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7 reasons self-storage is a bad idea

Wouldn't our money be better spent processing and organizing the items we have and purging what's left over?

By MSN Money Partner Sep 24, 2012 1:47PM

This post comes from Kentin Waits at partner blog Wise Bread.


Wise Bread logoAccording to the Self Storage Association, there are roughly 49,000 storage facilities in the U.S. alone. Self-storage has consistently been the fastest growing area of the commercial real-estate industry, representing $22 billion in annual U.S. revenues in 2011.


Image: Money into toilet (© RubberBall/SuperStock/SuperStock)But why? Why are Americans so willing to saddle themselves with material albatrosses that sap their monthly income? Have we become such a nomadic and unsettled people that our consumerism can only keep up with our lifestyles through acres of augmented storage? I'll leave that up to the social and cultural critics to decide.


If you're considering entering the fray and renting a storage unit, or if you're rethinking the value you get out of your current storage arrangement, let me offer a few arguments against these businesses that dot our landscape. Here are seven reasons why renting a self-storage unit is a bad idea. (See also: "The tyranny of stuff.")


1. Most stored objects depreciate in value.

Unless you're storing gold or silver -- an ill-advised move at most storage facilities -- the objects you're housing are probably depreciating in value. Though I know some storage situations are unavoidable -- a last-minute move for a job, family emergency, divorce -- the long-term payoff  just doesn't seem worth it when you consider the replacement cost of the stored items.


2. Extra offsite storage promotes acquisition.

Having overflow storage options at the ready encourages needless acquisition. Often, storage units enable hoarding tendencies and prevent us from moving on from objects and the places and times in our lives that they represent.


3. Storage fees can be a financial drain.

This one is obvious, but still insidious. There's something overwhelming about having a storage unit full of stuff. We tend to ignore it, become exhausted at the thought of moving it, and avoid figuring out how to get rid of it. Inertia sets in and we (almost gladly) fork over the $65 or $75 a month to maintain the status quo. After a few years of paying our monthly dues, we've spent enough to buy to good used car and have nothing to show for it besides the same old anxiety-producing pile of stuff.

4. Storage facilities often lack adequate security.

There doesn't appear to be any uniform approach to security measures across the self-storage industry. Some facilities are well-lit, some aren't; some have attendants on-site, some don't; some units have solid walls and metal doors, others are made of wire and plywood. For an industry that's basking in the riches of a society on the move, why is there no self-governance, no rating system, and no standardized security?


5. If you can store it for years, you can live without it.

Professional organizers and de-cluttering experts sing the same refrain: If you haven't used it in six months or a year, you can live without it. The same logic applies to the objects we're warehousing in our storage units. If you can box it up and lock it up for years, do you really need it? If it's not used regularly, what's its real value?


6. Unpaid storage bills equal secured debt.

Many folks don't think about the contents of their unit as security against delinquent storage payments. But it only takes few episodes of "Storage Wars" to be set straight on that point. Unpaid storage fees are made up, in part, by auctioning off the contents of each unit. In many cases, the contents can be sold and renters are still liable for the remaining balance. If you're storing family photos, heirlooms or other memorabilia, is it worth the risk to potentially have your items held captive or sold to the highest bidder?

7. Storage services are of questionable value.

Considering the cost, the tendency for objects to depreciate in value while in storage, the inertia that off-site storage can lead to, and the lack of uniform security of facilities, I have a hard time seeing the value in long-term storage services. It begs the question, wouldn't our money be better spent processing and organizing the items we have and purging what's left over?


I realize that self-storage can be like a huge convenience when life throws you a curve ball. But as an ongoing strategy for managing the "stuff" in our lives, it's a losing proposition. Maybe it's time to grab a few friends, throw the doors open, load up the trunk, and have a yard sale.


More on Wise Bread and MSN Money:


Sep 24, 2012 4:09PM
Another stupid thing we do is PAY to watch commercials on cable. In the late 70s the main selling point for cable  was NO COMMERCIALS.?????????????
Sep 24, 2012 3:09PM
But then how will we get cool shows like Storage Wars and Storage Hunters???
Sep 24, 2012 4:02PM

We use our storage unit to store our snow tires, camper trailer, and a few furniture pieces and fine china to be given to the kids when they marry/have their own homes.


