The Ultimate Guide To Organizing A Storage Unit

If you have a storage unit, you know how difficult it can be to organize all of your possessions. A storage unit makes the perfect storage space for items you're not currently using or that don't fit into your home or apartment. So let's get organized! Here is the ultimate guide to organizing a storage unit.

If your house or apartment is overflowing with stuff, a storage unit can provide an effective solution. However, if you do not want your storage unit to quickly start overflowing, then taking the time to effectively organize it is a must.

The key to keeping your storage unit organized is having a plan. You need to plan what you will store, how you will store it, and how and how often you will retrieve items from your unit. Creating and following a plan that answers these basic questions will keep your unit effectively organized.

Of course, it helps if you have a good plan. Keep reading to figure out exactly how to create an organization plan for your storage unit and learn some helpful tips and ideas to make your plan all the more effective.

Step 1: What Do I Want to Put in My Storage Unit?

Once you have decided that you want to invest in a storage unit, the first question should be, what exactly do I want to put in it? Are you looking to store seasonal items that you will be retrieving at set times every year? Do you want to safely store some family heirlooms for a long time?

Whether it be equipment, clothes, decorations, stuff you plan to rotate out, things you plan to lock up and then forget about, or a combination of these things, what is going into your storage unit makes a big difference in how best to organize it.

Here are some organization tips based on what you want to store in your unit.

Make a List

No matter what goes into your unit, it is essential that you make a detailed and comprehensive list. Things you are willing to place in storage are things you will completely forget about given enough time. Make a list, or it may not be long before you have no idea what is stored in your unit.

A woman creating  a list.
To make further steps more straightforward, start with creating a shortlist of the items you are willing to store.

Keeping a list of what you have that also details what is stored where will keep your unit organized by helping you find things. Not sure if something is in your storage unit? Check the list instead of digging through every box. Not sure if those aprons are in the kitchen or clothing box? Check the list.

We cannot emphasize enough how important it is to keep an updated list of what you have in storage. It will ensure that you do not forget what you have and stop the clutter that occurs when we dig through every box in search of one elusive item. Make a list! Your future self will thank you.   

Seasonal Items

Let’s say that one thing you want to store is seasonal items such as winter clothing, Christmas decorations, or beach stuff. What does this mean for your organization plan?

Seasonal items will be retrieved and likely rotated periodically. When you go to the unit to get your winter clothing, you will likely bring your summer clothing to replace it. Your unit should be organized in a way to make these swaps as easy as possible.

First of all, always put seasonal items in boxes. Grabbing a single box out of your storage unit is much easier than trying to gather many armfuls of various things. Use boxes!

A pile of huge boxes.
To have an easy access to your seasonal items, make sure you store them in separate boxes.

Make sure you leave enough space to easily remove and replace items. You should be able to walk into your storage unit. Do not make yourself climb over things. Installing shelves to make use of vertical space can make it easier to leave a walkway for yourself.

Also, if your storage unit includes both seasonal and long term items, place the seasonal items at the front where they can be easily accessed. If you have a clear idea of when you will be retrieving some items, those items should be easier to reach.

Finally, store the items you plan to rotate, such as winter and summer clothing, in the same style containers. It will be easier to make rotations if you are replacing each box with the same size box. Everything will always fit neatly.  

Heavy/Bulky Items

What if you want to store heavy or bulky items such as exercise equipment and furniture? What is the best way to organize this?

There is no getting around the fact that heavy items will be harder to get in and out of your storage unit. Therefore, make sure any heavy items you choose to put in the storage unit are not things that will need to be removed regularly.

A furniture wrapped on a plastic.
If you are willing to store furniture or other bulky items, it is better to put them behind smaller boxes or objects.

The best tip for storing your heavy items is to put them in the back. Once you place them, these items will be hard to move, so you do not want them to block access to anything else in the storage unit. When you fill your storage unit, you should always put the larger items in first.

