although if it was happening on a long enough time frame, maybe the effect you've posited could go hand-in-hand with suburban expansion without undermining the image of the storage business as a long-term solution.
posted by EvaDestruction at 10:24 AM on September 9, 2009

I accumulated, then discarded for moving to the US and then discarded for moving houses a few times, but after nearly ten years in the same house, we can see it all building up. I suspect that we do our children a disservice by not teaching them to manage their stuff better, at least in the US and UK.

If I had to pay to store stuff, I'd probably discard more. I know once I started paying, I'd never have to discard anything, just pay a bit more, which is a slippery slope. Garage sales are like a snake shedding its skin to grow a bit more. Or something.
posted by mdoar at 10:32 AM on September 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Another thought - every time I see all our possessions loaded on a moving truck, I have a daydream about what my life would be like if the truck had some terrible accident and everything was destroyed. Perhaps it's an escapist thing for a very married man, because my wife just gives me a funny look when I mention it. She also thinks that a sports car needs three rows of seats for the kids too, but that's another topic.
posted by mdoar at 10:37 AM on September 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

they're likely to remain as self storage structures for a good long while

Hiro Protagonist and Vitaly Chernobyl say otherwise.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:45 AM on September 9, 2009 [11 favorites]

True storage-unit story:

A friend goes in with another friend to rent a climate-controlled storage unit to hold their extensive wine collections, accumulated over many years.

We're talking bottles to age, bottles to be opened on 10th anniversaries, hundred-dollar bottles, etc. Total value is in the five figures.

The unit is in friend #2's name - he's responsible for payment - but they both have access. Friend #1 hasn't heard from #2 in a while, and since he's about to move, he goes to get out his wine.

The unit is empty.

Turns out friend #2's credit card info had expired. And he'd moved, so his contact info had changed, and he hadn't updated the storage people.

They tried for three months to get in touch with him, per the contract. Then they auctioned it all off.

No theft = no insurance. Poof.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:54 AM on September 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Why do people accumulate this junk. Memories are in your head, not in the stuff. The most any person needs is a steamer trunk to hold irreplaceable artifacts and an attic to hide it in. You need to do this so that in 20 years your kids can find it and learn your story from the fossil record, as it were, instead of from your colored telling of it.

But God, don't just accumulate stuff in a warehouse. You'll turn your junk into a utility bill. This is how much it costs to keep the stuff you already bought but don't want anymore. You don't need these things and you don't want them. You're afraid that if you get rid of them you'll be discarding your past. Cut it loose. Set yourself free.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:55 AM on September 9, 2009 [5 favorites]

I used to be in a band that practiced in a storage unit in Albuquerque. There was a little auto repair business in the next unit.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:56 AM on September 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

That infographic boggled me. Why is there so much personal rental storage available?

Actually, I know why. Because loading all the junk you don't care about anymore onto a truck and paying $N/month to store it for eternity is "easier" than going through it and making the decision to get rid of it.

Reminds me of a quote that for some reason I can't seem to remember accurately right now: "Most people would rather die than think. And they do."
posted by DU at 10:58 AM on September 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Why do people accumulate this junk. Memories are in your head, not in the stuff.

I know that in my case it's often "too much hassle" to get rid of it. I also throw away things I should really recycle or donate somewhere.... but again, that's just laziness.

Ironically, I do hate stuff. My fantasies are of the "start a simpler life with nothing on a desert island" variety, and on those rare occasions I buckle down to "clean" a room thoroughly... half its contents end up on the curb.

Other than books, which I admit to hoarding, the rest is just... accumulation. Blech.
posted by rokusan at 11:02 AM on September 9, 2009

As DU said, it's always "easier" to do nothing. Short term thinking.

But I know if I went through the trouble of sifting through stuff and boxing it up and such, I'd probably end up sending it to the dump rather than the warehouse.
posted by rokusan at 11:04 AM on September 9, 2009

"What [my parents] taught me was, it’s the accumulation of things that defines you as an American, and to throw anything away was being wasteful."

