Bikes, pianos, gifts from granny, and other stuff we put in storage
Storage containers serve a purpose, sure. They're everywhere! We were just curious about what people put away and at what cost
Every corner of Al Quoz, Dubai's artsy industrial neighbourhood has either a gym or a storage facility. If you drive around in the evening, you can see neon boards on the side of roads lit up with names that are coinages of the words storage, store, box, move, space - that kind of thing.
Storage spaces, whether commercial or personal, are not new. In Dubai, as in several countries, these facilities are often shipping containers that double as warehouses that then accommodate people's routine and not-so-routine miscellany: a shell-shaped bed, baby cots that have sentimental value, family heirlooms, large wooden gifts from grandmothers, costumes worn by performers for Brazilian street carnivals, shoes, clothes, cutlery, books.
Martin Burrows, a musician in Dubai, has been storing his amplifiers and sound system in Lockable Store in Al Quoz. He pops in once in a while to have a look at this stuff and says he's happy with the service. Paying for storage suits him better than moving to a larger apartment.
A doctor who lives in the UK uses a storage space in Dubai to keep all her mum's stuff because she has a hard time letting it go. The space isn't cheap The doctor just pays.
People store all sorts of things. Companies that sponsor marathons store thousands of T-shirts with various company logos S, M, L, XL. A novelist could have a blast diving into the details imagining the histories of stored objects and the people who store them. Like the woman who moved to Dubai from the UK three years ago to join her husband who works here as a lawyer. She brought with her boxed items - cutlery and other household stuff - that remained in storage because her husband had set up a functional home, organised the basics so they didn't immediately need to unpack her stuff. The boxes remained in storage. Circumstances changed.
Three years on, a divorce is underway. The unpacked boxes are going back home.
There are different themes underlying the storage. If there's melancholia, there?s also adventure. A manager of one of the units in Al Quoz said an American school teacher leased a storage unit for a year paying Dh695 a month to store his two motorbikes, one a Ducati. The batteries were first removed and fuel tanks emptied. (Dubai Municipality has a list of restrictions for items that can be stored - nothing flammable or edible.
Canned food is okay, as long as it's in the can and sealed. No pets (!), no plants, no cold storage, so no meats and tubs of ice-cream. Someone else has stored up to 800 pairs of shoes in another space in Al Quoz. The warehouse hand can't reveal nationality.
Younas Mahmood, manager at Lockable Store, a seven-year-old company, again in Al Quoz, says they have more than 500 storage units. Of which at least 75 per cent, he says, are occupied. Mahmood thinks the awareness for storage solutions has increased of late. So who are the people who mostly lease these spaces? "Europeans, Russians, Arabs." Not too many Emiratis and few Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Nepalis.
The smallest space they offer is 40 square feet for Dh400 per month.
Similarly, 50 sq ft is Dh500 and so on. Their largest leasable space is 500 square feet for which you cough up Dh4500 a month and can fit contents of an entire apartment.
A lot of the users, expats all, are familiar with the concept. "Most of our customers are from cities in western countries and not first-time users of storage spaces. They know how it works," says Amalia Yulo, sales representative from MoreSpace shelf storage that has 252 units in Al Quoz 3. They have only two storage units up for grabs at the moment - a 10 sq ft locker for Dh345 per month and a 60 sq ft space for Dh1,145 per month.
They're in the process of constructing a new warehouse down the road that will be ready after Eid. Such is the demand for space, and the travails of urban living.
Al Quoz is certainly not the only area where companies offer residents storage options, both personal and business. Jamir Khan, owner Total Shipping LLC, a warehouse in Ras Al Khor, (not too far from Dubai's only flamingo-spotting reserve), has been in the UAE for 42 years, in the shipping industry for 37, and is "100 per cent Pakistani," as he puts it.
Khan says people store kitchen utensils, furniture, guitars, and pianos - with the legs removed to maximise space. A 40 sq ft space costs about Dh350 (When are you coming to store your stuff, he jokes with me on the phone).
Sathyamoorthy Nandagopal, civil engineer based in Dubai for 20 years, used a storage facility this March. He had to vacate a house and hadn't finalised a new space. Stuff had to be cleared out. So in went the sofas and tables and everything a house contains for a month. He was a first-time user, and had good things to say about the service.
Storage, containers, paying for storage, the need for space, the prevalence of clutter, the need to declutter, the rage that is the decluttering expert Marie Kondo - it's all connected.
We have more stuff (read: rubbish?) than ever. We might have less space than ever. A real estate consultant says in Dubai Marina, a 2bhk space, on average is 1,300-1,400 sq ft. Whether that's enough to contain people's stuff is a different matter.
Professional organiser and owner of DeCluttr Me, Shelina Jokhiya says, "There seems to be a growing trend to use storage facilities due to the lack of storage space in homes. People do not know what to do with their stuff.
She believes "It is a more western concept, but the more people find out about the facilities and see a use for it, they will pay to use them whatever the nationality."
As Jokhiya says, "When moving abroad, it is useful to store your items in storage facilities for a few weeks until you find your new home or have settled in. She says, "Offices using a document retention policy, they will need to use these warehouses to store files for a certain archive period."
Should we credit Japanese declutter queen Marie Kondo with this need to "spark joy" in our lives? Did we not know the value of clean spaces before her? Are we really so into cramming our lives with stuff? Jokhiya says, "Moving your junk to a storage facility is not decluttering but hiding the problem. I would suggest that they first declutter and organise at home or in office and then see what is left. If there is no room to store the items in your place then yes, move them to the storage facility. But if they stay languishing in the storage facility for months and months or even years, what is the point of keeping the stuff (and paying the rental fees)".
Circumstances differ. Not everyone is a litterbug just greedy for more space and flush enough with cash to afford it. Sometimes you have no choice.
Ashley Connick, another Dubai resident who's been using a storage service but has now emptied the space says, people ask him not how he can waste money on storage services but how he can have so much stuff that needs to be stored. His view is more on the lines of, "I don't know how people survive without this service. "(In city apartments) as loft spaces become rarer, storage spaces will become more acceptable.
Nivriti likes human interest stories and quirky, oddball stuff