Storage Unit: Pros & Cons

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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