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The Ultimate Guide to Using Long-Term Self Storage

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Unlike short-term self storage, which is convenient for transitional periods like moving or remodeling, long-term storage serves more enduring needs. Whether you’re moving abroad for a fellowship or downsizing your home after retirement, long-term storage offers a practical solution for keeping your belongings secure. In this guide, we’ll discuss why you may want to opt for long-term storage, how to choose the right unit size and tips for organizing your items effectively.

In This Article:
  1. The Benefits of Storage Units for Long-Term Storage
  2. Who Needs Long-Term Storage?
  3. How to Choose the Right Unit Size
  4. Packing and Organizing Tips for Long-Term Storage
  5. Find Long-Term Storage Near You

1. The Benefits of Storage Units for Long-Term Storage

While you can certainly stash your items at a family or friend’s home, self-storage units are ideal for long-term use. Many are climate-controlled or at least air-cooled — perfect for items like electronics, wooden furniture or musical instruments that are sensitive to temperature and humidity. Storage units also provide security measures like gated access, surveillance cameras and locked units for peace of mind. If you’re concerned about the cost, don’t be afraid to compare prices and consider any special online promotions to take advantage of the best deal.

2. Who Needs Long-Term Storage?

Long-term storage doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck in a long-term contract. Many storage providers, including SmartStop, offer month-to-month rental terms that give you the flexibility to hold on to a unit as long as you need, whether it’s one month or twenty. Here are some common reasons people seek out long-term storage:

  • Travel: Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, placing your items in a storage unit long-term can keep them safe during extended trips. 
  • Academic Fellowships: Academic and research fellowships often require you to relocate for several months to a year. During this period, long-term storage ensures your any belongings you won’t be taking with you are kept safe until you return.
  • Downsizing: Downsizing can be a challenging process, especially when it means you have to part with cherished household items or belongings. Long-term storage offers a middle ground, allowing you to keep items you’re not ready to part with while adapting to a smaller living space.
  • Retirement: Retiring looks different for everyone, but it may involve downsizing your home, traveling more frequently or moving to a different city or state altogether. A storage unit can be a great place to keep all the belongings you still want to keep but don’t need to keep with you 24/7.
  • Military Deployment: Military personnel often face long-term (overseas) deployments or frequent relocations. During these periods, long-term storage provides a secure and practical solution for safeguarding your belongings.
  • Hobby Storage: Enthusiasts and collectors of items like vintage cars and antiques can use storage units — which are climate-controlled — to protect valuables.
  • Small Business Inventory: If you’re a small business owner, you may need long-term storage for your inventory, especially if you operate out of your home. Storage units are the perfect place to keep additional products, promotional materials and other goods without having to rent additional business space.

3. How to Choose the Right Unit Size

Finding the right storage unit size depends on the types of items you need to store. You should start by making a detailed list of everything you plan to keep in your unit, including furniture, boxes, appliances and any irregularly shaped items like bikes or musical instruments. Then reference the unit sizes below (or use our Size Guide tool) to estimate how much storage space you’ll need.

Small Units (5’x5’ to 5’x10’)

Small units are ideal for storing small furniture pieces, boxes, seasonal items and small appliances. Depending on the exact size of the unit, you can think of this as a hallway closet (on the smaller end) or a walk-in closet (on the larger end).

Medium Units (5’x15’ to 10’x15’ feet)

Medium units are suitable for the contents of a one- or two-bedroom apartment. These units can store larger furniture pieces like sofas, beds, dining sets and several boxes.

Large Units (10’x20’ feet and up): 

Large units are designed to keep the contents of a multi-bedroom house. They can accommodate large furniture, appliances, vehicles and many boxes. These units are comparable to a standard one-car garage.

Tip: If you think you might add more items to storage over time, consider choosing a unit with additional space to accommodate any future needs. If possible, visit the storage facility and view the units in person to get a better sense of the space and how your belongings might fit.

4. Packing and Organizing Tips for Long-Term Storage

Packing and organizing for long-term storage requires a more strategic approach than short-term storage, especially if you aren’t going to be checking on your items for several months or longer. Here are some tips to keep your belongings in good condition while they’re in self storage:

Choose the Right Packing Materials

Invest in high-quality, durable boxes, preferably of uniform sizes for easy stacking. This includes bubble wrap, packing peanuts or foam sheets for cushioning fragile items. Seal boxes with heavy-duty tape and consider plastic bins for added protection against moisture and pests.

Disassemble Furniture

Take apart larger furniture pieces like beds, tables and shelving units to save space and prevent damage. Keep screws, bolts and other hardware in labeled bags attached to the furniture they belong to.

Protect Fragile Items

Wrap glassware, electronics and delicate items individually. Fill any empty space in boxes with packing material to prevent items from shifting.

Ensure Good Circulation

While plastic covers can protect against dust, they can also trap humidity and lead to mold growth on items like mattresses and upholstered furniture. Use breathable covers instead. Leave space around large furniture to ensure good air circulation.

Prevent Moisture Damage

Consider using desiccants like silica gel packs in boxes containing electronics or metal items to prevent moisture buildup. Consider placing items on elevated freestanding shelves with legs in case there’s a flood.

Create a Walking Path

Your storage unit can hold a mix of long-term and short-term items. Create a walking path so that you — or someone with access to your unit — can easily grab specific items. This will also make it easier to rearrange items in the future.

Make Items Easily Accessible

Place belongings you may need more frequently in front of objects you don’t anticipate using often.

Stack Smartly

Stack heavier boxes at the bottom and lighter ones on top to prevent crushing. Avoid stacking boxes too high to reduce the risk of toppling.

Utilize Space Efficiently

Store smaller items inside drawers, wardrobes and appliances to utilize every inch of space. Place items like mattresses and mirrors upright to save floor space.

Place Valuables Out of Sight

If you’re storing valuable items in your unit, consider keeping these items towards the back of the unit and out of sight. Make sure your insurance policy covers these belongings. 

Tip: If possible, periodically visit your storage unit (or have someone you trust visit) to check the condition of your items, especially if they’re stored for an extended period. This will help you spot and address any issues like dampness or pests early on.

5. Find Long-Term Storage Near You

Ready to move your items into long-term storage? Find a SmartStop facility in your city and explore available unit sizes and online promotions. For more tips on making the most of your storage unit, head to our blog.

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