A Guide to Choosing the Best Storage Unit

When it comes to choosing a storage facility, the most important thing an individual needs to consider is what is stored in the storage unit. There are several different types of storage units available for rent from operators across the country, you should consider your budget, location, and several more factors

Choosing the best storage unit is no simple task. Getting the right unit size, determining proper storage term length, picking the right location, protecting against extreme weather and potential damage are added stressors on top of the stress of moving or decluttering. 

Let’s take some of the worry away and get prepared with this comprehensive guide.

Short Term and Long-Term Storage Units

Whether you need to temporarily store items in between moves or need a long-term home for the things you can’t find space for, you’ll have to consider whether you need short- or long-term storage.

Short Term Storage Unit

If you plan to keep items stored for less than three months, short term storage is what you’re looking for. Whether it’s freeing up space while you renovate your home, your kid is moving back home from college, or you just need some extra space to think, a short-term storage unit can meet your storage needs.

A group of person unloading.
If you want to store your stuff for a couple of months and want to have quick access to them, choose a short-term storage unit.

Short term storage is ideal for people:

  • Who want quick access to their items
  • Who don’t want to sign a year or longer contract
  • Need extra space for selling or donating goods

Long Term Storage Unit

Long term storage is best suited for those who need storage for longer than three months. This could be storage for a business, a car, or seasonal items. If you are moving out of your old place and need to pack some items, but are unsure of how long you need to store them, long term storage is the better option.

A pile of boxes.
Long-term storage units allow you to save on monthly costs while storing seasonal items or the stuff you do not need right away.

Long term storage is ideal for people:

  • Who don’t need their items right away
  • Who want to save on monthly costs
  • Who want to store seasonal items or decorations

Different Types of Storage Units

Indoor Unit

Indoor units are best for people who need their items to stay protected from the elements. Climate controlled units are available as well, both of these options are going to be more costly and should only be used for valuable items. However, an indoor climate-controlled unit will be cheaper than outdoor climate-controlled units.

Indoor storage.
Indoor storage units offer more protection than those located outdoors.

Pros

  • No loading or unloading in bad weather
  • Overall more secure

Cons

  • No direct drive up unit access
  • Cost

Outdoor unit

If your items can stand the elements, consider using an outdoor unit. Outdoor units can also be climate controlled, but if you don’t need the extra protection for your items, select an ordinary outdoor unit to save some cash. Being able to drive up and access your items makes pick up and drop off a breeze. Depending on where you are, most outdoor units are available 24/7.

A outdoor storage unit.
Outdoor storage units with climate control can also protect your items from various elements.

Pros

  • Easy access
  • Lower rates

Cons

  • Susceptible to extreme weather
  • Safety and security

Climate Controlled Unit

Climate controlled units are available for both in and outdoor units. These units are more costly and should be reserved for valuable items like antiques, instruments, art, and similar vulnerable items. This is a good unit type If you’d rather not worry about how your items will hold up over a long period of time.

Pros

  • Protection of items
  • Peace of mind
Cons
  • Increased monthly Cost
  • Most likely don’t need all of your items climate controlled

There are different kinds of climate control options available including:

  • Temperature Controlled
  • Humidity Controlled
  • Air Cooled
  • Air Conditioned
  • Heated

Special Storage Unit

There are specialty units available for sensitive items that need protection from more than the elements. Wine in particular is a finicky item to store. Specialty storage units will keep the wine cooled at the right temperature and free from vibration. 

This is also ideal storage for important documents that would be susceptible to yellowing or creasing in an uncontrolled unit.

Mobile Storage Unit

If you have the extra space at your business or backyard even, you can get a storage company to drop off a unit to you and pick it up when you’re done. These are great if you need to tame some of your businesses overflow but can’t have it out of reach or need constant access to the extra items in your home. Mobile units can also be shipped across the country.

Self-storage or Full-Service Storage?

Self-storage is the more commonly known type of storage. With this type of unit you drive up to your outdoor storage unit or indoor unit loading dock to load and unload your goods. This type of storage is more cost effective and will meet all normal storage needs.

Full-service storage adds a sweet valet-like convenience factor. Also known as on-demand storage, the service allows for pick up, transportation, storing, and retrieval of items to their complex. Many full-service storage companies keep inventory and photos of your items so they can be easily accessed. This type of storage is pricier and can come with added fees.

