At first blush, it looks like we're becoming a society of pack rats.
There's been an explosion in the number of storage operations in Winnipeg over the last few decades. That includes mini-storage facilities, self-storage complexes and mobile or portable storage operators.
Although the City of Winnipeg doesn't keep track of how many storage operations there are here, the general manager of one of city's oldest and largest mini-storage facilities -- Mini Storage on Higgins Avenue -- estimates the number has ballooned from a mere handful in the early 1980s to more than 70 today.
Even a local moving company -- Rolly's Transfer -- is getting in on the action after opening a new 440-unit, self-storage facility last year in southwest Winnipeg to complement its traditional moving business.
"To us, it was a natural fit," Ren© Bazinet, director of sales and marketing for Rolly's, said in an interview.
The explosive growth here mirrors what's been happening in cities throughout North America, especially in the United States, where the self-storage industry got its start in the late 1950s and really took off in the last 10 to 15 years.
Chad Woloskoski, general manager of Mini Storage on Higgins Avenue, said much of the industry growth here in recent years has been due to an influx of U.S. chains into the Canadian market.
"The Americans realized we didn't have very many storage facilities up here," he said, so they expanded north in a big way.
'I think a big part of this is just consumerism and people wanting to have more things,'
"I'd say in the last three years alone, there have been 25 facilities open within a five-minute radius of us," he added.
The increased competition hasn't prevented some existing operators from continuing to expand their operations here. Storageville KP Ltd., which has two storage complexes in the city, is building a new 33,000-square-foot, two-storey, self-storage facility on its Waverley Street compound to complement the existing 40,000-square-foot building.
Company president Fraser Kulba said with all of the new homes being built in southwest Winnipeg, StorageVille is likely going to need the extra space within the next few years.
"And I think if the economy stays strong and interest rates are still manageable, demand (for storage space) will remain strong," he added.
Local operators said demand is coming from both residential and business customers.
"The best way to describe the people who store things is anybody who has had a change in his or her life," Kulba said.
But two local university professors think there's more to it than that.
"I think a big part of this is just consumerism and people wanting to have more things," said Corey Mackenzie, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Manitoba.
"Marketers are also just getting really good at telling us what we should have and what we need to buy in order to be happy. And the implicit message in that is, 'Don't get rid of it because if you do, you will no longer be happy.' "
At the same time, consumers are being told they need to accumulate more things. They're also being told they need to simplify their lives and de-clutter, he said. And renting outside storage space is one way to do that and not give up any of your possessions.
Kelly Main, an associate professor of marketing at the U of M, thinks for some people, accumulating more possessions also partly fulfils a different type of need -- " the need to feel like we belong."
Main explained with people relying more heavily on emails, text messages and social media sites to connect with other people, they can have less personal contact in their lives. And over time, that can lead to a feeling of isolation or of not belonging.
By acquiring more possessions, "we can be part of the consumer culture," she said. "We become part of that larger group."
Main said interest rates have also enabled consumers to buy more things on credit. And some don't seem overly worried about the potential pitfalls of taking on too much debt.
"They think, 'If I want it and it makes me feel good, that's more important than what might happen to me in the future."
For Winnipegger Lee-Ann Bowe and her husband, their recent decision to rent two StorageVille units had nothing to do with wanting to feel good. They're selling their condominium and wanted to stage it properly. That meant de-cluttering and finding somewhere else to store some of their belongings until it's sold.
But Bowe said de-cluttering made them realize they had a lot of things they no longer needed, so now they're in the process of deciding who gets the surplus things they have in storage.
"Sometimes that takes some time and some thought," she added, "and this gives us time to think about what we want to do."
Bill Bilton, a local sales representative for a national pharmaceutical company, is another StorageVille customer who has been has been renting a unit in the Waverley Street compound for the last three years.
Bilton said he needs a secure, climate-controlled place to store his product samples. And if he has a shipment of products coming in, StorageVille staff are there to receive it, rather than him having to wait at home for it to arrive.
"So for people in my situation, it's great."
With more people putting their belongings in storage, you might think non-profit organizations such as Goodwill Industries would be seeing a drop-off in donations of clothing and household goods. Not so, according to Goodwill president and CEO Doug McKechnie.
"We get more stuff now than we've ever got," McKechnie said. "In fact, I've had to rent storage trailers just to keep up with it all..."
He thinks donations are up because people like the fact Goodwill uses the money it makes from the sale of donated goods to create jobs for handicapped workers.
"A year ago, we had 77 employees and now we've got 88," he proudly stated.
While industry officials don't foresee a decline in demand any time soon, some say they wouldn't be surprised to see a reduction in the number of operators.
"There was a time five years ago when the demand outstripped the supply," said Curtis Schroh, general manager of the PODS Moving & Storage franchise in Winnipeg. "Now it's the other way around, and I'm willing to bet there will be some storage companies that close."
Schroh said PODS saw its revenues level off in 2011 and 2012 as more new competitors entered the local market and a price war drove down prices by as much as 25 per cent.
"But this year we took right off again... and we've been able to raise our prices back up to where they were," he added.