The storage unit industry shares some staggering statistics in this article, stating there are approximately 50,000 storage facilities in the United States, with an annual income of $38 billion, (yes, BILLION with a B!) with rentable storage space of 1.7 billion (again with a B!) square feet. Yowser! That’s a whole lotta stuff we’re storing, people, and a whole lotta money spent storing it. In my fourteen years as a professional organizer, it’s been my experience that most clients with storage units rented them because of postponed decision making rather than practical, logical necessity.
Don’t get me wrong; I think there are situations when renting a storage unit can be a perfect short-term solution, but the most important part of that sentence is, “short term.”
Here are some examples when renting a storage unit is a great idea:
- House is sold, but timing for moving into new place isn’t syncing up; household contents go into storage until the new place is available.
- Moving across country, need to temporarily store contents until you’re ready to receive items at the other end.
- Household renovations: rather than live with chaos while your space is being remodeled, box up the contents you can live without and store until construction is done.
- College dorm, annual leaving/returning event: rather than carting everything home at the end of the semester, some parents find it easier to store it for a couple months near the college.
- Death of a parent, breaking up the family home, grown children out of state, lots of mementos and photos to cull through. A storage unit can be a great temporary solution until everyone has had a chance to review and make decisions.
Now let me share some situations we’ve dealt with in the past of how NOT to use a storage unit. (specific facts have been altered to protect the innocent, or rather, guilty parties)
- Woman moves across the state to live with her sister for health reasons. Sister doesn’t have room for all the incoming stuff. Woman rents three storage rooms nearby, with the plan of sorting through it at some point in time. Time passes…six years, to be exact. Home Solutions is hired to help woman sort through the contents of these three rooms. 90% of it is nothing of value, nothing she wants to keep, nothing her nieces and nephews want. She spent $275/month for six years storing stuff she ultimately didn’t keep. That’s $19,800! Yes, some of the contents were sold via auction, but the funds received didn’t come close to the money spent.
- Husband issues an ultimatum to wife to get rid of the many, many, many bins of teaching supplies/craft supplies/clothing piled up in their basement and throughout the home. Rather than disburse, wife rents a storage unit, but it’s so packed, she can’t access the contents in a functional way so the stuff just sits there. For years it sits, but she doesn’t deal with it until Home Solutions is called in.
- Woman moves in with her aging mother, puts her own things in storage. Mother passes away, woman continues to live in the home with her mother’s contents, leaving her belongings in two storage units for many years. We worked in an unheated building in the dead of winter, sorting through those units. Thank goodness for space heaters and electrical outlets!
There’s a common theme in these examples, and it comes down to, “postponed decisions” time and time again. Nobody likes it when I calculate the money they’ve spent storing stuff they ultimately didn’t need or want, because invariably, the cost far exceeds the value of the items stored.
Do the math. Review your reason for storing. Don’t pay money to store stuff that can easily be purchased with the money you’ll save by letting it go now, and replacing it later when/if there’s a need.
If you decide to rent a storage unit, choose one big enough to store your stuff AND be able to see the contents if you will make periodic visits to review. A unit with inside access and climate control means weather is not a factor; it’s no fun loading, unloading, or sorting through contents with only outside access during a torrential rain storm.
We all know reality TV is rarely an accurate glimpse of, well, reality, but if you enjoy watching the show, Storage Wars, you might have fun checking out a local storage unit auction. But don’t be surprised if all you see is heaps and piles of worthless, postponed decisions.
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Do you ever get caught in the vicious clutter-creating cycle that goes something like this:
- You buy something you really don’t need and probably won’t use
- You tell yourself it was worth it because it was on sale
- You have no idea where to put it when you get it home/it gets delivered…
- …so it sits in a bag/box/corner where it’s joined by more “bargains”
- And now you won’t get rid of it because you paid good money for it
Sound familiar? I see this regularly when working in clients’ homes, so you’re not alone.
How can you break the cycle?
- Before making ANY purchase – especially an impulsive one, ask yourself:
- Do I need it?
- Will I use it?
- Where will it live when I get it home?
- If there are certain stores (brick and mortar OR online!) you can’t resist, proclaim a 30-day moratorium on visiting them. Break that habit of impulse buying!
- Take things out of the shopping bags/open delivered packages. It’s too easy to ignore something you can’t see.
- Create one designated area for pre-purchased gifts and “shop the house” when an occasion arises.
- Donate new/unused items to non-profit organizations for their fund-raising gift basket raffles.
Trust me when I say that retail therapy rarely produces long-lasting, positive results.
Here’s an interesting NY Times article on clutter with a different spin on it.
Where’s the car?
I think the author has, to a degree, taken a tongue-in-cheek approach, but I get it. Clutter and “stuff” isn’t an issue… until it is; until the stuff accumulates to the degree and in a way that affects the quality of your life and your ability to function on a daily basis. Do you currently co-exist comfortably with your stuff, or does it cause you stress? Do you invite friends into your home, or are you embarrassed by your clutter? There is no one-size-fits-all rule for how much stuff we should have in our lives.