A man on face mask loading boxes.
I you cannot load and unload goods on your own, consider choosing a full-service storage unit that offers transportation of your stuff.

What Type of Storage Unit Do I need?

When choosing the best storage unit there are many considerations including, cost, location, the amount of space you’ll need, and how long you’ll need it for. Different storage complexes offer different benefits. Let’s take a look at some of the determining factors.

Cost is the First Factor

Depending on where you are, storage units are widely available, and you should compare costs. If you are storing everyday household items or seasonal decorations, you don’t need to spring for a climate-controlled unit. Paying monthly for a storage unit might be more expensive than if you entered a yearly lease.

A person paying through card.
If you want to save up some money, you should consider leasing a storage unit yearly instead of paying monthly.
  • How long will you need the unit?
  • How much protection do you need?
  • How much space will you need?

The average standard sized self-storage unit costs about 60 bucks a month. Climate controlled units cost about 80 bucks a month.

Location is Key

You hear “location” three times in a row for good reason. You can take advantage of your storage unit’s location in multiple ways. If you want to save a couple bucks, storage found on the outskirts of town or in rural areas is generally a cheaper rate. If it’s inside you don’t have to worry about battling the elements as you move items in and out.

  • How often will you need to access your items?
  • How do the rates compare in a general radius?
  • Do you plan on storing long term?  

How Much Space Do You Need?

Many people underestimate the amount of storage they require. Make sure you account for oddly shaped furniture and pack efficiently. Renting a unit that’s too small can both ruin the integrity of the items and make them impossible to get to. Renting a unit that’s too large adds unnecessary cost.

  • How many large or awkward items are you storing?
  • Can you make an aisle to get to your items?
  • Can you get rid of any unnecessary items?

How Long Do You Want a Contract For?

How long you’ll be storing your items is an important factor in choosing the best storage unit. If you are unsure of how long you’ll need storage, it’s best to do a month to month lease. You’ll simply pay for the months you need it and stop paying when you move all your items out. If you need long term storage consider a yearly lease, this will save on cost.

  • Do you need a monthly or yearly lease?
  • Do you know when your next move will be?
  • Do you have seasonal items to store?

Different Sizes of Storage Units

Below is a list of some of the standard sizes of units you will find at most storage complexes. Keep in mind different storage facilities have different sizes of units, just find out what’s available in your area.

A storage unit with a padlock.
Keep in mind different storage facilities have different sizes of units.

Small Units

5’x5’ Storage Units

These units are closet sized and are cost effective if you can squeeze items in efficiently. Ideal for the overflow items of a small family or a place to store seasonal items. 

  • Less than 10 Large Boxes
  • Seasonal clothing and items
  • Small furniture and appliances
  • Business/personal documents

5’x10’ Storage Units

You can store longer furniture in here and still have room to stack up boxes and maximize space. Ideal size for a college student returning home who needs summer storage.

  • About 20 large boxes
  • Mattresses and box springs
  • Dressers
  • Bookshelves

Medium Units

These units will offer more space for larger furniture and can hold about a studio apartment’s worth of items.

  • About 30 Large boxes
  • Appliances
  • Mattresses/box springs
  • Room for smaller boxes as well

10’x10′ Storage Units

These units are approximately half a standard one-car garage in size. They can hold the contents of a small standard sized apartment.

Large Units

10’x15 Storage Units

These units have the ability to store the contents of a medium sized apartment. Large units are ideal for people moving from apartments or small homes and want to hold the entirety of their belongings.

  • Large furniture
  • Large appliances
  • Living room sets
  • Additional small and medium boxes 

10’x20′  Storage Units

Approximately the size of a one-car garage and can store the contents of a medium sized home. These units are large enough for commercial use for things like storage racks.

  • Large furniture
  • Large appliances
  • Large living room sets
  • Outdoor equipment

10’x30′ Storage Units

This size is generally the largest you will find at most self-storage facilities. These units will hold the contents of a large home and are ideal for large commercial storage.

  • Large Furniture
  • Large Appliances
  • Contents of multiple rooms
  • Large outdoor equipment

If you’re unsure of the exact size you’ll need it’s best to rent storage a size too big than a size too small. The worst that can happen is you’ll be able to pack and access items in the storage unit much easier.