Don't use the items in 6 months?  Well, the camper gets used every summer, the snow tires and regular tires rotate their places in storage based on time of year, and the other items have sentimental value and are intended to be passed on as family heirlooms.  Tell me again how I'm wasting my money and accumulating "stuff" that only stresses me out?  Yes, some people hoard their posessions and have way too much "stuff"...others need a bit of extra storage to keep large items and things of value which can't be currently used. (And to any who would say that the china should be in the house, being used or at least displayed: I inherited two sets, one from each pair of grandparents...I really only need (or can store) one large set of antique china in my home at a time!


Sep 24, 2012 4:02PM
I live in West Virginia, not exactly the hallmark of high real estate values, yet there are storage facilities EVERYWHERE around here.  They wouldn't exist if nobody used them (I don't).  The author is bag on, and the toilet JPEG couldn't describe the process any better.

The author did omit another legitimate use for storage and that is for business reasons.  You might carry an inventory, tools, supplies or other items essential to business but without space to keep them elsewhere.  At least in this case, the storage costs can be written off against taxable profits.

Sep 24, 2012 4:52PM
I stored paintings and art supplies for years in a 3X3 climate controlled storage space till I had a bigger place. Yes, for that purpose it was worth it. 
Sep 24, 2012 5:33PM
LOL, I own two storage facilities...SHHHHhhhhhhhh! Business has been great and recession proof.
Sep 24, 2012 5:05PM

Our home of 15 yrs. sold five months before our new home was completed. The buyer had five very young kids and was from out of state, with no near relatives. She was starting her new job in two weeks. My husband, two teen daughters and I agreed to let that family move in immediately, which meant we had to rent. All we could find on short notice on a month to month basis was an apartment. It took THREE storage units to hold a household full of things that wouldn't fit into the apartment, and I for one am glad I had the option. The units were gated, well lit, easily accessible, reasonably priced, and the perfect solution for us. Anyone who thinks they can't afford the next month's rent at one of these facilities should go before they "fall behind" and take their things out. Sell or donate what you don't need to keep, and then ask each friend and family member to hold just two items.


Sep 24, 2012 5:30PM

I suspect that for most people renting storage space, the need to do so is emotional than financially based. Storing a dining room table that cost $1,000 for two years at a cost of $1,200+ does not make a bunch of sense.


Rather than rent a storage facility I go through my things. If I have not used it or worn it and it has no realistic sales value, I put the stuff in the trash or donate it to Goodwill. It is cheaper than the alternatives and unclutters my life. The latter is a big plus for me.


I tried selling things a lot of things on eBay. It was time consuming. The net return after shipping, eBay fees, and Palpay,Ebay's subsidiary, fees was not worth the effort. Add to that dealing with a few PIA customers and it was very negative experience. I would have made more in the time spent panhandling or working at a third of the minimum wage. Seeing an item that you spent $100 for get sold for $10, which after cost, nets $1.50 is down right depressing.


I know a number of older people who sell their homes and move into apartments. More often than not they can't part with the things that they had that won't fit in their new digs. Many of them rent storage units to put the stuff that they can't use and will never use in.


One fo my close friends did that for years. She died of cancer. Her two sons put everything in the apartment and the storage unit in the trash except for a very few items that they were able to sell without a hassel. I know they would rather that mom had not spent $12K to $15K storing whatever, so they could have had the cash instead. They were self-centered jerks, but their actions are probably more typical than not of what your relatives will do when you die. 


Women hang on to stuff more than guys do. I get a greeting card, read it, and throw it out in a week. My girlfriend gets a card and keeps it forever.    



Sep 24, 2012 4:36PM

We own a climate controlled self storage facility in Houston Texas.  Our building was designed by one of the leading

self-storage architects in the United States.  It is well secured, fully enclosed behind a steel fence, well lit, with

24-7 surveillance cameras.  Our occupancy rate is approximately ninety percent.  We opened nine years ago

and quickly filled our spaces.  In that time we have NEVER had even one security issue.  Our tenants like our

facility because they feel safe going there at night if it is necessary.  The majority of our tenants are serious

professionals and entrepreneurs.  We customize spaces for tenants who sign long term leases.  Lawyers

often have tremendous files they must retain.  It is cheaper to rent from us than it is to expand the size of their

office space.  Several tenants are restauranteurs. . They store seasonal decorative items, usually custom

designed for their establishments.  Other people store wines.  Technical specialists store equipment they

use in their business because (a) they can easily access it and (b) it is less expensive than acquiring more

space on their business premises.  Antique dealers rent space to store their inventory as they acquire it

and then find more floor space to accommodate certain pieces, or they bring prospective customers to

their unit to show a piece a customer that might well interest a customer.


