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Paying Rent for Your Junk? How to Quit the Self-Storage Habit

When you’re moving or going through a life change and don’t know what to do with all your clutter, self-storage can be an enticing option. Many storage companies offer heavily discounted rates for the first month – we’re talking a single dollar for 30 days of housing your junk. At that price, what’s the catch?

The problem is that after packing, transporting and storing their possessions in a facility, most people tend to leave them there for months or even years at a time, resulting in a bill that runs into the thousands. Though there are some cases where self-storage makes sense, for most people a far cheaper and more effective option is to take a look at everything you own, decide what can be thrown away, and find smart ways to store the rest. Here are some strategies for tackling the often daunting process.

To store or not to store

“I take a very dim view of the self-storage industry,” says Sharon Lowenheim, the owner of New York-based Organizing Goddess, Inc. “It’s kind of sad that people are willing to pay for the privilege of holding onto their possessions but never actually seeing them.” Lowenheim believes there are only a few scenarios in which storage would be a good option, including college students who need to leave their dorms for the summer, those whose residences are undergoing renovation, and people who are showing their homes to potential buyers. In those situations, storing large items such as furniture may be cost effective. If this is you, calculate the price of storage over the projected period – plus the money you’ll spend on transportation – and compare it with the cost of replacing your items. If it works out cheaper or around the same to buy new furniture, skip self-storage.

Tackling the clutter

Saying no to storage means having to address your clutter — a task that can feel overwhelming. Nancy Heller, a professional organizer at Goodbye Clutter, specializes in coaching people through the process of letting treasured possessions go. Often, her clients are emotionally invested in items that have little inherent value but carry huge emotional meaning. A sentimental person herself, Heller recommends keeping a few key items that are associated with good memories, and letting the rest go. One of her strategies for pack rats is to take a large box and fill it with all the nostalgic things the client wants to keep. When the box becomes overstuffed and the person realizes how much room it’s taking up, the client is more inclined to part ways with their possessions.

Lowenheim offers a few more tips for dealing with clutter:

  • - Ask yourself what contribution each item is making to your life right now — not ten years ago, and not in an imagined future. If the answer is “not much,” the trash can awaits.
  • - Collectors may find it difficult to let go of things after spending a long time accumulating an entire set of items. But if you have ten of something, isn’t it more valuable to display three and get rid of the other seven, instead of shoving the whole lot in a drawer? Line up the collection and choose a few favorites. The rest can go.
  • - For those things you can’t bear to part with, consider displaying them in a more compact form. A common space hog is t-shirts — instead of keeping them all in a drawer, you could turn them into a quilt. (Or pay a company to do it for you.) Take photos of large items and keep the pictures instead of the objects.
  • - Envision where your items will go when you when they leave your home. Visualizing someone else making use of your long-neglected possessions may make it easier to bid them goodbye.

Selling your stuff

When you’ve moved everything you no longer need into a giant pile in the middle of your living room, thoughts of eBay and Craigslist may dance in your head. But don’t get your hopes up. “People have an inflated opinion of how much their things are worth,” says Lowenheim. Second-hand items are difficult to unload at anything close to their original price. Of course, there are a few exceptions. Products in excellent condition made recently by big brand names may fetch a few dollars. Lowenheim cites American Girl dolls and Nintendo gaming consoles as examples, but advises checking eBay to get an idea of what people are paying. Otherwise, the best option is to donate to a local charity and score a tax deduction for your trouble.

Making more room

Once you’ve gotten rid of your old stuff, find ways of optimizing the storage space in your newly sparse home. Combined with ruthless decision-making, this will prevent the clutter from creeping back in. Here are a few ways to make more room:

  • - Think vertically. Heller suggests shelves around the perimeter of wall, hooks on the backs of doors, and boxes under the bed. You could also add a hutch above your desk. And make every bookcase a tall one.
  • - Choose furniture with built-in storage. Ottomans, love seats and beds with compartments are all good options.
  • - Keep surfaces clear. No, really – make it a policy. Once there are a few stray papers on a desk, something cosmic happens and a giant mound of junk suddenly appears.

Legendary personal organizer Barbara Hemphill has a great quote: “Clutter is postponed decisions.” Be decisive about the things that end up in your home and you’ll eliminate the need for self-storage, saving a ton of money and time.

Ella Morton is a writer with a background in tech and web video. Originally from Australia, now in New York. Ella blogs via Contently.com.