How to Choose the Right Storage Unit

This is where you’d want to shop around a bit. Now that you know what qualities you’re looking for in a storage unit, it’s time to go check some out. Looking inside the storage units themselves is a great way to determine what you can actually fit in there.

  • Take measurements of some of your larger items to see how you would fit those and work around that. It’s not practical to measure everything, but be sure you can take care of those awkwardly shaped items.
  • Take inventory of the items you wish to store and use that list to visualize how you will store the contents.
  • Check out the different storage types and sizes, there’s usually an attendant available to help with this process, be sure to ask questions to make sure you aren’t overpaying or missing out on needed features.
  • Estimate the space your items will take up and make sure you leave enough space to be able to get to all of your things. You don’t want to have something you need stuck in the back.
  • Determine the size and features you’ll need and then compare costs with other storage units. You will find storage units vary from location to location. Make sure you are getting the best deal for your needs.

What Do I Need in a Storage Unit? 

Assess the durability of the items you plan to store. You must determine whether or not your items can survive in cold weather, are susceptible to mold or mildew, or need to be climate controlled. Environmental factors aren’t the only problem, the protection offered from theft or other damage varies among different complexes, and you may be required to get insurance.

Do You Need Climate Controlled Storage?

Not every item needs climate-controlled storage. If most of your items require it or you don’t want to worry about them surviving harsh conditions, climate control will be the safe play. Climate control on average costs about thirty percent more than standard self-storage. Some of the items that require climate control include:

  • Leather or Upholstered furniture
  • Computers and electronics
  • Records, CDs, DVDs
  • Collectibles
  • Cosmetics
  • Clothing
  • Important Documents
  • Photos
  • Leather containing sports gear
A thermostat.
If your items cannot withstand moisture, extreme cold, and hot conditions, you should choose a climate-controlled storage unit.

A good rule of thumb is to determine what items are susceptible to moisture. In a standard storage unit moisture is inevitable and can come from cold or humidity. Wood, metal, and leather all change forms when introduced to heat or cold, so make sure items that contain these are accounted for.

What Type of Security Do You need?

Some storage units are fenced in and require a key or code to access. Select storage unit complexes also have video surveillance, not all of them have cameras directed at specific units so be sure to ask. Added security usually comes at an added cost, if you decide to skimp on this aspect make sure you invest in a quality lock.

  • Does the complex have secure walls for fencing?
  • Do their cameras cover the entire complex?
  • Is there someone attending the complex at all times?

Do You Need Insurance?

Renters or tenant insurance is a sure way to protect your belongings and is a requirement for some storage units. You can get renters insurance from many insurance companies or you may already be covered under your current homeowner policy. You can cover a few thousand dollars worth of items for less than twenty dollars a month, which is not much for peace of mind.

  • Are your items valuable?
  • Is the storage unit vulnerable to theft or damage?
  • Does my storage company require insurance?

Ask: Is There Anything I Can Declutter?

Decluttering will not only reduce the amount of items that you have to pack away and make space for, it gives you less to think about as you transition. Saving space will also save you money, there’s no need making space for things you have to get rid of anyways. Consider what you can donate or sell and separate them.

What Can’t I Store in a Storage Unit?

This will vary between complexes but there are a few items you should avoid storing in your unit all together. This will protect your items and ensure the safety of units around you. Here is what you should avoid storing and why.

  • Food attracts critters who nest in your clothes or other fabric, tear holes in your bedding, and leave their pellets all around.
  • Scented items like candles, incense, perfumes, and cosmetics can also attract unwanted pests.
  • Hazardous waste can react to the harsh conditions and are just plain unsafe and illegal to store in storage facilities.
  • Living things may be an obvious one, no pets or humans should be stored in a storage facility, but this includes plants as well that will die without sunlight and ultimately attract pests.
  • Flammable items, weapons or explosives are also illegal to store.

Choosing the Right Storage Unit

Now that we’ve covered all there is to consider when choosing the best storage unit, it’s time to get out there and select the right one for you. Remember, take inventory of your items so you know what size storage you need. Compare features and rates of storage units in your area. Factor in security, insurance, and determine the safest and best way to store your items.

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