Storage Wars: Is it worth the price?

julie-10-26-12.jpg Storage Wars is a suspenseful reality TV show in which people blindly bid on the contents abandoned (or seized) in self-storage lockers in the hope of finding items of value inside. When the locker doors are finally cut open–the winning bidder gets to pick among the old, dusty stacks and piles. Sometimes it’s all a bust, but a typical yield includes salvageable furniture and household goods that can fetch a few bucks at a re-sell shop. Jackpot items include vintage clothing, antiques, and collections. Yet, for every locker opened, probably no more than 10-20% of the space is occupied by the treasures. The rest? Money down the drain in storage fees.

The United States has more storage space than any other country on earth: fifty-eight thousand facilities cover two and a half billion square feet – an area equivalent to three times the size of Manhattan. What does it cost us? According to the National Storage Association, $22 billion a year.

Why our overuse of storage? The story is almost always the same: people don’t want to get rid of something because they paid for it, (and might need it in the future) but end up spending more to store the items than it would cost to replace them. (E.g. the dining room table purchased for $1,200 costs $6,000 in storage fees.)

If you have items in storage, odds are the expense may not be worth it and you might want to commit to recouping that cash. Calculate how much it’s costing you (the monthly cost multiplied by how long you’ve had it), then do quick cost/benefit analysis. If the sum exceeds your threshold of reasonable value, you may wnat to consider going to your unit with the goal to deep-six 75 percent of contents on site and bring the remaining 25 percent home to either use, give away or sell.

If you absolutely must put items in storage, follow these tips to make sure you don’t forget what’s there, abandon the contents or spend more to store the items than they were ever worth.

Create a detailed inventory. To combat the out of sight, out of mind syndrome, create a detailed inventory of exactly what you put away. “Kitchen stuff” is not sufficient – write exactly what’s in each box (e.g. plum Le Creuset French oven, etc.) Taking photos of every item (or set of items) is also a good method to keep track of what you stow away.

Give yourself a deadline. Decide how long you will store an item before you put it in your storage space. This is a simple math calculation: I am willing to spend $XX a month for XX months, at which point I will either take the item out and use it, or let it go. Literally set an appointment in your calendar (November 30 at 2pm) when you will decide.

Sidestep storage completely. There are some items that should never go to a storage facility because the conditions in a storage unit (water damage, dust, heat, cold, etc.) might ruin them forever. This includes things that are truly irreplaceable, such as art, family heirlooms, antiques, etc. Ask a family member or close friend if they’d be willing to babysit these pieces while you can’t use them. Think of it as a way of giving someone else the opportunity to enjoy items that are meaningful to you.

When it comes to objects, you have to decide what’s worth more: money in your bank account, or the emotional value of whatever’s hiding away. Letting go of things is hard, but it’s essential – to create space for things that are meaningful to your life now, and to lessen the burden on your bank account.

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