Some items are not only heavy but bulky. Furniture items especially can take up quite a bit of room, and their bulk can make it harder to store things neatly. The best thing you can do to deal with bulky items is to disassemble them. Take apart furniture so that it will take up less room.

Fragile Items

You may want to store more valuable or fragile items, such as family heirlooms or keepsakes, in your storage unit. For these items, you will want to consider how to organize them so that there will be little chance of damage.

To make the most of your storage unit’s space, you need to get vertical with your storage, but you may not want to stack boxes that contain fragile items. Shelves are a great solution to this because they allow you to take advantage of the vertical space without putting pressure on your boxes.

A "FRAGILE" Label.
Do not forget to mark the box with fragile items and store it on shelves to avoid any damage.

If you do choose to use shelves, put more fragile items on the bottom shelves to reduce the risk of something falling and breaking.

Basically, if you are going to store valuable or breakable items, do not pack your storage unit to the brim. Leave space so that you can safely remove items, and ensure that nothing is being crushed.

Item Specific Storage Tips

Some items are more commonly kept in storage units than others, and for these, we have some specific organization tips. If you are planning on storing any of the below items, take a look at this list for some great ideas and pointers!

Books

Books are something that is both commonly collected and can take up a good bit of space. Hence they often end up in storage units. When storing books, there are two things you should consider: their weight and preventing damage.

Individually books may not rank as a heavy object, but a box full of books can quickly become more than the average person can carry. If you are planning to store a lot of books, you should consider using many smaller boxes rather than one large box.

Books are best stored flat rather than standing up to prevent damage to their spines. Your books should be stored flat in containers that are small enough for you to pick them up when full.

Clothing

The easiest way to store clothes is to fold them neatly and place them in containers just like the rest of your items. However, depending on the type of clothes you are storing, this can cause damage in the form of permanent creases. Large jackets can also be hard to fold into storage boxes.

A woman folding the clothes.
To avoid the formation of creases on clothes, consider getting a wardrobe box, especially for heavy coats and suits.

If you need to store several heavy coats or any clothing that does not need to be folded, invest in a wardrobe box. These cardboard boxes will keep your clothes safe and allow you to hang your clothes to prevent damage. As these are a taller item, they should be stored towards the back of your unit to prevent blocking in other storage.

Large Appliances

While you should disassemble large pieces of furniture to maximize storage space, large appliances such as stoves, washing machines, dryers, and freezers cannot be made any smaller. How do you get around the fact that these things will take up a ton of space?

Well, most of these things are made to put things in anyway, and that is exactly what you can do with them. Put a box in your stove (you could even put kitchen supplies so that you are still grouping by type), or place a couple of boxes in your freezer.

A washing machine.
When storing large items like washing machines, do not forget to put some boxes inside or on top of them.

By using the inside of large appliances as additional storage, you can still use a large portion of the space these big items take up. However, make sure that you thoroughly clean and dry out any appliances before sticking other boxes in them to avoid damage and any gross situations.

Step 2: How Will You Store Your Items?

Once you know what you need to store, the next question is, how will you store it? Having at least a general plan in this area will allow you to make the most of your space. Here are some tips for effective ways to place items in your storage unit.

Resist the Urge to Play Tetris

Do not turn your storage unit into a life-size game of Tetris. While using up every square inch of space may give you some brief satisfaction, it will become annoying the first time you need anything or when you discover that some items have been crushed under the weight of others.

Your storage unit should have enough space for you to get inside. If it does not, you either need to organize better, take some things out, or get a bigger storage unit. Packing your storage unit to the brim is no better than throwing those things away because you will never be able to get to them.

Use the Same Boxes for Everything

Hopefully, you have already realized that storing your stuff in boxes makes for a much neater experience than putting things in at random. However, did you know that using the same type of boxes will also make your unit more organized?

