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The Manipulative Storage Unit Racket

You know me and blogging. I only do it when I feel that it is necessary.

This is necessary.

If you follow me on Instagram (@kempjane) you might have seen my Instagram Stories where I found myself on a quest for a specific height of freestanding plastic garage storage shelves for a project starting the next day. I assumed this would be a simple task given that I live five minutes away from a Home Depot. But surprisingly Home Depot had next to nothing to offer me and I was sent back to the drawing board. I then went online, found the perfect model at Ace Hardware. Still not a slam dunk though. Since I was now shopping in the 11th hour, so to speak, I had to go to two different Ace Hardwares to eventually cobble together the three units I needed. Honestly, I was lucky to have found three. Ace Hardware was slim pickens as well.

While I was at the second Ace Hardware, I asked a salesperson about why there was such a lack of freestanding storage shelf options. He told me that storage shelves like mine were actually a seasonal item, and the season started around Christmas. In other words, consumers are encouraged to buy a bunch of stuff for the holidays, which causes them to buy more stuff to contain all their stuff. Our crazy need to keep ALL our stuff has allowed stores like The Container Store become so popular.

But that's not why I'm writing this passionate blog post. I'm writing this passionate blog post because I believe there is nothing in this vicious consumerism circle that will ever come close to the manipulative business practices of the self storage industry. They are the worst of all.

In theory, storage units are great for short term storage. I personally rented a small unit for three months back when I was staging and selling my old house, moving into a temporary rental, then buying and moving into our current house. However, the more common practice of renting a storage unit for an abstract period of time has become an all too familiar crutch for people living with too much stuff.

If this is you, or anyone you know, please read on.

ABC News

The decision to rent a storage unit is for the most part made out of some sense of urgency. There’s generally a clutter crisis, either manufactured or real. Inherited stuff that is high on sentimental value, but low on practicality. Stuff from a failed relationship that makes you feel sad every time you lay eyes on it. Kid stuff you hung onto even though they’re grown and moved out. Clutter after moving into a smaller space. You name it.

The stuff that goes into the rented storage unit is often gathered in haste and is almost always comprised of items that aren’t vital to everyday life. If I could describe them in a few words, I’d say they are either “emotional keeps” or deferred decisions, meaning that determining their fate before they went into storage was just too much to ask of yourself.

From day one, the energy generated inside your newly filled storage space feels TOXIC. Something to be avoided. Is it any wonder you lock your unit up, clap the dust off your hands, and walk away, for months, maybe even years?

But here’s the thing. The BIG thing. Storage units are a steady drain on your finances. People are literally flushing thousands of dollars a year down the toilet on rental fees simply because the notion of clearing out their unit out feels insurmountable.

Self storage companies bank on your crisis thinking, ambivalence, and avoidance. This is their business model! And I’ll tell you what. It’s working. Business is booming!

Let’s change that!

Clearing out a storage unit is surprisingly straightforward. There are basically four different choices. Keep. Donate. Toss. Sell. However, I believe this is one project where hiring a professional organizer is money well spent in terms of time management and sanity. My goal is to make the process efficient, and more importantly humane. For one thing, I am 100% on your side. No one is allowed to beat themselves up on my watch. I help you to make clear decisions free of judgment, guilt and sentimentality.

We quickly go through the stuff, item by item, which sounds tedious, but turns out to be easy given the softening effect of time. Things that were so emotionally charged they had to live in a rented storage unit for months or years, now just look like a bunch of random stuff. When you come across something that gives you pause, we talk it out. The item either goes home with you, or goes away with me. Either way, a decision is made. At the end of each session, we clean up and I take away all recycling and donations. I can also make arrangements for a dump run if necessary.

This past year, I was able to help six different clients break free from their storage unit dependance, saving them thousands of dollars. Although each space was rented by a different client for different reasons, their collective contents fell under surprisingly similar categories.

Roughly a quarter of each unit contained recycling in one form or another, particularly paper and cardboard.

Inside all of them were remnants of the past. A past work life, a past relationship, outdated work seminar materials, college papers, inherited family ephemera, office supplies, old hobbies and crafts, inherited knick-knacks, video collections, clothing, toys, games, pens, pencils, text books, notebooks, journals, art supplies, home accessories, novels, paperbacks.

There was broken stuff, useless stuff, an abundance of e-waste, and a lot of items that just needed to be thrown away.

When the units are cleared, my client’s emotions are always the same. Shock that they were able to accomplish a daunting task in such a short period of time, elation that they’ve been able to put this experience behind them, and relief at putting money back into their pocket. To date, no one has ever expressed regret over any of the items they let go.

Here's the reality of all that stuff. Almost everything gets donated, recycled or sent off to landfill. We occasionally find a few things worth selling, cherished items, and important papers, but for the most part, the percentage of the stuff that my clients take home is very, very small. Less than a tenth, if even that.

Let's break this down financially. If you are paying monthly for a storage unit, in reality 90% of your rent is actually going towards storing what amounts to recycling, donations and garbage. 90% Friends. If your rental fee is $300, only $30 is actually going towards storing your stuff. The other $270 goes into the self storage business’ pocket. And that’s why I think the whole storage unit business is a racket.

I want to turn this around! If this is you or if someone you know is renting a storage unit month after month, year after year, please reach out for help. The cost of working with me is far outweighed by the cost of your ambivalence, and avoidance. Clearing your unit out is doable. Nothing would make me happier than to help you break free! of this dysfunctional system!



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