10 Steps To Cleaning Out A Storage Unit

Here are 10 tips that will make the tedious job of cleaning out your storage unit much easier. A common misconception is that you can do this job over a weekend or in one day. That's only true if you know what to prepare, and we are here to help!

Storage units tend to become a catch-all for a wide range of items over time, and cleaning one may be a daunting task. Adhering to an organized plan to catalog and find homes for each item can make cleaning a storage unit easier and more efficient. 

Cleaning out a storage unit could save you money and allow you to keep better track of your items. Following our guide for cleaning out a storage unit will keep your items organized and your stress level low.

Assess Your Storage Unit to Create a Plan 

Opening a cluttered storage unit can be stressful at first glance. Before diving right in, it is best to create an action plan for efficient cleaning. Your organizational plan will involve many of the steps mentioned in this article and will influence how you will approach them. Firstly, you will want to answer key questions.

A pile of boxes.
Before uncluttering and cleaning your storage unit, think of organizational activities to create an efficient plan.

Walking through the storage unit will help to determine key organizational elements: 

  • What is my goal for cleaning this unit? Determine if you are cleaning to avoid using a storage unit altogether, making room for more items, or decluttering. If you no longer wish to use a storage unit, the steps beyond removing all items and cleaning the space will not be necessary. 
  • How long will this project take? Based on the items inside, set a deadline so you can successfully finish the cleaning. Give yourself extra time to finish as a buffer after your initial assessment.  Depending on the size of the unit and items, it may take over a day to clean. 
  • Can I do this job myself? You may need to recruit others to help you clean, especially if there is a considerable amount of work or heavy items to move.  
  • What will I do with the items? Have a plan for where items will go, including items you will keep and get rid of. 
  • Am I willing to part with junk? This is one of the hardest questions, as people often don’t want to throw things away. If you are willing to get rid of things you don’t use, this process will be easy! 

This organizational plan may also include a new layout and design for where to place items in the unit after cleaning. If the unit is too cluttered, this part of the plan may need to be addressed after all items are removed.

Recruit Family or Friends To Help Clean 

Once you have determined the amount of work that will be required to get the job done, consider recruiting people you know to help. The people you choose will largely depend on the type of task required. If there is a lot of heavy lifting involved, consider asking 1-2 people who will be physically capable of the tasks at hand.

A group of girls having fun at the garden.
To make the cleaning process more enjoyable, ask your friends or family members to help you with the task.

If staying on task or being organized is a challenge, recruit a project manager or someone who could help keep people on task. The goal of finding help is to make the project more successful. If additional people won’t make the job easier, working on your own may be best!

Mentally Prepare to Stay on Task 

Tackling a big project, especially when staying on task and parting with personal items is required, can be a challenge. Stepping into the right mental place is important to allow yourself to get the job done within your deadline. You may find yourself getting caught up in the nostalgia of items and getting distracted rather than staying on task. 

Mental preparation means sticking to your game plan and being disciplined in doing so. Clearly defining goals for the project and reminding yourself of these throughout the process can help to keep you organized, both physically and mentally. Because this can be challenging, there are some tangible steps you can take to keep yourself on the right track. 

Two person planning.
Creating a schedule and planning breaks will help you stay on the task and clean the storage unit more efficiently.

To prepare yourself for cleaning, we recommend these tips: 

  • Keep a schedule: Define time periods where you will commit to completing certain tasks. Use a timer to check on your progress and determine if you need to speed up or take your time. 
  • Break the work up: Spending a full day cleaning can be exhausting and slow you down. In planning your schedule, give yourself breaks in between work time or plan for multiple days to clean. Psychologists have found that taking breaks helps to boost productivity and enhance decision-making (Source: Psychology Today). 
  • Reward yourself: After accomplishing certain tasks, reward yourself! Set these rewards as something you will look forward to- this will keep motivation high. Studies have shown a strong link between reward and motivation, making this a successful way to stay on task for many individuals (Source: VeryWellMind).  
  • Prepare to let stuff go: One of the most difficult parts of decluttering is tossing items. Sometimes we hold onto them ‘just in case’ or feel guilty about parting with them. Assessing your likelihood of needing or using an item in the next year can help make it easier to get rid of many things. 

