Are you paying a monthly bill to store your belongings that you don’t have room for?
How long have you been doing so?
I recently talked to a friend who first rented a storage unit a few years ago when she moved back in with her parents. She was proud of how much she has eliminated from the storage unit lately but wasn’t sure about getting rid of some of the larger furniture. She feared how much it would cost to buy a new living room set if she moved into her own place. That’s understandable at first. However, when we added up the $100 per month she’s been paying for over four years, she realized she’s spent around $5000 on storage.
Therein lies one of the major pitfalls of renting a storage unit. Their purpose is supposed to be for short-term usage, like during a move for example. Unfortunately, about 9% of American families rent storage space and more than half of them have been renting for over a year.(1) Keep in mind that the $100 per month my friend was paying is hardly the upper limit for storage costs. Depending on the size, monthly rent can reach as high as $150 or more.
The self-storage industry has a history going back to England when banks began storing valuables for customers going on long voyages. The trend grew until vaults were overflowing and banks began using storage space at moving companies. By the 1850’s, warehouses were being built just for storage of personal items.(2)
The first modern self-storage units in the United States were built in Texas in the 1960’s and the concept spread.(2) Now, there are about 50,000 storage facilities in the U.S. and the industry generates around $38 Billion in annual revenue.(1) Clearly, we have a lot of important things that we need to keep even though we can’t make room for them in our homes.
When Paying for Storage Makes Sense
I don’t want to bankrupt the self-storage industry. I do think they serve an important purpose in some cases. However, I want everyone who is spending their hard-earned money on storage to weigh the cost against the value of the items being stored.
With that in mind, here are a couple cases where it might make sense to rent storage.
1. In between moves, especially when buying or selling a home.
Changing apartments can sometimes be a problem if your lease is up at one and the other won’t be ready for a few weeks. Store everything you don’t need in the short term until the new place is ready. The same situation can arise when buying and selling your home.
If you’re trying to sell your home and you have a lot, I would first advise you to purge, and then purge some more so you don’t have to rent storage. However, if you want to stage your house for sale you may still need to remove some things temporarily to make it look better. First, see if you can store a couple things in a friend’s or relative’s basement though. Just don’t overstay your welcome.
2. Storing something valuable that you can only use periodically
There are limited cases where this will make sense. Say you have a valuable motorcycle or something larger that you can only use seasonally. It might make sense to protect it from the elements during the winter if you can’t make room for it in your garage, assuming you have one. This is also common for boats, RVs, etc.
3. For business purposes
If you own a business and need space, a storage unit can be much cheaper than renting a larger office to store records or equipment for your business. This makes sense especially for contractors and lawn care companies.
That’s about all I can think of. There may be other specific situations where it makes sense but remember, every payment you make for storage can make the contents less valuable.
The bottom line is if you have no other choice but to rent storage, you want to rent the smallest one possible. Purge as much as possible first and then empty out your storage as quickly as possible.
Do you have a system for keeping track of your phone and/or tablet?
Do you always know where they are when you're at home? What do you do with all those charging cords? Do you have a phone home? (If you don't get the reference, you're young, and you need to go watch the classic 1980's movie ET)
If you're like us, you have a basket or drawer full of tangled chargers. Charging a phone involved untangling a cord from the pile and then plugging it in on the kitchen island. The phone and charger only added to the clutter already on the counter. Sometimes, it would get bumped when accessing the refrigerator or the GFCI outlet would get tripped for some reason. After you thought your phone was charging, you would discover it was still dead. Often, both plugs would be tied up in the morning when someone wanted to use the toaster. This caused a fight over which phone to unplug.
We finally solved all this with the bamboo charging station below. We now have a home for our phones and tablets. Plugged in or not, it's a handy place to put them instead of the middle of the kitchen counter.
I made space for it on our kitchen counter tucked back out of the way next to the fridge. Inside is a 6-port USB charger. We had so many USB cords around that I didn't even need to buy new ones. I even connected the charger for our Amazon Tap device, which can easily be disconnected to use for a phone or tablet.
Several versions of these charging stations are available on Amazon and I'm sure other stores. I like the look of the bamboo and the way the dividers are easily removable, yet strong enough to easily hold several devices. Plus, bamboo is considered a sustainable material.
Below are affiliate links to the charging station, charger, and just in case you're interested, the Amazon Tap. (Note that the Tap is an older model Alexa enabled device. The thing I like about the Tap though, is it isn't constantly listening to you. You have to push the button before asking Alexa a question.)
If you want to be fancy, you can buy all new USB cables for it so they match and are all the same length. If you have a mixture of devices needing their own type of cord then I suggest buying different colors for them. For example, now that my wife is back at work I plan to get a white iPhone charger for her work phone. All the other devices we have are Android based and are using black cables.
If you are tired of seeing your phones and tablets all over the house, you keep forgetting where it's plugged in, or are constantly searching for your phone charger that your kids stole, then this is the way to go. The version above may not be the right one for you, but since they come in several shapes and materials, I'm sure you'll find one that works.
How many times has this happened to you? You’re out somewhere and see a flyer about an event you want to remember so you take a picture. Or, you’re child hands you a flyer for a field trip so you snap a picture with your phone. It makes so much sense because you can retrieve the information when you need it. Unfortunately, those photos get lost among all the others you’ve taken. Weeks or months later you’re scrolling through all your photos trying to find the information from the flyer or the field trip.
We make frequent use of our city library but my wife always had the kids’ library cards in her purse. I finally laid them all out and took a picture but again, after a few months, I could never find them among my photos. Then, the obvious and simple solution occurred to me.
