Many people today are choosing to rent storage units on a (more or less) permanent basis. Those living in an apartment or smaller house, find some of their belongings are just better suited for garage-type storage. This would include off season items. In the winter they need a place for their summer tires, motorcycles, mountain bikes, fishing gear etc. Come late spring, the skis and snowmobiles go in, and the summer gear comes out. You get the picture. For many, they find there family is growing, and they just need a bit more space for a while until the kids leave the nest.
We currently own and manage two Self Storage Facilities here in Bend Oregon; A-Plus Mini Storage (www.BendAplusMiniStorage.com) and Powers Road Self Storage. A-Plus is going into its 15th year of operation. Many of the tenants have been renting there for several years. We only have about a 3% turnover rate each month, so most of our tenants are long term (bordering on permanent). I think it is fair to say that most self storage tenants could benefit from the lessons learned by their predecessors. Before commiting to a storage unit, you will find these tips beneficial to optimize the use of your unit .
INTERIOR ACCESS vs EXTERIOR ACCESS
At both of our facilities we offer interior access units (you walk down a hall) and exterior access units (you drive up). At Powers Road the Interior unit sizes are from 5x5 all the way up to 10x15, and have roll up doors ranging from 3’-8” to 8’-6”. The exterior units are from 5x5 up to 12x30. Our 12’ wide exterior units have 10’-8” wide doors. Generally speaking, the prices are the same (per a given size) whether the unit is interior or exterior. The obvious benefit of an exterior, drive-up unit is that it is easy to initially place your belongings. However, if you are storing long term, there are definitely benefits to an interior unit that you should consider. Interior units inherently stay cleaner. Bend, Oregon is a windy, dusty place to live. Although there are rubber seals at the bottom of the roll-up doors, dust still gets in. The interior units are far less subject to the wind, and therefor stay cleaner. Located in the High Desert, Bend also has its share of tumultuous weather. So, if it’s 100 degrees in the summer, or 38 degrees and raining in the spring, or a foot of snow on the ground in the winter you will appreciate a clean, dry hallway to sort through your belongings. Our interior units are not “climate controlled”, but they have high ceilings, and stay relatively cool in the summer.
Many tenants make the mistake of choosing a unit that is a little bit too small. Of course you want to save money, but cramming a unit too full will cause a lot of work when you come back to retrieve certain items. Larger units cost less per square foot than the smaller units (economy of scale). Also, when you jump up to a 10’ wide unit, you also get the 8’-8” door. This will allow shelving on the sides and rear of the unit, and a walkway down the middle.
SHELVES and DOLLIES
Seriously consider buying quality shelving. The ones that I am most impressed with are the industrial strength steel shelves from Costco. They are 6’ high, 6.5’ long and 2’ deep and sell for around $130. Smaller shelves might be better suited for a 5’ wide unit. The home improvement stores and Costco have varying sizes that start as low as $25. I have seen shelves that have casters on the bottom. This allows you to have rows of shelves that can be rolled out of the way to gain access to items stored behind them. This trick works with boxes stacked onto flat dollies. You can buy these dollies at Harbor Freight for only $11 each. Again, this will allow you to relocate an entire stack of boxes by simply rolling them out of the way to gain access to items behind them.
Also consider “Gravity Type” vertical bike racks. The ones that caught my eye on Amazon are the Delta Donatello for $40, the Delta Michelangelo for $45, and True Power for $50
PACKING (PLASTIC BINS vs CARDBOARD BOXES)
Both plastic bins, and cardboard boxes have there place in a storage unit.
Plastic Bins: These are good for high use items because of the lids. You won’t have to retape each time you open them. Try and find high quality bins that are sturdy. The cheap ones deteriorate quickly, and can collapse if stacked to high (or too heavy). Home Depot and Lowes have some sturdy options. I have a few that are clear on the sides, and this helps identify their contents.
Boxes: Cardboard boxes are a far more efficient use of space than plastic bins. To prove this for yourself just repack the contents of a full plastic bin into a cardboard box of equal overall dimensions. You will be amazed at how much room remains in the box. When purchasing boxes consider buying several of the same dimensions so that they stack well. Radom sizes stack poorly, and will eventually crush down. I believe the most practical size box is 2’x1’x1’ ( 2’ long, 1’ high’ and 1’ deep). Of course you’ll need other sizes, but this size box will handle the vast majority of you items, and will not end up too heavy to lift.