Take Inventory and Categorize All Items in Storage Unit 

Now that you have prepared for your cleanout, you can start to look at the items you have and organize them. There are many systems you can use, but we recommend the 4-Box Declutter Method. This provides you with four definitive locations you can place items and keep the process organized. 

A group of person unloading.
Use a couple of containers/boxes and label them to organize various items into corresponding storage boxes.

The 4-Box Declutter Method can vary slightly based on what you want to do with your items, but these are the general categories: 

  • Keep box: This will be an area for all items that will be kept in the unit. These should be items that you do not have room for at home or those that will not be accessed for extended periods.
  • Donate/sell box: Choosing to donate or sell your items can make them easier to part with. If you know that they will be put to good use by others, or you can get some money back, they can be easier to part with.
  • Trash box: For items that you forgot about or know that no one will be able to use, consider throwing them away. You may find that these are the easiest or hardest decisions to make. With the right mindset and commitment to staying on task, honestly assess your need for the items in question. 
  • Remove from storage box: You may find that some items have been left in storage and shouldn’t be. You should not keep wet, perishable, flammable, or hazardous items in a unit. 

If there are lots of items in the storage unit, you will likely need more than one “box.” These are categories to organize the different items, where some things may or may not fit in a physical box. We do recommend adding storage containers or organizing products when you do place items back in the unit. 

This will likely be one of the most time-consuming parts of the process. If you can do this efficiently, the rest of the project will be much more manageable.  

Remove All Items From the Storage Unit 

Ideally, you will combine this step with the previous and take items out as you categorize. This will make taking everything out easier when you only have to move it once. 

Boxes outside with a car trunk open.
Remove everything from the storage unit to see what you have and prepare for the cleaning process.

Removing all items from the storage unit is key for multiple reasons: 

  • Allows you to see all contents: Without moving everything, you may miss some items that are hidden behind other items or in the back of the unit. 
  • Prepares for cleaning: Cleaning means wiping down and cleaning the surfaces of the unit as well as the items. To most effectively clean the space, all items should be cleared.
  • Creates space for organizational products: Adding shelving, containers, or other organizing tools can make the best use of space. Remove everything to determine the best layout for reorganizing the unit. 

Wipe Down and Clean All Items 

Cleaning out a storage unit, or maintaining one, will require you to wipe down and clean your items. Dust easily collects on items and can be a pain to deal with when items are neglected for extended periods. Periodically wiping down all items will ensure that you aren’t left with a mess, and that dirt doesn’t stay on your things. 

All items put back into a storage unit should be clean as well. This will prevent early dust collection and extend the amount of time before another cleaning is needed. You should consider placing cloth tarps over larger pieces of furniture to prevent dust collection and any potential scratches or damage. 

A person cleaning.
To remove dust particles from all surfaces, thoroughly wipe down all the items in the storage unit.

You can also apply these strategies to keep items in a storage unit cleaner: 

  • Sealable containers: Using plastic containers with a sealable lid for storage prevents dust from collecting in all spaces. Items in boxes will remain clean, and only the boxes will need to be wiped down. Plastic is easier to wipe down than most materials. You can also use vacuum-sealed bags to save space on relevant items.
  • Keep cleaning supplies in the unit: While you should avoid storing flammable chemicals in the unit, keeping a vacuum and microfiber cloth in the unit will ensure that you have easy access when you visit the unit. Use microfiber cloths instead of standard rags to prevent scratching of surfaces (Source: Apartment Therapy). 

Ideally, maintaining the unit will make cleaning your items easier, especially for a full cleanout. Using the 4-Box Declutter Method, everything should be wiped down, except the items you have decided to throw away.  

Clean All Surfaces of the Storage Unit

You should now be looking at a blank canvas in the storage unit. It will likely be dusty or dirty, especially over longer periods. Whether you are moving out of the unit entirely or reorganizing, it is best to do a full cleaning of the space. This means cleaning all surfaces, including any shelving or ledges found in the unit. 