Make a folder
I now have in my phone a folder, or album, called Quick Access where I put these things. On an Android phone it’s easy to create a custom folder for your pictures. Open your phone’s photo gallery and go to the Album view. At the top of the screen, there is an icon of a folder with a plus sign in the middle. Click the plus sign and give it a name like “Quick Access” or if you are creative enough to come up with something cooler, then give it a more interesting name. Depending on your phone and storage options, you may be able to specify where the album lives.
The next time you take a picture of a flyer or the cover of a book you want to look for at the library, move the picture into your quick access folder so you can find it later. Obviously, this method will only work for so long if you don’t do some occasional housekeeping. We’ll tackle digital clutter later though.
I don’t have an Apple but I expect it’s a pretty similar process to create an album and move pictures into it. In fact, it may even be easier. You can go as far as you want with this method and create several albums. You could create a folder for work, one for your kids’ stuff, and one for project ideas or something. You can use this method to organize all your photos, not just field trip flyers and lost dog posters.
Be careful though if you have some sort of automatic backup feature to save the photos on your phone. Make sure that your new folders are being saved to your Google Photos, iCloud, or wherever they are supposed to be going. These services may not automatically see the new folders.
Have you ever noticed my quote in the header of my website?
One thing I’m proud of is that I haven’t purchased any organizing products in a while. I often find that as I get rid of things, I free up space on shelves, in cupboards, and in closets. Then, I don’t need to buy more containers to store stuff in. Sometimes I do need to buy something so I thought I could throw out a few tips on buying storage items.
1) Buy when you have to store something specific and you know how you want to do it, but don’t have a suitable alternative on hand.
We have too many bicycles, but I’m not allowed to get rid of any of them yet. I bought the joist hooks for my garage a while ago and I use them all the time. I wanted to get them up off the floor and hanging some in the garage seemed like the best solution.
2) Buy after purging the excess items and when you know exactly what size container/shelf you need.
Instead of buying a storage tote or a new shelf, can you put it in a box or bag you have sitting around? When I went through my daughter’s closet, we had recently returned from a trip and had a damaged suitcase. I was going to throw it out, but ended up using it to store all her dance outfits and shoes that didn’t fit her anymore. When I organized the family room I didn’t buy any containers or shelves. I found that as I removed toys to get rid of, I was able to reclaim shelf space and several storage totes.
3) Buy when you’re storing kids’ clothes to save for a younger sibling and you don’t already have containers. (The rule still stands to purge anything you can first.)
It’s important to store these properly in a plastic tote or bag. You want to keep odors and insects out, especially if you’re storing it all in the basement. Don’t go overboard by saving every single piece of clothing for the next kid though. It’s OK to be a little selective and get rid of some items that you’re not in love with or may have stains. Chances are they have more clothing than any one kid needs anyway.
4) If you’re buying plastic storage totes, clear ones are great because you can see exactly what’s inside. They’re also ugly because you can see exactly what’s inside.
If you’re going to shove them in the basement someplace where no one will see them, I would go with clear ones. If they’re going to be on a shelf and visible in the open, you may want to go with opaque storage totes. You can make a fancy label for each one if you want. If the contents will change often enough, you could even use chalkboard tape (yes, that’s a thing) for a label.
5) Finally, unless you’re certain you won’t use it again, don’t get rid of empty storage containers.
I know that sounds like something I would normally recommend against. We gave away several over the last couple of years but recently found that we could use them. We’re holding off buying more though, hoping that if we purge enough excess that we won’t need them.
I don’t know about you, but at my house, stuffed animals seem to appear out of nowhere. I have no idea where they come from. They’re a bit like wire coat hangers. The kids are always happy to have more even though it’s rare when I see one being played with. Today, I have a couple of suggestions about where to get rid of them (assuming you’re kids will part with them).
To be honest, the best method to get rid of a stuffed animal I have ever seen, was when I was in the Army and watched a stuffed Barney the Dinosaur get blown up by a Claymore mine. If you’re short on explosives or just prefer a more humane way to get rid or those dust collectors, there are other options. You can always try selling them if you’re having a garage sale, but from what I’ve heard they don’t usually sell very well. I recommend just donating them or, if they are in bad shape, just throw them away.
While not every charity will accept used stuffed animals, The Salvation Army in Southeast Michigan does. I don’t think they all do though, so you may need to check the one near you. Some local thrift stores will accept them as well.
One of my favorite places to send stuffed animals though is a non-profit called Stuffed Animals For Emergencies (SAFE). SAFE is a nationwide charity run by volunteers who will accept donations of stuffed animals among other things like books, crayons, blankets, clothes, and baby items. Their website states that “All stuffed animals must be ‘like new’, clean, free from stains and tears, and need to be appropriate to be given to a child in an emergency”.
The volunteers are spread throughout the country so take a look at their website to see if there is a contact near you. Also, chapters can choose what they will accept so pay attention to their list of acceptable donations.
We have one for Southeast Michigan that accepts books and blankets as well as stuffed animals. Unfortunately she’s not very close to my house. When I emailed her about donating some stuffed animals a few years ago though she was very responsive. I actually mailed her a large box of stuffed animals but you would never guess by looking at how many we still have.
The SAFE website has contact information for all of their chapters and information if you would like to start your own. They even have a stuffed animal cleaning guide that you can download. I think SAFE is by far the most worthwhile method to donate your stuffed animals that are in good condition. It did cost me some money to mail them but it was definitely worth it and I plan to do it again soon.
I think that applies to stuffed animals too.
My family uses Cozi for our calendar, shopping, and to-do lists. The best part is that it's free.
Copyright Dave Lubke and www.davelubke.com, 2020
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