Let’s face it: Americans have a whole lot of stuff.
We have been known to buy bigger houses simply to have more room for our gear. And we are very likely to rent spaces specifically to keep stuff that won’t fit in our homes.
The self-storage industry has been growing rapidly for decades and is so strong that it is considered “recession resistant” by Wall Street analysts. According to the Self-Storage Association, the industry generated more than $22 billion in annual U.S. revenues in 2011.
That’s a lot of stuff in storage.
The increasing popularity of big box stores like Walmart and Target that offer one-stop shopping and bargain prices encourage a “why not?” buying mindset. And the rise of bulk-sales retailers like Costco trigger a tendency toward stockpiling. An amped-up culture of consumption doesn’t help either.
Despite our eager shopping habits, though, all our stuff isn’t making us any happier. A 2012 study by UCLA-affiliated anthropologists and archeologists concluded that “American families are overwhelmed by clutter,” reports the Boston Globe.
The study, titled “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century,” found that the volume of stuff raises stress levels at home, especially among mothers who find themselves managing mountains of children’s toys.
There are many reasons, of course. Our desire to be prepared for any eventuality, to keep up with the Joneses, or to gain a sense of security from our possessions. Our desire not to throw out anything that cost us money, that we might use someday, or that has sentimental value.
We think it is simply a matter of having somewhere to store all the stuff. But, writes Carl Richards on the NY Times Bucks blog, keeping so many things costs us in other ways as well. “When we hold on to stuff we no longer want or use, it does indeed cost us something more, if only in the time spent organizing and contemplating them.”
We might feel a twinge of guilt when looking at the clothes we never wear. Or have a flash of annoyance when we see the boxes of toys our children only played with once but still have pride of place on the shelf. When we move, we drag these unused items with us and spend time putting them in order.
What if we were to redefine our relationship to our stuff by only keeping those things we actually use? It’s easier said than done, but if we were to consider unused stuff damaging to us instead of simply idle, we might get some good motivation.
As J.D. Roth writes, “The value is in the using, not in the having.”
Do you have stuff you don’t use? Do you have to spend time and money to store it? What advice do you have for those looking to purge their garages?