For oldsters, the meaning of life is in a self-storage unit

Maybe we own too much stuff.

The self-storage industry is red hot in the United States, a curiously American business because no matter how big our houses get, we still buy more stuff than they can hold.

Wisconsin Public Radio says 90 percent of all self-storage sites are in the U.S.

“It’s important to us to define and understand our world through consumption because we need to consume in order to survive,” says Nancy Wong, a professor of consumerism science in the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Human Ecology. “As we become a more industrialized and sophisticated culture we get to … consume more and more things and it becomes actually a very central part of meaning and well-being in life.”

So the meaning of our lives is in a self-storage unit in some empty strip mall?

Take a stab at that, professor.

“It provides us with a sense of security and gives us a sense of our own history and a sense of continuity,” she said. “It defines relationships and the sense of belonging to others.”

In a storage unit?

Part of the problem is we Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers think our children are going to want our stuff.

They don’t.


Because they’ve got a better grasp of the meaning of life and what defines them.

  • Guest

    George Carlin had a great bit on STUFF and our need to buy places to put STUFF

  • KTFoley
  • Rob

    Regarding Prof. Wong’s comments: What a bunch of booshwah.

    Anyone who can’t put their car in the garage – because it’s full of crap – is doing it wrong. And, repeat after me: “My grown kids don’t want their own childhood and adolescent crap, much less their parents’ crap.” So get rid of it, already! Put it out on the curb, post a “FREE” sign nearby, and let someone else get the pleasure of owning your crap.

    I haven’t figured out what the meaning of life is, but I damn sure know that holding on to a bunch of crap isn’t gonna get me closer to the answer.

    • John

      I wish you were right, but my garage is full of bikes I (and the rest of the fam) ride, my little coffee roasting setup (too smoky to do indoors), my kid’s weight bench (that I won’t let him bring in), and an old snowmobile (that I would happily part with).

      We can get one car in, if we have to, but it’s barely two stalls (I’ve gotten two in when my kids were without bikes, but you have to face both drivers sides toward the middle)

      I think I need a bigger garage.

      • Rob

        Ditch the snowmobile, get a little shed to put the bikes in, and if your kid isn’t using the weight bench, offload it. : )

        • John

          He uses it.

          Snowmobile and shed are both on the to do list, but never climb very high before other stuff creeps in. (We need a few thousand bucks worth of new flooring that’s more important than garage space. Old houses. Gotta love em.)

          • Rob

            Sell the sled to finance your flooring. And now that the weather’s nice, your son could lift weights outside.

          • John

            If only the sled were worth that much. :).

        • Barton

          don’t put the bikes in a shed – you’ll only create additional storage space you’ll fill and the bikes may be ridden less because they aren’t obviously there to BE ridden.

          Also, sheds are easy to break into and Minnesota (mainly the metro area) has a HUGE bike theft problem.

          • Rob

            Put ’em, in a shed; property insurance will cover theft.

        • Hang the bikes from the garage rafters…

          /I have 5 bikes hanging in my rafters…

          • John

            Garage rafters are too low (there’s a crawlspace up there that I keep them in during the winter, but too hard to get up/down almost daily during the season of use – also, the boy rides his to school year round).

            Believe me, I’ve considered all options, and the only one that works for right now is what we’re doing. . . parking the cars in the driveway.

          • I was just spitballing for ya.


    • refereemn77

      Having helped after grandparents have died (after my great grandmother died, my aunt and I spent two weeks clearing the house and garage – two full construction dumpsters, and there was still stuff left to auction), I now “spring clean” once a year. I get one of those Bagsters from Waste Management, fill it with crap that no longer has a purpose, and away it goes.

      There was an article last fall in the Pioneer Press about a company in St. Paul that helps people deal with heirlooms after family dies. So many people are under the impression that this stuff is worth something just because it’s old. Most of the time, it’s worthless… Enjoy it while you can and then get rid of it after that…

      • Cleaning out my mom’s house is going to be a nightmare. Thinking about just donating it to the fire department for training purposes.

  • MrE85

    As I have mentioned before, nothing helps you reconsider your need to save “stuff” like cleaning out the home of a dead parent. It’s a job I’ve done twice now, and I now have a different attitude about the things I have kept for years. My plan is to get rid of a lot of it before I die, so the burden falls on no one else. The Swedes call it “death cleaning,” I call it living a less-cluttered life.

    The kids are right on this one.

  • KariBemidji

    I think I broke my mom’s heart a few weeks ago when she asked me if I wanted my Fisher Price Sesame Street playset (complete with Mr. Hooper) and I said no, sell it.

    The next few years are going to be tough. My grandpa was in the Air Force and the family moved all over the world. My mom and her siblings have furniture and trinkets from those travels that mean a lot to them and very little to me. I’ve made it clear that I live in a teeny tiny house and can’t keep everything that is important to them.

    • Barton

      My Fischer Price Garage (complete with still working elevator and the nozzle still attached to the gas pump – not sure how that survived) is on its 4th generation of kids playing with it. And when I visit the cousins who now have it, I still like to piay with it. But I never wanted it for myself after I “outgrew” it….

  • Jay T. Berken

    My to be five year old is having a birthday soon. I thought we should indicate to not bring presents. I was vetoed because ‘we don’t want the daycare families to feel bad because they give gifts at the other birthday parties.’ We don’t need more crap.

    //I was not vetoed by my better half.

    • Jeremy

      You could ask folks to donate to a charity of your kid’s choosing, or one the gift-giver chooses. Win-win-win!

      • Jack

        My solution was to hold a summer party instead of a birthday one. That way no thinks they need to bring gifts. (Plus I didn’t want the kids in my house…..)
        Love the charity idea.

  • RBHolb

    I think the notion that someone else will want our stuff is just a rationalization. We have stuff, we don’t want to give it up, and we particularly resent anyone telling us we need to. For many people, hanging on to something, anything, from our past is very important. It doesn’t matter what it is, it’s ours. It is a thoroughly irrational feeling, but it’s there.

    This discussion needs to be read in tandem with the one about moving our parents out of the old home place. It’s hard to downsize, even if we know we should be doing it.

  • Jack

    Each time I visit my folks, they want to send me home with something they read or something of mine from years ago. I resisted until I realized that if I take it now, there is less later.

    Load up the car now, recycle or donate what I can, trash the rest unless I have a compelling reason to keep (rare).

  • X.A. Smith

    SOMEBODY wants your stuff….