Dymon Storage Ottawa

Inside Dymon Storage, Ottawa, Ontario

It’s 4 am and I’m alone at a Dymon Storage facility in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  Storage facilities like this have been springing up like mushrooms throughout the Western world for the last few decades.  Dymon has eight locations in Ottawa alone, and that’s just one firm’s locations in one city.  There must be hundreds of thousands of them throughout Europe and North America.

Indigenous people generally have few possessions, but consider the ones they have to be very valuable because they are mostly hand made and a great deal of time, skill and love goes into making them.  We, on the other hand, have so many mass produced possessions that we don’t know what to do with them, so we put them into storage facilities like this one.

I’m on the third floor of the building and there are maybe a couple of hundred storage units on this floor.  Same again on the floor below me.  There’s a grid of corridors with hundreds of storage pods leading off them, protected by hundreds of identical metal shutters.  The whole thing is bathed in soft, uniform white light, it’s very quiet, and the atmosphere reminds me of the back room of an undertaker’s parlour, the part the public never sees, where the bodies lie on identical metal shelves.  Maybe this where our civilisation goes to die?

I’m not usually up and about at 4am, but I’m here trying to sort out our stuff, the stuff we put into storage in Canada before moving to the Isle of Man.  We dithered for months trying to decide whether to give it away, dump it or ship it to the Isle of Man, and in the end we decided to do all three: give some of it away, dump some of it and ship the rest.  So I’m here sorting it out.

Back home it’s 9am, but here it’s 4am, I’m still running on Isle of Man time, hence the unearthly hour.  I’m the only human being in the building.  In earlier times, there would probably have been a custodian or nightwatchman, but now with the march of progress, s/he has been replaced by a central computer which controls all the building’s functions.  Being the only person in the building at 4am plays strange tricks with the computer’s algorithms.  It is programmed to assume that if nobody presses any buttons anywhere in the building for half an hour, the building is empty and it should switch off the lights to save energy.  So every half an hour, all the lights go off and I have to walk to the elevator in the dark and press an elevator button to signal to the computer that I’m still here and it should switch the lights back on again (there are no human-controlled light switches).  A real custodian wouldn’t have made that mistake: he would know that human beings don’t just disappear.

So I’m sitting in my storage pod surrounded by the debris of nine wasted years in Ontario: photograph albums, a wedding dress, Christmas tree ornaments made at school by the kids, the obligatory six years of tax papers, you know the sort of thing.  Then my mind starts to play strange tricks on me.  Do the things in this storage facility know they have been abandoned by their owners?  Are they, in some way, sentient?  Do they have souls?  Stupid questions I know, but that’s what you do when you’re three thousand miles from home, lonely and jet lagged to hell and in one of the world’s most unlikely buildings with only a dysfunctional computer for company.  You think stupid thoughts.

I know a tax return doesn’t have a soul – that would be absurd – but how about something more personal like a wedding dress?  And what happens if, over the years, the two people who got married drift apart, maybe separate, maybe find other people to be with?  Does the wedding dress lose its soul and become just an ordinary piece of fabric again – does it stop being special?

My contract with the storage company says that if I stop paying the rental on the unit, after 30 days the company has the right to clear out the unit and dispose of the stuff.  I expect that happens quite a lot.  You can’t bear to part with your stuff, but you have nowhere else to put it, so you put it into storage intending to come back for it.  But that time never comes, and you get busy with other things, lose interest in it, run out of money, get sick, maybe even die, and then the junk removal people come and take it away.  If things have souls, that must be the biggest possible disappointment – being abandoned by your owner.

I wonder what is behind those hundreds of other steel shutters which line the corridors of the building.  Drugs, guns, cash, stolen goods, dead bodies, God knows what all could be in there.  But mostly I expect it’s just stuff like mine, of sentimental value to the owner but little use or interest to anyone else.

Slaynt vie, bea veayn, beeal fliugh as baase ayns Mannin

7 thoughts on “Storage

  1. We’re doing the same as you. I call it “consolidation.” I tell family members I do not care what they choose to keep but it must be functional. I always say that stuff needs more stuff. Stuff needs shelves or cupboards. Eventually, stuff needs more rooms and sometimes a bigger house. Stuff needs to be cared for, dusted. cleaned, or maintained. At its worst, it needs to be stored, packed away in boxes that somehow do not get labeled. Yes, stuff takes a lot of time. I am concerned that many of us will realize in the next few years that we have far too much stuff and it’s the wrong kind of stuff. And, it will bog us down. It’s time to choose wisely for what we need and what is best for our families and communities.