Wow, talk about getting something half right.
posted by rokusan at 11:04 AM on September 9, 2009

The reason it's hard to get rid of stuff is because it's often expensive to replace. I have a suit in my closet that I haven't worn in 2 years, because I don't have to wear suits to work. But when I interview for another job, I'll be glad I kept it. A lot of the stuff we own is like this. We rarely use the Kitchenaid mixer, but it doesn't make sense to get rid of it because when we do have time to cook, it'd sure be nice to have it. (FYI it was a wedding gift.)
posted by desjardins at 11:15 AM on September 9, 2009

True storage unit story:

The most any person needs is a steamer trunk to hold irreplaceable artifacts and an attic to hide it in.

This is effectively what was in the storage unit of a colleague who had spent most of her professional life overseas. Some stuff that didn't need to travel but she wanted on hand when she eventually moved to the States or settled down somewhere, and photo albums, baby pictures, mementos, etc.

The monthly fee was paid by automatic transfer from her bank. Her bank was bought out by another, and there was a glitch in the handover. The record for the automatic payment got dropped. I forget why the storage people weren't able to contact her, but she didn't find out about the missed payments until after all her stuff had gone to auction.

1) I'm sure she dealt just fine with it in the end, and 2) I'm really supportive of not getting attached to stuff, but hearing that story broke my heart a little.
posted by EvaDestruction at 11:20 AM on September 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

My things are all in storage.

I miss them... even though I can't remember exactly what's there.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:26 AM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

About a year ago, I moved from a decent-sized apartment with a TON of closet space to a 450 sq ft place with a shared basement and almost no closet space. I've ended up donating/tossing more than a car load's worth of old clothes and Random Crap, with a hyper-optimized closet and a couple of bins of out-of-season clothes in the basement. I've purged out everything I haven't used in the past year, and you know what? I'm much, much happier for it. Stuff isn't important; it just weighed me down. And having unlimited space in which to dump stuff just means we'll accumulate more and more and more of it; limits force us to figure out what's actually worth having. In my case, the answer was "not much."
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:29 AM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thank you for this link backseatpilot. It's amazing what accumulates...stuff real and virtual.

Even here, it's nice to have lots of comments on a thread, or lots of favourites on something you've posted. I sometimes have to take long stretches away from Metafilter because I find myself craving MORE. And I favourite links sometimes to save them to read later. When is later? Never.

Amazing how deep the mindset goes, how infected we are by craving, acquisition and the perpetually postponed present.
posted by salishsea at 11:32 AM on September 9, 2009 [4 favorites]

I have three storage units. There is a lot of junk in them. There's also a really small amount of truly amazing, wonderful stuff that I wouldn't ever want to lose, even if I don't look at it every day. The trouble is, I don't know where the good stuff is.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 11:33 AM on September 9, 2009

We have a unit, smallish as they go, but still: I don't think I would miss anything in there if it all just disappeared. :(
posted by everichon at 11:36 AM on September 9, 2009

I blame it on the kids. The amount of stuff that comes with a baby or two is unbelievable.
posted by mdoar at 11:37 AM on September 9, 2009

Still no reference to George Carlin?
posted by Joe Beese at 11:38 AM on September 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think in the future, being willing to dispose of your stuff, rather then the idea of keeping it will be considered thrifty, while keeping your stuff will be considered wasteful. In reality, our junk kind of imprisons us, it makes us hard to be mobile.

I had a storage locker, but now I have a pretty big apartment and a garage. It still kind of amazes me how much junk I've accumulated. I'd like to get rid of a lot of it, but the sheer amount of time it would take to go through it seems daunting.
posted by delmoi at 11:39 AM on September 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

I don't know about anyone else here, but I kept a fairly large storage locker for years after returning from travels because:
i) it allowed me to live in a small downtown apartment uncramped by stuff I still want to keep, but more importantly
ii) it permitted me to hold on to what I called "the three day plan", which is how long I figured it would take me to pack all my stuff into it again and get the hell out if I needed to to maintain my sanity (and in being able to, I think, I did, without actually hitting the road).

Other people make a big deal out of selling their bed having lived with their partner for awhile. No, no. A storage locker is freedom. I got awfully depressed when I gave up mine.

OTOH, while I was away I'd forgotten what all was in there, and you know, couldn't have cared less if the building had caught fire and it was all gone. And it was amazing, opening that door, how quickly I started forming attachments to the stuff again. I identified with the guy finding forgotten remnants of his old apartment.