A box.
Packing your belongings into the same type of boxes will help you keep your storage unit neat and well-ordered.

It is a lot easier to stack and organize boxes of the same size than many boxes of various shapes and sizes. Find a container you like and buy a lot for all of your items. You will be able to fit more in your unit because the containers will pack together with ease.

Use Clear Containers

Speaking of using the same box, it can help if, when you select your box type, you choose clear containers rather than cardboard or solid colored boxes.

The reasoning behind this advice should be fairly obvious. Using clear containers will allow you to see what you have without having to get down and open every box.

In addition, clear containers are more durable than cardboard boxes and usually come with some type of handle, which will make stocking and removing boxes much safer and easier.  

Label Everything!

Clear containers are a great way to see what you have at a glance, but labels are even better. A sign of true organization prowess is the presence of labels on pretty much everything.

Even if your containers are clear, label them anyway! A label that says “Christmas Lights” is a whole lot clearer than the appearance of tangled wire. Simple labels like “Summer Clothes” and “Winter Coats” are a huge time saver when you need to distinguish between multiple bins of clothing.

A box with a "KITCHEN" Label.
Creating labels for boxes will make it easier to locate them when needed.

Furthermore, make sure you label all sides of your boxes. A label will do you little good if it is facing the wall. Putting a label on both ends will save you from having to worry about everything facing the right direction.

As a final tip with labels, be extra careful about relabeling. There are only so many times you can scratch through a word and write something else before it becomes indecipherable. An easier way to relabel is to use sticky labels, which can either be removed or pasted over when you need them.

Group Containers by Type

Besides putting similar items in a box together, you should also consider larger grouping by storing containers with similar items together.

Put all your clothes boxes in one area and all of your kitchen stuff in another. You can then make a general map of your storage area with the general placement of different types of objects.

This may sound like overkill. You won’t forget where you put your clothes, right? Perhaps you won’t, but there is a fairly high chance that you will. If you do forget, you will be glad you kept things grouped by type and made a map, and if you do have a brilliant memory making a backup will not hurt.

Go Vertical!

Many storage units cannot boast of an excessive amount of square footage, but they do gain space in another area: height. If you are not using the vertical space in your storage unit, you are underutilizing your storage.

Vertical space can be accessed in two basic ways: stacking or shelves. If you are going to stack, make sure that the bottom containers are the heaviest and that there is nothing fragile that could be crushed.

Although they will cost extra, we recommend shelves as the preferred method for going vertical with your storage. With shelves, you do not have to worry about things being crushed, and you can more easily access boxes to either remove them or simply check their contents.

When storing things vertically, there some precautions you should take to avoid damage and/or injury.

·       Even if you have shelves, avoid storing heavy boxes on the top shelf. Heavy items on the top will put pressure on the entire shelf system and are much harder to remove safely.

·       Leave space for yourself. When retrieving boxes that are placed high, ensure that you have enough space to maneuver. If something does fall, you need to be able to get out of the way.

·       Keep a foldable step ladder in your unit. If you are going to use a lot of your vertical space, you will likely be unable to easily reach some of the top rows. Investing in a foldable step ladder will allow you to reach those top rows, which can expand the amount of vertical storage you can use. Also, for safety, you should always use a step ladder to retrieve or place items that are well above your head.

What About Items that Will Not Go in Boxes?

Absolutely everything that can go in a box should go in a box, and we mean absolutely everything. Storing things in boxes keeps them safer, makes it easier to pack your unit, and easier to find stuff when you need it. However, there are some things we want to store that are too big to go in a box, so what do we do with these?

Most items that will not fit in a box fall in the heavy and bulky category. As we have already said, it is best to store these objects in the back of the unit (on the bottom so as not to crush anything).

Besides storing in the back, it is important to consider the most space-effective way to store something that will not go in a box. A table can have its legs removed so that it fits easily against the wall; a rug should be rolled as tightly as possible to avoid dust collection and take up less space.

