Here's what Lea Ann and David Locklear of Clearwater, Fla., keep in their storage unit at the local U-Stow-n-Go.

"An old black-and-white TV that we'll never use but don't want to throw away. Old record albums my husband doesn't want to throw away. Old luggage that we never use any more but for some reason just don't want to get rid of. Old oil paintings my husband did that we never hung up or did anything with, but he doesn't want to throw away," enumerates Lea Ann.Plus baby clothes, old Halloween costumes, the Christmas decorations they actually do use and their daughter's crib. (Alex is now 5 years old.)

"Probably nothing worth a darn," Lea Ann says. "It's stuff we never get out or use, and I don't know why we're keeping it all."

Our cups runneth over, along with our closets, spare bedrooms and garages, creating a demand for more than 1-billion square feet of self-storage space nationally. We need a place to put the stuff we can't bear to part with.

"Usually it's people in transition," says Cliff Myers of Palma Ceia Self Storage in Tampa, Fla. "Dying, divorcing, moving," as well as those who "just don't have room."

They're the reason that self-storage has grown from zero to a $5.5-billion industry in 30 years.

It is also an industry in transition. Once self-storage meant a big metal box with a roll-down garage door and a padlock in an industrial area. Now competition is pushing the industry to offer greater visibility and convenience, so self-storage facilities are appearing in desirable commercial locations. They offer more attractive exteriors, with eye-catching paint jobs and landscaping. They emphasize improved security.

As the industry and consumers are discovering, self-storage isn't just for old luggage and baby furniture any more.

Certainly, household goods are a large portion of what is kept in self-storage facilities.

"I had one today, a woman who's moving back in with her mother and wanted to store her stuff here till she finds her own place," says Charles Vasquez, the manager of the U-Haul self-storage facility in St. Petersburg. "I had a couple come in from Indiana. They plan to buy a house, and they're storing part of their furniture here."

Fifty-five percent of self-storage nationally is rented by homeowners, the industry's trade association estimates. So it has grown way beyond apartment dwellers, once a huge portion of the self-storage crowd.

The Locklears figure they've spent almost $2,000 over the past five years for their 5- by 6- by 10-foot storage unit. They rented it when they lived in a small apartment and were expecting their child, Alexandra, and needed to clear out their second bedroom to create her room.

"The more we think about it, the more we wonder why we haven't gone down and cleared it out and thrown everything out and just kept the crib in the garage," Lea Ann said. "But the chore of going through it - we'd almost pay $30 a month for the convenience of not having to go through it all."


Additional Information

Key questions to ask

St. Petersburg Times

- Hours of access: Some facilities are available 24 hours; others close at 7 p.m. Your schedule and your plans will dictate what's right for you.

- Cost: Comparison-shop among several companies. Be sure you make equal comparisons: Beyond square footage, what are you getting for your money? What kind of security measures? Is the space climate-controlled? There's no point in paying for it if you don't need it.

- Comfort zone: Do you feel safe at this facility? How well kept is it? Will you feel safe there alone? Walk through the space. Where are the lights? How do the elevators operate? Can you open and close the doors easily?

- Consider the alternatives: Do you really need all that stuff? If you got rid of some of it, could you rent a smaller space, or store it elsewhere?