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A Guide for First-Time Self Storage Users

A man and woman load boxes into a storage unit with a red door.

Let’s face it—we all could use a little more space in our lives. Whether your basement is overflowing with boxes or your office is running out of room for inventory, we don’t always have enough capacity to keep up with the storage we gather through the years. 

If you’re a first-time storage renter, seeking outside assistance for your storage needs may seem overwhelming. We’ve compiled a need-to-know self storage guide with all the tips, tricks, and resources you need, from navigating the rental process to packing your unit to help you reclaim some much-needed space.

What Is Self Storage?

You’ve probably driven down the highway and seen large buildings lined with colorful garage doors or wondered what the warehouse near your grocery store holds. Self storage is a service that provides secure units for individuals and businesses to keep their belongings, inventory, and vehicles in a convenient, off-site location. These can be for long-term purposes, if you need somewhere to store excess furniture that isn’t being used, or for shorter periods, such as during a move. 

There are approximately 50,000 self storage facilities in the U.S. alone, and demand for storage has skyrocketed over the past five years mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused people to relocate and downsize their homes and businesses. This industry, worth tens of billions of dollars globally, continues to grow and expand in North America—a worldwide leader in self storage.

How Does Self Storage Work?

Similar to how one might rent an apartment or car, storage units are leased spaces. Once you settle on a space at a storage facility, you will sign a contract with the storage company for a specified period. Most units are rented month-to-month, though this may vary depending on the company. 

Once you’ve signed, you can move in any couches, artwork, collectibles, desks, or anything else you need to be locked away. However, by state and federal law, you cannot conduct business from or live in your storage unit and certainly cannot store any illegal items or substances. 

When Do I Need Self Storage?

There is no one-size-fits-all solution or reason for self storage. Aside from decluttering your attic or office, there are additional situations where the need for space may arise.

  • The time between leases. A storage unit is a great place to keep your belongings if you’re moving homes but need to leave before your new place is ready. If you have a lot to move, many storage facilities offer moving truck rentals and dollies on-site, in addition to packing and moving supplies.
  • Renovations. Self storage is an excellent option for anyone who can’t fit all their things in their garage and needs a secure space to store furniture while their living space is redone.
  • Seasonal storage. If you need somewhere to keep holiday decorations during the summer and Jet Skis during the winter, self storage is the answer.
  • College. Are you or a family member attending college and need a place to store possessions between semesters? Storage units are a great option!
  • Military. Military members on short- or long-term deployments can use self storage facilities as secure places to keep belongings and vehicles while away.
  • Commercial purposes. Many expanding businesses use self storage facilities as off-site warehouses for inventory, with some facilities offering services like freight and delivery acceptance.
Two rows of outdoor storage units with green doors on a partly cloudy day.

Types of Storage Units

While a cubed room with a metal door is likely what comes to mind when you think of a storage unit, there are various storage unit types that a first-time or regular user may not be aware of. Here are some common varieties of storage units that may suit your needs, depending on what you’re looking for.

Drive-Up Storage Units

Drive-up units are spaces that look like rows and rows of garages. These outdoor storage units are incredibly convenient for anyone who plans on storing items that may be difficult to carry across a parking lot due to their size, weight, or quantity. Many businesses that store inventory opt for drive-up storage as an easy way to load and unload deliveries by backing moving vehicles up to their door. Imagine the ease of transporting a refrigerator from your pickup truck to your unit.

Indoor Storage Units

As the name suggests, these units are housed inside a storage facility. If you’d like peace of mind knowing your belongings are kept inside a secure, well-lit building, indoor units are a great choice. 

Climate-Controlled Storage Units

The weather can cause more damage to unprotected storage than you may think. Prolonged exposure to extreme heat or cold can negatively affect your storage, including cracking, warping, and melting. If you live somewhere that experiences the highs and lows of the four seasons, you’ll want to consider keeping your belongings in climate-controlled storage. These storage units are kept within a consistent temperature range year-round to help your things stay in the condition you left them in.

While all belongings can ultimately benefit from being kept in units equipped with climate control capabilities, keeping the following sensitive materials and items in such units is advised.

  • Wooden or leather furniture
  • Collectibles
  • Musical instruments
  • Paper items, including documents, photographs, and books
  • Vinyl records
  • Electronics and appliances
  • Sensitive clothing items, including wedding dresses

Vehicle Storage Spaces

Anyone who owns a boat, RV, motorcycle, or any other vehicle may want to avoid taking up space in your garage or driveway. Renting vehicle storage can give you a dependable, secure place to park. Depending on the facility, these storage spaces can be outdoors, covered by a roof, or indoors. So if you have concerns about the impact of the elements on your vessel, you can find a space that accommodates what you’re looking for. 

Aside from the space, self storage facilities may offer valuable amenities, including dump stations, electrical hookups, wash bays, and more.

