How to Pick, Pack, and Organize a Self-Storage Unit

Why do people need storage?

Most of us need extra storage space at some point in our lives. It could be during a big move. It could be when you need to sell your house and you need your personal items off-site while the stagers work their magic. It could be during spring cleaning, a home renovation, or when you're having guests stay for an extended period of time. I even know people who take year-long sabbaticals and store their things so they can sublet their apartment. There are many reasons why people rent storage units.



How to pick a storage unit?

The storage business is booming with new companies opening up facilities everywhere. How do you know which place is right for you? Let's go through the steps of how to pick the right storage unit, how to pack it efficiently, and organize it in a way that works for you. Here is a quick primer on what to look for:


Size

First, you'll want to pick the right size. Here are a few of the most common small and medium-sized storage units and what they can hold:

  • A 5x5 storage unit is the size of an average closet. It holds one piece of furniture with a narrow footprint, tall narrow items like lamps, and 6-8 boxes.
  • A 5x10 storage unit is approximately the size of a walk-in closet. It's big enough for a king-size bed, an extra dresser, and about 10-15 medium size boxes.
  • A 5x15 storage unit is about 30% bigger than a 5x10 and roughly the size of a small bedroom. It holds the furnishings of an average 500 sq. ft. residence, excluding major appliances.
  • A 10x10 storage unit is about half the size of a standard garage. It holds the furnishings of an average 750 sq. ft. residence, including some major appliances and about 10-20 moving boxes or totes. It's the most popular size.

You don't want to outgrow a storage unit and then need to move everything to a larger space. When in doubt, go one size bigger.

packed moving truck

Pro tip: Moving trucks are usually 10 feet wide by 15-20 feet deep. If you fill it, then plan for a storage unit that is bigger than the size of the truck.

For more information and more size options, check out our FREE resource on storage unit sizes.


Access

Typically, storage units on the main floor or near the elevator are more expensive. If the storage facility has more floors, then choose a unit on the top floor to reduce your storage fees. However, do they have an elevator? Are there drive-in loading docks so you can unload in a protected space out of the rain and snow? Trust me, these features really matter.

Climate and Humidity Control

Well, what will you be storing? If you have antiques, items made out of wood, artwork, electronics, or other sensitive items, then a climate-controlled unit is needed. Extreme cold or heat can cause damage to your important possessions. For even better storage of your sensitive items, consider a humidity-controlled unit. This is especially important for original art, documents, and musical instruments.


Pest Control

Insects and rodents can be anywhere. What precautions does the storage facility take to prevent infestations and damage? I once had my supplies in a storage facility (that won't be named !) and I found a mouse infestation that had ruined my moving boxes and 2 upholstered chairs. Even though this facility had bait traps throughout, they clearly weren't working or were not refilled with bait. They blamed it on someone having food in a nearby unit and while that may have been true, it didn't help me with my wrecked stuff! Whenever possible, store your items in sealed bins or cover thick plastic (2.5-3mm) plastic bags to help prevent possible damage.



How to Organize a Storage Unit

Not Recommended

The "cram it all in there" approach is NOT recommended.

Will you need to access anything while it is there or is it just a "cram it all in there" situation and not look at it until you need it all back? If you need to access items, it's important to set up your storage unit properly. If you open the door and see a solid wall of boxes and furniture, then there is no way you are getting the box with your winter coats that are in the back corner unless you haul everything out. Not fun. I recently moved my supplies to a new storage unit and had only a half-hour to get it all in there. The starting photo shows everything thrown in. What a mess! In the space of an hour, I got it all set up with shelving, pathways, and frequently used items near the front. Follow the photo sequence to see the progress!

Steps

messy storage unit
1. Take everything out of the storage unit.
storage unit with shelving
2. Arrange your shelving and begin putting things back in.
group similiar items in storage unit
3. Group similar items, label, and
storage unit with shelving
4. Job complete! Note the U-shaped pathway around the center utility cart so I can access all of my supplies.

Shelving

Shelving is key here. Heavier items go below and lighter items go higher. Depending on your budget and length of time that you will have your items in storage, here are some shelving recommendations:

If you have lots of heavy boxes, then use the heavy-duty metal shelving. You can find metal freestanding shelving units at Uline, Canadian Tire, or Lowe's.

Clear Bins
Sturdy clear bins are great for quickly finding what you are looking for. I like these dotted bins from Canadian Tire.



How a Professional Organizer Can Help

As a certified professional organizer, I help my clients make these situations happen and help them choose the right storage option for their needs. I'd like to take you through the process of one of my client jobs where we needed storage. This is how we handled it:

Problem:

Clients sold their house and the closing date is looming. They have not found a new house to purchase yet so they decided to live at their cottage over the summer while they kept looking for a suitable home to purchase.

Solution:

Pack up contents of home into 3 categories:

  1. Items to go into storage
  2. Items to go to their cottage
  3. Items to sell or donate
Sortly Export File
Example of a Sortly export file. Photos can be added if desired

Using an inventory app called Sortly, we photographed (using the app) and inventoried all the items going to storage. Each box was given a number and a room of origin. Within Sortly, each box had a description of the contents and correlating photos. When complete, I exported it to a pdf document (again, through Sortly) for my clients to reference in case they needed to find and access anything in storage over the summer. But that's not all! We placed items that we knew might be needed when the weather got cooler near the front of the storage unit so they could pull them out easily. Also, it was important that my client know where each box was in the storage unit so I provided them with a simple map. See below:

Sortly PDF Export
Example of a Sortly pdf map

It's a beautiful thing when you have a properly organized storage unit - especially when you need frequent access. Talk to the staff at the storage facility about your needs and look at a variety of shapes and sizes of units.


Check out our facilities or contact Bluebird Self Storage to get started today!




About the Author

Kim Diamond Professional Organizer
 
Kim Diamond
Kim Diamond has lived in Toronto, Ontario, for over 20 years and is the owner of Clutterfly Inc. She is a member of the Professional Organizers in Canada, has earned her TPO (Trained Professional Organizer certificate), and serves as the Vice-Chair for the Toronto Chapter. Kim belongs to the Institute of Challenging Disorganization and is now the 8th person in Canada to earn her CPO-CD® (Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization). She also has a Bachelor's degree from Ryerson University in Toronto and has become a packing expert after moving over 18 times in her life!
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