365.07 buttloads of storage space: We have a problem.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
According to Wikipedia, a buttload is "an old English unit of wine casks, holding two hogsheads.... Historically, a hogshead varied in size, but today in the United States is most commonly 63 U.S. gallons...so a butt is now 126 U.S. gallons."

Let's assume for a moment that I had done my fact-checking and it turns out that "buttload" exists as a unit of measurement. This would have three effects:

  • First, I could respectfully use a term I confess to have enjoyed for many years among playful peers. 
  • Second, because I care about accuracy, I would be required to perform calculations prior to using the term, as in the case of describing how many ticket holders will occupy the seats at the upcoming Super Bowl. No longer could I explete, "Wow! That's a buttload of people!" Instead, I would deliver a more refined, "My, that seems to be approximately 793.65 buttloads of fans."
  • Third (and now I come to the point of this post), I could recognize, with both the decency and accuracy of the first two points, that we are in a buttload of trouble. To be precise, we are in 365.07 buttloads of trouble. This is the number that goes into 46,000, which is, according to the Good Housekeeping magazine I found open on our kitchen table earlier this afternoon, "the number of U.S. self-storage facilities...."
Of course people need storage units for various and legitimate reasons. However, the quote goes on to say that this number is "up more than 200 percent since the mid-1990s." Considering that the average new home size in the U.S. was 2,438 square feet in 2010, compared to a meager 1,500 square feet in 1973, one must wonder what, in the name of stewardship, we are doing to be defined by this increase.


I know what I've been doing, and I realized it this summer when we moved out of our apartment. The living space took our pack of friends two hours to empty. The attic, basement and garage, six. We're still embarrassed.

We'll be selling and giving away a buttload of our stuff this summer. And I mean that in the vulgar sense.


Anonymous,  February 4, 2011 at 12:09 AM  

learn something new every day!

Delicate Fortress Creations February 4, 2011 at 9:00 AM  

Sam, I needed this post this morning and can't wait to share it. So funny! We've moved enough to know we have way more things than we need and we're attempting to clear it all out but it's still so much more than we actually need.

Sam Van Eman February 4, 2011 at 9:24 AM  

It doesn't help that I can be sentimental.

David Rupert February 4, 2011 at 9:56 AM  

When I first saw your headline, Ithought you had completely fallen off the rocker.

This is quite funny .. and educational

Bob Gorinski February 4, 2011 at 11:59 PM  

Great post Sam. Was it a spin off your (hilarious) comments under the Artisanal Life post over at HCB?

I kinda do wish you'd be a little more judgey on us for piling up all the...crap.

Brock S. Henning February 5, 2011 at 12:56 AM  

ha ha...that's a good one, Sam. So far that's the most interesting fact I've learned for 2011! ;)

Sam Van Eman February 5, 2011 at 8:04 AM  

Bob, for a few years in the beginning of my critique of advertising, "judgey" was my shtick. I toned down a bit when I began working with advertising majors who wanted to know if there was anything redeemable in the industry (and their future careers). There is. It's a tough balance. Some days I want to rail - others I want to praise.

Brock, thanks for stopping by. Glad I could add to your trivia facts. Use buttload well.

Robbie Pruitt February 5, 2011 at 10:05 AM  


I reposted this on my facebook and an engineer friend of mine commented with the following. I thought you might appreciate that your calculations were conservative and it is worse than you originally thought.

Here is the comment:

"Somewhat entertaining on the surface, but in his second paragraph, where he talks about accuracy, he comes up with 793.65 bl of fans at the superbowl. at 126 gal/bl, that's 100,000 gallons of fans. Since fans are mostly water, and using simple approximations of 8 lbs/gal and 150 lbs /fan, that's about 5300 fans. . . "

I thought you would appreciate the humor here.

Thanks for your creative and "out-of-the-box" thinking!


Douglas Dahl February 5, 2011 at 11:55 AM  

Thanks. I really learned something new today. I had no idea buttload was a real word. We just helped some friends move. It took them two days. Don't feel bad. (I am sure the Goodwill appreciates your sentiment.)

Sam Van Eman February 5, 2011 at 7:25 PM  

Robbie, I considered the liquid conversion bit, but didn't see an easy way to do it. My thanks to your friend for a clever approach.

Douglas, two days?! Goodwill appreciates us all.

Melissa,  February 11, 2011 at 9:33 PM  

I love it Sam! I just dropped off thrift store donations this week, and I felt embarrassed. Hardly a sacrifice, I won't even notice the difference in my closet. Your message is one I need to hear a couple of times a year, or week, or day!

What in the world are we storing, by the way? If it's in a storage unit, how much can you really need it? When it comes down to it, what do we really "need"? Very little.

I'm so glad I have a "simple" husband who really could survive out of a backpack to keep me in check. =)

Sam Van Eman February 12, 2011 at 9:47 AM  

I need to hang out with people like your husband more often. That's where peer pressure would be very welcomed.

One carload at a time, Melissa!

Sheila February 13, 2011 at 10:34 AM  

Thanks for this. I contend that the best way to avoid the accumulation is to move every three years. Frequent moving, though, disrupts our roots. And it's not finance-friendly, especially for homeowners, these days.

I loved this. I don't think I'd seen "explete" before:

No longer could I explete, "Wow! That's a buttload of people!" Instead, I would deliver a more refined, "My, that seems to be approximately 793.65 buttloads of fans."

Michelle February 14, 2011 at 9:57 AM  

I am Jonathan's & Melissa's pastor at Christ United Methodist Church in Erie. Melissa posted your blog on her facebook page in a very timely fashion for me. Thanks for the information...I used it in my sermon yesterday on extravagant generosity. Thank you for this post...we all need reminded of the excess of "stuff" we have. I must confess that I refrained from using the whole definition of buttload in my sermon.....this time! That was extremely enlightening as well. Thanks again.

Michelle Wobrak

Sam Van Eman February 14, 2011 at 2:54 PM  

Sheila, I'm glad that moving forces this unloading process, but you're right: too costly on a number of fronts.

Michelle, thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you were able to use this in your sermon. Jon and Melissa have always been friends characterized by extravagant generosity.

Melissa,  February 14, 2011 at 10:55 PM  

Sam, You are too kind.

I also wanted to add another example of the timing of your post on too much stuff. We went to Jonathan's grandmother's home yesterday to help "clean it out" since she's now permanently at Assisted Living. We were going through her stuff deciding what to keep, what to give away, and what to throw out. Doesn't that just put THINGS in perspective?

Sam Van Eman February 15, 2011 at 9:15 AM  

For a husband who could live out of a backpack, I imagine Jon had a lot in the give away/throw out pile. I, on the other hand, can find the least bit of sentimental meaning. Depending on the item, it can take two or three times looking at it before I can make the right decision.

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