Americans buy – and keep – a lot of stuff. That’s made self-storage a $24 billion industry, according to its major trade group, the Self Storage Association.
According to the SSA, 84 percent of all U.S. counties have at least one self-storage facility. It’s been one of the fastest-growing sectors of the commercial real-estate industry for the past 35 years, the group says – and nearly one in 10 American households rents them.
Just over half the storage customers say they expect to hang onto their units for just one to five months but the average stay was 10.4 months, Sparefoot.com, an online self-storage marketplace, said in a December 2014 report of customer trends.
In choosing a storage unit, customers said their top consideration was price, according to Sparefoot. Customers also considered — in descending order — security, location, access hours, cleanliness, friendliness and reviews.
So if you’re a pack rat, take a long, hard look at what’s going in your storage unit. Money Talks News financial expert Stacy Johnson says he spent more than $18,000 over a decade to store stuff worth only a fraction of that amount.
Follow these 10 tips on how to save:
1. Get more organized
It’s true that time is money, and going through all your stuff is a chore. But do you want to be paying rent on junk you’re never going to use again because you were too lazy to sort it out? Take a weekend and cull out the clutter. You’ll feel better, and save money. Hint: If you haven’t touched it in more than a year or forgot you even own it, odds are you don’t need it.
2. Sell or donate stuff
If you’ve got a lot of property in good condition that you no longer need, maybe a “self-storage sale” (in your yard or garage, of course) is in order. Too much bother? Donate goods to charity for a tax deduction. Either option will help partially recoup the costs of storing the stuff you do keep.
3. Weigh replacement cost
Some people keep everything, thinking, “I might need this someday,” while others get so eager they toss or sell stuff (especially furniture, which does take up a lot of space) they’ll end up buying again. Be realistic, because either mistake can be costly.
4. Rent the smallest space you can get away with
Storage units usually start at 5 by 5 feet and can be 8 feet or more tall. Practice your real-life Tetris skills and see what fits in there. You can always upgrade if you need to. If you’re looking at long-term storage, you also don’t need to leave space to be able to access and reach everything, so pack tight. Put the stuff you’ll need to pull out soonest at the front.
5. Store with friends or family
If you know someone with extra garage space, ask if they’ll share. They might be more receptive to the idea if you offer to pay a few bucks a month – still cheaper than the commercial option. Better yet, maybe you have something they can borrow and use until you have space to reclaim it.
6. Compare vs. apartments
Sometimes, storage space does make the most financial sense. If you have to upgrade to an apartment with another bedroom to store your necessities, $50 a month for storage space beats a $200 a month rent hike. But if you’re living in a condo or townhouse with a homeowner’s association, ask if they have storage space for rent – it might be cheaper than public storage units.
According to the SSA, occupancy at storage facilities nationwide was 88.1 percent, up 1.3 percentage points from 86.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013. The national average price, however, for a 10-by-10 foot unit fell about 7 percent, to $87.06 from $94.01, in the last quarter of 2014, Sparefoot.com reported. Compare rates and pit them against each other. SelfStorage.com lets you search by zip code for prices.
8. Check discounts
Some storage companies offer “move-in” specials with discounted rates or maybe a month free. There may be discounts for seniors, and SSA-affiliated storage companies are offering military perks, including “10%-30% discounts off rental rates, free months of rent, gift certificates, free use of moving truck, one-dollar move-ins, no rent increases while deployed overseas, waiver of security deposits, administration fees, etc.”
9. Buy your own
If you’re considering renting storage space, you’re going to have to buy at least a padlock anyway. While you’re shopping for one, check the price for other self-storage options. You may be able to fit everything in your garage by buying a few shelving units and plastic bins, or a stand-alone shed. These items may cost more than a couple of months of renting but save money in the long-term.
10. Buy less stuff
The best way to reduce future storage costs is to own less. That sounds obvious, but most of us are a lot better at buying goods than losing them. Be a minimalist, not a hoarder. Your house will look better, you’ll feel better, and your bank account will thank you for it.
Ready to clear out your clutter? Make some money with 10 Tips for a Killer Yard Sale.
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Jim Gold contributed to this article.