Let's face it, Americans own a lot of stuff. As the late comedian George Carlin once noted, "Sometimes ... You've gotta move all your stuff, and maybe put some of your stuff in storage. Imagine that, there's a whole industry based on keepin' an eye on your stuff."

The storage industry may not be a very glamorous industry to invest in, but with over 48,000 self-storage facilities in the U.S. offering 2.3 billion square feet of rentable space (an area three times the size of Manhattan), it is an industry that generated $22 billion in revenue last year. So, how can you benefit from storing other people's stuff? Here are a few ideas.


Storing it yourself
Most people are familiar with Public Storage (NYSE:PSA), and this name shouldn't be overlooked. This year, Public Storage has seen a 26% climb in its stock price, and has a net operating cash flow of $1.29 billion. It also operates with a gross margin over 50%, and pays a dividend with a 2.95% yield. And just last week, Public Storage announced that its third quarter revenues were up 7.7%. 

Going mobile
A growing trend in personal storage is to have the storage come to you. Small storage containers can be delivered to your home on a flatbed truck, and you can either use them for storage on your property, or have them picked up once you fill them. They can then be stored in a warehouse, or delivered to another address where you can unload them.

One name to consider in this growing field is CubeSmart (NYSE:CUBE), which is up almost 50% this year. With a gross margin of just 20% for 2012, CubeSmart reported net cash flow of $118 million. For income-minded investors, CubeSmart offers its shareholders a dividend with a 2.35% yield. CubeSmart is currently expanding as well, recently agreeing to acquire 35 self-storage facilities Texas, as well as one in North Carolina. 

Another company to consider is AMERCO (NASDAQ:UHAL), better known as U-Haul. AMERCO is somewhat new to the mobile storage space, but as the pioneer of the do-it-yourself move it seems like a natural fit. In addition, investing in AMERCO allows you to benefit from its operations outside of storage as well. AMERCO's stock has soared more than 84% this year, and AMERCO generated a net cash flow of $662 million while operating with margins similar to those of CubeSmart. However, a potential downside to AMERCO is that it does not pay a dividend.

Commercial storage
Individuals aren't the only ones who have a need for storage. Construction contractors and businesses alike have a great need for temporary and portable storage. Companies like Mobile Mini (NASDAQ:MINI) and McGrath Rentcorp (NASDAQ:MGRC) fill that need.

Despite having a gross margin of 84%, Mobile Mini's net cash flow for 2012 was only $91 million. However, shares of Mobile Mini have been soaring this year, up over 108% so far. Analysts also seem to like this stock, with none calling for anything less than a hold. An equal amount are calling it a buy or a strong buy.

McGrath has also seen an increase in its share price this year, up 37% with a net cash flow of $126 million. McGrath also reported a healthy 44% gross margin, and it pays a dividend with a 2.70% yield. Also, just last week McGrath reported a 10% increase in revenues for its third quarter.

Bottom line
There probably is no such thing as a completely "recession proof" industry, but most people are unwilling to get rid of their stuff no matter what the economy is doing. This makes the storage industry very resistant to downturns in the economy, which should make this often-overlooked industry worthy of consideration for your portfolio.

Ryan Lowery has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Mobile Mini. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.