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Storage Units: An Unfortunate Trend

Self-storage facilities: they seem to be popping up in urban and suburban regions everywhere, appearing like weeds after the rain on low-value land on the outskirts of town.  They run specials like "first month's rent is only a dollar!", enticing new customers with the promise of a few extra square feet of off-site closet space.

The Rise of Self-Storage

I don't remember seeing self-storage places around town while I was growing up.  Has self-storage become a national trend, or is it just advertised more heavily nowadays?

I couldn't find the graph I really wanted to visualize the trend, so I did some creative Googling through a number of real estate trade journals and came up with this (original data):

Self-storage square-footage in the US approximately doubled from 1990 to 2000 and then again from 2000 to 2013, while the US population only increased 25% over the entire period.  The rise in self-storage is a very modern trend!

The United States population as of 2012 was around 314 million, while the total square footage of rentable self-storage space reached 2.3 billion.  This means that that there are around 7.3 square feet of self-storage in this country for every man, woman, and child—enough for everyone to comfortably stand inside at once!

According to the nonprofit Self Storage Association trade group, the growth in self-storage is an American-only trend: while the US has close to 50,000 self-storage facilities, the entirety of Europe (population 740 million, ~235% of the US) has only 1,600.  Germany, which has over a quarter the population of the US, got its first 10 self-storage facilities in 2002 and even now has only 100.

Self-Storage Uses

Self-storage is typically marketed for the temporary storage of belongings during a life transition such as a move, marriage, divorce, or death.  According to the Self Storage Association, however, most users plan on staying for extended periods of time:

The average customer ends up staying 12-18 months, and many stay for years.  If you have a bunch of junk sitting in storage in another state, it may just seem easier to keep paying the rental bill than to rent a truck and take care of it once and for all.

The Cost of Self-Storage

According to the nonprofit Self Storage Association trade group, the average 10'x10' non-climate-controlled self-storage unit rented for $115 per month in Q3 2013 (climate control would set you back an extra $30 per month).  At an average US household size of 2.64 people (2011) and an average per-person self-storage allotment of 7.3 feet, this means that the average US household is on the hook for around $22 per month ($265 per year) in self-storage fees.

On its own this doesn't sound terrible, until you take into account that one-tenth of households are responsible for all self-storage usage.  For these households, this brings the monthly bill to $220 per month ($2650 per year).

Did I mention that 47% of these renters have an annual household income of less than $50,000?

Self-Storage: Don't Do It

As I'll discuss in an upcoming article, the median square footage per household member of a new home has tripled from 1950 to the present.  And yet, many manage to fill this space with junk and insist on renting a little more.  A month or two of storage to tide you over can quickly become a multi-year investment on stuff that you obviously don't use.  What deck chairs, end tables, and dish sets could possibly be worth the $41 per square foot it costs to rent one of these units for three years?  Even your Beanie Babies and Pokemon cards are unlikely to appreciate at those rates.

The truth is, it would be nice to have a little less junk around the house.  But don't pay to store stuff you don't need: use it, sell it, or give it away!


The New York Times: The Self-Storage Self
Slate: Self-Storage Nation
AlterNet: America's New Love Affair With Self-Storage


Ten Internet Points To You, Sir!

If all has gone according to plan, the blog should have just surpassed 50,000 views.  We are ten months into the project, so it's about time!


My Objectivity Is Not For Sale

I am done with affiliate linking and advertising.

I was reading another blog yesterday, specifically a review of a product I have been considering purchasing.  I had been to this site many times before.  The author's points struck me as fairly convincing, and I was leaning more and more into the 'make the purchase' column.

And then, there it was: the paid affiliate link.  No deal.


Experiment 01: Write Every Day

This site has seen a lot of action lately!  October encompassed 31 posts in all, one for every day of the month, bringing the total for the year to 80.  I'm not going to count the words for you, but it was quite a lot of them.

So, what was the point of this exercise?

This was Experiment 01: Write Every Day!

The result: overwhelming success.

my brainstorming-and-initial-drafting weapon of choice, believe it or not


Book Review 02: How To Write A Lot

After the success of the first book review, I'm at it again.  Our second book review victim is "How to Write a Lot", by Dr. Paul J. Silvia.

click the image to buy it on Amazon (don't worry, I don't profit!), or check your local library

Paul is a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina.  This book is primarily aimed at an academic audience—the subtitle is "A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing"—but it's lessons are applicable by anyone struggling to write at the desired volumetric rate.


My Investments: Skills

Education has been my primary business over the last twenty years, but it's been far from my only scheme in the works: I've made a huge effort to use every spare minute to develop a wide-ranging collection of hobbies and skills.  While I'm counting on leveraging my formal education to finance this Project (i.e. life), it's these other hobbies and skills that will make the process of achieving financial independence (and the Golden Age that will proceed it) a hell of a lot of fun.

Some of these thing save my money directly; others have the potential to actually make me money.  Nearly all of them save me money indirectly by allowing me to have fun at little or no direct cost.


My Investments: Education

For every hour I've spent learning about and carrying out the act of financial investment, I've probably spent 100 hours in classrooms, doing homework, reading textbooks, and taking notes.

I just entered 20th grade: 12 years up through highschool, 5 years of undergraduate, and now I've just begun my third year of graduate school.  However much I've accumulated in mutual funds, my education has been by far my most sizable investment in terms of time, money, and personal effort.

(I built both lab websites)

Had I been working all of those years instead, I could have amassed quite a bit of money by now.  Getting a good return on this massive investment has always been a high priority.


My Investments: Mutual Funds

Over and over again, I've stressed the importance of building the core of your portfolio out of low-cost, passively-managed index mutual funds.  This is important enough that I wrote a seven-part series on it.

I've been telling you to do this and do that all month long, so in the spirit of full transparency I think it's only fair that I share what I actually do with my own money.

Put the money... there!  Definitely over there.
This is an article about how I follow my own advice.


My Investments: Mosaic

In an earlier article on nontraditional investments, I mentioned Mosaic.

When you join Mosaic, you join a group of investors that are lending money for solar power installation projects.  As the loan is paid back, you receive principal and interest.  Because of the sustainability theme, Mosaic may be popular among those who would consider a Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) strategy.

I joined Mosaic in September 2013, and so far I have invested $500.


My Investments: Lending Club

In an earlier article on nontraditional investments, I mentioned Lending Club.
Lending Club is the leader of the pack of a new breed of peer-to-peer lending platforms.  You can join Lending Club as a borrower or as a lender; for investment purposes, we're interested in the latter.