Self Storage: Your Stuff Is Out Of Sight, But Keep It In Mind

Self-storage is the perfect answer right now for your life situation. Whether you're downsizing to a new apartment, moving back in with family, or transferring to a new city for a job assignment, storage offers a safe, secure place to put your valuable belongings. However, too often storage can become an "out of sight, out of mind" experience; as you live without those items for any length of time, you become used to their absence as you routinely pay the storage bill each month. Over the years, this can lead to unnecessary expense. Here are some tips for using self-storage most effectively.

Storage stuffers

Face it: a lot of what you are about to put in your storage unit is not monetarily valuable. In fact, some of it is stuff for which you no longer have a use, but figure you might put back into action "someday." According to an article in The Economist, customers are often storing "things they don't need right now, but don't want to throw away." In fact, storage space in America doubled between 1998 and 2012, as this interactive map shows. While you probably have every intention of using the items you are preparing to store, don't fall into the trap of filling your unit with sentimental but disposable items, then spending an inordinate amount of money to keep them there.

Using your storage unit wisely

1. Sift before you store

Before you rent a truck to move your belongings to the storage unit, make a purposeful choice about each item. You want to

  • Prioritize. Make three piles in your yard or garage: one for "store," one for "sell," and one for "donate." Be brutal. Items you know you will not use again should not go into storage. Be honest about items you can purchase again if truly needed, like that extra blender or decorative bathroom set.

  • Organize. Once you've decided what to store, organize it so that it takes the least amount of storage space. That way you can rent the smallest unit necessary, preventing you from adding to the unit in the future with miscellaneous clutter.

2. Spy before you buy

While it might be tempting to use the storage facility closest to your house, that may not make the most financial sense. Shop around so as to get the best price for your storage unit. You may be able to take advantage of a special offer (such as the first month free). Also, choose a self storage facility that will offer you a lease. This not only will reduce the monthly cost of your unit but will also force you to choose, each time the contract renews, whether you want to keep or vacate the unit.

3. Visit your valuables

This is an important guideline to help keep your stuff from becoming "out of mind." Set a reminder on your phone or calendar to go to the storage facility and inspect your unit on a regular basis. This could be once a month, once a quarter--whatever serves your purposes best. Doing this offers two benefits:

  • keeps you on top of any damage to your belongings from insects, water, or mold

  • makes you mindful of the items you're storing and the money you're paying to do so

4. Time limit your treasures

Before you even sign the contract with the storage facility, make up your mind about how long you want to rent your unit. Three months? A year? If you have a plan ahead of time, it will help prevent you from paying for years of unnecessary storage. A good way to do this is to calculate the amount you are going to be paying over the course of, say, five years. Do your belongings have a monetary value worth paying that much to store them? Set a time limit for storing your treasures, and then keep to it.  

You may have circumstances beyond your control that make a storage unit necessary for a few years or even longer. However, don't lapse into the "out of sight, out of mind" perspective and pay far more, over the years, than the items are worth. Use self-storage effectively and efficiently to get the most out of your money.