This is How Self-Storage Works

Portable self-storage units and storage units are available to store household goods, commercial inventory, equipment, and even vehicles when you need extra space. In this article, you will find out how self-storage works

People use self-storage for a variety of different reasons. There are obvious reasons.  You don’t have enough space where you live.   You may want to downsize a bit, or your family will soon outgrow the space you have. 

Self-storage works by allowing you to rent a space to keep your belongings. Whether long or short term, this storage option provides secure space to keep your things. 

Regardless of your life stage or the need for extra storage space, self-storage provides opportunities and peace of mind that your belongings are safe.  Renting and using a self-storage unit is not quite as simple as it may sound.  Here are several factors to consider before you sign a lease agreement.

Understanding How Self-Storage Works

The general idea of self-storage is a contract between you and the company that provides the storage space. A contract requires three elements to be valid.

  • An agreement
  • A service or exchange of something of value
  • A payment
A indoor self storage unit.
You can store your belongings into a self-storage unit after starting an official contract.

An Agreement in its Basic Form

In the case of your self-storage unit, the agreement is the contract or lease that you will sign.  In its most basic form, the agreement will state three things

  • The length of the agreement
  • A description of the service or goods to be provided
  • The amount of payment to be made for the goods or services.

Service Provided is Secure

The service provided is access to the storage companies property.  This access will give you the right to store property in a portion of the self-storage facility.  The contract or lease will stipulate other services that the self-storage company will provide, such as 

Self-Storage Units are Leased 

A valid contract must include an exchange of payment for the goods services provided.  In the case of self-storage units, the payment is the lease or rental sums.  The contract may call for payments

  • Monthly
  • Quarterly
  • Sem-annually
  • Annually
A person paying through card.
Typically, self-storage units are leased monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, and annually.

No matter which payment schedule you choose, there will also be clauses in the contract that specify what happens if you fail to make the rental or lease payments on time.  Pay special attention to how many days grace you have before you are considered delinquent.

How are Self-Storage Units Used?

Both businesses and individuals use self-storage units for a variety of reasons.  Among these are

  • Seasonal college storage
  • Vehicle or boat storage
  • Temporary, seasonal storage 
  • Document archival
  • Secure storage for important items
A group of person unloading.
Self-storage units can be used for storing seasonal items, whether they are personal or related to your business.

There are many reasons for using self-storage units for business and personal items beyond the few listed here.  The use of self-storage units has been on the rise in the United States for several years.  The self-storage rental business is one of the fastest-growing industries in the U. S.

What Can You Store in a Self-Storage Unit?

You can store almost anything safely in a self-storage rental unit.  There are self-storage companies that specialize in storing vehicles, including recreational vehicles and boats.   However, there are some things that most self-storage companies will expressly prohibit storing in a unit that you rent.

A man loading the boxes.
You should avoid storing flammable, combustible, or hazardous items in a self-storage unit.
  • Usually, you can’t store flammable or combustible materials like gasoline, kerosene, etc.  If you are storing a vehicle, it may contain fuel. 
  • Hazardous materials such as bulk chemicals, pesticides, or herbicides
  • Anything that is overly attractive to pests such as food
  • Anything that may support mold or mildew is best not put into a self-storage unit.  Your contract may specify that you put clothing and linens in airtight plastic bags.

Getting Started – The Mechanics of Renting a Self-Storage Unit

Regardless of what you need to store, it can be intimidating to rent your first self-storage unit without an understanding of how the system works

Know What You Need to Store Before You Start the Process

A knowledgeable rental agent at the self-storage company can be your ally.  The rental agent knows what is available and, with experience, understands what can fit in each size of the self-storage unit. One of the first things a rental agent will ask is how much space you will need and what you intend to store.

Prepare beforehand to answer these questions, and the rental agent can easily help you determine the appropriate size of self-storage rental unit you need. 

Two person planning.
Consult a self-storage rental agent to find the right self-storage unit for storing your belongings.

Organization is incredibly important before you even start looking into various units. The last thing you want is to pay for more space than you need or find yourself running out of space.  A little pre-planning goes a long way toward eliminating frustration.

Compare Your Options – Shop Around and Find What you Need

Each storage facility will offer you something different. There might be a local facility that offers the best rate. You may find that the best option is a nationwide storage facility. Either way, research is the only way to find the best fit in a self-storage facility for your needs. 

