Make the Most of Your First Storage Unit

Are you thinking about renting a storage unit for the first time? Are you one of the many people across America downsizing to save money? Maybe you have always wanted to move to a cottage by the sea and finish your novel. Perhaps you are finally taking that summer backpacking trip through Europe. If the only thing between you and your dreams is your stuff, renting a storage unit is a great way to secure your treasured belongings and set you free to pursue your goals.

Before you rent a storage unit, consider these hints and tips to make the most of the experience. You will want to keep in mind a simple acronym throughout the planning, packing and placing in storage processes: SALT.

Sort. The great thing about choosing storage as part of an overall plan—travel, moving temporarily, or downsizing—is that you will, ideally, have the time to sort through everything you own! Why is this a great thing? The reason is that you will have to opportunity to decide, item by item, what you want to keep, give away, sell or take with you to your new destination.

The best approach to sorting is incremental. Take an hour or two each day for a week (or more if you have a lot of things) and, for each item, ask yourself if you love it, need it, are attached to it (photo albums, family heirlooms) or could go on just as happily without it. The reason that “Sort” is first on the storage-planning list is that while you may currently be living in a two-bedroom apartment, you don’t necessarily need a storage unit that corresponds to that size. Once things are sorted, you will have a much better sense of the storage space you require.

Begin with the largest items—bed, dressers, wall units, entertainment centers. If the items are valuable to you, for financial or emotional reasons, knowing that you will put them in storage will help you ascertain the right sized unit. Work your way through your medium-sized belongings, which will likely fall into collections: clothes (you may even want to separate clothes by season or purpose), sports equipment (note that ski pants and boots would be sorted into this category, not clothing), art pieces, musical instruments, and other items that can be sorted—like with like—into boxes or empty luggage.

Small items are the trickiest. What to do with all those computer cords? Again, group like with like. Seeing all of your computer components in one place will give you the chance to take stock of what you have, decide what you want to put in storage (versus sell, donate or share with friends and family) and what you need to take with you. Allow yourself one “junk drawer” box, where things that just don’t fit anywhere else will be grouped together. Just one junk drawer box, though… otherwise it’s too easy to end up with a dozen boxes filled with miscellany.

Assign. This will be the most valuable tip of this article: assign a number to each item. Number 1 will be assigned to the items you will want or need to access most often or soonest. For example, if you are going hiking in Central America and upon your return will be heading off on a ski trip, all of your ski supplies should be together, and labeled 1. If it’s going to be a long time before you set up your t.v. and music system, those can be labeled 5. When you pack up your things to take to storage, pack the high numbers first and put those items in the back of the unit. Then there’s no need to unpack the entire unit every time you need something from it.

Label. This is easy. Get a Sharpie® and label every box with the contents (“Skiing” or “business clothes and shoes”) and a number. Write the contents and number on every side of the box. If you are really on the ball and have an extra half hour, keep a list of the boxes and the number you assigned each. This will come in especially handy if you are on the road and need a friend to retrieve something from your storage unit.

Take along. There are a few things that are better not to put in a self storage unit. High-value items like jewelry or coins are, of course, best stored in a safe deposit box. Prescription-only items like medicine and eyeglasses should be kept with you. If you are packing up a large space, like an apartment or house, and moving to a smaller one, you might want to label one box “Daily” with the necessities for your new place—a few towels, basic cookware, and of course your favorite pillow—and make sure it’s easily accessible.

Investing your time into sorting, assigning and labeling your items will pay off throughout the time you store your things. Storage is meant to make your life easier, not more complicated. Take along what you need, and store the rest with the confidence that you have stored only what you truly value, and that you know what you’ve stored and can reach it easily.

Conna Shannon

Conna Shannon

Conna is a writer, editor and aspiring filmmaker. She's into DIY, upcylcing and macrobiotic cooking. She lives in Monterey, California, with a yellow lab named Daisy.
Conna Shannon

Latest posts by Conna Shannon (see all)