50% of Americans Have Had to Get Rid of Things in Their Homes to Make Space During COVID-19

Our survey of 1,000 adults in the U.S. found that people are making more impulse purchases and feeling cramped in their homes during the pandemic, causing many to to throw things away, donate items, and invest in storage units.

Key Findings

  • 1 44% are making more impulse purchases during the COVID-19 pandemic, including 55% of those working from home
  • 2 40% are purchasing more nonessential items than normal, including 49% of those working from home
  • 3 39% are engaging in more “retail therapy” than normal, including 48% of those working from home
  • 4 Despite income decreasing for 45% of respondents, 43% report increased spending during the pandemic
  • 5 63% of those who experienced a decline in income but made more nonessential purchases took on more credit card debt than usual to do so
  • 6 69% have bought more items that they feared would go out of stock, including 78% of those working from home
  • 7 65% have felt more cramped in their homes during the pandemic, including 75% of those working from home
  • 8 49% have had to get rid of things in their home to make extra space for being their more often during the pandemic, including 66% of those working from home

As we approach a year since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States, over 400,000 people have died, countless businesses have shut down, states still have restrictions in place, and many people are still working from home.

Even though some groups have started receiving the vaccine, most people are still far removed from their pre-coronavirus lives. Government restrictions as well as personal safety choices have caused Americans to stay home much more than before.

Given all of this, we wanted to figure out if people were engaging in “retail therapy” and making impulse purchases more often as a coping mechanism, as well as if they were feeling cramped in their homes and what they have been doing to free up space in these areas that they are now spending so much more time in. 

To figure out these things and more, we surveyed 1,000 adults in the United States, asking them questions about their spending habits, storage solutions, and more.

40% engaging in more “retail therapy” & making more impulse purchases during pandemic

In our first survey question, we asked respondents if and where they were working from so we could break down the results of other questions based on this information.

Here are the results:

  • Working from home – 42.5%
  • Working in person – 36.6%
  • Not currently working – 20.9%

We also asked respondents how their income or household income changed during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Decreased significantly – 20.5%
  • Decreased slightly – 24.7%
  • Remained about the same – 40.0%
  • Increased slightly – 9.7%
  • Increased significantly – 5.1%

With this information in hand, we next asked respondents if they had been making more impulse purchases, buying more nonessential things, and engaging in more “retail therapy.” 

In the following chart, you can see the percentage of respondents that answered “yes” to those questions as well as the results specifically for those working from home. 

As shown, over one-third of Americans are doing more of each. The numbers go up ever higher when specifically looking at those who are working from home. 

With less entertainment options outside of the home available, as well as increased levels of stress, many people seem to be purchasing things as a way to cope, even though a large portion have seen their income decrease during the pandemic.

Those working from home, especially, are likely buying things as a way to improve their moods and break up the monotony of being stuck inside for the majority of the day.

Though shopping for nonessential things more often may not make sense financially—especially for those who have lost income during this time—research has shown that retail therapy can actually provide psychological and therapeutic value—something that is much needed for many right now.

Many taking on more credit card debt than usual to pay for nonessential items

Suspecting that many people would be experiencing a decline in income but also purchasing more nonessential items than usual, we were curious if this group was taking on more credit card debt to do so.

We found that 63% of those whose income has gone down but have made more nonessential purchases than normal had taken on more credit card debt than usual to do so.

Though this retail therapy may provide temporary relief from the stresses stemming from COVID-19, these respondents may be just delaying an even bigger financial issue if they get trapped in a cycle of credit card debt.

43% have been spending more than usual during the COVID-19 pandemic

In addition to finding out if people have been buying more nonessential items and making more impulse purchases, we also wanted to examine how overall spending habits have changed. 

Despite income decreasing for 45% of respondents and staying the same for another 40%, 43% are spending more during the pandemic as compared to normal. The spending for 29% has remained unchanged and only 28% are spending less. 

When specifically looking at those working remotely, the proportion of people spending more jumps to 51%.

So, what are people spending more on?

That’s what our next question asks:

As shown, groceries leads the way for both the overall group and the work from home group. Take out/food delivery, household goods, and things for entertainment are also popular answers.

These all make a lot of sense when considering most people are spending more time at home. 

Instead of going out to eat and having children get food from the school cafeteria, many are likely cooking more meals at home and/or ordering food from restaurants to eat at home. 

In addition, since people can’t go out as much, they need more household goods and things to keep them entertained while they’re stuck at home. 

Speaking of household goods, we also wanted to see how many people have stocked up on items in their homes in case they go out of stock at the stores.  

