We have already parted with too much. We held a beloved father’s hand as he left this world, and now we can’t just send his prized tool chest off into the void. “The things handed down in our families don’t hold a lot of monetary value but contain plenty of pining,” the Kentucky novelist Silas House wrote in a recent blog post. “They’re the stuff of family history.”
The logical thing would be to discard some of our own belongings to make room for the things we want to keep from the loved ones we couldn’t. The trouble with that logic is that these are the things our own children grew up with. It feels impossible to carry off the makings of the world that made them, especially when they are so close to needing it again themselves. But where to put it all?
Reader, we stored it. Like my mother before me, I found myself standing at the top of the abyss and flinging my treasures into a place where I might reasonably expect never to see them again.
This solution will surprise no one who has weathered a divorce, downsized after the children were grown, or watched new-minted adults pack up their first apartments to ride out a pandemic at home. It will especially surprise no one who has moved to a new city or driven the blue highways of America’s heartland, where new self-storage facilities keep popping up like mushrooms after a week of rain. Even in rural places with few actual homes, smack in the middle of nowhere, there are now more teeny-tiny warehouses than you would believe, all for belongings that won’t fit anywhere else.
“Self-storage thrives when people experience change, and Covid disrupted norms across all generations,” Drew Dolan of DXD Capital told The Wall Street Journal’s Esther Fung last week. Little wonder that self-storage is now a $40-billion-a-year industry, with more than 10 percent of American households paying to store their stuff someplace besides where they live. The units themselves occupy some 1.9 billion square feet, with an additional 43.6 million square feet planned or under construction.
We might not be able to take it all with us, but we can sure keep it in climate-controlled safety, waiting for whatever we think we’re waiting for, even if what we’re waiting for is too elusive or too far out of reach to be named.
In the age of Marie Kondo, it would be easy to see all this stuff as a moral failing, the sign of a fatally materialist worldview. In time I, too, may come to recognize our rented 10×10 storage unit, this receptacle for emotional need, as an exercise in self-delusion. But somehow I don’t think that will happen. I think I’ll always remember what it meant this year to try to save whatever I could save from a time when the world kept taking and taking and taking.