  2. In my home office/ham radio room, I have a big box of old circuit boards from various consumer-electronic products. Why don’t I get rid of them? I might need some component for a project some day. Can’t I just run down to Radio Shack when I need it, instead of holding on? Well, no, not any more! To decide to clean up this pile would be to decide that I’m just never going to tinker with electronic circuits any more. I’m not holding onto the past; I’m planning for the future. It might be a post-peak future in which these components could be hard to replace.

    But, yeah, there’s a box of wedding photos, too. The bride died 12 years ago, about 10 years after our divorce. I don’t understand why I’m still hanging on to that stuff, too. But I am.

    Peace be with you all, as we contemplate that which is to be preserved, and that which will be lost.

  3. It’s funny how people think of “good” countries and “bad” countries. Reason (logic) doesn’t seem to have much to do with it. Mostly it’s a case of where you were born, or at least where you began to feel at home, That certainly seems to be the case with both you and me. My father (military, then engineering) was a real wanderer. I only felt at home when I stood on the banks of the Ottawa River one spring day when I was sixteen. That “proves” that Canada is a “good” country. Your experiences with Canada (“nine wasted years”!) were very different from mine (and Belleville is probably never a good idea), but you were born in England. So you have “proof” that England is a “good” country. Well, the intellect is a thin veneer on the human brain.

    Not sure how you’re going to survive Peak Everything on an island which has no natural resources except peak moss. If you show up on my doorstep and want to sleep on my couch (having emptied your storage locker), I won’t make fun of you.

  4. I’m not so sure about that. Maybe when the refugee zombie hordes from the US start pouring over the US-Canada border, you might turn up on my doorstep for a nice breakfast of Manx lamb, Manx kippers, Manx milk and Manx poetry reading (of the latter, see forthcoming blog post)…

  5. Yes, but all these things need to be look at with a sharp mathematical eye, not a mystical one. Where are all your NUMBERS? I rarely see any. Without quantification (and lots of it), any conclusions are invalid. Your background is far more mathematical than mystical, but I often seek in vain for your numbers. No James Herriot yarns, please. You need lots of data input with a good spreadsheet or database program, looking at chronology, for human population, arable land, fossil fuels, fish, animals, all that stuff. (That’s what I did throughout my book Tumbling Tide.) Then look at the resulting curves. That’s when you’ll know how far the lamb, kippers, and milk can be stretched through the next few decades. One nice ballpark figure I always keep in mind is David Pimentel’s standard, that in the absence of fossil fuels agricultural yield per unit of land drops by about 2/3 — a lot.

    Pimentel is a prolific writer, but one of his earliest and best was a short piece, “Energy Flows in Agricultural and Natural Ecosystems”:

    • Of course numbers are important, and I commend you for looking at them, which is more than most politicians are doing, but the main weakness of looking at numbers is the high degree of uncertainty in predicting how things are going to play out. For example: the population of the Isle of Man in 1792 (pre-industrial) was 27,000. This probably represents a reasonably accurate estimate of the population the island might be able to support sustainably in a post-industrial future. The island’s current population is 83,000. So we are going to have to lose 46,000 people, or over half the island’s population. This would actually not be difficult, because a large proportion of the island’s population are not indigenous Manx but immigrant workers in the tourism, finance and online gaming industries. My hope (best case scenario) is that as the sources of money, food and energy become scarce, these people are going to return home, head for the big cities or otherwise voluntarily leave the island. But what if there is civil war or invasion on the UK mainland, and instead of people leaving, there is a large influx of refugees? Or what if a pre-emptive strike on the UK’s nuclear deterrent, based at Faslane in Scotland, covers the island with radiation and everyone has to leave? This is where fine-tuning the figures doesn’t really help, and a crystal ball would be more useful.

      • Yes, of course there are margins of error to consider. Less so in tangible things such as fossil fuels, land, etc. than in more “social” matters. Actually I totally forgot to mention a big item — electricity. And with all of Britain there’s the question of the extent to which domestic supplies (of fossil fuels, for example, or some food items) can replace foreign supplies. — And I was surprised that you mentioned “refugee zombie hordes” here in Canada — from that expression I wondered if you were turning into a right-wing extremist neo-Nazi like me. But, yes, it’s a problem, and I hope we can dump Justin Trudeau in 2019. But you have a a zombie horde (refugee or otherwise) of about 3 million Muslims, just 60 km offshore, who might give you a benevolent smile one of these days. — Oh, before I forget, I ordered 70 tablets of potassium iodide from Amazon, partly from being told, in a haughty voice, by a pharmacy employee, that he couldn’t get me any, and that it was the government’s job to hand then out when needed. Seems to me that Hurricane Katrina, a few years ago, was another case of the government’s job.

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