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Is Britain a nation of hoarders?


The rise of self-storage businesses has been driven by our love of shopping and our inability to throw things away.

untidy garage

Britain has turned into a nation of hoarders according to the hour-long BBC2 documentary Real Storage Wars, first aired in 2014.

The programme looked at why Britain now has the biggest self-storage industry in Europe. An industry that didn’t even exist three decades ago.

According to the Self-Storage Association UK’s annual survey 2015, there is 35.7 million square feet of self-storage space in the UK. 

Higher consumption

Led by firms such as Safestore and Big Yellow, the growth in this industry is down to two things.

First of all, we own a lot of stuff

Wages have grown significantly over recent decades, even if the same has not been true of the last few years. But prices of consumer goods and clothes have gone in the opposite direction.

And secondly, it appears that many of us simply cannot bear to part with our possessions.

So with space running out in our homes, it is no surprise that self-storage has taken off in such a big way.

Self-storage 'has its uses'

self storage units

Beverly Wade runs a business called Cluttergone in Harlow, Essex, helping people remove the junk from their houses and flats.

She says that self-storage services can be very useful.

"If you're between homes, for example, they are essential," Wade says.

"Likewise if you are keen on skiing or canoeing and live in a small flat with nowhere to store the equipment.

"But the fact is that many people just use self-storage as a garage, full of rubbish."

The cost of hoarding

Wade believes that one of the problems many people face is that it takes time and money to dispose properly of unwanted items.

But she explains to clients that clinging on to possessions, whether at home or in a self-storage facility with a monthly charge, also has a significant cost.

"If I am speaking to a family with a room full of stuff, I'll ask them how much it would cost to buy a home in their street with an extra bedroom," she says.

"It might be £10,000 or £15,000 or more, but that is the cost to them of their hoarding."

Can you really sell it?

Moving boxes in car

Another factor is the rise of websites such as eBay and Gumtree, which allow us to sell almost anything, according to Wade.

"People think they won't throw an item away because they might be able one day to sell it online," she says.

"But I explain to them how much time it takes to make money from something on eBay: you have to list the item, deal with queries, package it up, and then pay your percentage to the site as well as to PayPal.

"At the end of it all, you might be doing two hours' work for 50p profit: it's just not worth it."

Waste not, want not

Clare Parrack from the Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers UK says that many of us feel bad about throwing things away.

"It's probably a hangover from the 'waste-not, want not' philosophy of previous generations.

"But when clutter is clogging up your home it creates a mental muddle too.

Clear it out and you'll not only have more physical space but you'll lift an emotional load off your mind at the same time – plus you'll save yourself all that time you currently spend looking for things you can't find."

Wade says the best place to start is by tackling the rubbish around your home.

"Dried-up paint, bits of wood, broken things: just get rid of it," she says. "Life moves on."


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