What Your Storage Space Says About You

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The self-storage industry is booming, the Christian Science Monitor reports:

"It's a $17 billion-a-year business devoted entirely to finding a place to store our abundance," says Daniel Pink, an author and culture watcher. "It's bigger than the motion picture production industry."

But what's any trend without gratuitous social critique?

"Storage units are a symptom of a much deeper malaise," says Peter Whybrow, director of the Neuro- psychiatric Institute at UCLA and author of "American Mania: When More Is Not Enough."
"Where there's no clearly defined social hierarchy other than money, the acquisitive nature gets maximized by the need to create one's own social standing," he says. "[So] you keep what you want to flaunt and you put the rest away—because you can't bear to give it away."

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  1. –“Where there’s no clearly defined social hierarchy other than money, the acquisitive nature gets maximized by the need to create one’s own social standing, [So] you keep what you want to flaunt and you put the rest away – because you can’t bear to give it away.”

    Um, and what if you happen to live in an apartment or a house with no basement or attic?

  2. “Where there’s no clearly defined social hierarchy other than money, the acquisitive nature gets maximized by the need to create one’s own social standing,” [Whybrow] says. “[So] you keep what you want to flaunt and you put the rest away – because you can’t bear to give it away.”

    Eh, he used to say the same thing about Tupperware.

  3. This thread is just crying out for gaius marius to blame Nietzsche for our packrat tendencies.

  4. I would be interested in knowing what Whybrow thinks about people with savings/checking accounts. Are they making too much money that they can’t keep it in their wallet?

  5. Can we put this Whybrow guy in a storage space and lose the key? Please?

  6. The only person I know is using storage right now is doing so because she moved to Argentina to get away from materialistic Americans. I used storage briefly when I made my one big post-college move across the country and didn’t live anywhere for a bit.

    On-the-ground facts aside, I think it’s funny that this ostensibly liberal critique is complaining of there being “no clearly defined social hierarchy other than money” because I thought liberal philosophy was against hierarchy in general, whereas this comment seems to imply we’re lacking in proper hierarchy! A conservative could easily quack that we have no “other” hierarchy than money because the liberals dragged the rest of them down! And then the liberal would say… Oh, why am I doing this to myself?? 🙂

  7. thoreau,

    You beat me to it bitch. 🙂

  8. Perhaps liberals oppose social hierarchy, including those created by wealth, because they allow people to raise their status without going through official party routes. To them, the only legitimate status claim is your position in the party.

  9. I am married to a packrat, and I can’t help but think these folks are missing the point. The saved goods are not, in large part, past failed attempts to satisfy ourselves through material acquisitions. For my wife the boxes are ways to avoid the feeling of having cut ties or forgetting life events. We save Christmas cards, we go on vacations and take rolls of pictures, she has an old sweater that a high school friend gave her, and so on.

    Those things we buy to keep up with the Jonses, at least in my house, are very easily replaced. The VCR gets replaced by a DVD player. Small TV gets replaced by big TV. When we run out of rooms where we might want a TV, there is no hesitation to get the stuff to Goodwill.

    The critique seems to be simultaneously accusing us of passing through life without having made connections of substance and holding on to remiders of those same types of connections.

  10. Very good point, Jason. Most people have no problem getting rid of their Betamax player. But my mother still has my Honor Roll certificates from grade school.

  11. I wonder what sort of hierarchy Mr. Whybrow has in mind? Aristocracy, Church, Intellectual?

    I would argue that a little of each exist within our society, but that they’ve all always been based mostly on money(or control of property)anyway. It might not seem so after a generation or two, but in most cases, it almost assuredly started with someone becoming rich and powerful.

  12. Jtuf, the same could be said of “conservatives”. “liberals” don’t have a monopoly on foolishness. I don’t even think these terms are relevant anymore as descriptors.

  13. I second the kudos to Jason. Hasn’t Whybrow (is that name a joke?) ever heard of “sentimental value”?

    David, yes I wonder what he has in mind too, but alas, I’m not interested enough to read more of his writing to find out! 🙂

    And re jtuf, that was an amusing post, although I hope he wasn’t dead serious. I try to argue against the best in those I oppose rather than the worst (in my more sober moments, anyway!), and jtuf’s comment would seem to go in the opposite direction.

  14. My parents have a couple houses stuffed full of junk. There’s no rational reason to keep the couch grandma bought in 1972 but they can’t let it go, for sentimental reasons I guess. I’d be nice if we could come to an agreement like: “if it’s over 10 pounds it can’t be of sentimental value and gets foisted on charity” but I guess they’ll cling to the end.

