America loves its stuff. It loves its stuff so much it spends $24 billion a year keeping it tucked away in ministorage, or, as I like to call it, burial-by-the-month.
There’s nothing evil about holding on to junk we may not visit even for years on end, but there is something odd. Why can’t we let go of things that we clearly don’t care about holding, touching, kissing, using, seeing or, often enough, even remembering?
Because storage is not about what we have. It’s about who we are.
“It represents what our lives could be,” says Kathryn Nulf, a Boston health coach who likes to ponder storage as part of a person’s whole gestalt. “I think it’s even a little fantasy, like a double life.” For instance, when we hang on to those jeans from 1998 when we were nearly microscopic, it’s a way of telling ourselves that those days — and toothpick thighs — aren’t gone forever.
Neither are those dreams of a more gracious life. Professional organizing consultant Donna David, president of the New York-based company that bears her name, was working with a woman recently who could not part with her china. “I said, ‘You don’t even eat at home! You never cook!’” David says. “She said, ‘Maybe one day I might begin.’”
So it seems that paying a monthly storage bill is not that different from buying lottery tickets. It’s a way to hold on to that dream of someday being more beautiful, accomplished or fulfilled. More surprising is that keeping hope alive may even make sense from an efficiency standpoint, says Jim Stone, a productivity software developer.
“Say you’ve been meaning to learn Spanish for years — or Russian or whatever,” Stone says. “Well, maybe that’s not going to be one of the things you end up doing in your life. But all those aspirations can weigh on you and feel like obligations.”
Tuck those ideas into the equivalent of storage at the back of your brain — or tuck them truly into storage, in the form of unopened Russian textbooks shoved into a bin — and you no longer have to keep thinking about them. Says Stone, “It just frees you up.”
And when storage isn’t busy freeing you from the burdens of your self-expectations, it can free you from the guilt of not feeling like a good enough person. For instance: Knowing that you still have Grandma’s wedding dress in the dim reaches of your ministorage means you have done your job as a grandchild and not forgotten her. Alive or dead, she clearly still matters to you, as evidenced by the fact you didn’t toss her dress into the dump. The dress is your connection and salve.
Which is not to say storage is always fraught with huge emotional and psychological significance. John Egan, editor-in-chief of SpareFoot, an online marketplace for self-storage, says the big reason most folks rent space is that they are in transition and need a way station for their stuff. The three big Ds demand an off-site closet: divorce, death and dislocation — that is, moving homes.
For folks dealing with those issues, storage is a way to deal with life’s loops. For the rest of us, it’s a way to deal with love, loss, guilt, delusion and those itty-bitty jeans that look like maybe they fit Kate Moss in seventh grade.
That’s reason enough to pay for another month.