 If you chose to go with a national chain, there are several options.  Each of these companies offers slightly different plans and amenities from which to choose.

Public Storage – Nationwide Versatile Storage

Started in 1972, Public Storage offers an array of storage solutions for

Public Storage also has online reservations and rentals at all their locations.

U-Haul Self-Storage – Not Just Trucks and Trailers

You might not know that many U-Haul facilities also offer self-storage units. Offering your first-month rent-free. The U-Haul website allows you to search for units based on such criteria as 

  • What you want to store
  • How much space do you need?
  • The availability of climate-controlled units
  • The geographic location of available units

Life Storage – Lots of Locations and Great Prices

Life Storage has over 900 facilities in the United States. Some of these locations offer rates

starting as low as $16-25. Their website also offers an easy to use tool that helps you determine how much space you need.  The app uses standard appliance and furniture sizes to estimate the best choice from the available self-storage unit sizes

Extra Storage Space – Rapid Rentals for Quick Storage Solutions

With Extra Space Storage, you can bypass the reservation stage and take advantage of their rapid rentals to get your unit right away. From family heirlooms to RV’s, they have storage units for whatever you need.

CubeSmart Self-Storage – Discounts and Deals 

CubeSmart Self-Storage has a convenient mobile app to organize all the details of your unit. One bonus of this company is that they offer discounts for military personnel and college students.

Making the Right Choice Means Doing the Right Research

Each of these websites also offers a search bar to find the storage location closest to your zipcode. It’s all about finding what works best for your needs. Most of this information is available online. However, it may take a phone call or two to get the necessary information for the smaller and more local facilities.

Location, Location, Location – It Makes a Difference in Self-Storage

Now that you have decided what size you need, you face the question of location.  Location is not just about your convenience. Location is also a matter of security for you and your belongings.   The closest location may not always be the best.  Think about some other factors that can affect your location decision.

A padlock on storage unit facility.
Location is also a matter of security for you and your belongings.
  • Ease of Access – How easy is it to get to your self-storage unit?  Must you negotiate tight, narrow streets?  Ease of access can be an issue if you are storing a large RV or trailer.
  • Security – What kind of security does the self-storage company offer?  Is there 24-hour security on-site?   Are the gates electrically controlled?  Is there video security?  
  • The Locale – Look around at the neighborhood where the self-storage company resides.  A great deal on a storage unit that sits in a high-crime area may not be much of a good deal. 

Remember, you may want to visit your storage unit in the evenings or even at night.  Is the location a place you feel safe?

What Else Do You Get – The Add-ons and Amenities?

One thing most people don’t know about self-storage is the incredible number of amenities that most facilities now offer for your convenience. The extras included with your contract is a huge factor in balancing cost with convenience.

One highly requested amenity provided by storage facilities is a climate-controlled storage unit. Perhaps you live in an area of extreme heat and humidity or bitter cold. Climate control can come in handy when storing anything that shouldn’t be subject to extremes heat, cold, or humidity.  If you plan to store any of these items, a climate-controlled self-storage unit is a better choice.

  • Cameras, photos, and film
  • Wine
  • Wood furniture
  • Fabrics and upholsteries
  • Leather

Remember – Nothing in Life is Really Free

Typically, the more amenities included with your contract, the higher the rental fees.  Everything has a cost.   Think hard about what you are getting and what you are paying.  Compare similar self-storage companies before you decide. 

Are Self-Storage Units Safe?

Another thing to consider is the amount of security need for your belongings. You may want a cheap unit with outdoor access locked with a padlock. However, if you are storing items of more value, you may investigate extra security precautions.

A outdoor storage unit facility.
Outdoor storage units are much more accessible since they commonly feature parking spaces for your vehicle.

Some people only ever use storage units with outdoor, drive-up access. An outside self-storage unit adds the convenience of parking in front of your unit.  Outside units are susceptible to pilferage and theft.  They are considerably less secure than other types of self-storage units.

Many facilities also offer indoor access providing extra protection from the elements and extra security.  The presence of more secure doors to penetrate makes it more difficult for thieves and vandals to access your belongings

Contact the Facility and Reserve Your Unit

Once you have decided on your facility and the type of unit you will need, it is time to reserve your unit. For most facilities, you can do this online or in-person if you so desire.

