The stock market has climbed to new peaks; much attention has been focused on economic barometers such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, and the prime interest rate. But down here at street level, I believe the financial gurus could gain some valuable insight into our national standard of living by examining the SUI (storage unit index).
During the past 10 years, self-storage centers have steadily popped up across the suburban landscape. Advertisements promote them as a given feature of modern American society. Presumably the average family has spent the long run of the bull market indulging in a frenzy of household acquisition, and the resulting surplus of floor lamps, camping gear, picnic tables, ski equipment, and other bulky items cannot be jammed into closets or garages already bulging with durable goods.
As someone who could once pack most of my worldly possessions into a Volkswagen Beetle and still have room to see out the back, I am acutely aware of the ways in which conspicuous consumption can complicate my effort to lead a calm, simple life. And I know that renting a storage unit is like falling into a deep pit: Entry is swift; escape tricky.
My involvement with self-storage did not occur by choice. When my father sold his house and was preparing to relocate, he rented a unit and filled it with family possessions he thought I should keep. Then he handed me the keys and moved away. I had vague plans to sort through all the items, but my attempts were always half-hearted and unproductive. My own move finally forced me to empty out the unit and break the insidious cycle of storage co-dependency.
These days I prefer the peace of mind that comes from having all my personal inventory under one roof. My priority is to maintain the amount of solid matter at its current level: Whenever a new item comes in the door, something of roughly equal volume must be jettisoned.
I realize, however, that some domiciles will become overloaded by holiday accumulation in the weeks ahead. If you decide self-storage is your last, best hope, here's some basic advice: Put your goods up on blocks so that when the place floods, and it will, stuff won't get wet. And don't worry about careful packing or labeling. No matter how organized you are, you'll shuffle and shift as you search for what you most need. And happy hunting. That one precious possession you are seeking is undoubtedly right where you put it - in the back corner, on the bottom of the pile.
* Jeffrey Shaffer is the author of 'I'm Right Here Fish Cake' and 'It Came With the House,' collections of humorous essays. He lives in Portland, Ore.