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Why Do Americans Love Their Junk?


I have a friend who back in 2007 built one of those walk-in storage locker places on some land he owned next to the garage where he and his son did a decent business repairing cars. Within a month or even less, he had rented every single locker space.

This was at the time when the economy was collapsing because if all those phony mortgages and my state, Massachusetts, was setting records for the number of families that were losing their homes. So, I assumed that my friend had rented out all his walk-in lockers because families who had been evicted needed some place to store their furniture and belongings until they figured out where they were going to live.

One day I was down at my friend’s place and when he told me that all his lockers had been rented and that he was thinking of putting up some more, being a typical liberal I said, “Well sure, that’s what happens when people are thrown out of their homes because they can’t pay the increases in those mortgages which they signed without realizing they would be screwed when the mortgage rate changed.”

To which my friend responded, “Mike, I haven’t rented a single locker to anyone who has been evicted from their home. The reason people rent these storage units is they all have too much shit!”

Several years before this conversation, I happened to be down in Louisville, KY on business and decided to take an extra day to drive back on local roads and avoid the interstate. I ended up driving through 20 or so towns in Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York before I hopped on I-95 in Connecticut and finished up driving some 50 miles on I-91.

All the towns I drove through had a recently built, walk-in storage facility, and several had two such sites. When I got home, I looked up the website of the national association representing owners of these walk-in units which said that on average, such facilities were 90% rented, and that the total amount of space in all these walk-in lockers nationwide was somewhere around – ready? – five billion square feet!

Now maybe the organization representing the owners of these walk-in lockers were pushing things a bit. But if what I saw in virtually every town I drove through between Louisville, KY and Springfield, MA (which is where I live) is at all typical of towns throughout the United States, and if most of the people who rent these lockers use the space (to quote my friend Ray) to store their ‘shit,’ then this says something very fundamental about how Americans live and how they think about their lives.

Incidentally, when I drive from home to work every day, I go past probably 40 or more private homes, every one of which has a one or two-car garage. Since I tend to get into my office before the morning rush, I notice that the driveways leading from the street to most garages still have cars parked, usually two or more cars.

From time to time these homeowners also leave their garage doors open and in virtually every single home, the cars are sitting in the driveway because the garage is filled with junk. So, I guess what they do is (to quote Ray again) first store their shit in the garage, and when that space gets filled up, pay $40 a month or so to rent some walk-in locker space.

I drove past the local Walmart yesterday afternoon and if there were 10 empty parking spaces in front of the store it was a lot. And this Walmart is what is called a ‘super’ Walmart, so it has a parking area the size of Rhode Island.

What are they all buying in that store? You can’t tell me that most of those shoppers are wandering around buying something they really need. Other than some food and a tank of gas, what does anyone really need?

When they talk about how the American economy is based largely on service, and how we have to bring manufacturing ‘back,’ what they are really saying, whether they know it or not, is that we can close all those shopping malls down, replace them with factories or workshops and cut wages in half to compete with some factory in China or Singapore which turns out six hundred pairs of ‘designer’ pants or shoes every day.

Know where those clothes will wind up after they are worn once or twice? They’ll wind up in a heap on the garage floor and then when the garage is overflowing the clothes and some other junk will be thrown into the walk-in storage locker or maybe a second locker will be needed to hold all the crap.

And the recent polls show that Americans are still upset because the economy is way down?

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