What You Need to Know About Storage Units and Donation Centers

three blue storage unit doors

Do you have a lot of stuff?

Are you always looking for space to store your belongings? tan disposable travel coffee cup with straw, brown lid, and image of two coffee beans on the cupcartoon image of cheeseburger with lettuce and tomato on a sesame seed bun Do you know there are more storage facilities in the US than McDonald’s restaurants and Starbuck’s coffee shops combined?

The United States accounts for 90 % of all self-storage facilities on the planet.  That means, all other countries combined use the remaining 10% of storage facilities worldwide.  That is a horrifying statistic!

The occupancy rate (space currently rented) for storage units in the US is 90%.  Only 10% of self-storage facilities have space available to rent.

8.96% of American households use a self-storage facility.

storage unit facility, showing two rows of storage units with green roll up doors and a tan backgroundIt is mystifying to me that roughly 9% of the United States is utilizing 90% of the world’s storage units.

While there are a handful of good reasons for using a storage unit, most of the time there is not.  Storage units should be used as a temporary landing place, not a lifetime spare room.

The few exceptions for renting storage would be:

  • You moved across the country, and are in temporary housing.  Your stuff has moved with you, but your new home or apartment is not ready to move into yet.
  • You’re remodeling, or building a new home.  You move stuff out temporarily.  As soon as the remodel or construction is done, you’ll move it all back in.
  • You are in the military and are deployed.  You don’t have a lot of stuff because of the nature of your job, but have sentimental things you plan to keep forever.  Once you are stationed back home, you’ll give up your unit and have your possessions live with you.
  • A loved one passed away, and you need to empty their home.  You’re not emotionally ready to go through the items, so you store them temporarily.  Give yourself a deadline, preferably within 6 months, but no more than a year, to vacate the unit.
  • Your business generates a lot of paperwork.  Your office can’t hold the boxes of papers you are legally required to keep.  You store them offsite, sorted by date.  Papers kept for a specified period will be shredded once you no longer need them.  See if digital storage will allow you to be legally compliant, without physical paperwork.
  • Your business requires inventory items, but you have no space in your office.  Consider increasing your office space to accommodate your inventory.  It may be financially beneficial to have everything under one roof.  Easy access to inventory may increase your business’s productivity.

Permanently having a storage unit

person at a desk on laptoplooked like a good option for something I witnessed years ago.  It was the rare exception to my rule about storage facilities.   I was helping friends move some items out of their unit, and a gardening truck pulled up.  The man got out, rolled up his storage door, and I peeked. cartoon image of two circles with two inner black circles that look like crafter's wiggly eyes

cartoon image of pointed shovel with an orange handlecartoon image of pointed shovel with a green handlecartoon image of garden rake with an orange handleInside, he had his office set up, complete with a desk, chair and lamp.  He unloaded his rakes, brooms, and other gardening paraphernalia, and neatly put them on hooks inside the unit.  He then sat down at the desk and did some paperwork.  A little while later, he left.

He was running his office through his storage unit.

I was very impressed. I’m not sure about the legalities of it, but it seemed like a reasonable alternative.  He stored his equipment in his “office” space, and I thought it was brilliant.  If he had no room in his home to do this, then he would have to rent an office.  A storage unit would likely be much less expensive than office space.

If you have a storage unit,

and your story doesn’t sound like any of the above, we need to talk!  I understand there are sentimental heirlooms you don’t want to give up.  I know that with the kids and their sports, hobbies and techie gizmos, empty space is at a premium.winchester mystery house

My house, and your house, is not the Winchester Mystery House.  We can’t just keep adding on square footage indefinitely as the spirit leads.  Our space is finite.


If you are saving items for your kids

wedding dress on manequinfor when they move out, you might want to check in with them.  They may want nothing to do with the items you like.  Not every daughter wants to wear their mom’s wedding dress when they get married.  Not every kid wants that “project car” that dad never got around to restoring.