The most important areas to clean are the walls and floors. We recommend starting with the walls as debris can fall to the ground.  To clean the walls, assess how dirty they are. For clean looking walls, a duster or dry rag will allow you to remove dust. Dirtier walls may need a bit of elbow grease and a wet rag to clean. Don’t forget to wipe away any cobwebs! 

After the walls, most of your time will likely be spent on the floors. They not only accumulate dust but are susceptible to dirt and grime from footprints and movement throughout the unit. To clean the floors, first, start by sweeping the area thoroughly. Make sure that all corners and baseboards are cleaned. Follow this by mopping the area to remove more difficult debris.  

If you are moving out of the unit entirely, this will likely be your last step. If renting in public storage, check with the company to make sure that you have cleaned up to their standards. 

Add Organizing Containers or Shelving to Unit

When you created your organizational plan, you should have envisioned where things would go. For some, this may be a challenge unless you see the empty space. Either way, you can take measurements and add storage containers and other organizational products to make the best use of the area.

Clothes on a plastic storage container.
The best organizing containers are clear so you can see what is inside them- they should also be labeled for clarity.

Keeping items in containers not only makes storage more efficient, but it also makes it easier to find. After you have determined all the items, you plan to keep in the unit, sort them by category, and keep similar products together. This is recommended by many professional organizers to make future cleaning simpler and items easy to reference (Source: KonMari). 

The best organizing containers are clear so you can see what is inside them- they should also be labeled for clarity (Source: Family Handyman). Adding shelving to the unit can make it easier to take advantage of all the space. There is only so much floor space available, and using vertical space will make it easier to move throughout the unit. 

Keep an Inventory List and Label Items 

Keeping a list of everything in the storage unit will prevent you from forgetting about items and make them easier to hunt down. 

To create an easy inventory list, create a spreadsheet with relevant information: 

  • Item name: Provide the item name and a clear description if necessary, so you are aware of the specific items you have. 
  • Date of entry: Note when you put the item in storage for reference and when you may need to go back in and clean it. 
  • Category: If you create a system of categories in your unit, this will help you to find items and keep yourself organized. 
  • Location: Take note of where you are keeping this item in the storage unit. This can make it easier to find specific things if you aren’t sure where you placed them. 

After you place each item in its designated area, make sure that all the containers are labeled. This will save you a lot of time and headache as opposed to looking through boxes blindly and trying to find items. Keep a copy of your inventory list in the storage unit as well as on a computer so you can make changes or additions if needed.

Strategically Arrange the Remaining Storage Unit Items 

Placing everything back in the storage unit should be strategic. Doing so haphazardly will allow for cluttering and make it more difficult to find items when you need them. How you choose to organize a unit will depend on what you use it for, but some general guidelines will make organization more efficient. 

A woman walking on the storage facility.
To keep your storage neatly organized, use similar storage containers, clear the floor from clutter, and disassemble furniture.

Consider these strategies for keeping a storage unit clean and organized: 

  • Use uniform storage: if you can, use the same storage containers throughout the unit. The more similar storage you have, the easier the boxes will be to stack. 
  • Keep needed items accessible: Keep items you are more likely to use near the front of the unit or in an area that is easily accessible. Ideally, these are found at a convenient height. 
  • Keep the floor open:  Being able to walk throughout the unit will give you access to all items. As we’ve mentioned, taking advantage of vertical space is more efficient and will allow for the middle of the unit to remain open. 
  • Break down furniture: Large pieces of furniture can be disassembled and kept upright in the back of the unit to make more room for other items. Make sure you have the correct tools and protect any edges that come in contact with the ground or walls. 
  • Organize by weight: Keep heavier items near the bottom or back of a unit so that you do not damage lighter items. These items are often kept here long-term and do not need to be front and center. 

Cleaning Out A Storage Unit 

With a clear plan, cleaning out a storage unit can be an enjoyable job. Not only can you stumble across cool items, but the satisfaction of looking at your clean or organized unit makes it worth it. 

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