Lately I’ve noticed several new construction projects that have turned out to be self-storage facilities where I live. Why so many? Out of curiosity, I looked up some statistics on self-storage facilities and was surprised by what I found. Self-storage facilities began growing in popularity in Texas during the 1960s and have become so popular, that today storage facilities are considered a viable form of real estate investment. As in – real estate investors see this kind of property as profitable, and can expect 2.9% in annual growth. In fact, revenue from this industry, which consists of nearly 53,000 facilities in the US alone, is expected to exceed $37 billion in 2018.
Several things seem to be causing this trend, but two were particularly noticeable to me: rising per capita income and the 40 million people relocating across the US each year. Considering that 1 in 10 US households rent a storage facility, it seems that people are making more, spending more, and keeping more things than their homes can hold. And then, they are dragging their belongings with them to store or leaving them behind in storage when they move. Either way, it represents a huge amount of money spent on things that aren’t used on a regular basis, if at all.
Need Or Want?
I began thinking about the difference between needs and wants; how we mistake one for the other all the time. I’ve gone shopping countless times because I “need” some article of clothing. Meanwhile, I don’t wear half the stuff in my closet or use much of what fills my cabinets. Clearly, I was really after something much different from filling needs during those shopping endeavors.
I think most of us have participated in “retail therapy” of some sort to lift our moods, and for a little while, we feel cheerful. Or, buying certain items make us feel like someone we want to be: powerful, stylish, sexy, wealthy, smart, creative, and so many more. Meanwhile, the money goes out and the stuff comes in.
In the last few years, the minimalist movement has become really popular. On this opposite extreme in America, people are downsizing their stuff, living in tiny homes and participating in zero-waste activities. I say extreme, but I think these are all positive changes for our culture and my family has been trying to embrace them as well. Isn’t it interesting that at the same time some are spending and storing themselves silly, others are choosing to live with so little? I think the latter is a reaction to the former. We are all getting tired of funding and managing over-extended lives.
Lightening The Load
I’ve spent a couple of years in a de-cluttering trend; feeling like my life was disorganized and too full of stuff. I wanted a fresh start, a clean slate, space to breath and an escape from having to maintain all of it. Room-by-room, I’ve been working hard to get rid of all the things I’d actively participated in bringing into my life. Do I really need 10 belts, 9 of which I don’t ever wear? Why am I keeping a zillion CD’s when I always listen to digital music? Is there good reason to believe I’ll ever read that stack of magazines I’ve been hanging on to for three years?! I’m not a hoarder, but the excess of things I’d been keeping bothered me, and I realized after they were gone what a burden they’d been.
2016 and 2017 were incredibly hard years for me and my family. We’ve faced quite a few challenges that made us feel totally out of control. Interestingly, that was the time that downsizing to a more minimal life began for us. Maybe feeling out of control in some areas of life made us want to focus on the things we could control.
At first, the reasons for doing it were purely financial – more money meant more freedom, right? We began selling or donating things we didn’t need, using the proceeds to pay off debt. Then we turned to simplifying our spending; we cut out unnecessary expenditures and paid the difference toward debt. Finally, we worked on our habits, becoming more efficient, which saved even more money, and – you guessed it, we were able to pay off even more debt.
Make no mistake, we’re happier and freer than ever, but we’ve discovered something else too. We actually only need a few things to live a good life. Having less is giving us back more time and energy to focus on things we truly value: experiences and each other.
Though we found that money isn’t the source of happiness, it is the facilitator of it in several ways. Having less debt, fewer bills, and more savings reduced our stress levels by leaps and bounds. Spending less time (and money) accumulating and managing too much stuff did also. Our time is now better spent on enriching experiences, time with those we love and on activities that stretch us toward being better people.
The last two years have been a wake-up call for us to get busy living. In the face of major illness and change, we took a look around and were startled at how mindless and unintentional our daily rut had become. Each day, instead of burying our heads in the sand – or in the business of what so often occupies our time and which, at the end of the day, week, or year amounts to little, we’re approach it with gratitude and intention.
As the new year begins, you may be thinking about how last year went and how you want to proceed. I’m doing the same thing, and for the first time in a very long time, I feel satisfied with the year I lived and I’m looking forward to a new year beginning. Here’s to a new year filled with experiences, connections and contribution for all of us.