They have become a defining characteristic of the roadside, wedged in among the malls and fast-food franchises — barracks-like rows of buildings with small garage doors, surrounded by a fence. A gated enclave for excess stuff. Our stuff is safer than we are, in many instances.
Having “stuff” has become the iconic definition of success … meaning we have lifted stuff to the level of idol. We have enshrined it in a gated community, protected it with a fence having a locked gate, and a lock on the door inside the community. And there are so many of these little shrines that it is now physically possible for every American to stand, simultaneously, inside one of these gated communities, under the total self-storage roofing now available in the United States. There are more than four times the number of these communities than there are McDonald’s here. And I thought there were a lot of McDonald’s!
Not only is our stuff safer than we are, we tend to take rather good care of it, even when we don’t deem it worthy of a gated-community. ( Those of you with your cars on the street and your stuff in the garage can skip the rest of this paragraph … you know both who you are and about which I speak. ) Perhaps living in the garage is not your idea of “being rather well taken care of.” But imagine yourself homeless and someone offered you the space his/her cars now inhabit. This person offers you that space in the garage to live. You can return there anytime, day or night. You would consider this being ( reasonably ) well taken care of. It is certainly better than living on the street. This well taken care of is the stuff of many of us. There are lots of us who’ve banished our cars to the outdoors so our stuff wouldn’t have to be. Still, we don’t stop accumulating; we turn to our shrines, the gated communities for our stuff.
How many of us is “lots of us?” Good question. I see a lot of cars parked on the street, driveway or parking slabs of houses that have garages ( anecdotal evidence ). I found a short, recent ( December 2012 ) article ( http://tinyurl.com/notforcarshttp://tinyurl.com/notforcars ) on the topic, citing two studies, admitting there was not many data, but estimating that 75% of garages could not be used to store cars because they were so packed with stuff. And the need for the garage is, no doubt, because the house is so filled with stuff that one can hardly get around.
And there are gurus that will help us figure out ways to rid our lives of excess stuff. I did a Google search on “rid stuff” ( without the quotes ) and gathered a hundred forty million results. I attended Benedictine Oblate Renewal Day and the speaker was an expert on getting rid of “Clutter.” ( I suspect this word is chosen to make the stuff she refers to sound classier. Indeed, Google found only three and a half million items when searching for “rid clutter.” ) And I subscribed, for a time, to her periodical e-newsletter. Why? Because I tend to gather clutter ( please note, not stuff ) in my small spaces until I can no longer stand it, and it seemed to me her method(s) would help me with my clutter better than others I have ( not ) tried. And it did.
In future installments, I may tell you more about me in this regard.