These economic victims though I hadn't thought of, though. That's quite sad.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:46 AM on September 9, 2009

On not-preview:

Her bank was bought out by another, and there was a glitch in the handover. The record for the automatic payment got dropped.

Oh hell, something similar happened to Mrs. Bronzefist and I and it was not pretty. We're thousands of miles from home dealing with our own problems, and I get some message that the storage company that has our stuff doesn't exist anymore. All turned out ok in the end but that was a bit of stress we didn't need.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:48 AM on September 9, 2009

We have too much nicely stored stuff and too many homeless people.
posted by twoleftfeet at 11:58 AM on September 9, 2009 [11 favorites]

I've never had a storage locker, but we did keep a roomful of stuff in my wife's parent's basement after a move from a 3-bedroom house to a 1-bedroom apartment. To be fair, most of the stuff we stored was furniture and diningware that we inherited and never would've picked for ourselves.

Now we've moved back into a house and have cleaned out that space. I have a square of storage in the basement, which is in large part 700 CDs I should really do something with, networking equipment that grows less useful every year (10M hubs anyone?), and bulky out of season clothes and sports equipment.

Moving every three or four years for our adult lives has sure helped in the purging. The one near-indulgence we have is a decent chunk of books, but that really only equates to two large book-cases. In fact, I wanted to join one of those paperback swapping websites but was disappointed to learn I'd have to come up with TEN to make available. I think I have a stack of four at this point that I've read and am not planning on keeping.

A friend of mine from high school works for a company that runs storage facilities. They seem like a decent employer, and my friend lives on-site. In fact, they got paid relocation from a facility in Indiana to one in southern California, which seems like a win to me.

My wife's sister has a facility while they live in Japan. Employer pays for that, though.

Growing up, my only exposure to these places was "that's where you rent a place to have band practice".
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 12:01 PM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Why do people accumulate this junk. Memories are in your head, not in the stuff.

This isn't precisely true. Well, it's true the memories are in your head, but it's absolutely true that you need keys to retrieve them by, and sometimes nothing does it like a personal artifact.

That still doesn't mean it's a good idea to keep everything, even i stuff can be a powerful connection to your past, enough of it is such a tax on the present that it's often not worth it. Just sayin' that connection shouldn't be underestimated.
posted by weston at 12:10 PM on September 9, 2009

I have a 12 x 30 that is stuffed full--but all of that is shop equipment, tools, and a project car. Did I mention we foolishly rented a house without a workshop, "just for a little while?"
posted by maxwelton at 12:12 PM on September 9, 2009

Actually, come to think of it, I built a free-standing 8 x 12 loft that allows me to double stack up to the 12' ceiling, so I guess I really have a 12 x 40.

I miss my shop.
posted by maxwelton at 12:14 PM on September 9, 2009

I'm really glad after reading all this that the storage unit of choice for my husband and me is my mother's garage. If anything happens to her, I'll know about it, and I can be guaranteed she won't auction off my stuff without telling me.
posted by immlass at 12:17 PM on September 9, 2009

Tips on paring things down:
* If you haven't used it in a year, you can live without it (except for those snow or beach items that you didn't use last year are idle due to a change of winter/summer plans).

* If you want to pare down your items but are overwhelmed by the sheer scope of your stuff, give yourself some time each day to get rid of stuff. Start with the things you think you can give away/ recycle/ toss out, so you have space to shift things around (sorting things often spreads the clutter while you sort things).

Anecdotes from self storage:
When my great aunt passed, she left most of her possessions to a young relative, to be available when the young relative turned 18 (my great aunt was a bit eccentric). Unfortunately, that was some 10+ years in the future, which meant that a lot of family heirlooms would be sitting in storage for over a decade. In that time, there was either a flood that broke through whatever water barriers were set up, or a malfunctioning fire sprinkler, and a lot of the items were deemed "water damaged" and disappeared. Family went by and found some items in the dumpsters, but some large items were unaccounted for. Part of me is sad for the lost family history, but another part wants to shake it off, and consider it all stuff and clutter, and move on.

