A couple weeks ago, there was an interesting article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine about the self-storage industry, which has now grown to a staggering 2.3 billion square feet in the U.S.

The self-storage industry concedes there’s a lot of “junk” being stored, but as long as people are paying to store all this stuff, companies such as Public Storage are happy to let you store stuff to your heart’s content. In fact, they will let you do pretty much anything with a storage unit other than live in it.

The article resonated with me because I was in the process of looking to buy an external hard drive to store photos, music and my personal and business documents. Although my digital “assets” account for less than 200GB GB, any external hard drives of less than 500GB were quickly dismissed as inadequate. At the end of the day, I bought a 1TB hard drive that will likely more than meet all of my back-up needs for years to come.

The question that begs to be asked is why we feel the need to have so much storage when, in fact, most of our needs pale in comparison. Part of it has to do with the fact storage is cheap, and the difference in price between 500GB and 1TB drives is so small that buying more than you really need is a no-brainer.

As well, humans, by nature, are pack rats. As the growth of the self-storage industry illustrates, we love storing stuff even if we have no need for it. There are all kinds of different reasons why we need to store so much rather than giving it away, recycling it or disposing of it.

The same attitude prevails in the digital world where people hang on to everything. We all have documents that are no longer relevant or needed. There’s lot of music within our collections, for example, that could easily be trashed given they haven’t been listened to in months or years.

But most people never get rid of their data because they have a strange attachment to it. After all, you never know when you’ll need Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf” for a presentation. As well, it’s so easy and cheap to store data rather than delete it.

As a result, we’re turning into digital pack rats happy to keep everything for as long as possible. It’s great news for the external hard drive industry, which keeps fueling our need to keep stuff by launching bigger and faster drives at prices that no real pack rat can resist.

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