Making the Most of a Storage Unit

Traditionally people going through relocation’s, marriage, divorce, inheritances, and other life transitions would use storage units for short periods of time.  Now, storage units are also used long term – a way to keep things we don’t want in our homes or those things don’t fit in our homes.  There’s no doubt these self-storage units provide a beneficial service – I used one for relocating challenges many years ago and expect I might again when its time for home staging.  So whether you currently have a storage unit or will need one in the future, the way you use the space can make the difference between simplifying and complicating things for yourself.

The best approach you can take for your storage unit is to set it up in ways that will both maximize the space as well as providing you with easy access to all the contents.  Essentially you want the ability to get to any content within 10 minutes whether you’re planning on ignoring it until you’re ready to empty it or if you’ll need to be in and out of it periodically.   Of course, if you end up needing to get at something before you empty the storage unit and you’ve organized the contents, you can get what you need with little hassle.  Also, when you set it up with this easy access to each thing, you’re simplifying the process for when you empty it – as the mover’s or yourself can make the most of loading the car or truck.  Overall it means simplifying – a little planning and organizing can save you time as well as money.

Ok then, how do you set up a storage unit with this in mind?

First, to keep access for all the contents, you make aisles.  You’re leaving space for you (or whoever) to move among the contents as well as allowing some space for shifting or rearranging if needed. There’s no right way to make the aisles – it doesn’t have to be from the door to the back wall – consider the dimensions of the unit and the things you’re storing.

Can you touch each box without having to move other things?  It doesn’t have to be set up this way, though it will make things easiest if you end up needing access to some of the contents and will facilitate your handling the things in there.  You can identify the box/bin/container you need to get access to – without digging and moving things only to discover it wasn’t behind that box after all.

In keeping with making the most of the space and making aisles, each container needs only one access point – so other than the items along the walls – you can make 2 rows of your stuff between each aisle.  The only things you’d need to move if you need access to one container would be any boxes on top of the needed container.   The aisles also provide an easy place to put those boxes you’re moving in order to get access to the container you need.

Second, as you’re looking at the space available – even if you already have a full unit – pay attention to the vertical space.  Not unlike a small living space, one way to make the most of small spaces is to maximize the area between the floor and the ceiling.  How you will use this space depends on different factors:

  • how much stuff you actually have or that needs to be stored in the space
  • whether the items for the storage unit will stack well (or can be stored to make most of vertical space like Persian rugs and grandfather clocks)
    • half full boxes will end up leaning or even falling when stacked on top of each other
    • furniture can help make the space more functional, especially shelving (though that doesn’t mean you should buy them!)
  • what are the things and the categories of things you’re storing (or planning on storing)?
  • safety and accessibility
    • I don’t recommend (most of the time) stacking things higher than is comfortable for retrieving and replacing – as that can become a safety hazard and negatively impact our willingness to get at the things stored

Third, keeping categories of things together.  If you’ve got books in storage, get them all together.  Clothes, kitchen things, storage/organizing containers, holiday decor, whatever broad grouping of similar things being kept together will help you if you need to find something and when you’re moving the containers out of the storage unit – since you’d probably prefer the books don’t inadvertently crush the box of memorabilia while they’re in transit.  Broad categories are often all you need, though there can be further detailed grouping when it’s appropriate.

If you’re storing things you want to go through over time, having the categories will also simplify that process – having like items together will make it easier for you to make decisions.  You can focus on one type of thing (avoiding switching between types of things) and know what else you have – which will help preserve your energy and maximize making decisions about each item within the category.

It’s helpful to make sure you know where the various categories are located within the storage unit – for locating what you need, for when it’s time to empty the unit, for sorting, purging and further organizing, and for anything else.  You can label the containers – with a magic marker, attaching labels to the containers, or even to make a diagram mapping the locations of your categories (so you know the front half of the row along the left wall are where your books are located).

When you have a storage unit – whatever the reason – making the most of the space is important.  Even if you already have a filled storage unit, with some time and effort you can rearrange things, making things easier in moving forward.  You’re paying money to save and protect your things.  These are 3 important aspects for maximizing the space and more importantly, keeping things as easy as possible for you: 1) access with aisles, 2) maximize vertical space, and 3) categorize and group contents together.    With these three pieces you can keep your things, your storage unit and using the space (for accessing or for filling and then emptying) as simple as possible.


Aside:  If you’re renting a storage unit for an undefined amount of time – a life transition – without a real deadline, consider setting a deadline for yourself, choosing your own time frame (and it’s good to be generous).  It can be an out-of-sight out-of mind cost, where it becomes easier to keep paying the fee for the storage unit than to face the plethora of decisions inside!

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