File boxes: These are best for files, and books because they are small, and very strong and the packed weight is manageable.
Wardrobe box: If you intend on having clothes in your unit that you will access and use from time to time consider a wardrobe box. They have a hanger rod across the top so you can hang items that you don’t want to fold. When not in use there is a cover that will keep the dust off your clothing. Home Depot and Lowes sell the smaller versions that are about 36” high, starting at about $12. Uline and Uhaul sell the big ones that are like portable closets. These are up to 5’ tall and very strong. They sell for about $70.
CREATE A MANIFEST
When we shipped our personal belongings to New Zealand we were required by Customs to create a detailed manifest. Every box that we had packed in our sea container was numbered, and the exact contents was documented on the manifest. At first I thought it was a pain, but this process allows you to quickly find the exact location of any item that you have packed. For long term storage this can be very convenient. Number all boxes and bins on the top, ends and sides so that no matter how they are stacked, you can see the number. Then, using something like Google Drive, record a list of each item in each box. You can print out a hard copy of this, but you can also access this from your phone. As items are removed or relocated, you update the list. Prior to heading to your unit you can review the Manifest to make sure you are getting everything you want in that trip.
PROTECT YOUR ITEMS
Use dust covers. These are cheap and will save you tons of time cleaning your items later (particularly beds, and other furniture). They come in either a light synthetic cloth, and very thin plastic. It is shocking how many of our tenants resist using these. Think of how fast dust collect on your night stands at home, and you can image how much dust can collect on your items in storage.
Concrete condusts moisture. Bend has an arid climate, but concrete floors are basically porus, and will absorb and give off moisture. Keep your photo albums, or any moisture sensitive items off of the floor. Consider using an extra layer of cardboard or the dolly idea (dual purpose) to keep moisture sensitive items off the floor.
THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE PUTTING IN YOUR UNIT
As an example; Storing liquids in a unit is about the dumbest thing you can do. Anything that is liquid can (and will) leak and ruin your items, and the items in the next unit over. Liquid freezes and expands. Believe it or not, the temperature in Bend dips below freezing 8 months out of the year. There is no container strong enough to withstand the expansion of freezing liquid. It has been known to lift entire buildings. Liquids also expand in the summer and can burst containers. Metal containers can rust out on the bottom. Propane tanks can leak. Gasoline expands, and emits incredibly volatile fumes. Also, remember that your next door neighbor might not be all that bright, and may ignore our No Liquids policy. So make sure whatever you are storing on the floor will not get ruined if liquid somehow manages to get into your unit.
Food attracts mice. Regardless of how well it is packed, they can still smell it. Mice can easily get into any unit, migrate from unit to unit, and nest in very obscure locations. I think it is a good idea to set traps near the doors of your unit. I have given many traps out for free at A-Plus. If you see droppings, set traps right away. Using poison can be bad because the mice will end up dying somewhere in your unit. And man, they stink! BTW we have learned that placing several Bounce sheets throughout your unit will deter mice from nesting there!!
Most people who rent a house or apartment or own a home are already required to have renters/owner insurance. These insurance companies will also cover the contents in your unit if you inform them that you have one.
HANDY TOOLS TO KEEP IN YOUR UNIT
Consider buying a small, battery operated, shop vac with a HEPA filter. It is nice to shop vac items prior to putting them into your car. If that is out of your budget at least keep a broom dustpan and bucket in your unit. Other handy items are: a utility knife, packing tape, blue painters tape, sharpie, head lamp, LED wall mounted light, and a lightweight 6’ ladder
IT HAS BEEN SAID:
“A smart person learns from their mistakes, but a wise person learns from the mistakes of others”. It is fair to say that most self storage tenants can benefit from the lessons learned by their predecessors. If you find yourself in need of a storage unit consider these tips to maximize your use, and decrease the risk damage to your stored items. If you come up with some good ideas yourself, please take the time to share them with us.