When did the United States go from being a country filled with proud workers who make stuff to a country filled with indebted out-of-work consumers who store stuff?
“I hope in these days we have heard the last of conformity
and consistency. . . . Let us affront and reprimand the
smooth mediocrity and squalid contentment of the times.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance” (1841)
I went to a self-storage facility with my father-in-law today, in Emerson’s home state of Massachusetts (“The Spirit of America”). With all four kids out of the house, my wife’s parents are downsizing; and, as a consequence, they don’t have nearly enough space for all of their stuff, despite the fact that they’ve had a number of yard sales, and they’ve insisted that their kids come and collect all that stuff they’ve been storing, more or less indefinitely, chez mom and dad. For my wife, this involved the repatriation of a number of nostalgia-soaked artifacts from the Before John Era (c. 5 B.J.), such as a collection of beautiful letters from her first love.
I’m no stranger to self-storage facilities. I worked for a moving company every summer for years back in the day, and we moved stuff into or out of self-storage facilities from time to time. But things have changed. Big time. The self-storage industry has grown exponentially in the last two decades. Used to be that the only people who used self-storage facilities were people who were going through major transitions of some kind: e.g., people who were downsizing now that the kids were all grown up (like my in-laws), people who were moving overseas for work, people who were storing their recently deceased mother’s stuff, etc. But that’s no longer the case. People my age, people in the middle of this divine comedy, are renting out storage space, and lots of it. Why? Because they don’t have room for all of their stuff. Where’s most of this stuff made? Not in America.
Now I forgot to mention an important detail: as we were pulling up to the self-storage facility, my father-in-law mentioned that the building was once a factory, a factory that he and his wife (my mother-in-law) worked at in the 1970s. The factory was owned and operated by Tucker Manufacturing. They did injection molding and they paid very well. What’s more, they were super busy: the factory was open 24-hours/day. That’s three 8-hour shifts per day. These were good jobs. With great benefits. Plenty of vacation time. And these were American jobs. Good American jobs. And they’re gone. Where? Probably to places like China. Those factories send cheap stuff back to the States, where consumers buy it at Walmart. They’ve apparently bought so much of this cheap crap that they can’t even fit it all into their houses. The insanity of this situation is maddening. Emerson must be turning over in his grave! When did the United States go from being a country filled with proud workers who make stuff to a country filled with indebted out-of-work consumers who store stuff?
—John Faithful Hamer, Butterflies not Crocodiles (2016)
Published originally at Committing Sociology. Reprinted with permission.
Photo courtesy of author.