A lot of the organization steps you can take with items that do not go in boxes are item-specific. However, in general, remember to see if you can dismantle any large objects into smaller, more storable pieces and be sure that large pieces are things you truly want to keep.

Organize Each Box Individually

While this article has focused largely on organizing the storage unit as a whole, do not forget that each box or container is its own small storage unit, which also needs to be organized.

We are not saying you need to spend time planning the organization of every single box (unless you want to). However, it probably is not a good idea to just toss things in your containers without thinking.

A fragile items wrapped.
When organizing your storage unit, do not forget to also keep your individual storage boxes well-ordered.

For one thing, do not put too many heavy items in a single container! If you cannot lift the box, then you definitely overdid it.

Secondly, consider how you will be using the contents of each box. Will you be removing only one item at a time? Then you probably want to leave that box less packed, so it is easier to get to a single item. Will you be removing the entire box at once? Then you can afford to stuff it as full as you want?

A box for clothing versus a box for tools offers a good example. If you have a box for winter clothing in your storage unit, you can pack it full because clothing is light, and you will probably take the whole box with you when you retrieve it from storage.

On the other hand, a box for tools should not be packed as tightly because it can quickly become heavy, and you should be able to find the tool you need without having to unpack the entire box.

Step 3: How Will I Remove My Items?

If you are placing things in a storage unit rather than getting rid of them, chances are that at some point, you plan to use these items. However, taking things in and out of your storage unit can quickly ruin your careful organization. Here are some tips for staying organized even as you remove and replace items in your storage unit.

First Out, Last In

First out, last in is a good general rule to use in your storage unit organization plan. As you pack your unit, you should have a fairly good idea of what items you will need to retrieve first. These items need to be stored near the front so that you can get them without disturbing your other things.

A pile of boxes outside the truck.
When putting boxes in a storage unit, keep those you are more likely to need soon near the front of the unit.

This means that the exercise bike you may never use again should be the first thing to go in your storage unit, while those Christmas decorations you will need in a few months or the tools you could need at a moment’s notice should go in last.

You can store the very first thing you put in the storage unit in the very front, but going from the back to the front generally proves to be the preferred method. The “first out, last in” method will make it both easier to initially pack your unit and to access stuff in the future.

Keep Everything Independently Accessible

While keeping things you will need frequently in the front is a good plan, you still want to arrange so that everything in your unit is accessible without having to move other items.

This may seem like an impossible proposition, but as long as you remember to leave a walkway, it can prove easier than you think. Leave an aisle that will allow you to walk to the back of your storage unit so that you can always reach items in the back.

Another way to keep things accessible is to avoid placing boxes behind each other. This can be avoided by buying containers that are as long as your shelves are wide. Buy bigger containers rather than putting many small boxes behind each other.

Shelves will make getting to everything far easier than stacking will. If you stack, you will have to remove boxes to get to things, but with shelves, you can slide any single box out without disturbing the others.

Be Prepared to Repack Boxes

No matter how organized your storage unit starts, over time, your storage needs will change, and if you want your storage unit to stay organized, it will need to change as well to meet those needs.

While it may seem like an enormous hassle, taking the time to repack and relabel boxes is a necessary piece of maintenance to keep an organized storage unit. This does not have to be done often or even at a set time.

If you realize that a box is growing too full or maybe even is getting emptier because you keep taking stuff, take the time to reevaluate. Do you need an additional box? Could you fit the few remaining items in an already existing box? Could you add something else and change the label?  

Whatever adjustments you make to your storage unit, make sure to keep your storage list updated and all of your boxes correctly labeled. It will save you many headaches in the future.

Conclusion

When we think of storage units, many of us think of spaces crammed with boxes and furniture that threaten to fall over when you open the door. Maybe some storage units are like this, but yours doesn’t have to be! Use our tips to make a plan and stick with it for an organized and functional storage unit!

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