I ducked nimbly below a slow-flying pinky of steel as the remains of the Master Lock fell to the ground. Sliding up the door, my most recent prize from the monthly auctions was revealed. Sight-unseen, I and my gambling compatriots bid on these rooms, stuffed with a stranger's forgotten treasure. The lease on the spaces are all at least three months past due, and so those who see their pocketbooks emptying beforehand run off with the valuable long before we get to them.
In front of me was a 60" flat screen television. Easily worth a full year's rental of the space it's inside.
Storage units are a common fixture in the U.S. There were over 13,405 separate establishments offering self-storage and mini-warehouses in the United States in 2006, and this number appears to be regularly increasing every year.1
You could see this as a hopeful thing. People in the U.S. keep getting more wealth, and as they accumulate that, they run out of room in their current places of rent or ownership, and temporarily use their local U STOR IT to house their goods before upgrading to their next-larger home.
But it's not what I see. The self storage is where you go when you've hit hard times. Jim's house was the target of the bank's latest foreclosure proceeding, and he was moving back home to live with his mom. Her apartment was full of magazines and cats and medicine. He puts his stuff, what he could, into the cheapest mini-garage he could rent. It came complete with an metal garage door, covered with a faux-wood texture to make it feel more homey.
"It's just a small setback," he says as the orange door rumbles down and bounces slightly off the ground. As he slides the fresh Masterlock through the door handle and squeezes it closed, he opines, "I'll get it all back out of here just as soon as I'm back on my feet."
I guess he lost his footing permanently.
There's a lot of names for these things. I lean towards "self storage" because, more often than not, they're the place you keep the vision of yourself that you're not ready to let go of yet.
- NAICS 53113 - Lessors of miniwarehouses & self-storage units, United States Census Bereau, Statistics of U.S. Businesses: 2006, http://www.census.gov/epcd/susb/2006/us/US53113.HTM, Accessed 2011 May 06
- 'Blind' Auctions Help Self-Storage Firms Recoup Losses
, Robert Siegel, All Things Considered, NPR, 2009 May 25, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104521902, Accessed 2011 May 06
- Contents Unknown, Act One: Needle in a Crapstack, Jon Mooallem, This American Life, NPR, 2010 Jan 22,
http://www.thisamericanlife.org/play_full.php?play=399, starting at 8 minutes, Accessed 2011 May 09