RVs parked in a storage facility under a glass roof.

How To Rent a Storage Unit

The storage rental process is relatively universal, and you’ll want to do some research to ensure you find a suitable unit. Here are some standard steps to follow:

  • Make a storage list. You probably have a general idea of what you want to store, so put pen to paper and make a list you can use to decide what size and type of storage unit will be best for you.
  • Decide what you’re looking for. Do you want to be able to drive up to your unit? Do you have items that should be in climate-controlled storage? Does your company car need to be kept indoors? Have an idea of what you want so you can more easily narrow your options and set a monthly budget to help you decide.
  • Pick a size. Storage units come in all shapes and sizes, from mini storage lockers to expansive spaces of over 300 square feet. Try to have a good idea of how much space you need, taking into account any stacking you can do.
  • Get storage insurance. Check your current homeowner’s or renter’s insurance to see if it covers items stored. If not, consider finding a reputable insurance plan for self storage.
  • Reserve your unit. Once you find storage near you that matches your needs, you can reserve online, in person, or over the phone. Before signing your lease, be sure to review it thoroughly. Your agreement should include information on your rent, security deposit, accepted payment methods, tenant rights and responsibilities, cancellation terms, and value limits.
  • Purchase a lock. In most cases, storage users will need to provide their lock. Be sure to invest in a high-quality lock for your storage, and keep careful track of your key since the facility cannot open your unit for you once locked.
Two people packing belongings, including a blanket and books, into a box for storage.

How To Pack a Storage Unit

You’ll want to strategically pack your boxes and your unit to maximize your storage space. Here are some valuable tips for self storage that we advise you to follow during the moving and packing process.

Storage Packing Tips

  • Give yourself plenty of time. Packing always seems more straightforward than it is, so you’ll want to give yourself ample time to finish it. Make trips to your hardware store beforehand to ensure you have enough boxes, tape, and packing materials.
  • Stay organized. Label everything and track what has been packed, where it is, and what still needs to be put into boxes. 
  • Protect your storage. All boxes should be sealed shut to keep out dust and germs. All furniture should be covered with furniture covers or plastic bags, and remember to wrap furniture legs in protective padding or Bubble Wrap to cushion them during the moving process. Additionally, you should pad art, mirrors, and picture frames with packing paper and tape shut doors to cabinets and appliances.
  • Ration your storage. Individual boxes should weigh at most 30 pounds each, and heavier belongings should be kept in smaller containers for easy carrying. Use as many boxes of the same size as you can.
  • Store in drawers. If you plan on storing dressers or appliances, use their drawers as additional storage space to save room.
  • Hang up clothes. Any clothes or curtains you plan on storing should be hung upright in wardrobe boxes to help them remain in good condition.
  • Denote fragile items. Plates, glassware, and other fragile items must be clearly labeled and cushioned. Avoid stacking these items on top of one another. Additionally, lamps and lampshades should be packed in individual boxes.

Storage Moving Tips

  • Stack strategically. Plan on how you will stack your items in your unit. Heavier items should be placed on the bottom, with lighter, more fragile items on top. Flat furniture, like tables and dressers, should be stacked top to top to save space. If you have items you’ll need to take in and out more frequently, put them toward the front of your unit. 
  • Forge a path. Make a central aisle through your unit so you can quickly move to the back without climbing over boxes.
  • Use storage pallets. To allow airflow, stack your belongings on skids or pallets rather than on the concrete floor.
  • Drain engines. Drain any oil or gasoline before storage for items in vehicle storage or any item with an engine.
  • Lay mattresses flat. Mattresses should be laid flat in your storage unit rather than sat up on their side.
  • Put long-handled items in a can. Items with long handles, such as shovels, rakes, and hoes, should be kept in trash cans rather than laid down.
  • Wipe down metal. Thoroughly clean metal items and appliances to help prevent rust.
  • Check for prohibited items. Your storage facility should provide a list of banned storage items in your contract or on their website. For the most part, this will include flammable items, illicit substances, weapons, and living things. Contact the facility manager if you need clarification on an item that can be stored.

Ready To Store? Advantage Storage Is Here To Help!

Are you considering self storage as an answer to your space needs? Advantage Storage is your ideal solution for all things storage. Whether you want a personal storage unit to extend your attic, commercial storage to help you expand your business, or vehicle storage to lock up your boat during the winter, we will work to find the best unit for you. 

Advantage Storage also offers tenant insurance to help reassure you of our commitment to protecting your valuables. From on-site packing and moving supplies to flexible hours, our various storage features are here to give you the perfect storage solution you deserve. 
Find us at a location near you, and contact us today to get started! For additional resources and advice as you embark on your self storage journey, see our first-time guide to self storage and browse our FAQ page for more answers to your questions.

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