Minimalist living not your style?

Home contents storage boxesThe rocketing price of houses over the last two decades has been reflected in a rise in the long-term use of self storage units as people find their homes are simply not large enough for everything. An estimated 1,500 self storage sites across the UK have seen a 9% rise in use in the last few years. Television reality shows, such as Storage Wars, have also made them more popular and more sought after.

Angela Andrew, who rents a self storage unit in East London for £120 per month says, “It’s a bit of a rip-off really. I wouldn’t say I’m a hoarder, but I do see value in stuff.”

Her unit is packed to the rafters with various boxes and bags, a record collection, costumes from her work as a performing artist and old items that she no longer uses. Although these items may not be worth a lot in terms of money, she says they have ‘nostalgic value’ to her.

Angela says she did not expect this to be a long-term solution but she has now had the container for two years and says it supplements her rather small living space. “The amount of money I pay to sub-let, plus this, works out at a normal monthly rent,” she says. “This little box is also my home.”

The use of self storage was not just about being unable to part with certain items. When Angela first started renting the unit, she had no permanent space of her own, and she felt secure knowing that her belongings were safely under lock and key. 

The contents of these containers typically contain the realities of life, not only mementos but also items that are needed for day-to-day living, such as sofas and mattresses. Some people rent a container at a major point in their lives such as bereavement, marriage, divorce, etc.

Using self storage as a longer-term solution seems to be a growing trend, as almost a third of customers have had their unit for more than three years.

Gemma Martinez uses two self storage units in which to keep all the stock for her wholesale business, supplying high-end dining and tableware items. She initially considered using a warehouse but said self-storage offered more ‘scalability’. “I started with a small unit and then kept on growing. It would also work the other way around. If I needed to cut costs, I could do so very quickly.”

Self storage is hugely popular in the US despite the fact that people’s homes tend to be larger there. It seems the more space we have, the more possessions we will keep.

So, should we all stop being so sentimental and save ourselves some money? 

“It’s human nature to hoard and keep things,” says the founder and owner of Attic Self Storage, Frederic de Ryckman de Betz. He agrees that the number of ‘lifestyle customers’ using storage long-term is an increasing.

“People might discover self storage when they move house but, once they move in and it’s all nice and clean, the last thing they want to do is clutter it all up, so they leave their stuff in storage.”

Most of us have moved into a new property and still had a few boxes left over that we never quite manage to unpack, but don’t want to throw away the contents ‘just in case’.

Betz discovered the industry when a relative passed away in Belgium and he had to sort through their belongings. He used self storage again temporarily when his mother died and says that he wishes he had kept the unit just that little bit longer. The extra time would have given him more time to realise the emotional value of some of his mother’s most treasured possessions, such as her dresses from the 1960s, he says.

“When you experience a loss like that you’re not in the right place to make those decisions. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I’d kept more.”

He also says the business seemed an attractive one as he struggled to find a vacant unit. When he did find one, the rent was increased twice in 18 months.

Ask an Independent Chartered Surveyor for advice and a home building survey when buying new property.

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