As shown, over two-thirds of people overall and three-quarters of those working from home have bought more items in fear that they would go out of stock.

2 out of 3 have felt cramped in their homes during pandemic

With many people buying more things and spending more time at home during the pandemic, are they starting to feel cramped?

As shown, the majority of respondents (65%) feel either much more cramped (26%) or a bit more cramped (39%). 

The numbers go even higher for those working from home, with 34% feeling much more cramped and 41% feeling a bit more cramped.

Are these people doing anything to make extra room for living at home such as donating or selling items, renting a storage unit, or throwing things away?

We found that just under half (49%) of all respondents are, including 66% of those working from home.

Here is what they have done with their things to clear space:

It’s nice to see that the most popular answer was donating items. Instead of taking the easy route of throwing things away, many people decided to help out those in need—which there are many of during this time—by giving them the items they didn’t need anymore.

It was also interesting to see that nearly as many people used storage units as those that either sold their extra things or gave them away to friends or family. Given that storage units cost around $76 a month, it is a viable option for many who have extra things that they may not want to completely get rid of.

We now know that a lot of people have gotten rid of things to free up space, but are people keeping certain items and storing them in their homes, as well?

Our next question asked respondents which items they have kept even though they don’t need them anymore.

On top of the things listed in the above chart, we also found that 80% of respondents have kept an item they don’t use or need anymore solely for sentimental reasons. 

With such a large proportion of people hanging onto things they don’t need anymore, where do they store them?

That’s what our next question asked:

As shown, the majority of people use closets as storage space. This was not too surprising given that closets are found more so than any of the other options in the wide variety of home types.

About 25% have used a storage unit to free up space

In just four years, from October 2016 to October 2020, the amount of people searching “storage unit near me” in the U.S. increased by 494%

Given this explosive growth in storage units, along with the increased spending during the COVID-19 pandemic, we wanted to determine how many people have thought of using storage units as a way to declutter and how many actually have.

The results indicate that over one in four Americans are currently using a storage unit or have in the past. Another one in five have considered using one but haven’t yet done so. 

A storage is a great place to put items that you don’t use regularly but don’t want to throw away, donate, or sell. Instead of purchasing or renting a bigger apartment or house, for only $76 per month, on average, you can get a safe and secure space to store valuable items.

So why aren’t more people using storage units? Our last question asked those who have never used a storage unit why they haven’t.

As shown, 48% respondents simply don’t need one while 35% think they are too expensive. 9% just haven’t looked into them enough while 6% are worried about getting their stuff stolen. 

If the storage unit market continues to grow, owners should start to compete more on prices, making them a viable option for a large portion of Americans who—according to our survey results—could use the extra space.

Full survey results

Below you can see the full results of our survey. The numbers in parentheses are for those who are currently working from home. 

Are you currently working?

  • Yes, I am working from home – 42.5%
  • Yes, I am working in person – 36.6%
  • No, I am not currently working – 20.9%

Have you had to get rid of things in your home to make extra space for being at home more often during the COVID-19 pandemic?

  • Yes – 48.8%  (65.9%)
  • No – 51.2%  (34.1%)

What did you mostly do with the things you got rid of during the COVID-19 pandemic? (Asked to those who said they got rid of things in their home to make extra space during the pandemic)

  • Donated them – 43.7%  (45.7%)
  • Threw them away – 18.7%  (18.2%)
  • Sold them – 13.1% (12.1%)
  • Gave them to friends or family – 11.9%  (14.3%)
  • Put them in a storage unit – 10.5%  (8.6%)
  • Other – 2.3%  (1.1%)

How did your income or household income change during the COVID-19 pandemic?

  • It decreased significantly – 20.5%  (19.8%)
  • It decreased slightly – 24.7%  (25.4%)
  • It remained about the same – 40.0%  (38.8%)
  • It increased slightly – 9.7%  (11.1%)
  • It increased significantly – 5.1%  (4.9%)

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, have you purchased more nonessential things than normal?

  • Yes – 40.3%  (49.2%)
  • No – 59.7%  (50.8%)

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, have you made more impulse purchases than normal?

  • Yes – 44.2%  (55.3%)
  • No – 55.8%  (44.7%)

Have you engaged in more “retail therapy” than normal due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

  • Yes – 39.2%  (47.8%)
  • No – 60.8%  (52.2%)

Have you felt more cramped in your home than normal during the COVID-19 pandemic?

  • Yes, much more cramped – 26.3%  (33.9%)
  • Yes, a bit cramped – 39.1%  (40.9%)
  • No, I have not felt cramped – 34.6%  (25.2%)

How has your overall spending during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to normal?