  15. My rental storage space is filled mostly with books that I plan to put in my library, once I can afford a house big enough to have a library (yes, it’s climate-controlled). This is part of my master plan to improve my social standing, because people will be awed by my collection of paperback novels.

  16. I guess this guy’s never heard the saying “waste not, want not.”

  17. What the f* else am I supposed to do with my record albums?

  18. “What the f* else am I supposed to do with my record albums?”

    Record them all to CD and donate the less-than-perfect ones (and any made after 1955) to Goodwill. Save the perfect and the old to sell on E-bay.

  19. When more is not enough for anyone you need overflow. You know a lot of storage exists due to our nature of moving 1/5 our population each year

  20. Various things that have been posted here got me thinking how stupid this guy is for thinking people are trying to increase their status by putting things in storage! Even examples such as Mark Draughn’s, in which he’s investing in future status, is based on the expectation that he will someday bring those items out of storage to show the world! Which of course brings us back to ye olde basic and perennial blah X 3 debates about the nature of valuing material goods, but totally aside from the wisdom of criticizing materialism in general, it should be obvious that a trend of people putting things in storage has approximately zippo to do with the matter. Put more succinctly, it’s not exactly “conspicuous” consumption!!!

  21. Whybrow is right: the last date I had the girl wasn’t interested in what I drove or how much money I made: she only wanted to know how much storage space I rented. What a gold digger!

  22. My closest brush with the self-storage industry involved an ex-girlfriend whose newer boyfriend got sent to prison on a cocaine charge. (Or maybe just a parole violation.) She was sort of slowly looting his stuff, and I got a nice pool cue for helping her move a couch once. Ah, those were the days, and we all really maintained our places in the social hierarchy.

  23. Todd,

    She wanted to make sure that you really did have a Porsche in the shop (or storage).

  24. “The only person I know is using storage right now is doing so because she moved to Argentina to get away from materialistic Americans.”

    There’s an irony there…

    “Hey, please keep my stuff until I get back. Right now I need to pretend I don’t own things.”

  25. Being an apartment-dweller myself, I’ve checked out self-storage, and it’s pretty darn expensive! Though I have to admit, the article’s discussion regarding the blind-auctioning of delinquent rent storage units gives me an idea for a performance art installation.

  26. OK, I didn’t read the whole article, but am I understanding that the author thinks people put their stuff in storage because they have too much stuff?

    I have never known anyone with means to rent a storage unit. Without any data to back up my theory, I am proposing that people who rent storage units, by and large, need to put it there until they find a place to live.

    Not exactly a picture of conspicuous consumption; rather, one of conspicuous lack of living space.

  27. So, Todd…how big is your storage space?

    🙂

  28. Storage? Nah, we just toss it into the garage, which is now 6′ 8″ high and 3/4 full of crap.

    Can’t get to the table saw anymore and haven’t parked a car in there for years.

    George Carlin was right, we park our very expensive cars outside in the weather so we can fill the garage with junk that never seems to get to the Salvation Army, old clothes that never seem to get to the poor people in Mexico, and assorted other useless and broken stuff.

    That’s it, I’m getting a dumpster.

  29. All people who have vinyl records can give/sell them all to me. I collect them because 1) I like them and 2) I’m a dj!

  30. Once again the liberals are complaining about parts of other people’s life styles that are none of their business. Please, let’s not indulge them. Tell ’em “butt out!” in the strongest possible terms, then stop giving media coverage to their stupid “cause”.

  31. I wonder how many dead bodies are hidden in storage facilities.

    Yeah, I watched too many of ‘Cold Case Files’ last month.

  32. John David Galt wrote:
    “Once again the liberals are complaining about parts of other people’s life styles that are none of their business.”

    Which, of course, is what distinguishes liberals from conservatives, who would *never* think to complain about other people’s life styles.

  33. Douglas Fletcher: Not to mention “the Concrete Blonde” where the body was not only in storage but embedded in the concrete foundation of said storage.

  34. Low, I have tons of vinyl records but I can’t bear to part with any of them. Even the ones that aren’t playable. They range from really early Stones, Eagles, and on to Blondie and the Cars. Lots of stuff you’d hate like early Chicago and some Bubble Gum crap from the mid ’60’s, but hey, that music got me through a lot of bad times.

    Why I’ve even got a promo album I won from KHJ (AM dude) in LA for being caller # 7 when I was laid up after a motorcycle accident instead of in school.

    Real Don Steele Regards,

    TWC

  35. So, where do my my fellow reasonoids and reasonettes sit on the only hierarchy that matters?

    Kevin

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