Who’s Afraid of Their Storage Unit?

Have you seen A&E’s Storage Wars? This cable TV show features abandoned storage units being auctioned off to the highest bidder. The bidders are essentially gambling on whether or not the contents will be worth more than they paid for them. Usually they’re full of crap. Sometimes there is a treasure inside. Either way, I figure the owner has lost track of the contents. Why pay to store crap? Why not retrieve your treasures before abandoning the unit? I can only imagine the variety of possible answers and, in some cases, I’m sure, the unit owner has died and failed to leave behind a map to the buried storage unit treasure.

Why not use rental storage?

My goal for my clients is that they will know what they have, keep only what they use and/or love, and be able to enjoy it and find it when they need it. If some of their stuff needs to be kept in a rental storage unit, so be it. However, what I see most often is the aftermath of folks who are stressed out during a move, or other life change. They throw everything into storage and leave it there because they “don’t have time to deal with it.” It’s not only a waste of money, but can be a cause of stress for years to come. I refer to it as one of the many Costs of Clutter.

Usually I help people downsize their stuff so they no longer need to pay for storage — a savings which pays for my services! (a.k.a. the Value of Organizing) Some of my clients dread the prospect of confronting their storage unit because they fear they will stir up strong memories of their past, of ex-partners, or of deceased loved ones. As often as not, though, they turn out to be flat wrong about what was in there. They end up cheerfully parting with most of the contents and wishing they’d done it much sooner!

Here are some instances where I DO recommend rental storage:

  • Packing up personal and excess items in advance of moving, to de-clutter a home in preparation for showing and selling it
  • Downsizing (and not quite ready to part with what can’t fit in the new space)
  • In-between moves and living in temporary housing
  • Storing furniture (and other possessions) during a remodeling project
  • Storing files or inventory for a business
  • Storing seasonal sports or camping equipment, or holiday decorations (if they are really important to you, and actually used annually, and you truly don’t have space for them at home).

One of the reasons people lose track of what they have, and dread visiting their storage units, is that they have not done any up-front organizing when moving into the unit.

5 tips for organizing your rental storage unit:

  1. Install shelving. It doesn’t have to be expensive, and it’s less important for short-term storage, but it’s absolutely necessary for long-term storage. Shelves are not for optional prettiness; they enable you to access the one box you need without having to move 14 other boxes from around and on top of it. They also protect your boxes from getting crushed from the weight of other boxes. Yes, shelving costs more, and takes up more space (you will need to leave room between rows of shelving to walk around, and to remove boxes from the shelves), but you will thank me later. If your stuff is worth keeping, it’s worth having access to.
  2. Label your boxes. And position them on the shelves so that you can see the labels. Get yourself a Sharpie and write as boldly and clearly as you possibly can. You may, or may not, be the person accessing, or moving, these boxes down the road. Even if you are, I’ve had clients who can’t make heads or tails of their own labels.
  3. Box your stuff into what I call pure categories. If a box says “Books” on it, there should be no cookie sheets or candles inside that box! “Misc. Kitchen” is fine if this is only temporary storage and everything in the box is to be unpacked in the new kitchen. But if all your boxes say “Misc.” on them, you might as well not have labeled them at all.
  4. Take inventory. Make a list, or spreadsheet, or map of the unit so you can remember what’s in there. This way you can go directly (or send someone else) to retrieve what you need. If you want to keep the box contents private, number them and list the contents on your sheet instead of labeling with words. Take photos of the unit and its contents.
  5. Maintain your space. Like any other organized space, a storage unit can get cluttered if you keep adding things and pay no attention to whether or not you still need what you have. The goal, if you are going to store stuff, is for it to be worth the storage cost, and to have enough space to move around and access it when you need it.

Renting a Storage Space

There are many factors to consider when renting storage space such as size, cost, location, and ease of access. My suggestion, if it is to be a long term situation, is to pay extra for clean, indoor, climate-controlled storage. Almost everything you’d want to store will deteriorate in a unit that gets hot, and cold, and opens to the elements, if kept there for very long. If your stuff is worth storing, it’s also worth preserving.

These tips will help you organize a new rental space. However, if you already have a rental storage unit that you shudder to think about, ask or hire someone to help you organize it, downsize it, or — yes — possibly eliminate it altogether.

Are you afraid of your storage unit?

Do you know what’s in there?  Do you still need it?

Is your stuff worth the money you are paying each month to store it?

What other legitimate uses for a storage unit can you think of?

Please share in the comments below!

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Copyright 2009-2017 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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Comments

  1. Hazel, I’m an “in-betweener” so I’m in a storage unit now. About the only thing I didn’t do was install shelving! As always, great advice about keeping track of stuff.

  2. I’ve never rented a storage unit, however, we have a “locker” in the basement of our apartment building which is very similar, but much smaller. I don’t know if they’re all equipped with shelves or if we just lucked out, but they really do make a huge difference – they keep things off the floor and up where we can see them, and it’s so much easier to keep them organized!

  3. Hi Janet! In my experience people without shelving and/or inventories (which is most of them), who just stack the boxes on top of one another, never get into them again (because it is hard) and forget altogether what was in them. When they finally go through the boxes they are appalled at how much money they have spent over the years to store the items.

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