People often characterize the proliferation of self storage in the United States as a sign of consumerism or a materialist culture. To me, consumerism means consuming products. Buying a bunch of stuff and then throwing it away when you get bored with it — or buying items that are designed for just once use before being thrown away, such as disposable plates and tableware, or disposable sippy cups for babies and toddlers — is consumerism at its worst.
However, countless people using self storage are the last you would give this label. In fact, in many ways self storage is a return to old-fashioned, almost Depression-era values — the value of saving things to be reused, or using space efficiently, heating and air conditioning what needs to be climate-controlled, and not providing a climate-controlled environment for belonging that don’t need it.
Green Your Storage: Ten Ideas
Every day, I see average Americans using self storage units to make a greener, more environmentally-friendly world. Here are ten suggestion to try if you want to do the same:
- A Holding Place For Items With Life Remaining: Store things you do not currently use, but want to save for family or friends, or to donate to charity.For example, store children’s outgrown, but gently used clothing, books, and toys, until their siblings, cousins, or neighbors have a chance to grow into those things.
- Use Resourceful Alternatives To Cardboard: Reuse containers, such as food containers, that you would normally throw away, such as glass jars, baby food containers, and sturdy plastic take-out food containers. Baby food containers are the perfect size to store nails and screws. You may want to use them to store all the hardware that goes with a piece of furniture that you are storing disassembled. Use a permanent marker to write on the glass or plastic so that you can remember what piece of furniture the hardware belongs to. Store old egg cartons, drink trays, and the like, and use them as packing materials when you are packing something fragile, or use them as craft materials for children’s art projects. Save plastic grocery bags and use them to line small garbage cans, or tie them together to make them into a recyclable textile fiber. Some women knit recycled bags and purses out of grocery bags that have been recycled in this way.
- Give A New Use To An Old Piece: This is truly a Depression-era idea, but I’ve seen women doing it — storing old clothing and other textiles that are not in good condition, in order to take good scraps from them and use them in memory quilts, or simply take those textiles to a textile recycling center. If you recycle the textiles, you may even earn a little money. If the clothing that has been cast off is a sweater or something else made of yarn, you may want to unravel the sweater and roll the yarn into balls, to knit or crochet with again.
- A Community Sharing Center: Store things in order to share them with your neighbors, using a storage unit as a collective or community resource, such as a neighborhood library, homeschooling curriculum collection, or rotating toy library.
- House a Garage Sale: Use a self storage unit as a location to hold a garage sale, to encourage other people who are interested in your cast off items to reuse and recycle them. This is especially useful when neighborhood covenants prohibit yard sales.
- Store e-waste: When you have filled a unit with the e-waste, rent a truck and take it all to an e-waste recycling center (if your self storage center does not already serve as a drop-off center for e-waste.)
- Donation Center: As a community group, rent a storage unit in order to collect donations for people who are in need, or to hold the possessions of a family that has suddenly been made homeless by a flood, fire, earthquake, or other natural disaster.
- Find a Storage Facility Built With Eco-Friendly Materials: New self storage facilities are being built, or converted from old warehouses and old retail buildings, all the time. Many of these new facilities are being built by owners who are quite concerned about the environment and about occupational hazards in the workplace. Consequently, it is now possible to find self storage facilities that have been built using green materials and green construction techniques. Many such facilities meet LEED certification requirements — the construction industry standard for an eco-friendly building. For example, Safe & Secure Automated Self Storage of Coconut Creek, Florida, just won Mini-Storage Messenger’s award for being the 2010 Outstanding Green Facility of the Year. Safe & Secure uses very little electric power. Its grounds are landscaped to conserve water, and the facility was designed to produce as little waste as possible. In addition, the facility uses green cleaning and all-natural pest control methods. If you look around, you may find a similar facility in your community — going green has become a real trend in self storage construction.
- Store Items in an Energy Efficient Storage Facility: It is becoming common for self storage facility owners to add solar panels to the roofs of storage units to generate electricity. Many facilities are now able to generate their own electricity, along with excess power that they then sell back to the utility company. If you have a choice between an energy efficient, green facility and a facility that isn’t, storing with the greener facility seems like a no-brainer for the environment, even if the rent is a little bit higher — and as often as not, the rent at an energy-efficient facility is no higher than it is at any other self storage facility.
- Support a Downsize: The most dramatic ecofriendly change you can make for the environment, is probably to downsize into a tiny house. When I say a “tiny house,” I mean a really tiny house, one of those houses that is the size of a large walk-in closet. Many people who live in such homes use self storage units to house what they do not need in their homes every day, but want to save for the future, such as financial and health records, seasonal clothing, and a few cherished possessions that may not fit in a tiny home.
Art Decker is a division manager with Self Storage Company, which operates a group of websites, including a Texas self-storage locator. Art leads a busy life, but enjoys meeting new people and interacting with customers when traveling between sites, like from Austin to the San Antonio self-storage center.