I've heard of businesses using self storage as an inexpensive way to expand their filing room and long-term projects or archiving space, to the point of having a desk in the unit, so someone could work from the storage unit if need be. Roll up the door, and you have natural light and fresh air.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:19 PM on September 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

I have a fantasy where everything I own could be carried at a run.

Then I get down to cleaning stuff out, and it's a different story. I'll sell/donate/trash all these chipped coffee mugs. Except that one. It fits my hand just right. I'll toss all these old tshirts I never wear. Except that one. I was wearing that one at that Bad Brains show and I wanna remember that. I'll donate this box of paperbacks to a local school. Except these, because I might want to reread or refer to them someday. And don't even ask me to get rid of the comic books. That's just not gonna happen. I'll drag longboxes around with me to the grave.

By the time I'm done with this triage, I have almost as big a pile of stuff as I started with. I just cleaned out my mother's basement. It was horrifying. And all she hoarded was books and magazines. And egg cartons. And plastic containers. But it's a big damn basement and she'd stacked it high. I dread devoloping that same habit, and I make myself throw shit away. But not enough. It still accumulates. It's like building your own cage.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:27 PM on September 9, 2009 [6 favorites]

Why do people accumulate this junk. Memories are in your head, not in the stuff.

Well, memories are associative, and the human brain doesn't do that great of a job of recalling arbitrary things out of the jumbled mess of experiences that people accumulate over the years. So having physical artifacts from the past really does help people remember events that they associate with those artifacts. If you've ever had a place you spent a significant amount of time and gone back to it years later, went through an old box of junk in your attic, or watched old home movies or looked at old photographs, then you've probably dredged up a lot of old memories that you otherwise never would have remembered.

I think, if the goal is to remember as much as possible, keeping a bunch of random stuff from your past is actually a useful strategy. And on the flip side, a good way to forget about something is to get rid of everything that reminds you of it. But the problem that a lot of people have in my opinion is that they care too much about the past. Sometimes it makes sense to just accept that the past stays in the past, and over time everything fades whether you try to stop it or not. This can be especially hard for people who have lost a loved one, because if someone that you care about has died, there is a tendency to hold onto every memory you have of when they were alive. In those situations getting rid of what would look like a bunch of old junk to most people is really about letting go of someone who has passed away and moving on in life.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:31 PM on September 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Tips on paring things down:
* Get somebody else to help you. It's amazing how much trying to articulate to someone else why you need to keep [object] will help clarify for you whether or not you actually do need to keep it.
posted by EvaDestruction at 12:32 PM on September 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

in Key Largo, there is a storage place that opens up on the weekend as a flea market. I think some of the vendors there have been going for over 30 years! people sell their old junk, and some do crafts - there's one unit that's a used bookstore. it rocks.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:49 PM on September 9, 2009 [7 favorites]

My folks have owned and operated a self storge since since I was 10ish (I'm 27 now). I would go with dad to help clean out unpaid units and set up for the sales. I always hoped to find some awesome record or a sweet neon sign but alas in all the years the only thing I ever found that I kept was the first Hustler I ever saw when I was probably 13. I guess the mini storage can take the credit for any kinks I have developed since then. At least until we got DSL that magazine addled my prepubescent mind.
posted by Uncle at 12:49 PM on September 9, 2009

One good way to decide about mementos is: what the heck will my kids/inheritors do with this when I go? Will they care that this tattered Duran Duran poster symbolized my adolescent yearnings? Or will it just be an ugly wrinkled piece of paper with tack-holes and tape remnants on the corners?

Another, that I am starting to implement is using a scanner. Scan in your kid's artwork, then throw away what it's not important to keep in paper form. Scan photos, obviously, and store your originals in acid free sleeves in boxes, not in bulky sticky-page albums. Etc. A long term ongoing project, but if you stick with it, a much better way of preserving memories.

And one thing that helps me is not just giving away to Goodwill but buying from there; most of the artwork in my house (though admittedly I have a thing for framed needlepoint) is Goodwill. And you're not adding anything new to the crap-stream, but repurposing stuff that's already nearly valueless.

