Inside: Considering renting a storage unit? Learn about disturbing stats on self-storage units and why you should (almost) never use one to store your stuff.

Are you thinking about renting a storage unit?

You might want to think again.

While the idea of offsite storage sounds tempting and can be a quick fix for getting clutter out of your space, it’s rarely a good idea in the long term.

Storage units come with significant downsides – and outside of rare exceptions, very few benefits. 

Not sure why you should steer clear of renting a storage unit? Here are a few compelling reasons why you might want to consider. 

renting a storage unit

Alarming Stats on Storage Units

The statistics on clutter tell us that we have a problem with trying to hold onto too much stuff. The data on storage units further confirms this.

Before you make a decision on whether or not you want to rent one, consider these facts.

The average storage unit costs over $2,000 per year.

Storage units can sound enticing – especially when they’re advertising super low rates for new customers.

But those low rates don’t last long, and soon, you’ll be paying more than you’d like for a 10′ by 10′ space to store your stuff. In fact, the average storage unit costs about $180 per month (source) – adding up to over $2,000 a year.

If you live in a high-cost-of-living area or a major city, chances are those rates are even higher. 

While some people can easily justify the expense, for many, the cost of a storage unit can have a significant impact on monthly budgets.

Instead of saving money or investing it in something that will benefit you later, you’re spending it on a space that you rarely, if ever access – a space designed to hold stuff that most don’t actually need to keep.

average American home

The top reason (40%) for renting a storage unit is not having enough space at home.

Moving is the second reason (34%), but the idea that 40% of people think their home doesn’t have enough space (source) is interesting.

Especially when you consider that the average single-family home in the US is just over 2200 square feet (source).

For comparison purposes, the size of the average home in 1950 was just under 1000 square feet (source). So even though homes have drastically increased in size over time, there are still many people who do not feel that they have enough storage space in their homes.

And that’s despite 65% of homeowners (source) and renters (source) having a garage. And while ideally, that is where you’d park your vehicle, one study found that 37% of people use their garage only for storage while a different study found that 75% of people couldn’t park in their garage (source).

So is the problem truly not having enough storage space or is it trying to hold onto too much stuff?

woman holding cash

Over 150,000 storage units are abandoned and auctioned off each year.

According to one study, 155,000 storage units are auctioned off each year after their renters failed to make timely payments (source). That’s a lot of abandoned stuff – and an easy way for storage unit owners to make even more money.

There are lots of reasons that people choose to abandon their storage units. The biggest? Financial hardships.

After all, $180 a month isn’t cheap and the facilities often increase your monthly rent, sometimes within a short period of time. And if you’re in a situation where you need to cut costs, there are other priorities that take precedence like shelter and food. 

Other reasons include long-term hospitalization and divorce. And some storage units are simply forgotten about. 

A couple of reality shows have highlighted the profits to be gained through these storage unit auctions. While they typically show the more interesting ones, most aren’t going to have rare or collectible items.

The top 2 things stored in a storage unit are furniture and clothes.

The next three things to round out the top five types of items housed in a typical storage unit are home appliances and equipment, sporting items and hobby gear, and business items. (source)

Regardless of what’s in them, it’s a sad waste of money to have paid rent for months or years to hold onto extra stuff that ended up being auctioned off anyway.

renting a storage unit

There are over 51,000 self-storage facilities in the United States.

It’s tough to avoid seeing at least one storage facility in every city or suburb it seems. And many of them have multiple options.

That’s because we’re now up to an estimated number of 51,206 storage facilities operating in the U.S. today. (source)

During the pandemic storage facilities continued to grow exponentially as people stayed home to work and found their living quarters to be a bit too tight. Expectations are that this industry will continue to expand.

So how much land do over 51,000 facilities take up?

Storage facilities take up over 1.7 billion square feet.

According to StorageCafe, storage facilities take up over 1.7 billion square feet of space in 2023, with 254.6 million square feet of storage space built in the last 5 years.