I love books and have lots of them. But they live on three bookshelves in our living room. Those shelves define how many books I get to keep. Books don’t earn a spot on the shelves until I’ve read them AND enjoyed them, (or disliked them so much, I must keep them for reference, should someone try to convince me of their goodness) so unread books live in the two beautiful baskets – my reading runway, so to speak – they’re waiting patiently to be chosen. In order to make room for newly-read books on the shelves, I periodically clear out a few and donate them to the library’s book sale. Some people like to get books from the library. Yay them. I don’t. I like – no, need – to own the books I read. Quirky? Maybe, but that’s how it is with me and books.
A simplified version of the criteria I suggest for assessing stuff when working with a client goes something like this:
- Do you love it?
- Do you use it?
- Do you have the space to keep it/properly store it?
If you love your stuff, if it brings you joy, if you come home at the end of a long, hard day and revel in the presence of your stuff, rock on. Don’t get rid of things just because a magazine article says you should. By the same token, don’t hang on to stuff that weighs you down, causes anxiety or guilt, or is preventing you from sitting on the comfortable chair you know is under there somewhere.
When looking through piles of stuff to make keep-or-go decisions, I often ask my clients, “Is it relevant to your life anymore?”
Sometimes we hang on to things simply because we have the space. It’s easy to delay the decision-making process when keeping the stuff costs nothing more than the square footage to store it. But it’s important to realize that space doesn’t have to be filled; especially with stuff we don’t need, use, want, or love.
Old sports equipment is one example. If the hockey pads your son or daughter used six years ago are just gathering dust, I’ll bet there’s someone out there who would truly benefit from your gently used sports equipment donation.
Those college textbooks up in the attic? Unless the content is something you still use that hasn’t changed over time, they’re not too desirable. You can donate them.
If something doesn’t qualify for donation, maybe it can be recycled.
We had to make a tough decision here at home two years ago. We had a pool that came with the house. As close as we could calculate, it was at least 40 years old. When our boys were young that pool was a godsend. And in the heat of the summer, many a cold beverage was enjoyed during relaxing pool-float sessions. It had an attached deck, and for nearly 20 years we ate dinner up there from late spring through early autumn.
I nicknamed our pool, “The Albatross” because it really was a monstrosity – not much to look at – more function than form. As our boys grew into young men, The Albatross was used much less as a pool and more as an elevated eating area.
The time finally came when I was not looking forward to opening The Albatross. The idea of maintaining it for months on end wore me down. When I asked the question, “Is it relevant to our lives right now?” the honest answer was, “No.” The cost to maintain in terms of time, effort, and money was no longer worth the return on that investment. And the truth of the matter was, our fond memories wouldn’t disappear with the pool, they would stay with us in our minds and hearts. Oh, and in our photographs, too.
And so it was with mixed emotions that we bid a fond farewell to The Albatross. It owed us nothing; it had served us well.
The tear-down process was something to behold. All recyclable materials were, indeed, recycled.
Now we have a lovely patio we truly enjoy that fits our current lifestyle. We’re homebodies; we love to putter in the yard and gardens, we enjoy feeding and watching all the different birds our yard attracts. Oh, and wine. Our patio is the perfect place to enjoy a glass (or two) of wine at the end of the day. After the long hard winter of 2014-15, we’ll be especially happy for patio season to roll around.
While working with a client in her basement one day, I pulled a box out from under the stairs. The area was dusty, full of cobwebs; the box, water-stained and dilapidated.
“What’s in here?” I asked. She didn’t know.
The top of the box was filled with yellowed, age-worn newspaper. As I dug a little deeper and unwrapped the first item, my client exclaimed, “Oh, those are my grandmother’s dishes! Those are very special and precious to me – that’s all I have to remember her by!”
Really? The first thing I felt compelled to gently point out is that things are not memories. Things can trigger memories, but the memories reside within us. Imagine what your life would look like if you required a thing in order to remember any other thing – a person, a place, an event – we’d be overwhelmed with a huge clutterpile of things. Aha – you’re beginning to see an issue I deal with on a regular basis.
The second point I made was that if, indeed, these dishes were special and precious, they didn’t belong in a water-stained box under the basement stairs. That was not a place of honor for the one tangible thing that represented the memory of her grandmother.
We took the box of dishes upstairs. We unpacked them, washed them, and made a place for them in the dining room so my client could actually use them. She loved the idea that with each use she would think fondly of her grandmother, who had been an important and influential person in her life.
I think that’s how you show respect – for things and for the memories they represent.
If and when the time comes when you can no longer keep the “thing” or no longer have a use or a need for it, passing it on – releasing it out into the universe – is another awesome way to show respect. Think of the positive energy created by allowing someone else to love and use what was once precious and special to you. Sounds like a win-win situation to me.