Organizing Your Self Storage Unit

By Patrick Galvan,

When people are looking to rent self storage, the first thing they wonder is how much storage space they’ll need for all of their belongings? This question usually comes up again when more items are added to a storage unit, and the amount of free space to move things around in the unit runs out.

Having a densely-packed unit is never a good idea, especially if you plan to access items in your storage unit on a frequent basis. Breaking items or suffering injuries while moving about the unit becomes more likely and creates more trouble than it’s worth. In creating more free space, the first instinct is to upgrade to a larger unit, but an alternative is to reorganize your belongings in a way that conserves space.

Here are three ways to fit more items in your storage unit.

Move Things You Need Toward the Front of the Unit

According to Betsy Fein, President of professional organizing company Clutterbusters in Rockville, Md., creating a plan and laying out storage items according to that plan will easily free up more space.

“Think about which items you will want to access frequently, which ones you only need on occasion, and which ones you won’t need for a very long time,” Fein says. “All items you don’t need regular access to can be placed toward the back and the corners.”

For instance, you probably won’t need your furniture and large appliances until it’s time to empty out the storage unit. You’ll want to access these items last, so line them along the interior wall of the storage unit. This, in turn, will allow you to place smaller, easier-to-access items closer to the entrance. On the other hand, in addition to clearing more floor space, you might want to have easier access to everything in the unit, which means creating aisles.

“If possible, try to arrange the storage space into a U [shape],” says Collette Shine, Founder of Organize and Shine in New York, N.Y. “This gives you access to a full range of items in the storage space.” With U-shape organization, you’ll have more paths to walk through to get to items you need without stumbling over anything.

Use Shelves in Your Storage Unit

Even though the U-shaped formation helps clear floor space, you should also use methods to take advantage of the vertical space in the unit (which is typically about 8-feet tall), such as shelving.

Shine recommends using wire shelving. “This type of shelving comes in a wide variety of sizes. [Wire] shelving will hold a lot of weight, and the shelves are adjustable. It’s also easy to disassemble if circumstances require.”

Before you start bringing shelves in to your storage space, though, be sure to measure the area (that is, the length of the walls, the overall width and depth, and the height capacities). For this reason, professional organizer Dorothy Breininger of Dorothy the Organizer suggests using metal rolling racks so you can easily adjust their position in the unit space.

“Just remember when you leave the storage unit, you will need to take those shelves with you,” Breininger explains. She adds that the same metal rolling racks could later be used for storing or stacking items on a more permanent basis at home, like in your garage, so you’re getting your money’s worth.

Take Advantage of Containers and Other Organizing Techniques

In addition to organizing and shelving belongings, a good tip for eliminating clutter in your self storage unit is to group items together in containers, like boxes or bins.

Even though they’re cheaper, using cardboard boxes isn’t necessarily good for the condition of your items. “If there’s too much humidity or moisture, cardboard turns into glucose, which has sugar in it. [This] attracts bugs,” explains Scott Rowe of The Organizing Agency in Washington, D.C. “I rarely recommend cardboard for storing items.”

Shine admits she’s had clients store platters and other household items in cardboard boxes with “no ill effect,” but she still encourages people to use “plastic bins with solid latches” as an alternative since they hold up better due to their stronger, waterproof structure.

Geralin Thomas of Metropolitan Organizing in Cary, N.C., agrees, adding that plastic bins are more convenient for people who need to find items quickly in storage. “Clear plastic bins make it easy to find what you’re looking for,” she says.

In addition to plastic bins (which are stackable), you might be able to store or stack household items on or inside of one another. According to Al Gardes, Director of Operations at Elmwood Self Storage in Harahan, La., “Our number one tip to our tenants is to maximize the space you’re already using. Store boxes or items inside a fridge/freezer you already have in storage.” In this case, you’d simply need to clean out the refrigerator, stacks your items inside, and leave the space in front of the fridge clear so you can open the door and access the items inside anytime.

Fein recommends doing the same with dressers and bookcases. “If you’re storing a dresser, stack things on top and inside the drawers,” she says. “Make sure there’s room to open the drawers and tape labels on the outside stating what’s inside. If you’re storing a bookcase, you can stack small boxes or items on the shelves.”