Can You Be Frugal If You Own A Lot Of Stuff?

Self Storage
If you are truly frugal, you probably won’t have stuff that ends up in a place like this!

Last week, the Wall Street Journal published an article about how the tech sector is trying to disrupt the self-storage business model (subscription required).

In the article, author Peter Grant noted startups such as Clutter Inc. and MakeSpace Labs Inc. are trying to use  logistics and technology to provide a more efficient and user-friendly self-storage experience than established companies like Public Storage, CubeSmart, and Extra Space Storage Inc.

The article noted Clutter charges $100 to $110 a month in New York to store a closet worth of stuff, in line with local self-storage facilities. Clutter differentiates itself from the traditional self-storage companies by packing up and photographing items before hauling them off to their storage facility, and then delivering them back to the customer’s home after they select the photographs of the items they want returned online.

For this service, Clutter charges $35 per hour per mover for on-site labor in the packing and moving process associated with pick-ups and deliveries.

Clearly, I am not the target demographic for these new services. I am in my mid-40s, and live in a house in the suburbs, with plenty of storage space.

In my younger days, I did live in the Big Apple for a decade, so I understand storage space is at a premium in small apartments in many areas of the country.

But even when I was short on space, I think I could have found enough room somewhere in my apartment to avoid spending upwards of $1,300 a year, plus more money when I actually wanted my things back. My solution would probably not have been aesthetically pleasing, ergonomically correct, or fashionably hip, but if it meant saving $1,500 a year, you can bet I would have figured a way to fit an extra bike, skis, box of clothes, and/or love seat into my tiny apartment!

Other options would be to sell or donate stuff, to make some cash and earn some tax deductions, rather than spending more money on storage. I understand some things are irreplaceable or have sentimental value, but my hunch is most treasures being carted away could be replaced in the future with something relatively similar fairly easily. Moreover, I’d also guess the value of many things being stored is less than what will be spent carting and storing those items for a few years.

The truly frugal and minimalist among us would, of course, question whether we need all of those things to begin with. As I’ve noted in the past, I’ve tended to focus on the big financial decisions over the course of my lifetime, while letting the small things slide. As I’ve become more focused on achieving financial independence, I’ve started doing a better job of sweating the small stuff.

While I have a tough time understanding why the customer base of the large self-storage companies continues to grow year after year, as a member of the FIRE community, I tend to think about things a little differently than the average American. The Wall Street Journal article notes that Clutter and MakeSpace have raised over $100 million from venture capital and private equity firms. Clearly many very smart people, who have made lots of money in the past, see an opportunity here.

I wish them all the best of luck, and hope this business gives them riches beyond their wildest dreams.

But they’ll never get a cent of my money – as a customer, or as an investor – as I continue on my path towards early retirement.

If you ran out of space to store your belongings, would you pay to put them in storage, sell them, donate them, throw them in the trash, or do something else?

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