“So stuff is important,” wrote the late comedian George Carlin (Brain Droppings, Hyperion, 1997). “You gotta have a place for your stuff. Everybody’s gotta have a place for their stuff. That’s what life is all about, tryin’ to find a place for your stuff! That’s all your house is: a place to keep your stuff. . . . A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it.”
Around Vermont, as around the nation, the self-storage industry is growing fast as people look for more space in which to put their stuff. But who are all these Vermonters with too much stuff? And why is there so much stuff?
According to an article in Slate magazine (2005, www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2005/07/selfstorage_nation.html), the popularity of self storage clearly has something to do with American consumerism. But it also has something to do with American mobility. According to Slate, the average American will change residences eleven times in his or her lifetime, and many people use self storage during a move.
Another factor is the size of houses. Early on, self storage flourished in Sun-belt states (the rate of use per capita is much higher in Florida, Texas, and California), where houses tend to lack attics and cellars, or in urban areas, such as New York City, where tiny apartments are the standard. But that’s not necessarily true here in Vermont, where houses often have attics and cellars.
So why do so many Vermonters need to store so much stuff? It is a question that even baffles those in the industry.
“It’s a good question,” said Russel Richardson, owner of PerrRfect Self Storage in Berlin. “Sentimental value, perhaps? People just like what they have and don’t want to get rid of it?”
He agreed the industry is still growing. “We’re full. And I’ve noticed there are three or four other locations in the Barre area that seem full. I’m still turning down a couple of people per week … you’d think we’d be capped out by now.”
Richardson said his family uses a 20-by-20-foot unit for personal storage. “We have a lot of our kids’ stuff,” he said. “When they settle down and buy a home they can take it. Right now, we don’t want to get rid of any of that stuff.”
Richardson said a lot of people use storage units while they look for a new home, for maybe just two or three months. Or they are moving out and need storage while they find a new place.
“It’s a little of everything,” he said. “But why Vermont? Why is it expanding so much all the time? There’s got to be a deeper answer to that,” he added.
Another facility is Linbrooke Storage in Barre. Its property manager is Kasey Clark. Clark manages 195 units. According to Clark, the occupancy rate is usually around 96 percent.
Mobility is certainly a factor here in Vermont. According to Clark, “We’ve got people who are heading out of state and need to store their belongings until they find a place. There are people who are moving to Vermont and need to store their stuff until they find a place. There’s short-term and long-term storage. There are businesses naturally. And we’ve got people who are storing their parents’ stuff.”
Clark said there’s not really a specific trend that accounts for the rise in demand. “It’s the same combination that it has always been,” he said. “It’s just been to a greater degree.
Another person in the business is Steve Pratt, who owns Central Vermont Storage with 15 units on River Street in Montpelier and another 38 units on Route 2 in East Montpelier. He said the reasons for why people use self storage often involve moving or getting ready to move. “Selling a home is a big reason. They want to clear a bunch of stuff out to make their house look bigger. That’s been a popular reason,” he said.
He said another common reason people turn to storage is when parents pass away. But he also agrees that people are likely accumulating more items in general. “They are realizing that they need space and they have filled up every space they can and now they are trying to clean out something to make more room,” he said.
Another local operator is Jim Barrett, a Montpelier native from the Montpelier High School Class of 1954. He runs Pioneer Storage on Liberty Street. Barrett said people on the move is a big part of his business. He has seen the population of Montpelier contract from 10,500 in 1950 to just around 7,500 today.
He said he’s got a client moving from Montana to Montpelier; he will get their stuff before they even find a place to live. “We’re building 18 [new units] and four are rented already,” he said. “Just as soon as we get them opened, we’ll get them rented.”
Barrett also thinks the increase in the use of self storage is because of the “tiny house movement.” People are moving into smaller houses, so they need extra storage. Depending on the size of the unit, it can run from $40 to $179 dollars a month to rent extra space.
And speaking of the tiny house movement, there has been a trend around the country for people to attempt to live in self-storage units. Kasey Clark at Linbrooke Storage said it’s happened at his facility. “We’ve experienced it. It’s not an acceptable thing,” he said. “We don’t allow it. If we find that’s the case, we make arrangements for them to leave.”
Will the growth trend in the self-storage industry continue? New storage around the nation is still on the rise. According to Sparefoot.com, construction of new storage units in 2017 is close to double what it was in 2016, from around $120-140 million to between $220 and $300 million in new construction. According to the New York Times (April 13, 2017), some city governments around the country are alarmed by this and are beginning to discuss curtailing the development of self-storage facilities because they take up valuable real estate that could be put to other uses.
Discussion of curtailment is not the case here in Vermont. Still, local operators are keeping a wary eye on the trend. Kasey Clark at Linbrooke Storage said while business is going well, for now, he’s not taking it for granted. “To be honest, there is a saturation point,” he said. “And I’m not sure when we will get there. There’s a point that’s going to come when there’s going to be a lot of empty units.”
Steve Pratt at Central Vermont Storage sees the industry growing around him, but he too is not sure this will last. “I see my business as flat. I’m receiving fewer calls than I did five to ten years ago. Obviously, when there are more units out there it’s going to be spread around,” he said. “So, as far as growing, I think that’s interesting because I do see them [more facilities] going up. I’m just not seeing the market for them all.”
But if you think the trend will vanish soon, keep in mind the words of George Carlin: “So when you get right down to it, your house is nothing more than a place to keep your stuff… while you go out and get … more stuff. ‘Cause that’s what this country is all about. Tryin’ to get more stuff.”
Storage For Staging
A storage unit can be a useful tool for people trying to sell a house, according to Sarah Harrington of KW Vermont realty. Storage units can be used for the temporary removal of furniture and personal items from a home in the process called “staging.” Staging is an important part of preparing a house for sale, according to Harrington. “By putting some of your furniture and things like family photographs, knick-knacks, and sports equipment into temporary storage and artistically rearranging what is left, you allow potential buyers to subliminally picture themselves and their possessions in the house, said Harrington. “And the house will look less cluttered and more open in the photos we take and post online with the listing. And that can be critical, because a cluttered house is a turn-off to many buyers. As part of our services in preparing for a sale, we send an interior decorator to the owners’ home to help them determine what goes and what stays and how it should be arranged,” Harrington said. She added, “Studies have shown that on average staging can result in a home selling 50 percent faster and at a 17-percent higher price.”