While I'm not especially interested in wasting time to second guess your reasons for writing this

article slamming the self-storage industry,  I nonetheless strongly suspect that your true motive

was purely needed to see your words in print because you fancy yourself

a writer but can't find another source willing to publish your tripe.

About a year and a half ago my sister moved into my house with her two grandchildren. In order to make room I put a lot of my stuff in a storage rental unit up the street about three blocks. Every couple of days I would go get three boxes. No more, no less. I would go through those three boxes and 99% of the time I threw out two of every three. Most of it was just paper junk and things like that. Eventually I cleared out the storage unit and found that I had room for all the boxes I had kept. I am now going through more things in my house and getting rid of them. If I don't want them I either sell them in a yard sale or give them away. Again I am throwing out a lot of old papers that are not collectibles. I've cut down on the mess so much its incredible. My sister and the kids have since found a place of their own and moved and my house is so neat and organized and roomy its hard to believe. I just purge and purge and purge. There will not be any junk for my children to go through when I pass away. Here again is a problem with keeping stuff. If your family doesn't want it and it doesn't sell in a yard sale it goes in the dumpster. So why keep it so they can throw it away? If you haven't used it in 2 years, get rid of it. Once you understand this theory you will love it and you will save a lot of money not paying for storage and not buying stuff you don't need.
Sep 24, 2012 8:08PM

When the recession hit, my son lost his job and he and his wife moved in with me until he could find another job.  I live in a 2-bedroom townhome and there simply wasn't room for two families'  furniture and household goods.  Since my son had only been married for two years, most of their belongings were quite new and in great shape. With times so hard, he might have been able to sell their belongings for pennies on the dollar, but  why?  We rented a storage unit in a well-run and equipped business close to home for 6 months while the kids recouped and got restarted.  There was no damage, no vermin, maybe a spider or two, but that's about it.  When my son found a new job and the kids were able to move out of my townhouse, the only expense they had was the deposit on their new place.


Frankly, we were delighted that the storage business was there and available to us.


I can understand how storage units might enable hoarders or encourage people to hold onto things that aren't really useful.  But for temporary situations such as ours, the monthly fees were money well spent.

Sep 24, 2012 4:56PM
If you own or rent a house without enough room to store what you want to keep WHAT IT THE BIG DEAL?
Sep 24, 2012 5:06PM
If everyone stopped storing things we wouldn't get to watch storage wars anymore.
Sep 24, 2012 5:15PM

I bought a 20' storage box.. stupid nope..  when mother lost her job. and moved in.. we had family stuff that was passed down from generation to generation..  that claw table might only be worth 1000-2500 to a collector.. but to the family it's worth  more.. 

I also use it as a work shed..  1 half is used for that and keeps the mess out of the house as I cut 2x4's for the basement rooms or whatever..

or build an engine.  part a car.. ect..

I'm sure most are stuffed and forgot....but

allot of people had houses or bigger apartments and because of job losses, los the house or downsized to a smaller apartment.. 

the author forgets these people will not have the cash, never mind the credit to replace that stuff stored,when back on their feet..  with a job..  they'll still have another 7  years of  no credit.. and most will not be so fast to spend,spend,spend. again ..  the 65 bucks a month is less than some creditcard % a month.. 


Sep 24, 2012 6:39PM

I was a self storage manager for over 20 years of a large facility and watched the owners laugh and shake their heads all the way to the bank.

Sep 24, 2012 4:51PM
Note to authors of this stupid article.  If you do not understand the financially rational reasons for storing things, do not bother writing an article about it.
Sep 24, 2012 5:00PM

Some people in business needs these ... perhaps when moving need one for a couple months.


But i have known countless people who store things not worth 1000 bucks for years ... it is idiotic

Sep 24, 2012 5:39PM
You forgot that someone on Storage Wars could buy your old junk and make a huge profit. Why not sell it yourself rather than let it sit and rot for a decade?
Sep 24, 2012 6:53PM
My daughter stored her stuff for 6 months while waiting for her house to be built.  Mice had gotten into everything.  It looked like a decent place, too. 
Sep 24, 2012 6:53PM
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