Wanting What You Can’t See

storage lockers

Storage Wars is a reality show about people who buy other people’s junk. One of many shows about picking through trash and hoping to find treasure, Storage Wars sets itself apart by having a very unique premise. Instead of attending a garage sale or flea market and purchasing one item or two, the principle characters of the show attend auctions and bid on entire storage units. Consequently, when they win a locker, they are stuck with the good and the bad contained within. Spoiler: it’s mostly bad. But like searching for a thumbtack in your junk drawer, or for that one last cheesy Bugle in a bowl of Bits ‘N Bites, rummaging through a freshly purchased storage locker must provide the new owner with the delicious anticipation of unearthing a pirate’s booty. I can see why it might become addictive. Find one box of antique guns – or stack of comics – or rack of fur coats – and all the hours of sifting through bags of garbage become forgotten. The pursuit of hidden treasure becomes as rewarding as the gem you may eventually find.

Herein lies the fun of the show itself. It engages our imagination. Reviewing the show, Todd VanDerWerff writes how the mystery of the what’s inside the locker is more interesting than actually finding out what’s in it. In the words of one of the show’s stars, Jarrod Schulz:

“It’s not about what you can see. It’s about what you can’t.”

A little more background on the show: As the opening sequence of the show explains, “When storage units are abandoned, they are put up for auction.” In California, if the owner of a storage unit does not pay the rent on the unit for 3 consecutive months, they lose possession of the locker and the contents within. Then, the units are auctioned off one locker at a time. The only catch is: potential buyers can’t go inside the locker. All the good stuff is probably hidden, so the buyer must determine the locker’s worth with a combination of experience, instinct and a lot of luck.

Storage Wars films these auctions and focuses on 7 principle characters: 5 regular buyers and 2 auctioneers. The buyers bicker with one another and trash talk, then bid each other up. At the end of each show, each buyer’s winnings are tallied on screen. This competition between characters, while stilted, provides enough onscreen drama to keep the show entertaining. But like the mystery of what’s inside the locker, the real intrigue of the show is what isn’t shown.

Most obviously not shown are the owners of the storage lockers. Why did they abandon their storage lockers? Did they go bankrupt? Did they forget to pay the rental fee? Did they die? Did they fill up the locker with garbage and leave it there, hoping to avoid fees at a landfill?

You can tell a lot about a person by what they pay to put in storage. That collector wants to keep his records safe; that family moved out of their house and needed somewhere to store the furniture; that shop owner went out of business but didn’t want to sell his equipment. At least this is what I assume. The viewers are never told the story of how the locker came to be filled. But a lot of these stories seem to be tragedies. In most cases, the owners simply couldn’t afford to keep owning their possessions. In others, it seems as the owner has decided to cut their loses and just move on. I like to imagine that some of the lockers were owned by dead people, who didn’t want to share with their living relatives, so they left their possessions to rot in storage.

The most depressing lockers are the ones that look as if they were owned by hoarders. The hoarder’s house filled up and they needed somewhere to keep all of their “most precious.” Even the avid storage unit buyers avoid these lockers. To buy one would risk classifying yourself as a “pooper scooper.” (Direct quote from the show.)

When Barry Weiss buys a locker, I fret about what will happen to its contents. Weiss is known as a collector of unique items, and most items in a storage locker are of no use to him. I assume the majority of every locker he buys goes to the landfill, so I appreciate when Dave Hester offers to buy the throwaways for his consignment store.

Of course, none of the above is shown on screen but it tickles my fancy to think about what happens outside the scope of the show. Are the stars actually friends? Do they make more money buying and selling junk, or do they now make more money by simply being on the show? Does the popularity of Storage Wars affect the auctions? All of these questions are left purposefully unanswered by the producers of Storage Wars. They realize that what is not shown can be even more interesting than what is.

Storage Wars can be seen on A & E at pretty much any time of day or night.

Image courtesy of raymondgilford.com

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