4 Telltale Signs You Need to Organize Your Storage Unit

Jon Fesmire |

The idea of self storage seems easy enough. You have too much stuff at home or in the office, so you put some of it in a storage unit. It’s easy to end up with too much at home when you combine houses with someone else, when you have to move to a smaller home, when you’ve accrued more stuff over time, or when you’re running a growing business and your paperwork or inventory is taking over.

The problem is, if you go about putting stuff in storage haphazardly, you can end up with a chaotic storage unit. If you already have storage space at a local facility and it’s showing the telltale signs we’re about to cover, you’ll need to fix it. If you’re just getting started with storage, you can avoid these problems by following our advice.

Let’s look into a hypothetical, disorganized storage unit and talk about how to get it organized and functional.

There’s a Lot of Junk

Here, we don’t mean there’s literal garbage in a unit. That would be pretty extreme. We mean the unit has a lot of things the owner doesn’t want or need. They were probably in a hurry when putting things in storage and didn’t go through much. Maybe they just wanted to clear out their home of unnecessary things. Maybe they planned to come back later to sort through everything but never got to it.

This person needs to declutter their unit. Decluttering involves going through your belongings and deciding what to keep, sell, donate, recycle, or throw out entirely. There are many ways to go about this, including the popular KonMari Method and others.

This tenant should purchase new storage boxes, mostly the same size. We recommend document boxes or similar. These are sturdy and stack well, and great for everything from heavy books to plates to shirts. Sort the things you’re removing from storage into new boxes, and pack what you’re keeping there into extra boxes, too. Then, you can bring the stuff you’re getting rid of home and sort them out before you sell, donate, recycle, or dump them.

Boxes Have Shifted or Gotten Crushed

This is not fun to see when you enter a storage unit. In this example, the tenant finds their stacks of boxes askew or fallen over with lower boxes crushed. This will take some reorganizing.

Just like dealing with junk, this renter needs to purchase fresh boxes, but we’ll assume that everything they’ve put in storage belongs there. It’s stuff they use seasonally, business inventory, or similar. They will need to remove things from the boxes and place similar items together. Books will go together, and so on. Fill empty space with crumpled packing paper to help the boxes retain their shape.

They also need to purchase same-sized boxes. Again, we suggest sturdy document boxes. Part of the problem with the crushed boxes may be that they used boxes of many different sizes and didn’t stack them well. Maybe they stacked big boxes on top. Maybe they placed heavy boxes on lighter boxes.

Once the stuff is sorted into new boxes and the damaged boxes have been recycled, the tenant can stack those remaining. Heavy boxes go on the bottom, with boxes getting lighter the higher a stack goes. This will prevent crushing, and using the same sort of boxes will ensure even stacks.

The Tenant Can’t Find Anything

Let’s say the tenant just purchased a new computer and wants to install that old copy of Photoshop, which is in storage on a DVD. They go to their unit and while the boxes are stacked well, and they know they’ve stored only things they need, they can’t find that disc set.

This tenant should have, at the very least, labeled their boxes. Now, if they want to ensure they can find whatever they need later, they’ll need to look through each box and label the box. In fact, they should go a step further and keep an inventory of what’s in each box.

This process involves seeing what’s in a box and putting a label on the side of the box that says what room it belongs in and what’s inside. A box full of your summer clothes can be labeled, “My Bedroom/Summer Clothes,” for example. To take an inventory of the box, get a notepad. On the top of one page, note the box label, then write down each item inside it. Do this for every box. After, transfer the information to an Excel or Google Sheets spreadsheet.

If our example tenant had done this in the first place, they could search their spreadsheet for “Photoshop” and learn what box they’d find the software in within seconds.

Yes, if you’re going through your storage unit, this will feel like a lot of work. It’s better to get this done at home before you store. However, if you missed this step, it’s worth taking a few hours a day to go through boxes in storage to get it done.

The Tenant Can’t Reach the Back Rows

Here, the tenant has packed the unit tightly, so much so that they would have to move several stacks out of the unit to get to anything in the back.

While decluttering will help you rent a smaller unit and save money, you should still rent a unit with a little more room than you need. Create aisles so you can get to stuff anywhere in the unit with little difficulty. In a 5x5 unit, that means a space about 2 ½ feet deep, while in a 20x30 that may mean two aisles. The solution here is to rent the next unit size up, move everything from the smaller unit into the larger room, and make sure there are enough aisles so that you can get to anything you need.

We hope this helps keep your storage unit organized and easy to access! If you’re looking for a unit, check our listings, which span the U.S. and Canada.