And I will stick up here for some of the random waste we all have; what you can't sell or give away, like broken appliances and random bits of metal and plastic junk, is often impossible to recycle. No one needs it, it's not marked recyclable, and you either have to store it or put it in a landfill.
posted by emjaybee at 1:00 PM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

When my mom had to go into a managed care facility last year, it was up to my sisters and me to deal with the contents of her creaky ten room victorian house and barn. Both house and barn were full of stuff and more stuff. We distributed about 10% to the family, photographs and some heirloom furniture mostly, and then hired a service to sell and/or toss the rest. Just remember, if it's not you getting rid of your crap, then it's going to be your loved ones doing it. She carefully saved all that crap and then never looked at it for decades and we just threw it out. Nobody needs a calendar from 1973 or a birthday card from 1980 or the manual for an appliance that broke twenty years ago.

Mrs O and I happen to own a very large garage, over 2000 square feet and fifteen to eighteen feet high, and it's a constant temptation to store everything in there. Up until now the roof has been leaking which curtailed our ability to put much in there but we're getting it replaced this month and then it's going to be so easy to not keep it organized and let it turn into a giant sinkhole for useless stuff. I'm hoping that won't happen but it will take vigilance.
posted by octothorpe at 1:04 PM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I moved from renting a small rowhouse (more of a carriage house, really) where I was living alone to renting a room in an apartment that I share with 2 other people. I plan in the near future to buy a place, but in the meantime, a lot of my stuff, which includes books and some furniture, is in a 7x10 storage locker. I feel awful about it, really, because over time, that money I spend on the locker could be used to replace the things I own in there. At the same time, it would be too much trouble to get rid of it and buy replacements for all of it later.

Ask me again in a year whether this was a good idea or not.
posted by deanc at 1:26 PM on September 9, 2009

Watch that A&E show Hoarders. It made me want to throw out everything I own and start a nomadic existence.
posted by Marnie at 1:40 PM on September 9, 2009

Screw you guys, I retrieved an honest-to-god "Hang in there!" kitten bookmark from my Dad's storage unit and that makes the whole thing worth it.
posted by stet at 2:27 PM on September 9, 2009

I like throwing stuff away. You pick up some thing, and remember the time you got it, and that thing you did with it, and maybe some people it reminds you of that you haven't thought about in a while. You sigh a little, and go a little misty eyed. And then you chuck it in the bag and pick up the next thing, and do it again.

And at the end of it, you've re-enjoyed a lot of memories that you'd lost along the way, and you've made tons of room for new stuff that one day you'll go through and chuck just like this stuff, and remember all the things that you haven't even done yet.

But don't keep that crap. Reminescence is a one-time thing. If you do it again, all you're doing is remembering the first time you remembered it. And the memory gets thinner and more rote every time, until it's gone anyway, and all you have a heap of old junk that means nothing.
posted by rusty at 2:29 PM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

(I love keeping stuff too, but I try to give everything I hoard a reasonable chance to be useful, and if it's been long enough, out it goes. The things I will never get rid of tend to be letters and pictures, and thirty years has seen the accumulation of two shoeboxes worth, which is more than manageable.)
posted by rusty at 2:32 PM on September 9, 2009

Another decluttering tip: Ask yourself if a picture of the item would be just as good as having the item itself. It helps me not buy toys I recognize from my childhood when I see them at the thrift store.

These Premises Are Alarmed: you don't have to post ten right away on You just don't get your free credit until you have listed ten.
posted by soelo at 2:40 PM on September 9, 2009 [4 favorites]

I do that with nostalgia-laden clothing items. I mean, that sweater doesn't fit anymore, anyway.

OTOH -- *glances over shoulder at marvellous Girder & Panel construction furnishing the den*
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 2:56 PM on September 9, 2009

If you can't catch it on TV, watch "Hoarders" on the A&E website. It'll give you a whole new perspective on the clutter/self-storage issue.
posted by ErikaB at 4:52 PM on September 9, 2009

Yeah, I had a storage unit for a while back in Evanston. Eventually my dad nudged me to stop using it -- it was only supposed to be temporary to begin with -- but I only ended up with a bunch of stuff I hadn't used in a year and would never find the space for in my 1BR to fill up my closets and in back of other furniture I did use. Eventually, when I had to move out, I was really astonished to realize that I had over 150 boxes of stuff. Since then, living in part of an apartment near my parents, I've only utilized about 10% of what I owned. A few things are important to keep -- my expensive and comfortable bed -- but almost all of the rest of it I could easily chuck using the "haven't touched in five years" rule.

