Talk of the Town - Stop me before I store again October 02 2003

Pack rat confesses all

“If you haven’t used it in a year, throw it out.” Time-tested advice from professional organizers telling us to clean house.

That’s ludicrous. Not the suggestion, the job. No one should be able to make a living as a professional organizer. But America is a nation of pack rats. We have too much stuff. Hence the rise of well-compensated clutter-cutters whose counsel is ignored. Because America is also home to self-storage, a multi-zillion dollar industry dedicated to the proposition that if you can’t bring yourself to throw it away, you can squirrel it away.

The self-storage empire is so vast that it has its own media and educational facilities. Hence an online publication from the Self-Storage Training Institute. It offers a window on a realm that typically has no windows.

The Institute is worried about the Old World, which lags in the self-storage compartment. “Europe has a population of 292 million and less than 500 self-storage facilities,” says its newsletter. “Compare that to Florida, where there are more than 2,000 facilities and a population of 15 million.”

Why this gap? I’ll give you one reason — actually, two. Europeans blew all their contents up, twice in one century. A pair of world wars is heck on bric-a-brac. The real mystery is what those people in Florida are storing. The only thing in the whole state worth keeping is the orange crop, and that’s for export.

The self-storage industry is also worried about its reputation, because news stories crop up about weird stuff left in storage. Such as dead bodies. Every 25 minutes in America, a murder is committed. With a homicide rate that robust, full funerary honors aren’t always possible. Hence the storage unit as final resting place. Well, not final final. Uncasketed deceased have a way of making themselves known. The rest is bad for business.

I’m interested in this because I’ve become a storage junkie. (And no, my loved ones are still alive.) A few months ago, every closet having become a permanent avalanche zone, I decided to invest in a little extra space. For $65 per month, a small room the size of, well, a small room, was mine.

In went the holiday decorations, empty picture frames, moldering high-school memorabilia and hideous gifts from family that could be rotated back into the house for display when said relatives are visiting.

The result? Not only is my house a lot neater, there’s now room for even more stuff. The only down side is having to visit the storage unit. Going over there is not for the faint of cart.

Before this, I’d never been to a storage unit — although they have become a pox on the landscape as numerous as the petrol parlors, lube pits and tire emporiums, morphing my neighborhood into one long, blacktopped homage to the internal combustion engine.

But now I have an electronic pass-card enabling me to slip past the fearsomely spiked draw-gate guarding an approach to the Kingdom of Storageia. Once past, the first thing you see is a huge Dumpster. Having a place to throw your trash is a rental perk.

I’m already confused. I thought this was about storing trash, not throwing it away.

Once you’re in the actual citadel of cargo, they try to make you think you’re someplace else, namely the mall. Toward this end, they pipe in a peppy kind of Muzak to make you forget you’re in a cavernous building filled with rows of shuttered sarcophagi containing God knows what — or who.

Then there’s the fact that I always get lost en route to my storage room. I have a bad sense of direction to begin with. Couple it with coordinates that read, “Turn left at the first row of storage units, go down three more rows of storage units, hang two quick rights and make another left at the next storage unit. You’re the third storage unit on the left past the storage units.”

Hang around long enough and you discover that people are renting space to conduct unnatural, asocial acts — and by that I mean music lessons. There are few noises more damaging to the human psyche than amateur practice on a violin, and someone down the hall from my unit is torturing the catgut on a fiddle.

On Thursday nights, a Latin dance band plays one of the larger storerooms. It sounds like the episode of “I Love Lucy” when the Ricardos, in an effort to break their rental agreement with the Mertzes, have Ricky’s orchestra launch into a 4 a.m. version of that old Cuban folk tune, “El Breako the Leaso.”

When I’m lost, it’s welcome entertainment.

Glen Slattery is locked-down in Alpharetta.