There are two reasons for the storage firms’ success. The first is that demand keeps growing. American workers (..) keep acquiring stuff that cannot be consumed and never rots or rusts: plastic toys, metal garden furniture, porcelain knick-knacks. For some reason, they seldom chuck any of this rubbish out. This baffles economists, who assume “free disposal”, meaning that things that aren’t needed can be thrown away without making anyone feel bad about the loss. The fact that so many hoarders pay lots of cash to keep things shows the assumption needs a rethink.
- The second is that a short-term contract does not mean short-term profits. Stored stuff is like a bank deposit—it’s contractually short term, but usually stays where it is. Contracts are often only for a month or so, yet hoarders stash things away for far longer. At Big Yellow, a British firm, 37% of space is filled with stuff that has been there for over three years. A cynic might compare human squirrels unfavourably to the wild sort, which usually remember to dig up their nuts come springtime.
- Self-storage firms are also well-placed to deal with the problem other landlords dread: non-paying tenants. They have the upper hand because they have your stuff. If you don’t pay up, they will flog it. This last trend has even spawned a television show—Storage Wars—in which rent-dodgers’ possessions are sold, often for surprisingly high prices. The lessons of hoardonomics are clear: don’t store your stuff, sell it. Then invest in a storage business.