  • I have spent much more – 12.8%  (19.3%)
  • I have spent a bit more – 29.9%  (32.5%)
  • I have spent about the same – 28.7%  (23.3%)
  • I have spent a bit less – 19.4%  (17.7%)
  • I have spent much less – 9.2%  (7.3%)

Which of the following have you spent more on during the COVID-19 pandemic than normal?

  • Groceries – 64.9%  (73.4%)
  • Take out or food delivery – 41.0%  (46.8%)
  • Household goods (like toilet paper, kitchenware, etc.) – 41.0%  (48.0%)
  • Things to keep me entertained – 30.0%  (33.2%)
  • Personal care products – 27.9%  (32.2%)
  • Alcohol – 24.1%  (30.8%)
  • Things to keep my children entertained – 19.9%  (22.1%)
  • Clothing – 16.9%  (20.9%)
  • Exercise equipment – 16.3%  (22.4%)
  • Other miscellaneous products – 13.9%  (14.1%)
  • Books – 12.4%  (16.9%)
  • Decorations – 7.8%  (10.1%)
  • None of the above – 8.3%  (3.5%)

Have you gone into more credit card debt than usual purchasing nonessential items during the COVID-19 pandemic? (Asked to those who reported a decrease in income and increased spending on nonessential items during the pandemic)

  • Yes – 62.9% (38.8%)
  • No – 37.1%  (61.2%)

Have you bought more items such as toilet paper, sanitizing wipes, and other related items in fear that they would go out of stock during the COVID-19 pandemic?

  • Yes – 68.8%  (78.35%)
  • No – 31.2%  (21.65%)

Do you consider yourself a hoarder?

  • Yes – 13.3%  (20.2%)
  • No – 80.3%  (72.9%)
  • Unsure – 6.4%  (6.8%)

Relative to before the COVID-19 pandemic, would you consider yourself more of a hoarder now?

  • Yes – 21.0%  (29.9%)
  • No – 73.5%  (64.5%)
  • Unsure – 5.5%  (5.7%)

Do you know anyone that is a hoarder?

  • Yes – 49.8%  (54.6%)
  • No – 43.0%  (37.9%)
  • Unsure – 7.2%  (7.5%)

Have you ever kept something you don’t need or use anymore solely for sentimental reasons?

  • Yes – 80.2%  (81.4%)
  • No – 19.8%  (18.6%)

Which of the following have you kept even though you don’t need them anymore?

  • Clothes – 55.9%  (60.0%)
  • Books – 43.2%  (47.5%)
  • Old phones – 34.8%  (38.1%)
  • Shoes – 31.1%  (36.7%)
  • Movies – 27.9%  (33.2%)
  • Chargers and cables – 26.9%  (29.4%)
  • Gifts from an old relationship – 26.4%  (28.0%)
  • Other old electronics – 25.8%  (31.3%)
  • Bags – 20.2%  (25.7%)
  • Magazine – 20.1%  (24.2%)
  • Mail – 19.6%  (23.5%)
  • Boxes – 19.2%  (23.1%)
  • None of the above – 8.3 %  (6.4%)

Where do you store things in your home that you don’t use regularly?

  • Closets – 65.3%   (67.1%)
  • Garage – 33.3%  (37.9%)
  • Basement – 27.7%  (29.4%)
  • Under beds – 23.4%  (26.4%)
  • An extra room – 23.1%  (25.9%)
  • Cabinets – 19.6%  (22.4%)
  • Attic – 17.1%  (20.0%)
  • Other – 4.4%  (2.8%)
  • None of the above – 4.4%  (1.7%)

Have you considered using a storage unit to free up space in your home?

  • Yes, I currently use a storage unit – 16.1%  (23.1%)
  • Yes, I’ve used a storage unit in the past but don’t now – 10.6%  (9.4%)
  • Yes, I have considered it but haven’t used one – 21.7%  (27.5%)
  • No, I haven’t considered using a storage unit – 51.6% (40.0%)

What is stopping you from using a storage unit to free up space in your home? (Asked only to those who have not used a storage unit)

  • I don’t need one – 48.2%  (38.3%)
  • They are too expensive – 34.9%  (40.4%)
  • I just haven’t looked into them enough – 9.4%  (12.2%)
  • I’m afraid of my stuff getting stolen – 6.3%  (8.0%)
  • Other – 1.2%  (1.1%)

Methodology

The information in this report comes from a StorageUnits.com survey that was administered online by polling company Pollfish from January 19, 2021, to January 20, 2021. Results are presented as is with no weightings or adjustments.