In 2023 approximately 52.5 million sq. ft. of new self-storage space is planned to be completed across the U.S., which is a 31.8% increase over 2022 (source).

And here is what those facilities bring in revenue-wise…

The global self-storage market is valued at over $54 billion.

In 2021, the global self-storage market was valued at $54 billion with projections to hit a whopping $83.6 billion by the end of 2027 (source).

The North American market is projected to contribute the largest percentage of this figure.

renting a storage unit

3 Reasons to Avoid Renting a Storage Unit

As you consider renting a storage unit, ask yourself why you think you should. What items do you need to keep that cannot fit in your home?

And if you’re still convinced that renting a storage unit might be the best way to store your stuff? Here are a few reasons you may want to consider other options before splurging on a storage unit. 

1. They encourage you to hold onto more stuff.

In many cases, the stuff that ends up in a storage unit is stuff you don’t actually need. Think about it. If you needed it, you’d keep it in your home.

By placing something in long-term storage, you’re acknowledging the fact that it does not serve a meaningful purpose in your day-to-day life and is something you can go without for months, if not years.

Renting a storage unit enables people to continue to hold onto too much stuff. They can be a way of putting it out of sight out of mind. It ends up becoming a way to shuffle stuff from one location to another.

While some people use storage units to hold onto family heirlooms and other valuable items, the majority use them to store away clothes, furniture, and other miscellaneous stuff that might be better off sold or donated. 

items stored in self-storage unit

Storage unit scenarios

When we look at the size of the average home in the US and the fact that storage units continue to be used more and more, the problem here really is not a lack of space in the home. The problem is holding onto too much stuff.

There are various reasons that people hold onto clutter. Some people are sentimental. Others have a really hard time making decisions.

Rather than putting in the effort to sort through items and carefully consider what should stay or go, the excess gets dropped off at a local storage unit to be dealt with at a future time.

Other times, storage units are filled with a loved one’s belongings after they pass. Instead of sorting through their things, it’s all put in a storage unit until ‘later’.

And in other cases, people are holding onto items for someday and are keeping things that they hope to have the space for in a future home.

No matter what the reason is though, renting a storage unit often becomes an expensive way to delay the inevitable when you one day decide you’re tired of the burden and monthly payment and finally declutter it.

responsibly donate your clutter

2. They’re a waste of money.

As we just talked about, storage units encourage you to keep extra stuff and end up being a waste of money (and time too!).

With an average cost of over $2,000 per, storage units aren’t cheap. Sure, they initially pull you in at low rates, but over time they increase your monthly rent. They bank on the fact that you will keep paying because it’s a hassle to go remove your things.

It ends up being quite an expensive convenience fee that often gets pushed off for months or even years! I read a story about a woman who put her furniture in storage with the thought that her kids would one day want it for their homes.

Years (and thousands upon thousands of dollars later), she found out her kids didn’t want those items and they ended up being donated. That’s an expensive lesson to learn.

So what can you do? Focus on decluttering more instead of trying to hold onto it all and organizing it.

Have honest conversations with family members and ask what they do or don’t want. Don’t hold onto things just assuming they want them.

The more proactive you are with managing your stuff instead of putting it off until later, the more money you’ll save and the more things that can be passed along to people who will actually make use of them.

A great way to simplify and save money is to avoid renting a storage unit in the first place.

If you already have a storage unit and want to empty it, check out the tips in this post on how to declutter and clean out a storage unit.

woman unlocking a lock

3. Self-storage units can be susceptible to mold, water damage, and theft.

Now, there are some self-storage units that are climate-controlled and maintained in a secure, always-monitored facility. But those seem to be the exception, not the rule – and they’re going to cost you.

The average storage unit is unregulated and can easily be infiltrated by pests, mold, mildew, and water damage.

Chances are, you aren’t visiting your storage unit often. If disaster strikes, you likely won’t notice the problem until it’s done significant damage to your stuff.

Your items sit there degrading when other people could be enjoying them. And while you could have been saving yourself money in the process.

