Half of my life is locked away in a Storage Prison. It’s not too bad; there’s 24 hour access and CCTV cameras on every corridor and at every corner. But there are no signs of human life, no windows with pretty views, no spontaneous meet-ups, just nothing. Half my lifes possessions are locked in a sterile cupboard behind a bright yellow door in an big sterile building in a sorry looking industrial estate. The other half is in the van with me. Turns out, winter coats and thermal leggings take up more room than picnic blankets and bikinis. I hate this; the limbo between seasons, the time between van-dwelling and house-living and the cold autumn mornings that look nice but feel nasty.
Last week, on a Sunday, I frantically made a series of phone calls to different storage companies in Devon. Surprisingly, there are a lot. I’m shocked. Judging by the sizes of peoples homes and double garages around here I thought people would have enough space for ‘stuff’. Turns out, most storage units are fully booked, with no vacations planned in the future. Luckily though, I found the smallest unit available in a town not too far away and I passed over my credit card details for eight weeks of storage at half price!
The day before, The Boyfriend and I had stopped by my mothers house on the way back from a weeks campervan holiday in the Cotswolds to pick up some much needed winter supplies from my colourful shed- my long winter coat, my selection of woolly hats, my tattered thermal vests and leggings, snow boots and hot water bottles. I also considered taking my toolbox, but there was simply no space left in the van so my plan to begin pulling apart the van will have to wait.
After a week together in the van I had built and designed for one, Kiwa the camper was a mess, and smelly. Over the (almost) year of van life and working nomadically, I had acquired new clothes and shoes as well as tiny mountains of books and laptop accessories. Kiwa was at bursting point, and The Boyfriend has an aversion to packing lightly.
Nonetheless, we drove eleven miles to the storage unit and I punched in the codes to the multiple doors reminiscent of a drive-thru experience at Longleat Safari Park. Lost in the long corridors of endless white walls and yellow security doors, I eventually find my unit; essentially the size of an above-average broom cupboard. I wonder, for a minute, if it’s the same size as the interior of the van if it were to lay on its side, perhaps? The Boyfriend helps unload some non-essentials. The bikinis and beach towel, the yoga mat, that small mountain of books I mentioned, and the collapsible box of summer shorts and playsuits I lived in for the last six months. It hardly fills the storage space but the van is looking empty. I finally have some floor space, its not stand-up-able floor space, but large enough to kneel down to pee through a funnel into a plastic bottle without any accidents.
The short experience is sparking a depression I can feel brewing in my gut. I know from the floorplan of this ‘stuff-prison’ that my unit is the tiniest, and I know from the online booking system that all the plots are occupied, yet haven’t seen a single human being in the building all week (and I go everyday to organise my clothes and swap t-shirts and towels). The storage cupboards, I assume, are filled with the stuff that people cant bare to part with, yet don’t use and don’t have near them in their own homes. I really doubt, at this price and random location that there are many van-dwellers using this service, but who knows?
There’s an Instagram page that occasionally follows me named StorQuest Self Storage whose hashtag is #MakeRoomForAwesome and try to appeal to travellers who pack up their lives into storage to travel with just a backpack, or similar. Its clearly worked well for them; they have many engaged followers and their business seems to be doing well, but it got me thinking. If the contents of the storage unit are items which you do not need to use regularly, or at even at all, then why do we own them? Why, when we get rid of things, can we be/have/do awesome? Why have we continued to acquire stuff that is not useful to us? Imagine all the useful products trapped behind the steel doors in this ‘Prison of Stuff’ in this sterile and lonely environment. Imagine the stories these stuffs could share if they were just put to use! Image what a warehouse full of storage units could become if it wasn’t just a jail of my forgotten belongings.
On a Facebook forum for alternative living earlier this year, I read a long post-which has since disappeared- by a 19 year old boy who had managed to live undiscovered in a windowless storage unit in the UK whilst working and saving up for his next alternative-lifestyle-endeavour. In a world where homelessness is continuously increasing, and house prices begin to rise, I doubt he is the only person hiding in these units.
Clearly, for me, the van is simply not big enough to live multi-seasonally. The space in Kiwa for shoes could fit three pairs of flip flops and two pairs of walking sandals in the summer, but only manages one pair of winter boots and the trainers I wear for running. I can’t claim to live completely minimally either. I am to blame for owning products I have not put to good use. I purposely have enough clothing to survive in a civilised and professional environment for four weeks without paying to do laundry. Its not ideal, and sadly my work often means I can’t turn up in smelly and casual clothes but laundry in Devon is expensive. I like to buy notebooks and thank you cards (because I get through a lot of them) but when I was tidying the van earlier I found cute jotters and tiny note cards that I forgotten I had even purchased. I certainly live with less ‘stuff’ than others around me, but can't really call myself living completely minimally- I know I can do better.
Earlier this month I was due to make the transition from tin-can to brick-house, although a series of events reinforcing my life motto of trusting no-one meant that we couldn’t move in and won’t be able to until the house is up to standard. As yet, we are still not in, and I am losing faith that we ever will (more to come in the next blog).
I’m working on a long-term journalistic piece on homelessness. If you know anyone living alternatively out of necessity, rather than desire, please do get in touch. Also, if you use storage units I’d love to hear how you use and access it, and your thoughts on their general existence.