Self Storage Units: A Help And A Hindrance

Last November, I discussed decluttering as a pathway to downsizing and living your best Third Chapter life. In order to successfully downsize, many Baby Boomers turn to storage unit rentals, especially when they have a small window during which they are expected to move or finish decluttering their homes. Such units can cost anywhere from $95 to $300/month (or higher, depending on geographic location and size of unit). And what happens to all the stuff in those storage units months later? Why is the self storage industry booming, and is it a good thing?

Some of the Facts

One reason self storage is popular — among investors as well as renters — is because it has been shown to be a nearly recession-resistant industry. And it’s growing. Michael Baillargeon of Store Space notes that a couple of years ago, the most popular self storage space was 6 net rentable square feet. Today, that number has grown to 10-13 square feet. He adds that in 2020, Store Space had 26 locations. In 2022, that had grown to 119 locations, with almost a third in the Midwest.

What’s driving the growth? A big demand push came during the pandemic. With more people working from home, space became tight, and people of all ages turned to self storage units for stuff they could not drop at shuttered donation centers or just didn’t really want to get rid of, but had no room for in their homes. Today, Storage Space notes that 1 in 3 Americans use self storage. Talk about a first-world problem run amok!

StorageCafé reports that as of February 2023, there is more than 1.7 billion square feet of self storage space in the United States. While 37.6 million square feet were used in 2022, an additional 52.6 million square feet are expected to be used in 2023. The average rate is $126 for a standard 10×10 unit and $141/month for a climate controlled 10×10 unit. However, rates are much higher in parts of California, New York, and Florida, while parts of the Midwest and South tend to be below the average cost.

Baby Boomers and Self Storage

The two largest users of self storage are Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers (54 percent and 51 percent, respectively). Both populations — and especially Baby Boomers — are unique in that many of us have not only held on to possessions from our own lifetimes, but also from our parents’ and grandparents’ lifetimes. Grandma’s dining table, Aunt Ruth’s favorite chair, that vintage china set you haven’t used in 20 years but just can’t get rid of. As we enter our Third Chapters, we determine where we want to age in place, and that often includes downsizing.

The reality is that most of today’s adult children don’t want the stuff. So when downsizing, many of those items wind up in self-storage units. Chad Smerk, owner of Park View Storage Solutions in the Columbia, S.C., metropolitan area, says that in recent years, he’s seen “a significant uptick in my senior customers.”

“I get a lot of people downsizing and storing the items the children do not want — and parents don’t want to sell them for pennies on the dollar,” Smerk says. “As they age more, they can’t lift or move items, and finding help is hard. I have some customers who have had their stuff in units for over 10 years! Those folks have not even been on the property in many years, but still keep paying the rent.”

Good or Bad?

Self storage can be a good thing — helping you efficiently downsize, especially when time is of the essence (a former residence’s closing date, or the arrival of the moving van, for example). And there’s no doubt the industry will continue to thrive as it accommodates the demand for out-of-sight-out-of-mind spaces. But it can also be an albatross around the neck.

Perhaps a closer linking of our “saving” instincts (that are starting to look like hoarding), with our environmental concerns might be in order.  Rather than the first response being keeping and storing, think about recycling. We could be using the opportunity to re-circulate goods or even return materials, like wooden furniture, to the earth. It’s a stretch but a nice counter-weight to current market trends that any of us can initiate.

Third Chapter Living celebrates, challenges, informs and promotes conversations about housing issues affecting the Baby Boomer Generation. Check out our website to learn more about our work. Our Facebook Group is a resource center with tips and recommendations on navigating those issues. Share experiences with others who are looking for Housing Downsizing Tools that allow them to successfully age-in-place.

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