Seven Self Storage Suggestions

Need a little extra space? Before boxing your miscellany, consider these seven suggestions from a former self storage facility manager.

Go Small
You might think you need a large unit to store a bedroom worth of furniture. But, you can probably store everything in a unit 25% of the size of the room (give or take). Not sure it will fit? One trick is to rent two smaller units near each other, and cancel the second one if everything ends up fitting in the first. Put beds and couches on their sides. Stack boxes and small furniture on top of dressers and desks. Stack to the ceiling. You’re paying for the whole unit, so use it.

Get Rid Of Your Crap
If you don’t need it: sell it, donate it, or toss it. Many people spend a ton of money storing cheap stuff that’s easily replaceable. Remember, a $200/mo. storage unit costs $2,400 per year. Don’t waste that money hanging onto an entertainment center you found at a garage sale for $40.

(Photo: fabbio)

Be Realistic
Everyone thinks they’ll have their new storage unit for a month or two. A year or two is more like it. Figure the cost of the unit over a couple of years, and ask yourself: “Is it worth paying hundreds or thousands to store this stuff?” Only about a third of customers (if that many) empty their unit within the first few months. Self-storage facilities know this, and they bank on it. So don’t be fooled by “first month $1” deals or introductory rates. Make sure you get the lowest long-term rate.

Stay Organized
Pack all the small stuff in clearly labeled boxes. Make sure you can get to them without having to move a dresser and a large freezer. After a few visits and some hasty re-arranging, an unorganized storage unit can become a total mess.

Be Safe
If you’re storing something expensive (and thus worth stealing), put it in the back of the unit inside a mislabeled box. When you sign your storage lease, the rep will try to up-sell you on insurance and a secure padlock. Buy them both. In the event of fire, theft, etc., the storage facility will not replace your belongings. The insurance is cheap. Don’t decline it unless you’ve spoken with your homeowners insurance agent and confirmed existing coverage. You might think your stuff isn’t valuable enough for insurance. If so, why are you paying to store it? As for the lock, buy the most secure-looking one they sell. You could pick one up at the hardware store, but you won’t save much and – let’s face it – you won’t get around to it.

Be Nice
As always, the rep is more likely to help you if you’re nice to them. Perks may include lower rates, discounted packing supplies, free use of the dumpster, and waived late fees. If you find them helpful, tell them. And fill out a comment card. Those are like gold to any low-level employee.

Be Savvy
Shop around. Even if you’ve decided to use the facility down the street, get their competitors’ prices. Be ready to haggle. Every dollar per month you save adds up over a year. The cheaper facilities might be scummy, and worth avoiding. But you can use the comps as leverage. The rep often has a minimum monthly price for each unit size, so start by negotiating that. When you’re satisfied it won’t get any lower, move on to the introductory offers. Common deals include one or two months free, several months at half price, or a reduced rate for the first 6-12 months. Always tell them you’re planning on a long stay (but make sure it’s a month-to-month lease). Let the rep get creative in order to earn your business. You may need a calculator. When that’s done, go for the free padlock and flat discount on boxes and/or supplies (5-10% is realistic). Ask them to waive the admin (sign up) fee. You might even try for a discounted truck rental. Don’t agree to the unit until you’ve gotten everything you can.

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Edit Your Comment

  1. notlazyjustdontcare says:

    Also: If you’re hiding your secret backup time machine in a storage unit in the same building as the original machine, don’t let your friend see the second unit on the sign-in sheet.

  2. gwong says:

    Good advice! I just wish I knew all this when I was renting storage space between academic years in college!

  3. JosephFinn says:

    @notlazyjustdontcare: Damn you, I was going to make the same joke. God, I loved Primer.

  4. ADM says:

    also, if you have lots of cardboard boxes, you should consider buying some heavy plastic shelves to stack them on. over time, the weight of the boxes will collapse your towers of cardboard. shelves prevent this.

    if you are storing lots of books for a long time, and your storage unit is not climate controlled, wrap the books in sealed garbage bags. this will help keep the moisture out.

    i also find it’s helpful to label the boxes on the top and on a side (the same side on every box). this makes it easy to see what’s in the box from whatever angle you approach it.

