Years ago, it became apparent I was going to be an urban apartment dweller for the long run. This meant life without an attic or garage in which to stash stuff. At some point, my parents gently suggested that I get a storage unit. That’s code for “We’d like you to get your yearbooks and prom dresses out of our house.”
Since then, I have leased at least 10 different storage units around New York City, including the current one where I’m storing my childhood memorabilia, large suitcases, holiday decorations, portable stripper pole (that’s a story for another time), and crutches (unrelated to the stripper pole story).
I’ve pared down, moved around, and minimized my stuff many times, but I still haven’t managed to settle into a place that allows me to completely ditch my storage unit.
I know I’m not alone. Many people keep storage units for months or even years.
Maybe you’re between houses, staging your home to sell it, or downsizing and need to get an attic’s worth of possessions tucked away. Or maybe you’ve just accumulated too much stuff.
Regardless of the reason, there are some smart strategies you should know before you decide to box your belongings and lock them away. Let’s look at seven important considerations.
There is a huge variation in the size of storage units you can rent. The first step in figuring out what size works for you is deciding what you need to store.
Some storage places offer everything from small closets for people looking to swap out offseason clothing, all the way up to 300-square-foot spaces the size of a one-car garage that can hold the contents of an average-sized house.
As for what size you need, keep in mind you can stack items, similar to a giant Tetris puzzle.
“An 8-foot-by-8-foot-by-8-foot container will likely hold about one to two rooms worth of goods,” says Peter Warhurst, CEO of Red Rover Moving & Storage. “And a 16-by-8-by-8 container will hold approximately three to four rooms’ worth.”
While online “storage calculators” can help you gauge what size is best for your belongings, you should also try speaking to a customer service rep at the facility.
“These guys deal with storing stuff every minute of every day, and therefore they can size up what someone needs better than anyone else,” says one organizational expert, Kelly McMenamin, author of “Organize Your Way” and co-founder of Pixies Did It!, an organizing service.
The monthly cost for a storage unit is around $190 but can range from $100 to $300 depending on size and location. Timing can play a role in the price you get, too.
“The [prime] self-storage season is typically from March 1 to Dec. 1, which leaves December, January, and February to get the best deals,” offers Alan Mruvka, founder of StorageBlue self-storage and E! Entertainment Television.
So when money matters (and let’s be honest, it pretty much always does), wait to get your storage unit during the winter if possible.
Storage units almost always lease month to month with no minimum or maximum term. A note about when you vacate the unit: Give notice before your rent is due.
“If you go even one day into the next month, you’ll get charged for that month,” warns Mruvka.
While they can be more expensive, a climate-controlled storage unit is money well spent if you want to keep your valuable items protected.
“Climate-controlled units are not about the temperature as much as they are about the humidity,” says Mruvka. “If you have valuable belongings, controlling the humidity is important.”
Humidity can lead to dampness, which can lead to bacteria and mildew growth, which can damage certain possessions.
“Storing clothing, paintings, and rugs in non-climate-controlled storage is dicey,” warns McMenamin. “Some stuff survives; some doesn’t.”
Do you have homeowners or renters insurance? If so, great, because this will probably cover the items you put in storage. (You should also check your personal policy just to be sure.)
If not, however, don’t assume you’ll be automatically covered by the storage facility should something happen to your stuff while it’s being stored. The reality is, you probably are not. Many offer additional coverage you can buy on site.
“Protection plans usually cost between $12 and $15 a month and get you anywhere between $1,000 to $4,000 of coverage,” says Mruvka.
Just because you rent a storage unit doesn’t mean you have free rein with the space.
“Most storage providers will include a list of items in their rental agreement outlining what you can store and what you cannot store,” says Warhurst.
Obviously, hazardous or illegal materials and flammable substances like gas are no-gos (though you can store gas-powered machinery if all the gas is drained), says Sarah Little, managing director for Storage Mart and Manhattan Mini Storage.
Don’t try to store food (for humans or pets, not even things like a jumbo, unopened bag of birdseed).
“Any type of food is the biggest no-no,” says Mruvka. “Even if you think it’s wrapped well, it’s a sure way to attract pests into the building and your unit, which can get ugly, as they can chew through anything.”
Moving your gear into storage requires packing and wrapping. You may well end up with damage if you just shove things in willy-nilly. If you want to keep your stored stuff dry and intact, plastic tubs are where it’s at.
“Use opaque plastic bins with lids, and try not to overpack bins, as it allows air to circulate,” suggests McMenamin.
That being said, vacuum-pack sealed plastic bags are not the thing to use if you’re packing clothing or carpets.
“Everyone thinks they’ll be airtight and keep out moths, but everyone would be wrong,”‘ says McMenamin. “Ditto for cardboard boxes.”
She suggests wrapping cashmere and carpets in acid- and ink-free paper before putting them in a lidded bin, and using cloth hanging bags for clothes, not plastic.
For furniture, “we always recommend using moving blankets, to offer the best level of protection,” says Warhurst.
Once it comes time to move things in, think heaviest stuff on the bottom, things you need less frequent access to in the back. Finally, make sure you’ve labeled everything and keep a digital or paper inventory list of what’s in there.
“The reason to do the latter is that even the best mind forgets what’s in a storage unit over time,” says McMenamin.
Think you’ll take your stuff to storage and just throw away what doesn’t fit or what you decide you don’t want? Think again. You will be hard-pressed to find a trash can anywhere on the premises. Ever.
“Self-storage facilities don’t provide dumpsters and never let you dump your trash or items that you want to throw away,” says Mruvka. “If you think about it, it would be a free-for-all, and many dumpsters would be needed.”
“Furthermore, any trash left on the premises may result in a fee,” says Little. “Our aim is not to punish customers, but rather to help ensure everyone using our facilities can have a clean and easy experience.”
This is why you really need to declutter before you bring anything to your storage facility.
“Always purge before storing—when packing up, keep two garbage bags nearby for donations and trash,” says McMenamin. “The entire act of packing helps most people realize what’s trash and what’s treasure.”
Kimberly Dawn Neumann, who is based in New York City, is an author, performer, and fitness professional.
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