Monday, June 23, 2014

Storage Wars: The Evolution of Excess

When A&E premiered the first airing of Storage Wars in December 2010, I'll bet the producers thought they would have a smash hit. And they do. The show is now in its fifth season with plans for a sixth, hosting some of the old faces and a few new ones. Do you like the show and, if so, who is your favorite buyer?

Cast of Real Characters

The oldest member of the show, and my favorite, is Barry Weiss, known as "The Collector". He is portrayed as perhaps having the least amount of money to work with, but he's willing to take chances. He searches for that one oddity that will at least break him even. Brandi and Jarrod bring their unusual relationship to the show as "The Young Guns". They always seem like they're on the verge of ending their partnership with continuous disagreements and Jarrod's signature cross-armed stance.

The characters who have made a real impact on the show are Darrell Sheets and Dave Hester. Darrell, "The Gambler", recently brought his son Brandon into the picture and their family is now notorious for two things. Darrel is responsible for the biggest payoff in the show's history. A locker that he purchased for $3,600 ended up containing several Peter Gutierrez paintings Darrell sold for $300,000. Also, inside another purchased locker, the body of a woman was found wrapped in plastic. The previous male owner had killed his wife and subsequently disposed of her body. Wow....

Dave Hester, "The Mogul", made himself into the man you love to hate. With his annoying "Yuuup" and his big white trucks splayed with his name in big letters, he always made a scene. And if all of that flash of ego didn't rub you raw, then his crew of 3 or 4 guys spilling out of the trucks like worker ants should have finished you off. His story, though, ends in the courtroom. Dave has accused the show's production company, Original, of staging fake lockers and providing money for bidders. He was fired from the show and his court battle rages on today.

The crew of Storage Wars represents what can happen in a world of excess. The evolution of consumerism has driven our society to be filled with metal buildings housing a bunch of valuables that have lost their value to its owner. True, there is money to be made through these auctions, since another person's trash is another's treasure. However, I believe that many Americans who own these units have lost sight of some of the core values of life. Not intentionally, though. They just need to be reminded of an old aphorism that dates back nearly 100 years and introduced to the evolution of a new way of thinking.

Stepping Back in Time

The odds that someone reading this article will remember the Great Depression is rather slim, although I am hopeful that the babies from the 20's and 30's are still able to share their stories. With this in mind, there is a lot of information out there about this tough era and what it took to survive. Judy Busk has written an essay for a website called New Deal Network where she recalls the impact the Depression had on her family.
          "Gifts were carefully opened, hands delicately loosening the tape so the wrap could be neatly removed and folded to be used again. A ball of string graced our kitchen cupboard; it was made up of hundreds of shorter pieces tied together...Cotton and wool socks were stretched over a worn out light bulb and darned to prolong their use....Printed chicken feed sacks became skirts, flour sacks became underwear."

It was during this era that the phrase, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without", became a household mantra. Although this saying was popularized during World War II, it does have its origins dating back to 1933. Commodities were extremely scarce and so anything at all that was owned by a family had to be stretched to its fullest use and beyond. Judy recounts the story of her mother getting an orange in her Christmas stocking and feeling that it was a deeply treasured gift. In fact, many Christmases didn't have gifts at all. A white-frosted cake would have been the only celebratory piece. It is so neat to read and realize that people appreciated everything, even the smallest of things, that these days we can take for granted. Over time we have lost sight of the lessons of this era and have become slowly blinded into becoming the consumers we are today.

The Rise of Consumerism

After the resolution of World War II, the American economy began its gradual turn around into the wealthy society that it is today. During the 1950's and 60's the concept of "keeping up with the Joneses" became the new trend of American life. It has served as a foundation for the surge of consumerism in this country. Americans are no longer considered to be citizens, but rather, consumers. Purchasing power is what drives our overall economy, however, in the never-ending pursuit of material things, our lives have become cluttered. We buy bigger houses so we can put more stuff in them. Many garages, which were created to house vehicles, now serve as storage units attached to homes. In some surprising ways we too have become the hoarders you can see on popular television. Except in our case, what we are doing is perfectly acceptable by the status quo because the more you own, the wealthier you are. Many times this "wealth" has to be stored somewhere else. There just isn't any more room. It is from this demand that the evolution of the storage units has risen and now permeates our landscape.

The Storage Solution

The history of self storage units has a rather interesting past. According to Ezine articles, the founder of the Self Storage Association, Buz Victor, discovered on a trip to China "that people had been keeping their personal belongings in clay pots for over 6,000 years". The concept took hold much later in Britain, but it really was Buz's entrepreneurial idea that snowballed the idea back in the states. The first facility was established in Odessa, Texas in the 1960's by Russ Williams. He was an avid fisherman and needed somewhere to keep his boats and equipment. He went and purchased several apartments and garages to suit his purpose and because he felt other folks could make use of this type of storage. The units basically sold themselves.

The idea of storage units is a good one with good intentions. It is practically impossible for some people to keep large boats, trailers, RVs, and so forth on their own properties. Our soldiers in the military, too, need somewhere to keep their belongings while off serving our country. In a culture of excess, however, this idea has blossomed into a near epidemic. Rather than get rid of our stuff, we choose to store them out of sight, which eventually means out of mind. Folks are either forgetting to pay the rental bill or realize they simply cannot afford the fees. And this is how the Storage Wars concept has turned into a multi-million dollar industry.

Some Facts in a Nutshell

  • There are more than 48,500 storage units nationwide.
  • The self storage industry in the United States generated more than $24 billion in annual revenues (2013 - estimate). The industry has been the fastest growing segment of the commercial real estate over the last 40 years and has been considered by Wall Street analysts to be "recession resistant" based on its performance since the economic recession of September, 2008.
  • The industry pays more than $3.2 billion each year in local and state property taxes.
  • There is 78 square miles of available storage space nationwide, which would provide every  household in this nation access to 21 square feet. 
  • Storage units have become so popular that many are managed by third-party companies. 

So What Can We Learn?

I think fifteen years into the 21st century most Americans understand that we are a nation of excess. The Internet has given all of us the opportunity to view websites, blogs, and publications that in many ways have exhausted this subject and the many concepts tied into personal finance. At this point you have either decided to change or keep things going they way they always have existed. The real wealth of family and basic necessities is becoming more apparent as we develop into a tightly-knit global community. I see an environment of giving freely to others on Twitter as a way of developing relationships. It is refreshing to be a part of a community that seems to be, for the most part, interested in my well-being and providing help and guidance with minimal strings. These things represent the real value of life, not junk piled up in a storage unit.

Ultimately, the idea of living intentionally is perhaps the best way of breaking free from the bonds of consumerism. This concept was first introduced to me by my wife, and at first I was a little resistant to the idea. Tsh Oxenreider has published two books on simplifying your life and living intentionally. In her first book she really hits the nail on the head with her ideas that purging your house of "stuff" is actually a very liberating experience. I, like many folks, have issues with letting go of things. However, as our family has let go of many things we thought we wanted, we realize that those things were just taking up space unnecessarily. We were spending too much valuable time cleaning up all of the "stuff" that we truly have been able to do without. Let it go already.

Bringing back the Great Depression and World War II aphorism of "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without" is a cycle we most certainly need to repeat in America today. In doing so we are able to return back to the roots of filling that inner void - peace with ourselves, our community, and God.

Works Cited