If you use Netflix or Hulu for entertainment, you may have scrolled past or checked out documentary and reality TV shows like “Tiny House Hunters,” “Hoarders,” “Forks Over Knives,” or “Rotten.” It seems like ‘less is more’ is the common theme among all of these popular titles. The recent decluttering lifestyle trend, minimalism, is on the rise across the country. With ever-increasing rent rates and people opting for smaller spaces to save money, some of the trend’s popularity is simply driven by necessity. For other families, minimalism is about rejecting the “buy, spend, save” consumer cycle and living a more sustainable lifestyle.

So what happens to self storage if everyone stops buying stuff? Well so far, that hasn’t happened. Minimalism has fueled the self storage industry thus far, rather than slowing it. No matter how much people want to declutter and downsize, it seems there will always be stuff that people just aren’t willing to part with. (Those Beanie Babies could be worth millions someday!) Even more, over 10,000 Baby Boomers are retiring every day, and these numbers aren’t expected to slow down until the 2030s. As Baby Boomers retire, they downsize and relocate, both of which continue to drive the need for self storage. Despite minimalism’s popularity among millennials, the demand for self storage has continued to grow for these populations, as well. In fact, millennials are one of the fastest growing consumers of self storage. Millennials are very mobile, and all of that relocation has led to a lot of stuff in storage units. They’re also living in trendy, expensive real estate markets like Seattle and Boston, where it’s just cheaper to keep their stuff in a storage unit than rent a larger apartment.

But the demand can’t keep going up forever, can it? Many items that used to be commonly stored in self storage units can now be stored in the cloud, like photo albums, document storage, file cabinets, DVDs, and books. TVs and electronics are getting smaller and so are apartments, and a growing number of millennials and Gen Zers are choosing to spend their money on experiences and services, rather than “stuff” - whether it’s traveling the world, ordering food on Postmates, or the less-sexy necessity of paying for healthcare.

Still, furniture, family heirlooms, and small living spaces aren’t going anywhere, and people have to store this stuff somewhere. Minimalism won’t be the death of self storage - as long as the US economy continues to thrive, the real estate market is hot, and young people continue to see rising employment rates, self storage units will always be in demand. While it’s unclear if the minimalism trend will be around for the long haul, the generations of tomorrow have made it clear that they value lifestyle mobility, one of the biggest drivers of storage.

So what can we expect to change? If millennials and Gen Zers are using self storage units as “off-site closets” so that they can live in expensive cities, we can expect to see the demand for climate control continue to grow. We can also expect the demand for large storage units to shrink: small apartments need smaller furniture, and younger generations are no longer storing bulky items like box TVs and books. Younger generations also love sharing to save on costs - we can expect to see a rise in digital key sharing technology and interest in innovative self storage startups that tout “cloud storage for physical stuff.” Tomorrow’s consumers will also be more likely to rent for short periods of time. As more jobs become online and work from home positions, we can expect consumers to continue to focus on travel and be flexible about relocating, so while tomorrow’s consumers may still need self storage, they won’t be needing it in the same city for long.

The future of self storage

  • Climate control

  • 5x5s and closet-size spaces

  • “Sharing” technology

  • Shorter rental periods

Americans still love their stuff, and human consumption and laziness will always be big drivers of self storage business. For the foreseeable future, storage owners can expect minimalism to continue to fuel the industry, rather than hinder it, and despite the differences between generations, the need for self storage will certainly remain for years to come.

Thanks for reading! If you liked this blog post, you may also like: What does Warren Buffett think about self storage?, Will storing firearms be the next big thing in self storage?, and People are sick of self storage. Here’s what you can do about it.