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People are leaving their possessions in self-storage warehouses for longer than ever. But why are people paying to store stuff they rarely use?
It's a monument to our acquisitive society - the brightly lit shed on the edge of town offering "storage solutions".Society has always had its hoarders. But in the 21st Century people are farming out their junk to the growing number of self-storage facilities. It begins as a temporary solution. You load up the car with the retired pushchair, an African sculpture you never found room for, old letters, bin bags full of clothes, Betamax tapes and your cherished back issues of National Geographic.
Shortly afterwards you're at one or other of the huge hangars offering space for your beloved objects. With summer the busiest time of year to move, many will have recently contemplated a similar scenario.
The mania for storage centres began in the US in the 1960s and the country now has over 50,000 such facilities. They arrived in London in the 1990s but didn't take off across the UK until 2000. Britain has 800 major self-storage units, the same as the rest of Europe put together.
It's the ideal stopgap while you get organised and there are knockdown three-month offers to entice you. But out of sight is out of mind. Recent statistics show that people are leaving their junk in storage units for longer and longer. Data from the UK Self Storage Association suggests that the average length of stay has risen from 22 weeks in 2007 to 38 weeks in 2010.
And newspapers have found horror stories where people have forked out thousands of pounds to keep their possessions in storage for years on end, despite never visiting the warehouse to take them out. The consumer society means many people are gradually running out of space, says Cory Cooke, a professional organiser based in London. "More and more stuff comes in and it's not going out. I want to say it's a throwout society, but it's not the case because people are keeping their things around."