There is something uniquely American about self-storage. I’m not talking about the fact that ninety-five percent of all the self-storage units in the world exist in the United States. Or that there is more than 2.4 billion square feet of self-storage in America, enough to cover Manhattan Island with a roof three times. I’m talking about the American spirit. The idea that I may be in transition now, but that good times are just over the horizon, and when they get here, I will have my stuff with me. Industry insiders talk about the “four Ds”, dislocation, downsizing, divorce and death. But in truth the self-storage industry doesn’t thrive on crisis, it thrives on our stubborn belief that things for us will get better.

There is no such thing as a typical self-storage customer. Nearly one out of ten Americans rents a self-storage unit. Self-storage facilities are one of the last places in America where every kind of American will go and stand side by side, moving boxes and sorting through memories. But self-storage is more than storage. Some people use their units as a startup, storing equipment and inventory for day to day use. Artists use them for studios. One group of husbands in New England gets together on weekends to watch football in their unit. More than one operator will talk about “that” unit where the renter walks in dressed as a man and walks out as a woman.

What does that tell us about the architecture of these buildings? Self-Storage buildings are ruthlessly efficient. Designing exterior facades becomes three-dimensional Haiku. Architects talk about “negative space”, the space around an object of interest used to focus your attention. But what do they say about “empty space”? On the inside self-storage buildings are a series of anonymous hallways and doors, with the empty space hidden behind hallway walls. Brian Eno and Laurie Anderson once staged an art exhibit in a self-storage building in London. Instead of standing in the center of a large gallery looking at the art, attendees walked down the halls, sticking their heads into one storage unit at a time, with artwork displayed inside. The experience of a gallery opening was turned inside out. “This can’t be Art”, exclaimed one attendee, “It’s too much fun!”

Boxes – A Haiku
by extra space

Quiet Saturday
Before seven, boxes waiting
after the dishes.