The Self-Storage Money Pit: Things to Consider

self storage facility

Self-storage can be useful. But, is the rising demand for it indicative of our habit to hoard what we don’t really need? What are the alternatives?


I’ve begun looking into storage costs, since it’s unavoidable for me, but I’m stunned to learn how storage is a big business getting bigger.

According to Bloomberg, storage facilities in the United States have more than doubled in the last 16 years. There’s so much storage space, they say, that its “2.3 billion square feet of space for lease—enough in the [Self-Storage Association] ’s unnerving formulation, to warehouse every man, woman, and child in the country.”

Reasons for self-storage

There are legitimate reasons for needing storage; leaving town for a bit, blending households and not having the time to go through everything yet, dealing with the aftermath of a hurricane or other catastrophe that forces you into temporary housing.

But we’re also hoarding belongings. We’re buying more than we need and cramming things into storerooms rather than confronting our excess. There’s no simpler way to explain it than this: If you require storage beyond your home for your belongings, you are literally living beyond your means.

What storage is costing us

For me, I’m splitting the country and sticking stuff in storage for five years, and the prices I’m getting quoted to me start at $65 a month, for the smallest spaces available. I’m seeing prices up to $300 per month for large lockers. That’s between $800 to $3600 a year for storage space.

How much is hoarding costing us? Well, the self-storage industry pulled in over $24 billion in revenue in just 2013 alone. That’s a whole lot of boxes.

Storage is expensive. For some, it’s unavoidable, but for those in a decent-sized homes, if they can put things in storage for a year, they can likely live without it.

Here are two ways to avoid storing your items:

self storage interior with shopping cart

Sell things and make money

When you really start looking at the value of everything you own, the idea of hiding it in a box and paying to store it starts to make less sense. I can make $400 selling my crystal serving dishes I never use. Or I can use 2-3 cubic feet of space to store them for five years at a cost of maybe $125 over that time for just those alone. Uh… tough choice? I think not.

Books are worth $5 to $20 apiece. Photo frames, lights, furniture — everything is worth money. If you look at the storage question as one of “I could make $1,000+ selling all this stuff, or pay $800+ to store it for just a year alone,” then the question of whether you should store things becomes a little easier.

The larger the item is, the more space it needs, making it a money-pit for storing. Its sale price is only part of the consideration — the real question is how much it’ll cost on a volume/year basis. Bust out the calculator for that on. Get on the Googler and start checking to see what value your soon-to-be-stored items would have, and sell that sucker.

Find a person who wants it (for a while)

I have furniture that’s “from my cold dead hands” furniture I’ll never sell. An inherited overstuffed armchair that’s 180 years old and I dream of spending $2,000 to upholster in Turkish leather, bookshelves built by my dad, so on. But they’re all huge! I still need them to be somewhere when I’m gone for five years, though, and do you think I want one of those $200/month storage units? Not on my life.

Instead, I’m asking around. The bookshelves will be adopted by my brother, along with a couple other antiques. But then for my really big stuff, I racked my brain for a cheap solution.

Enter the friendly business owner. I have a friend with a business office that could use pretty things. We’ve already made arrangements for her to view the pieces. With an amicable written agreement, a shake of the hands, and a truck rental, I can get them to her office and save myself potentially hundreds, or thousands, of dollars over five years, and she gets amazing pieces that she’d never splurge to buy for a workspace. Maybe you know some friends with great businesses that could benefit from displaying your goods. If so, consider putting something in writing to protect yourself.

Even little pieces of art glass and servingware will be housed by friends while I’m away — by people who’ve liked them over the years and for whom it’s the right taste. I’ll make a master list so I remember everyone who has anything.

And if no one wants what you have, should you still store it? That’s a serious question you need to answer. What does it say about the items if everyone else won’t take it off your hands? Maybe your treasure is everyone else’s trash and you need to be objective.

Have less, save money, be happier

Storage is another bill to pay. It’s debt, and for many people, it’s not a debt worth incurring.

Most of what goes in storage will not appreciate in value, so you’re looking at things that’ll be worth less when they come out. Does that sound like a pragmatic way to spend your money? Protecting items that will be worth less in a year than they already are?

If it will be obsolete in a year or so, sell it. If moisture damage could destroy it and it has value, don’t risk storing it without proper insurance and liability coverage, or just sell it and be done with it.

Believe me, all those “little” item sales add up. Do your research, look into off-loading your stuff on good consignment stores and used bookstores so you don’t need to waste your time with yard sales and Craigslist no-shows. Get an unemployed friend to do eBay listings and give them a cut, maybe. You have a lot of options beyond storage.

You might be amazed at how much money you can make on all these things you were prepared to hide away and live without, so just rip the Band-aid off, sell it, and avoid incurring yet another monthly expense you know you really don’t need.

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