Too much stuff? Chances are you've piled it all into a self-storage unit. So have a few of your fellow Americans, judging by the 2.2 billion square feet of self-storage facilities peppering the country. Here's how to get control of all the extra furniture, gadgets, decorations, toys and whatnots filling that space.
America, you’ve got stuff.
Amish armoires and barbecue grills. Granddad’s beer-stein collection and grandma’s mahogany dining-room table. Christmas decorations and oak veneer Malm chests you bought at Ikea for your teens.
Chances are you’ve piled it all into a self-storage unit.
So have a few of your fellow Americans, judging by the 2.2 billion square feet of self-storage facilities peppering the country.
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What’s with that? Why are we paying to store stuff we don’t — or seldom — use?
Is it because you’re between homes? A sentimental softy? Or do you just not have time to sort through 10 years of Architectural Digests and your husband’s college CD collection?
Grant K. Gibson understands your conundrum. The San Francisco-based interior designer just helped a client winnow down the contents of a $1,000-a-month storage unit.
“We sorted through everything, and we brought it all into the basement of their home and stored it in large Tupperware-type things and labeled them,” he says. “And then we got rid of all the junk.”
Gibson, like most designers, has his own self-storage. He’s got a small ($90-a-month) unit filled with some furniture and leftover fabrics (never know when a project’s going to need repair) and a blow-up bed. It helps him keep his own house orderly. This is a guy, we should note, who moved from a 200-square-foot New York apartment to a 250-square-foot place in San Francisco to a 1,000-square-foot apartment — and is dreaming of a house.
“If I see something that I think — this is just so beautiful maybe I can use that someday when I buy a house — I store it,” he says. “I think that’s sort of what I see clients doing as well.” Designers often store finds they know that clients will someday use, and even pieces that they rotate in and out of their own homes. It’s a well-known hazard of those who love to decorate.
New York uber-designer Miles Redd used to have self-storage space. One day, though, “I looked at what I paid in storage, and I got rid of it. I do not want to be attached to this kind of stuff,” he says, of items that ranged from furniture purchased for interior decorating projects to books.
It has, he says, taken his mother 10 years to sift through all the stuff in his grandmother’s home (“a Depression-era baby — she saved string”). “I don’t want that kind of legacy.”
But there’s more than sentimentality involved in opting for a self-storage unit — it’s also a lifestyle choice. “People moving, transitioning households is about 50 percent of the industry,” says Timothy Dietz, spokesman for the Self-Storage Association based in Alexandria, Va., citing retirees, soldiers, college students and small-business folks among the most common users.
“You also have a lot of other folks who have chosen to make self-storage a permanent part of their lifestyle, because they want to make their garage into a family room or they want to make their basement into a theater room,” he says.
Still, says Gibson, “For the most part, I really see grandma-type stuff in there, or this is a family piece that my great-aunt or grandma had, and because it’s a family piece, I can’t get rid of it,” he says.
“The other thing is, I think people maybe get lazy, and they put it in the storage unit because they don’t have to think about it,” he says. “Out of sight, out of mind.”
His suggestion: Get help — from a designer or organizer or a friend — to come in and say, “Let’s clean this up,” Gibson says.
“Storage is the stopgap for us to get our mind around what we really need,” says Redd. “Edit your life.”
Or at least edit your storage unit.
YOUR LIFE IN STORAGE
Here’s how to make self-storage work for you:
• Do store pieces you use periodically (holiday decorations, etc.).
• Don’t store important family heirlooms and documents.
• Do store sensitive items (art, wine) in a climate-controlled unit.
• Do organize it. Gibson has a photo inventory and list of everything in his unit. Otherwise, stuff “is going to get lost in there, and you’re never going to remember you have it.”
• Do use covered plastic containers to avoid mold and mildew.
• Do label stuff. “Once things have a home,” says Gibson, “you tend to keep more organized.”
• Do choose a secure self-storage facility. “You want to be comfortable with the place,” says Timothy Dietz, of the Self-Storage Association. “You want to walk in and see the security.”
• Do make sure, Dietz says, that “your homeowners insurance policy covers self-storage off-premise; if it doesn’t, look into tenant insurance.”
‘CLEAN HOUSE’ GURU: SIFT, THEN STORE
Since she began hosting “Clean House” on Style Network seven seasons ago, Niecy Nash has been tackling homes “possessed by possessions” with a team of experts.
Nash, an actress, comedian and mother of three, also knows how hard it is to sort through “stuff.”
Here’s how she gets it under control:
How much is too much?
“If the things that you have have overwhelmed your space, they automatically become clutter,” says Nash. “You want to see whether or not the thing you’re holding onto is something that you are using. If you’re not using it, then you may want to rethink why you still have it.”
How do I start?
“You’re looking around your whole house, and you’re like, ‘I’ve got stuff everywhere’ — well, you have to remind yourself to eat the elephant one bite at a time. You didn’t wake up overnight and have a house that looked like this. So tackle it a little bit at a time.”
“You want to store things in clear containers so that you can see right away what you have. That’s the way to keep up with it.”
So I want to keep it, what now?
“Everything should have a place. You know sometimes you have stuff that is seasonal — certain things you hold onto because you know you’re going to use them again. But if you know you’re not going to use it again — or you have no idea when you may use it again — then that’s when you need to consider letting it go.”
Should you store at home or off-site?
“Well, if you have a reasonable amount and space and you can store something in a way that is neat and organized and you can keep up with it, that’s one thing. But if you don’t have the space, you may want to consider storage. I like to keep things at home because they’re easily accessible, and storage can be expensive.”