An online reservation is not a rental agreement or contract.  You can only execute the lease agreement in person.  Follow-up your reservation promptly to ensure that the self-storage unit that you get the self-storage unit your reserve.

Be Prepared – Have What you Need to Make the Deal

There is specific information you need to make the deal and sign the contract for your self-storage unit. Some of the things you will need to know and have with you may include:

  • Your identification, such as a driver’s license, government-issued identification, or a passport.
  • A current utility bill that shows your current address
  • The dates you intend to occupy the self-storage unit
  • A list of what you will store in the unit
  • Contact information such as an email address and telephone number

Some self-storage rental companies may require you to show proof of insurance on the things you will put in storage

Read Your Contract – Know What You Are Signing

Similarly, to renting an apartment, you will have a lease agreement with the storage facility. This lease will clearly state your:

  • Rental dates
  • Promises of the facility
  • Your responsibilities as a renter.

As with any contract, you must understand what you are signing. Read the agreement and ask questions if you find anything you don’t understand or doesn’t make sense.  Once you sign the lease or contract, you are legally bound to abide by anything in the lease.

The Questions of Protections – Property Insurance

Many people assume that the self-storage company carries insurance that protects the items stored.  You want to be sure that your belongings are protected.  In most cases, insurance on your belongings stored in a rented space is your responsibility 

Some self-storage companies require you to provide proof of insurance on your belongings before the company contracts for space.  The self-storage company will often offer to sell you an insurance policy as part of the contract.  This type of insurance is usually overpriced.

A better alternative is to check with your insurance agent.  In most instances, you can add a rider to your homeowners or renters insurance to cover property stored in a self-storage unit.  This type of insurance coverage tends to be much less expensive.

Move into Your Unit – Making Space by Renting Space

Getting ready for the move is where the organization pays off. You already know what you need to store. As you pack for the move and storage, think about the future when you may need to access what you are storing or when it is time to unpack again.

If you are not using a climate-controlled self-storage unit, pack your belongings in durable, plastic containers. The last thing you want the next time you open your storage unit door is to find your things destroyed. 

Make It Plain What Is in Your Containers

Label your containers. Two months after your self-storage move in, you realize you need one specific item from your unit. Labeling your storage containers in detail can save you hours of unsealing and opening containers in a dark storage unit.

Consider making a list of each thing in every container.  Such a list might seem tedious now, but it can save you frustration later.

Plan Your Storage Arrangement 

If you know that you will need to access certain boxes or containers during your rental, store those containers closer to the unit’s front. Planning the location of storage containers inside your self-storage unit can your life much less stressful.

Plan, Organize, Locate – The Keys to Self-Storage

The more specific and organized you are in the packing and moving process, the easier you will make it for yourself when you need something in the future or simply are ready to move it all out. Be over-prepared now to prevent any unnecessary frustration in the future. 

Don’t Forget About Your Unit – Visit Your Things Regularly

Now that you have your contract set and all your things moved in, it’s out of sight, out of mind, right? Wrong. Try your best not to forget about the things that you have put away in storage. 

A woman walking on the middle of the storage facility.
To make sure your belongings are stored safely, visit the self-storage unit regularly.

First, you want to keep tabs on them just to keep up with their wellbeing. If you have insurance and anything were to happen to your things in storage, the faster you can get a claim submitted, the better. 

Another reason to check on your things is to assess if you truly still need them or if they’re extra clutter. Let’s say you got a unit because you were running out of space in your home. If it’s that easy to forget about your items in storage, maybe you didn’t need to keep them in the first place. 

What are the Alternatives to Self-Storage?

If you have reached the point and feel as if self-storage isn’t for you, there are other options. First, consider what you truly need. If you are running out of space or downsizing, try getting rid of the less important things. A little critical de-cluttering will reduce the need for alternative storage options altogether.

Second, try a bit of organization. Perhaps you have the space for all you have, but your items are not where they belong. Better organization will create the illusion of more space when you need it the most. 

Ask for a favor. Maybe a friend or family member has the extra space that you need. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need somewhere to store your belongings. Most people would likely be more than willing to help someone in need if they have the room for it. 

In Conclusion – To Store or Not to Store is the Question

Now that you understand the challenges and workings of self-storage units, it is less intimidating.  With lots of organization and preparation, renting a self-storage unit can be a huge help. Now, start planning and find the storage unit that best suits your needs.

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