Go Broke With — Self Storage!

Image by Andrew J. Cosgriff

If you live for having it all, what you have is never enough.
— Vicki Robin

From the Things that Should Not Be department — Self Storage! What a fantastic idea!

When you’ve loaded up on so much unnecessary crap that you can’t even fit it all in your house, and you can’t afford a bigger house to store it all, because, you know, you’re up to your eyeballs in debt from buying all that crap, you can spend even more money renting out a glorified tin shack to store it all! That way you can get back to your patriotic duty of racking up more debt by accumulating even more crap!

Self Storage is a booming industry in this country. A few fun facts from SelfStorage.org, an industry trade group:

  • One in ten U.S. households now rent at least one storage unit.
  • Of the roughly 58,500 self storage facilities in world-wide, approximately 49,000 are in the U.S.
  • The industry reports revenues of over $22 billion per year.
  • There are over 2.3 billion square feet of self storage in this country. Just to put this in perspective:
    • That’s enough to cover the entire island of Manhattan with crap, three times over.
    • It’s more than enough room for every man, woman, and child in the country to stand in a storage unit, all at the same time (assuming you moved out all those mountains of crap, first).

Yes, I know there are at least a few legitimate uses for storage. Military deployments overseas come to mind, for example. (According to SelfStorage.org, they account for about 4% of total units in use.)

Moving is another potentially reasonable justification, but here you’re starting to get on shakier ground. If you need to stow all of your stuff for a month or two while you’re house hunting in a new city, ok, fine. But if you’re storing piles of crap indefinitely because you downsized your residence — paying to store crap you can’t possibly need in a climate controlled facility, you might as well light your money on fire. At least that would put less carbon in the atmosphere than air-conditioning the lawn furniture you can’t use because you’ve moved into a condo, and the wardrobe you can’t fit into any more because you’ve gained 40 pounds.

Give it up. It’s only stuff.


  1. “One in ten U.S. households now rent at least one storage unit”

    Holy crap that’s a lot of… well crap! I had no idea storage units were such a huge thing over there. It’s almost impossible to believe that even with all the crap I see people amassing here in Australia… that there’s another place in the world that does it even MORE so. So sad 🙁

    On a side note though, I do like the idea of regular “Go Broke With…” posts 😀 It’s kind of like the Antimustachian Wall of Shame and Comedy over at the Mr Money Mustache forum. Post after post of train wrecks you just can’t stop yourself from looking at…


  2. First, +1 on MTM’s comment that this “Go Broke with….” theme is a great concept.

    Storage units are a business concept that, like bottled water, mystifies me. Had I been the venture capitalist these ideas were first brought to, I’d have laughed them out of the room.

    shows what I know.

    Turns out they are brilliant business ideas. Who knew people would spend thousands of dollars a year to storage stuff worth hundreds? or pay for what comes free out of the tap.

    Now, of course, there are TV programs about people who buy abandoned storage units at auction. Fascinating.

    Even more fascinating, to me at least, is that if we ever get this house sold I may actually be renting one. I have no idea what they cost. But you can be sure I’ll be running the numbers: What’s the yearly rental v. what’s this crap really worth….

    My guess is, in the final analysis, the crap will go.

    If we do move overseas, though, I’ll definitely rent one for the first year. In it will go a few of our very favorite things, just in case we return to the states. Nothing we own is worth the cost of shipping overseas.

    • Sean Owen

      Glad you guys like the “Go Broke With…” idea. Was definitely planning on making it a regular feature.

      And middling-term overseas travel sounds like another not-entirely-insane use. I’d be more inclined to just sell everything, but I’ve long since given up being sentimental about things.

      Well, I suppose a couple of my guitars…

  3. Prob8

    What an entertaining post. I’ve been thinking a lot about storage facilities recently. Mostly because someone in my town mentioned considering selling his storage unit business. I thought “that business can’t do very well because who in their right mind is paying money to store their crap!” That made me start taking notice of the pure volume of storage facilities in the area. There are TONS! I’m now thinking this must be a booming business.

    • Stephen

      There is a lot of talk on the various FIRE blogs about getting into real estate in order to develop rental income. Along those lines, I’ve read that being in the self-storage business is quite a lucrative business.

      The rent is significantly higher per square foot than anything in the residential or commercial space. The business doesn’t need many (or any, if you run it yourself) employees. There are fewer obstacles if you need to evict your “tenants” for non-payment. And since people don’t travel to their storage unit regularly, the business can be located in an out-of-the-way place where the land value and property taxes are lower.

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