By the way, people are citing special memories and rarely-used items. Sure, you can keep that stuff. The important thing is not to let everything become a special memory or an I'll-use-it-someday item.

I have another story. My nephew's girlfriend's family had a bunch of stuff in a storage unit, but they couldn't keep up the rent at one point when her dad was laid off, and it was all auctioned off -- including her childhood toys, baby clothes, and family photos. As a new mom she wishes she had all three. The stories above are about screw-ups in communication for people who could probably pay for their storage, but this was a case where they just couldn't. I think that's probably more common.

Last story. My uncle is now in assisted living. When his wife died and he sold their condo, everything went into storage, including a sculpture that came from an artist friend of my dad's that he was keeping because my mom never liked it. We'd kind of like it back, now, but with limited communication between us and my cousins (they resented us for not taking him in), we're not even sure they still have the place. They said they went and looked at it, but we think they lied. There's also a lot of heirloom artwork and furniture that my grandparents collected on their world travels and it would be a shame if it's all gone because my cousins were jerks. We had space for it.

Anyway, present day. My dad has dementia, which figures into why he was bragging to people that my parents had enough furniture for three houses. Well, two of those houses are apartments he should have been renting. He's in a facility, so I had hopes that my mother would be ready to start de-cluttering, but she is still in this very frustrating bargaining phase: If I only had those shelves in the kitchen I could store all the plates and utensils and cooking paraphernalia that I never use. I think I need to sit her down with some Hoarders.
posted by dhartung at 6:35 PM on September 9, 2009

My parents ran a Public Storage for several years when I was a kid, and we lived in the attached apartment. That was a fun time. My brother and I used to tear around the property in a golf cart, doing lock checks on all the units, or running around the halls of the buildings with interior units, playing hide and seek with our dog.

Sometimes, our mom would make us clean out units that the tenants had abandoned; we found some interesting stuff. Once I found an entire box of nudist magazines from, like 1972. I still have an office chair that we found in a unit. Once, someone had stored a bunch of their clients financial records in a unit, and just abandoned them there. Social Security numbers, bank account and routing numbers, everything. One unit was full of sacks of potatoes. Of course, in the dark, they had sprouted everywhere; we had to use garden shears to cut our way through.

Also: the managers of the storage facility up the street from us (there were three within walking distance of each other, for some reason) found a body in one of the units. Apparently, these two guys were involved in some credit fraud scheme, one of them got scared and tried to back out, so the other guy beat him to death with a baseball bat. Then he chopped him up, put him in a couple of garbage bags, put those in the storage unit in some coolers, then joined the Army and went overseas. When the tenant stopped paying the bill, the manager opened the unit, fought his way through the smell, reached into a cooler and stuck his thumb into an eye socket. The tenant went to prison, obviously.
posted by maqsarian at 8:38 PM on September 9, 2009

I'm exactly like in George Carlin's bit, with stuff spread out all over the world:
  • 10 boxes of stuff in Vancouver BC - from when I was 20something. I can't throw out my AH games, all my books, assorted cool shit, and it is free to keep it in my dad's garage.
  • 10 boxes of stuff in Kyrgyzstan, with wife number two. Why did I order all of those expensive books from Amazon? Why did I take this moment of my life to decide I was a slot car collector?
  • 10 boxes of stuff in my buddy's place in Poland.
  • The upside is, back in this nomadic lifestyle, my everyday life / current stuff is what I can fit in my laptop bag and one carryon. What the hell will I do with those two bags sitting in the basement of my last hotel in Amsterdam, awaiting my return? Too much stuff, unless I buy a burro.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:17 PM on September 9, 2009

I rented a storage place for a bit over a year - I had to move out of a flatshare with a week to go until moving into my next room (I rent a room, not a flat) and needed a 40sq ft place. I now have no storage, but still too much stuff for a room that just about fits a bed, a wardrobe and drawers. And it's hard to use this as justification to get rid of things on the grounds that, well, I won't *always* be living in a tiny room...
posted by mippy at 8:49 AM on September 10, 2009

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