Another big risk? Theft. If your storage unit is secured by a simple padlock, it doesn’t take much for a criminal to break in and help themselves to your belongings.

Even facilities with guards on site are susceptible – after all, they can’t be everywhere at once. 

couple putting boxes next to storage unit

When Does Renting a Storage Unit Make Sense?

Despite all of the downsides to renting a storage unit, there are some limited circumstances where it might make sense, like…

  • You’re buying a new home and selling your current one, or you’re moving from one rental to another. You need a space to put your stuff for a month or two while you navigate the transition.
  • You’re renovating your home and need to protect your personal items from debris and contamination. Self-storage can be a great temporary solution while your space is transformed to keep it free from damage. 
  • You’re in the military (or another type of work that takes you away from home for a time) but know you plan to come back to the area to settle down again within the next couple of years.

The key is that the duration of renting the unit is already predetermined and it isn’t just being used to put off sorting and decluttering your things.

Do you think renting a storage unit is a good idea? Why or why not? Leave a comment and let me know.

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9 Comments

  1. Great post! We used to have a storage unit cause my dad had a mobile business out of his truck in a different town than we lived in and it was better for him to have his product closer to where he worked. But the problem was our junk started to creep into it. When we moved into that town dad didn’t need the storage for his business anymore but we had big project of cleaning it out. Yuck! And most of that stuff we didn’t want anyway.

  2. We’ve never used a storage unit but for me, my main issue with them would be the fact that pests and rodents would likely make their way into them, ruining all your stuff and I know this because they aren’t made any different than our outbuilding, we keep our tools in on our property. I had, at one time, used it to store our holiday decorations. Then one Christmas I went to get all my decorations and found baby mice in my Nativity stable. After that I downsized my decorations and made room in the house!

    1. This happened to my mom’s stuff. She was moving states to be closer to us kids after her husband passed away. Her stuff was put into storage while finding her an apartment. All her paintings, artwork, family heirlooms, and furniture was ruined by mice excrement. This was a big, well-known storage place with locations in many cities. She lost everything.

  3. We have found them temporarily helpful every time we are relocated. We are always moved cross country (not even a neighboring state) and need space while selling, buying and trying to navigate all the details that come with this. I make a point to also use this transition time to declutter what we currently own (snow to down South? Don’t need as many winter items) or to sell/donate items that are not suitable for the move one way or another. I know too many people who have storage units that linger for years and always remind myself that if I haven’t opened that box since the last move, don’t have any idea what is in it, I am not going to miss it now.

  4. Storage units, except in rare circumstances, are a sucker bet. Even if you want the items, by the time you retrieve them you’ve paid 2, 3, or more times over what it would cost to buy them again.

  5. I find the idea quite repulsive and such a huge waste of money. What I have seen with some is the stuff is tucked away–out of sight–out of mind. Then it sits there and more money is wasted. Plus as some say, rodents can enter and do damage. I would much rather deal with things and decide if it is worth keeping. If not find a home elsewhere and be done with it. Nothing serves any purpose if it just sits unused in any kind of unit including the garage. Nuff said.

  6. We did purchase a steel “pod” to store tax doduments, display racks, etc. when we had a retail store.
    It was not climate-controlled but that didn’t matter for the things we had to keep. When we closed the store we began paring back (tax documents need not be kept indefinitely) and eventually sold the pod
    since we no longer had need for long-term storage. In our situation, this worked well and was much cheaper than renting a storage unit.–Anne

  7. I rented a storage unit twice because of moving. Once the units was robbed two days after I moved my things in and the second time when I arrived to store my things only a larger more expensive unit was available, even though the smaller one was reserved. Sometimes you can be in a spot when moving especially if you home sells faster than expected. Unfortunately sometimes reviews don’t always reflect the truth.

  8. I had no choice I was in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita 3 weeks later…
    I had to live in a destroyed house for 6 months waiting on a FEMA trailer 3 years in two FEMA trailers..I fortunately found a highrise climate controlled storage…very professionally run..
    It was a life saver…but I checked everything frequently to make sure.

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