The unexpected move. The home remodel. The over-crowded closet. We’ve all faced these things. Sometimes, a good house cleaning and a trip or a phone call to a local charity will solve the problem. Sometimes it won’t. Here are some tips to survive the process of putting things in storage.
First, take an inventory of your stuff. Think about these two things as you do; is this something I am ever really going to use (fit in, enjoy or need) again, and am I willing to pay to keep it?
Imagine that every item is going to cost you somewhere between fifty cents and a dollar a month to keep. And imagine that you aren’t going to have it in storage for just a month or two, because that’s not usually the case once you commit to renting a storage space, or devoting a portion of your home to storage. Generally speaking, once something goes into storage, it stays there for a while. Sometimes it stays there for a very long while.
Units and Containers
Next, know your options. What kind of storage space do you have available? How much would it cost to rent a space, whether it be a pod or container that is brought to your property, or a space in a storage facility? Can you afford to rent a space that is temperature controlled, and do the items you wish to store warrant that kind of expense?
There are many kinds of storage facilities. Some are multi-level; you’ll be lugging that china hutch and king size mattress into an elevator or up flights of stairs unless you can get a ground-floor unit. Some are pre-fabricated storage units. These may or may not be insulated, and may or may not be rodent and insect proof. Generally speaking, the older pre-fabricated units might be weather-proof, but they are less likely to be mouse and bug proof, unless they have been sealed after installation.
Containers, whether the newer style of deliverable pod or the sea-land cargo containers (which can be delivered to a site or used in a storage facility) are air-tight, waterproof, and impervious to unwelcome visitors.
If at all possible, try to find a storage unit that offers complete isolation from neighboring storage units…in other words, no gaps between side walls and no air spaces at the ceiling. This is the only way to know for certain that your belongings won’t be visited by anyone but you.
Storage at Home
Basements are popular places to store things. While they provide a convenient place to put your stuff at no extra charge to you, there are also some inherent disadvantages. The stairs are the first of these. Once you’ve lugged your things down them, you’ll be fairly reluctant to haul them back up, so avoid using the basement for items that are frequently used.
Moisture is another problem with many basements. It may only get wet in a fifty or one hundred year flood, but you can bet that one of those will happen eventually. The people of Venice, Italy have learned to put their valuables up off the floor, sometimes by as much as eighteen inches or even more, including many restaurants. Their kitchen equipment is elevated to prevent costly and dangerous electrical problems when the water level rises. It’s a sound practice devised by a people who have proudly survived a number of high water incidences, and worth considering if your basement is susceptible to flooding.
Water heaters and household plumbing can be another potential source of danger in many basements. Should they spring a leak or an outright break, your stored belongings may be in harm’s way; particularly if the leak goes undetected for a spell.
If the attic is your choice of spaces, be certain that the attic floor can support the weight of the items you want to put there, as well as the weight of people moving about. Not all attics are made equally; some are little more than crawl spaces and are not designed to bear weight. Also, be mindful of the design of that space; it may have a ventilation function that will be impaired by using it as a closet.
Heat is also an obvious issue. If your attic feels like an oven, it might not be the best place to put items that could suffer from extreme temperature fluctuations, such as artwork. Finally, look out for wires and electrical connections, and loose insulation fiber that might be injurious if inhaled.
Making the Best of a Bad Situation
Sometimes storing our things isn’t as much a matter of choice as of circumstance. In the late 1990’s I lived on a ranch. When the owner of the establishment and I had a serious falling out over the shipping of donated horses to an out of state auction (where many were purchased for slaughter) I found myself needing to move rather suddenly. Thirty days was hardly enough time to find a new home, let alone a place for my things. I did have the good fortune to find a self storage facility not far from the ranch, and the foresight to rent a unit slightly larger than the amount of items I had to store.
If you are putting the bulk of your belongings in storage, chances are you’ll want to access some of them. Packing your storage area neatly and well can allow you to get to the things you need without constantly climbing over the things you don’t. Leaving yourself enough room to walk into your unit is a very good idea if your things are going to be in storage for more than a few weeks or months.
Dressers can be used in much the same fashion that you would use them in a bedroom. Leave yourself access to the drawers so that seasonal clothing items can be stored and accessed easily. Putting shelf units back to back with enough room to get to either side is another way to keep furniture useful while it’s being stored. Save the far back corners for stacking boxed items. Keep the items you might need sooner toward the front, in drawers or on shelves.
The simple act of labeling boxes can save a great deal of frustration. They all look pretty much the same after a couple of months without some sort of identifying markings. Take the time to mark at least two sides, if not all four sides and the top; it won’t do any good to mark just one face if that’s not the face you can see once you’ve packed it away.
Wrap breakable items extra well, especially if you plan to have help moving them. Just because a box says “fragile” doesn’t mean the person moving it will treat it that way. Remember, if it’s worth paying rent on, it’s worth packing well.
Awkward shaped items take up a great deal of room in a storage space. Put some thought into how you will place them in your unit before you attempt to do so. Make sure that swag lamp or rustic coffee table is something you really want to keep, or if there are other items that might constitute a better use of a limited space.
What Not to Keep
Some things were never meant to be put in storage. Food items are one. Candles are another. Unless you are able to secure a temperature controlled unit, or live in a climate zone that doesn’t get hot, anything that can melt probably will. And anything that can be eaten, including spices and seasonings, will attract unwanted guests. Even canned food items can entice rodents to explore your space. Once there, they might find it rather cozy, and build a home in your love seat or mattress, or sample the fabric of your wardrobe.
Mice and rats don’t actually eat upholstery or fine linen; they use it for nesting material. Either way, once it’s been sampled by their razor-sharp teeth, there is seldom any repair that can restore damaged items to their former state.
Clothing can be protected from such unwelcome visitation by being placed in heavy plastic storage containers, suitcases or thick wardrobe bags. Soft plastic bags offer little protection from anything but dust.
Know Your Limits
The auction is a necessary part of every storage facility’s operation. Companies falter and abandon their inventory; people fall upon hard times and are unable to pay their monthly rent; relatives pass away and their belongings are put in storage until they eventually become a burden to pay for. No one puts their items in storage with the intention of losing them to a public auction. There are two ways to avoid having it happen to you.
First, don’t get more storage than you can pay for. That might mean doing a fearless inventory of your belongings, and parting with more than you’d hoped to. Second, if regular monthly payments become an issue, talk to the storage facility manager immediately. Arrange partial payments, weekly payments, trading labor for space rent, or any combination of these, but don’t ignore the late notices and assume that all will be well. Be proactive. Communicate. People are much more likely to help you if you stay abreast of your situation in a friendly, courteous manner.
Many larger chains of storage facilities have a no-tolerance policy for late payments. Make sure you understand the terms of your rental agreement fully before you sign it. Some companies will list your unit to be auctioned within thirty days of your first incomplete payment, and they will pursue you with a collections agent for whatever balance remains, even if it is only five or ten dollars, and even if your belongings were sold.
Putting things in storage isn’t particularly fun, but the experience can go a lot smoother if you put some time and care into caring for your things. #