Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Got stuff? Got a place to put it?

I always say that, every year, we should all pretend we’re pulling up stakes and use the “let’s pretend” to throw out all the stuff we’d toss if we really were moving.

I always say a lot of things, and this is just one of many that I always say and then proceed to ignore.

When I reno’d my condo in the fall of 2015, I did actually toss most of the stuff I would have thrown out if I were moving. Out went the old massive, mega BTU, energy-inefficient AC that we somehow hung onto when we moved from the carriage house we rented to the condo we owned- you know, the one with central HVAC. That old AC ran on the wrong kind of power – 220? 110? whatever it was, it wasn’t what we were wired for – not to mention that there isn’t a window in here that it would fit in. But hang on we did, for nearly 25 years, letting it take up precious storage space until I had the Brazilian junk hauling guy junk haul it away.

But I wasn’t ruthless enough when I went through things. The closet space that used to be taken up by the AC is now clogged with old PC’s and laptops. It’s on my “this year” list to do something about.

But what will I do with the space that’s freed up?

The plan is to move my Christmas decorations – now in a crawl space that I really do have to crawl into – into a quasi-walk-in closet that I can quasi-walk into. But I don’t plan on acquiring any new stuff to stuff into the crawl space. Stuff I still got plenty of. Or as much as fits into a 1250 square foot condo with limited storage, without making the place look like an episode of Hoarders.

If my footprint is small, I still have a lot of stuff. And even though I’m now hitting the Age of De-Acquisition, I’m like most modern Americans. I like stuff. And sometimes I fantasize that I have a big extra closet somewhere. Or that I have an outside storage unit. Where I could stow Christmas decorations. And things that I don’t exactly need or use, but that I want to hang on to for someday, for posterity, for my sisters and nieces to comb through, swearing under their breaths.

Which I won’t do. Who needs the extra monthly expense? Who needs the stored stuff?

But the storage problem is a real one for urban dwellers. We don’t have attics. We don’t have garages. We don’t have basements. So we either do without stuff (or periodically call in the Brazilian stuff-haulers), or we rent storage units. But some folks are starting to take a closer look at storage. Take NYC, where:

…as self-storage buildings have multiplied across the city, they are drawing increased scrutiny from city officials and community groups who say they take up space that could be used for something more productive. Now the city is proposing to restrict the development of new self-storage buildings in some industrial areas in the boroughs outside Manhattan, as part of a broader strategy to save more land for manufacturing and industry.

New York joins a small but growing number of communities, including San Francisco, Miami, and Charleston, S.C., that have moved to restrict or curb the spread of self-storage buildings, seeking to strike a balance between the demands for more storage with the needs of communities for other things such as jobs, housing, and grocery stores. (NYTimes, via the Boston Globe)

Self-storage is a relatively young industry, having started out in the 1960’s, when, I guess people became more mobile, and, I guess, had more discretionary money to spend on stuff.

People just didn’t use to accumulate as much crap as they once did. My grandmother Rogers lived in the same place for more than sixty years. As any of her grandchildren can bear witness, Nanny had a lot of stuff. There wasn’t an inch of space that wasn’t covered by some knickknack or another. Yet her stuff never spread beyond the confines of her flat.

Nanny lived in (and owned) a large three-family house. We moved out of our flat in 1956. The other renters had moved out a few years earlier. Despite the fact that she could have use the money, my grandmother never rented out either of those flats. She didn’t want tenants, period. But her stuff never spread out to encroach on either of those apartments. Nor did she ever use the cellar for storage. Her spillover storage was a hall closet just off the back entrance.

While Nanny was an accumulator, she was a small thing accumulator: bird figurines, decorative plates, her own water colors. She had the same furniture forever (some of which I now possess).

My mother lived for 45 years in the house we moved to around the corner from Nanny’s. Like Nanny, she was an accumulator, and there was stuff on every surface. Mostly small things: bird figurines, decorative plates, craft projects.

But her closets weren’t stuffed Fibber McGee, and, while there was plenty of junk in her cellar that we needed to get rid of before she moved out shortly before she died – stuff like old figure skates and bikes – the cellar was by no means packed to the gills.

Nanny and my mother were typical of their generations: stuff but not stuff. Certainly not stuff that would merit using a storage facility. Not like the current inhabitants of Planet America, where we all have 7.2 square feet per person of storage space. Okay, you can’t store much in 7.2 square feet, which is really just a small closet. But, in the aggregate, there’s a ton of self-storage space out there, taking up space that some cities believe is a more productive use.

I really don’t see manufacturing coming back to the heart of cities, but, sure, stores, gyms, and apartments are certainly more productive than places to store old Christmas ornaments.

But where are we going to put all of our stuff? And what happens to the economy if and when we stop accumulating it? First world, 21st century problems, I guess.

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