Have you ever been driving down the street, passed a self storage facility, and thought to yourself, “Hm, I wonder what little-known facts there are about storage?” Didn’t think so. But now that we’ve piqued your interest, aren’t you even the teeniest bit curious? Do you know how far back storage facilities date? Or the most common demographics of people who rent self storage units? Grab your mug o’ tea, cozy up in your favorite armchair, and get ready to learn five little-known facts about storage.
When were the first self-storage units created? 
The concept of self storage came about 6,000 years ago in what is now Xi’an, China. People would place their belongings—to-do lists etched in turtle shell, bamboo reed flip-flops, collectible spearheads, and family heirloom jewelry made of jade and teeth—in clay pots and store them in underground pits. Guards monitored these storage areas to ensure no one removed another person’s pot or its contents.
It is widely believed that it was a man named Xiang Lau who opened the first storage facility when he realized his mud hut was overflowing with the prized bones of his enemies. He wanted to keep them in his man cave to gloat to all his friends, but his wife made him remove them after she kept tripping over them. Thus the idea for an off-site self storage facility was born. Apparently Lau was the first to offer deals, too, such as a free ox rental when renting a storage unit.
Okay, maybe the story of Lau is undocumented. But odds are a shortage of living space and a bickering couple led to the birth of ancient self storage.
When did modern self storage facilities emerge?
Modern self storage involves a tenant renting a space that no one else has access to. This concept was unheard of until Lauderdale Storage opened in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 1958. It set a new precedent that remains the norm to this day. 
The industry continued to grow in the 1960s with the first self storage facility in Odessa, Texas called “A-1 U-Store-It U-Lock-It U-Carry the Key.” Despite the wordy, forgettable name, the business was a fast success. It was built in an industrial area where fishermen could store their boats and oil field equipment for quick access—which is why they were 100 feet by 30 feet, the right dimensions for storing bass boat trailers. 
Residential customers caught wind of the cool idea (not to mention the stink of fish) and joined the queue to store their possessions, paving the way for the first hoarders. By 1972, the first Public Storage facility opened in El Cajon, California, and self storage boomed into a more large-scale industry. Which leads us to… 
Which country stores the most stuff? 
Americans are the biggest hoarders. Nearly 9 percent of all American households (that’s 10.85 million people) currently rent a self storage unit. This number has grown from 6 percent in 1995.
In total, Americans store 2.3 billion square feet of stuff, which is more than 78 square miles–three times the size of Manhattan. That’s an average of 7.3 square feet of self storage space for every person in the United States. And yet, clearly that’s not enough space for many people, as seven seasons of the A&E reality show Hoarders illustrates.
Consider that there are about 48,500 “primary” self storage facilities in the US (“primary” meaning the facility is the main source of business revenue for the owner) and another 4,000 “secondary” units. Compare this to the relatively puny 3,000 storage units in Canada and just over 1,000 in Australia and it’s clear: Americans like storing stuff.
Who seeks out self storage? 
About 27 percent of self storage renters live in apartments or condos while 68 percent live in single-family homes. Which shows that expanding your family can lead to serious accumulation addictions. (Where’s the FDA ruling on that one?) And though 65 percent of storage space renters have a garage, 47 percent have an attic, and 33 percent have a basement, they still need extra storage space. I guess when it’s a choice between your comic books or your mother-in-law….
Sixty-three percent of self storage renters have an annual household income of less than $75,000 per year, making it clear that you don’t have to be rich to afford a storage unit. Either that or Americans just love deals. And 6 percent of all units are rented to military personnel.
Thirteen percent of all self storage renters end up renting for less than three months, 18 percent rent for three to six months, and another 18 percent rent for seven months to a year. Which indicates that almost half rent for reasons of transition, such as moving, repainting the house, or a short stint in jail (you gotta stash your loot somewhere until you make bail, right?). The greatest number of renters, though – nearly 30 percent – keep their self storage unit for more than two years. Like a vacation home for their crap.
How big is the self storage industry? 
In 2013, self storage in the US generated more than $24 billion which, at a local and state tax rate of $3.25 billion each year, is pretty good incentive to encourage people to buy more than they need. The industry has been the fastest growing segment in commercial real estate since about 1975 and is even considered recession resistant because of its continued success through the recession of 2008.
You might be able to rattle off five of the industry’s biggest players–Public Storage, CubeSmart, Sovran Self Storage, Extra Space Storage, and U-Haul–but there are also 4,500 mid- to large-sized firms that run multiple facilities.
The average size of a primary self storage facility is 46,500 square feet. There are enough of these storage facilities that every American household could rent 21 square feet of storage space. In short, the self storage industry is huge and isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
Now aren’t you glad you took the time to learn a few facts about the storage industry? Next time you’re at a party and need a handy conversation starter, fire off a few of these babies and watch your popularity grow. And if that doesn’t work, you know where you can store your wounded ego—in one of 52,500 storage units around the country.
1) History of Self Storage, http://ww2.txssa.org/Publications/Mayjune1.htm
2) History of the Self Storage Industry, http://www.flexispace.com/history-of-the-self-storage-industry
3) Self Storage Association, http://www.selfstorage.org/ssa/content/navigationmenu/aboutssa/factsheet/
4) Self Storage History, http://performanceselfstoragegroup.com/self-storage-history/
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