Recently the New York Times ran a photograph of a commercial storage facility, under which it printed the following caption: "Bigger houses, smaller families, and they still want more space."
"They" are Americans, and as the accompanying story points out, no matter how big our houses are, or how efficient we try to be, we're always looking for more places to put stuff. Cars sit in driveways because the garage is jammed with cartons and luggage and fishing gear. Big, ugly metal boxes called "pods" sit in front of houses or in backyards, stuffed with household goods.
Storage companies used to help people who needed a temporary place to put things while they changed addresses. Now, they mostly serve folks who aren't moving at all but have run out of room for mother's old sewing machine or Johnny's bicycles that the grandchildren might want someday. As the Times points out, there are now more than 200 square kilometers of self-storage space in the United States. That's more than three times the size of Manhattan Island.
Do we need all this space? Of course not. Some of us are obsessive pack rats. A few have serious, pathological hoarding issues. But most of us just can't bear to part with that old trading-card collection, that sink we tore out of the bathroom, or the steamer trunk that grandpa left behind. Some day it might come in handy or be valuable, right?
Renting a storage unit simplifies our lives, and moves the mess out of sight and out of mind. But the sad truth is that the minute we get all neat and tidy, new stuff takes its place. Fortunately, the rent-a-space folks are always happy to bump us up to a bigger storage unit.