Short Term Storage: Godsend or Black Hole?

The self-storage industry is currently a $39 billion-dollar industry with positive projected growth over the next five years. This industry has figured out how to play our emotions like a fiddle.

Let’s take a look at what has helped to fuel the growth of this industry:

  • USA Today reports that 40 million Americans move each year
  • The U.S. Census Bureau states that the average American in the U.S. moves more than 11.7 times throughout their lifetime. And,
  • According to the LA Times, most American homes contain 300,000 items

There are many reasons we choose to rent a short-term storage unit and for some it makes solid financial sense:

  • Those of us that choose a more urban footprint and knowingly store larger everyday items we need frequent access to; winter clothes and sports equipment, outdoor furniture, bikes, lawnmowers etc. These folks have figured the monthly cost of short-term storage into the monthly budget and justify the rental cost.
  • The commercial use of self-storage as a way to house additional inventory they need access to.

And the rest of us? We are fueling the growth of this industry. Why?

We allow our emotions to affect the financial decisions we make. It’s that simple.

We’ve all done it. We are moving, again. We carefully pack away the heirlooms we will absolutely never use or display but cannot bear to give away, or the pricey furniture mistakes we have made, the items we are saving because “you never know, the kids may want them”. Trust me, the “kids” won’t want them.

Yet, we store them. We are using self-storage as a way to defer making difficult emotional decisions and its costing some of us dearly, month after month, year after year.

Let’s look at the current US Self-Storage Industry data:

Annual industry revenue                                                     $39 billion

Number of storage facilities (range)                                    45,000-60,000

Total rentable self-storage space.                                         1.7 billion square feet

Self-storage space per person                                               5.4 square feet

Percentage of households that rent a self-storage unit.   9.4 percent

Average monthly cost for a self-storage unit.                    $87.89

*Source: SpareFoot Storage Beat 3/20

What are 9.4% of US consumers storing in 5.4 square feet that they are willing to pay $87.89 per month for? Only they know.

What I know is why they are storing it and how it has led to the growth of a multi-billion-dollar industry.

Our emotional indecision. Yup, our inability to let go of our stuff.

It’s that simple. Our knee-jerk reaction to getting rid of anything we are emotionally attached to-so we don’t get rid of it-we store it.

Here is a typical scenario:

We are moving-upsizing, downsizing, rightsizing and need to make quick decisions. Many of these decisions are easy to make and will fall into 3 categories:

Pack to move



The closer we get to the move date, the more stressed out, anxious and emotionally exhausted we become. Our ability to think clearly and make good quality decisions degrades over time. So, what do we do when we are running out of energy, time and can no longer make decisions?

Put it in storage!


We look locally for the best deal-one month free, two months free and happily choose to hand over a credit card for easy monthly pay and walk away knowing that our “treasures” are safe and secure. We breathe a sigh of relief and check this item of the move off our list. We mentally move on.

What we do not realize is that when renting our storage space and signing at the end of a multipage contract with teeny tiny legalese-we have agreed to a timed rental unit cost increase that has already been laid out in the contract. The built-in increase has already been agreed to by YOU.

While we may see the monthly invoices and the thought is always in the back of our minds to “deal with storage” the weeks become months then years before many of us actually begin to pay closer attention to the increases and decide to address these emotionally deferred decisions once and for all. Others look back years later not even remembering what they put in storage originally.

Black hole.

So, how do you avoid being a casualty of the self-storage industry?

  1. Take the time to truly think through the COST of storing each item over time.
  2. Set a time frame in which you agree to rent the space-6 months or 1 year
  3. Ask to see the fine print in the contract regarding automatic monthly increases
  4. Ask to be informed before a monthly increase will occur
  5. Create a visual and physical inventory of stored items-include measurements

Short term storage is a Godsend for many of us who need to utilize this readily available local option and have firm grip on exactly what is being stored, why it’s being stored and for how long.

It’s a black hole when used as a way to delay difficult decisions about the disposition of household goods, heirlooms and mementoes that we cannot let go of, put out of our conscious minds and not consider the rising cost of this option.

So, if you are one of the families using a short-term unit, ask yourself if you are ready to make decisions to dispose of the “treasures” you have stored in the 5.4 square feet once and for all and take a trip with the $1,000.00 yearly savings instead.