Helping us de-clutter our homes and apartments has become a cottage industry. We now buy books, read articles and even hire experts to help us get rid of or organize our “stuff.” Our homes are stuffed to the brim with clothes, shoes, books, knickknacks and impulsive purchases. We are constantly buying and storing stuff we don’t need — but told we need. Our current situation is analogous to pushing “10 pounds into an 8-pound sack.” The square footage of our living space is irrelevant. The larger the space, the more clutter is accumulated. Our solution is to turn to self-storage bins.

According to SSU, a self-storage unit industry investment firm:

“From virtual non-existence before 1970, the industry has grown to over 58,000 self-storage facilities in the U.S. today. And it is a strictly American concept, as there are only 12,000 self-storage facilities in the rest of the world combined. With over 2.35 billion square feet of space — a land mass three times the size of Manhattan Island — the self-storage industry is an ever-growing opportunity.” Patrick Sisson wrote an article for Curbed (2018) titled, “Self-storage: How warehouses for personal junk became a 38 billion dollar industry,” Based on my rather cursory research, the growth of self-storage facilities shows no signs of abating or re-trenching. 

Why do we buy things we don’t need and then move the excess stuff we cannot shoehorn into our homes into an off-site storage facility? Are we Americans suffering from some sort of undiagnosed mental condition? What drives us to consume more than we need or can use? Well, I would submit there is a direct correlation to our out-of-control consumption and the Gross Domestic Product measure.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the measure used to project the size and growth of an economy and growth rate. GDP can be calculated in three ways: expenditures, production, or incomes (Investopedia). All three ways are inextricably linked. When people have what I call “flex resources” (more money/credit) they tend to spend dollars on non-essential items, so the means of production are goosed up to meet the demands of the consumer. 

Overconsumption tied to the growth of self-storage seems to be predominantly a First World/American and not a Third World/Developing World issue. In America, people are paying hundreds of dollars per month to store stuff they haven’t used for years — and might never use again. Some of these self-storage units are the size of living spaces that people in developing country use to house families of 4-6 people. 

Regardless of actual income, many people in this country are suffering from a form of seasonal “affluenza,” promoted and juiced by corporate advertising and guilt mongering. 

Another salient fact and incentive to spend revolves around our annual holidays. It doesn’t matter if you are a generous and caring person throughout the year; be prepared to catch flack if you don’t participate in the exchange of store-bought gifts on established holidays. Spending on these corporately promoted holidays clearly helps the GDP grow — even if your pocket, savings and credit suffer. Retail is the nation’s largest private-sector employer, contributing $2.6 trillion to annual GDP and supporting one in four U.S. jobs — 42 million working Americans.

I am not assuming a holier-than-thou posture. I am simply pointing out that consumerism is not an innate trait of our species. Rather, I would posit that consumerism has become the driving force behind what is needed to keep the GDP rolling onward and upward. 

Finally, as our landfills, oceans and homes are being polluted and overrun by stuff we buy, we must remember that we can’t throw any of this stuff off the planet. Hence, not only are our homes cluttered, but our planet is also being degraded and cluttered by unchecked consumerism.

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