My friend Gospel Matt is fond of passing on tidbits of information which rattle around in your head for days. His latest offering comes from NPR: since WW2, the average home in the states has doubled in size, while the number of occupants has dropped by half. And here’s the kicker: though our amount of living space has increased by a factor of four, we are using more off-site storage than ever. In fact, a self-storage company recently sold for $2 billion.
I can certainly relate: we recently moved, and I was deeply offended at how much stuff we have (even after trashing and giving away what was almost literally a ton of stuff). And I notice when I’m driving around that self-storage outfits are absolutely everywhere. In fact, in the outer suburbs, it seems that the storage sites go up before the houses do. I guess we’ve all got a lot of stuff that we don’t need, but that we can’t exactly give up.
Now Gospel Matt is a first-rate economist, and a heck of a nice guy, and so doesn’t want us all to become too mired in guilt. He says it’s a simple function of economics: housing costs, storage costs, manufacturing costs, and salaries are such that the path of lesser resistance is for people to accumulate more possessions and to keep them. Simply put, we can afford to accumulate and keep more stuff, and so we do.
Of course, Gospel Matt has about 1/4 of the clothing and book collection which I have, and he spends his time and money transforming his neighborhood and educating inner city kids. So I think I’m entitled to feel a little guilty. I think we all should, to a point. What’s the point of having all of this space and stuff if we’re too busy making payments on it to enjoy any of it? I have so much junk that I can’t even remember all of it until I move, at which point I go to great effort to wedge it into a closet somewhere. For what?
And I know I’m not alone. Another friend, Diana the Prophetess, tells me that 34% of the mortgages in our area are interest-only. And I know from talking with people that many of us are carrying mountains of education and consumer debt. It really scares me sometimes. One little bump, and our little kingdom is gonna bury us all alive.