  5. bedofnails says:

    Three biggies:

    Double & triple check the “access hours” of your unit. I had a good friend mistakenly sign a contract and move in on a place with access until 6PM during the week, and 4PM on Saturday – closed Sundays. They actually locked him AND his U-Haul (for shame) in one Saturday. Also, he never had a chance to get in/out on a normal workday. Look for the places with access until 9 or 10PM 7 days a week.

    If you are given the option of several units (usually displayed to you on a map) try to snag “roll-up” doors, and units at intersections of hallways (giving you extra space when digging through or organizing your unit, and easier to load from those fun carts) The roll-up doors are also a space saver for the same reason.

    When loading the unit, try to pack it with a skinny “U” shaped path. In other words, line the walls with your stuff, and try to build an island with your big stuff (furniture) in the middle. In the months ahead, you more than likely will always realize “that’s in storage”, and this saves sweaty clothes and long nights from climbing over your mini Everest of possessions.

  6. typetive says:

    One tip missed here before get rid of your crap is to find a good foster home for it. A friend may actually be happy to use your bedroom set for six months while they shop for a new one. They get to use it, you get free storage. (My mother did this when she went back to college. She found three friends to take three different rooms of furniture for two years.)

  7. SoyLocoMoco says:

    Here’s another vote for just giving away the stuff you don’t have room for. Or at least getting the insurance. I have a sad tale of storing furniture at the StorQuest in Palm Springs. The short of it is that the storage locker got water damaged and almost all was lost and StorQuest had no liability. The whole story is at

  8. Zemmix says:

    Wow this topic came up at a good time for me! at $1700 a month my two bedroom townhome in So. Cal. is getting to be a bit too expensive for me so I will be moving down to a one bedroom in a cheaper area this summer. Unfortunately though I have a lot of stuff! I’m going to need a storage unit for all my game/computer collections and books not to mention the extra furniture.

    I plan to put a few wooden pallets under everything also to prevent damage in the case of minor flooding if it ever happens.

  9. not_seth_brundle says:

    If your sofa is worth anything, don’t store it on its side–you’re putting too much pressure on the arm of the sofa. If it’s not worth anything, get rid of it.

  10. “i also find it’s helpful to label the boxes on the top and on a side (the same side on every box).”

    We used sticky labels, name-tag sized, in three different flourescent colors. (That’s what came in the package.) We coded it so pink was “stuff we’ll need immediately,” yellow was “stuff we probably want” and green was “I bet we won’t ever unpack this and we probably should have started cleaning out longer before the move.” But you could do it by rooms or whatever.

    I know packing companies have these with actual room names on them, but the sticky labels were cheaper, and then I could write on the label what was in it, not just which “group” it belonged to.

  11. cyberchick says:

    I live up north. I picked a crappy storage unit outside. When I went to move my things in winter I found the door frozen shut. I had to use salt and an ax to free it. I surmised that it would rain/snow then melt and freeze again. It also leaked into the storage closet. Many of my things were frozen to the floor. I balled for a while. It was horrible. If I ever need a unit again I would opt for a inside climat controled unit. If I had to pick an outside unit it would be a sun facing unit up few feet from the gound and I would scronge for pallets to raise my items from the ground.

    • Gordon Mott says:

      Yeah, you’ll kind of have that. The ice on the door can’t be helped. The thing to keep in mind here, though, is that it’s not smart to keep things you value on concrete. At best, it corrodes things. Not sure if it’s because of efflorescence, but it’ll eat wood, corrode metal, etc.

      The lesson to be learned is to put down pallets on your floor to protect from water, corrosion, et al.

  12. thirdedge says:

    Anyone know of any storage facilities that would let you work on a motorcycle in their space? -South Bay Area.

    Hmmm.. maybe I should Craigslist this…

  13. bedofnails says:


    Hell, in Miami I’ve seen several people living out of a unit – you could work on your motorcycle there.

  14. DjDynasty says:

    I’m in Chicago, people live in Units here too, Cheaper than rent in most parts of town!