The United States of self-storage

April 22, 2014

By Paul Brucker

The United States of self-storage

Do you have a self-storage unit or are you considering renting one? If so, you have plenty of company. One in 10 U.S. households now rents one. Storage units are a temporary lifeline for many people who are moving, marrying, divorcing or consolidating belongings after a death in the family.

But they’ve also become a way of life for a lot of Americans. About 50% of the renters do it on an ongoing basis simply because they have accumulated too much stuff. Never mind that 65% of the renters have a garage, 47% have an attic, 33% have a basement – and many have all three.

Today, Americans rent 78 square miles of self-storage space, more than three times the size of Manhattan. Put another way: If you took that space and divvied it up, there would be 7.3 square feet for every American – enough for all of us to stand up together and be covered under a single roof.

What a difference 56 years has made! In 1958, in Fort Lauderdale, FL, the first public storage facility opened its door. Now there are 51,000 facilities across America, nearly three times the number of Starbucks.

Storage units come in dozens of sizes, from 3' x 5' lockers to 20' x 30' rooms. Prices vary by region. On average, a 10' x 10' unit will cost you $115 a month, without any amenities. Like a garage, most storage units are unheated. Expect to pay at least $10 a month extra for climate control, which can help protect valuable papers, photographs, art, quilts and heirlooms. Also, units on the first floor with vehicle access cost more than units on upper floors that entail an elevator ride. At these facilities, you usually provide your own lock, and your access is restricted to specific times.

Are you on the verge of transferring some of your things to a storage facility? If so, take some time to consider:

  • Do I really need this stuff and would I miss it, if I got rid of it?
  • When was the last time I used this stuff and do I really expect to use it again?
  • Is this stuff valuable in terms of money or sentimental value? Will these items increase in value over time?

If the answer is “no” to these questions, consider selling your items in a yard sale or online – or donating them to charity.

If the answer is “yes,” then be sure you find an appropriate storage unit. Be sure to tour and inspect the facilities. Is the place well maintained inside and outdoors? Give the place a gut-check: Do you feel secure having your belongings stored there? And check your insurance to see if you want coverage for these items. You may find that your homeowner policy already provides some coverage for items you might keep in a storage unit.

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