Believe me, your offspring will have plenty of opportunity to fill their homes with items they want, need and love.  Don’t burden them with the guilt of keeping an item.  It might be important to you, but mean nothing to them.

I knew a man who had a storage unit for 10 years.

ugly orange sofaIt had items in it like a sofa and kitchen table.  When he and his wife moved to a smaller place, they put the items in storage.  They thought they might be able to use them in the future, and didn’t want to have to purchase them again.

I don’t know what he was paying for storage, but when he totaled up his receipts, he told me he could have furnished his entire home every year for what he had paid to store his now useless and outdated items.

painting of self portrait of Rembrandt wearing a beretUnless you’re hiding a Rembrandt in there, eventually the cost of your storage will far exceed the value of the items you are hanging on to. If you miss anywhere from 30-90 days of payments, they can sell or discard the contents of the unit.

Donation centers are a great option.

There are many people out there who could put your neglected items to use.  Donation centers are ready to take the items and give them new homes.  If there are things you want to keep, then pare down the contents in your home to make space for it.  You’ll save lots of money every month by not having that storage bill anymore.

I feel really good about myself when I donate items I know will make someone else happy.  It costs me nothing, except the time it takes to make the decision to let it go, and drop it off.

If you are ready to say goodbye to your storage unit,

I do have some friendly advice.  If you have items that are in really bad condition, just throw them away.

cartoon image of one grey and pink sneaker shoe with pink lacesI had a friend who wanted to donate one sneaker.  She couldn’t find its partner, but thought the solo shoe was perfectly good.  The truth is that roughly 50% of clothes that are donated are thrown away because they are in such bad condition.  If it is stained, torn or missing its mate, toss it.

Don’t get hung up making sure the item goes

to the “perfect” second home.  Some people don’t like donating to Goodwill because they sell the items they receive.  However, for folks who don’t have a lot of money, shopping at Goodwill saves them a fortune over having to buy new.  They are providing a cost saving alternative, so I have no problem donating to them.

five art paint brushes upright with traces of pink and purple paint on the bristlesMy friend had lots of items to give away while cleaning a storage unit.  She decided her art supplies would go to a school in an under-served neighborhood.  Her sister’s dishes needed to be shipped across the country.  The clothing was to be distributed between a women’s shelter and a charity that did not sell the donated items.

I offered to drive her and her stuff to the under-served school.  She had not actually found one, and the idea was only a theory.  I told her to contact her sister to arrange to have her dishes shipped.  It turned out that her sister didn’t even know about the dishes.  My friend bought them thinking her sister would want them, even though she had no way of getting them to her.

The women’s shelter, and charity

that didn’t sell items they received were like the under-served school.  No research had been done, so they only existed in theory.  Because of that, she was paralyzed and parted with nothing.

box of items to donateI offered to drop them off at the Salvation Army, but she refused.  So instead of them doing some good being donated to a “substandard” place, they did no good and stayed in her storage unit.  She was unemployed, on disability and paid over $400 a month for that unit.  She also had additional smaller storage units at a cost I can’t even imagine.  I love this friend dearly, and I really tried to help her financially by eliminating her storage costs.

We all want to think our donations will change the world.

We imagine the recipients in awe, wondering “who was that fabulous person who gave up this item I love?”  Who knows?  Maybe it happens!

Trust the process, and take a leap of faith.  Believe that if you give your items to a qualified charitable organization, they will end up in the right hands.  Unless you have a specific person in mind who could benefit from a specific item, don’t take too much time deciding where your stuff will go.

donate sign with red letters

If you have the time and inclination to research

the “best” place, by all means do so.  Create a plan, contact the potential recipient and schedule a date to drop off the items.  If this cannot be done within one week, then drop it off at the nearest donation center.  You will be helping yourself, and the lucky recipient of your stuff.

Do you have a hard time getting rid of things?  I’d love to hear your comments on my Facebook page at Elaine’s Lane.  Sign up below for access to the Freebie Resource Library and newsletter.  There you’ll find additional information about organizing, and all my other topics as well.

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