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.

If your stuff is worth storing, it’s also worth preserving and having easy access to. Share on X

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!

Copyright 2009-2017 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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  1. innovativepat on May 21, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    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.

    • Hazel Thornton at org4life.com on May 25, 2012 at 9:47 am

      Thanks, Pat! It’s never too late to re-organize, or downsize, if it turns out your “in-between” phase lasts longer than you anticipate. (Although I imagine your unit to be pretty organized!)

  2. Janet Barclay on March 7, 2014 at 5:11 am

    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. Hazel Thornton on March 10, 2014 at 8:32 am

    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.

    • Janet Barclay on March 10, 2014 at 11:52 am

      I wouldn’t be surprised if they also discovered they’d wasted money buying stuff they forgot they already owned!

  4. Penelope Smith on August 14, 2019 at 10:30 pm

    It is good to know that it would be smart to take inventory of the unit before you close it up. That way, you know what is in it and where it is located. I know that I would totally forget about what stuff is in the unit.

  5. Sandra on August 23, 2019 at 2:01 am

    Hi Hazel,

    Thanks for sharing such an informative post. Helpful!

  6. Randy Chorvack on November 1, 2019 at 9:11 am

    I love how you mentioned being in-between houses and living in temporary housing because that is my current situation. I’m going to be living in an apartment for a while until my house is finished so I need a place to put my stuff. I’ll make sure that I follow these tips to stay organized so moving back into a house is a lot easier.

  7. Austin Saunders on February 25, 2020 at 11:17 am

    I like what you said about using shelving so that you can access the boxes that you need to in your storage unit. My sister has been telling me about how she wants to put some old clothes in a storage unit for the next few months. I’ll share this information with her so that she can look into her options for professionals who can help her with this.

  8. Ivy Baker on May 7, 2020 at 10:32 pm

    I have been considering getting a storage unit this July. Thanks for explaining that I will want to make an inventory list of what I put in storage. That could also help me know where I placed things in the storage unit.

    • Hazel Thornton on May 21, 2020 at 10:52 am

      Indeed, a list can serve both purposes. Glad you found my post helpful!

  9. Toby Ryan on June 5, 2020 at 10:51 am

    It makes sense that putting shelving in your storage unit helps you access boxes without having to move other ones around. My wife and I have a lot of holiday decorations in our garage, and we would like to store them somewhere accessible so that we can decorate our house with our grandchildren this winter. We’ll be sure to organize the storage unit that we decide to rent.

  10. Patrick Ross on June 16, 2020 at 7:19 am

    I like what you said about labeling your boxes when moving things into a storage unit. My sister wants to store seasonal decorations while they’re not in use in the coming months. I’ll share this information with her so that she can look into her options for storage units that can help her with this.

  11. rachel frampton on August 24, 2020 at 9:52 pm

    I’m planning to rent a self-storage unit because my residential home will be rented out for a year, and I’ll need a space for my belongings. Well, I agree with you that installing shelves is necessary since this will help me access the boxes easily. You’re also right about the importance of taking inventory, so it will be more convenient when it comes to retrieving an item.

  12. Thomas Clarence on December 1, 2020 at 12:09 pm

    It’s great that this article mentioned that storage facilities can be used as a place for you to protect your furniture during a remodeling project. This month, my wife and I are planning on having our laminate floor replaced with a hardwood one in our kitchen. We don’t want to have our kitchen table sitting in our living room during the project, so it seems like finding a storage facility would be a good idea.

  13. Eli Richardson on March 11, 2022 at 10:09 am

    I’m glad you explained how we could use a storage unit to keep our home well-organized! The other day, my wife and I went crazy while trying to find some important documents. It made us realize how our house is a mess, and we need to declutter, so we’ll be sure to start looking at storage units! We appreciate your insight on rental storage and the importance of investing time in organizing ours!

  14. Mia Evans on July 12, 2023 at 9:55 am

    I like that you suggested using label boxes when placing them in storage units and on the shelves so that it will be easy to access or move them in the future. I think that is a good idea because we might rent a unit to store our belongings in, especially the seasonal items. And we might need to get some of those boxes and their contents out whenever it’s the time of the year such as Christmas or Halloween.

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