Do you need to get rid of storage unit stuff? These steps will show you how to clean out a storage unit and filter through unwanted junk quickly.


If you’ve ever been faced with the task of cleaning out a storage unit, you already know how daunting it can be. Maybe you’ve recently inherited a storage space full of furniture, artwork, knick-knacks, and other sentimental items. On the other hand, you might have recently paid a long-overdue visit to your unit to grab something and noticed an excess of dust is starting to build up. 

Regardless of your unique circumstance, it’s no secret that cleaning and emptying a storage unit is not always an exciting task. Plus, there are a few key factors to consider along the way: Is it best to sell, donate, or get rid of the stuff that’s sitting in your unit? Do you need to hire movers or a junk removal company to help out? And how much does it cost to clean out a storage unit, anyway?

Get Rid of Things in Storage: How to Clean Out & Declutter Your Unit

how to clean out a storage unit

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about cleaning out a storage unit. That includes when to consider donating or selling items and how to get rid of whatever is leftover. So whether you’re clearing out your unit intending to vacate, in the process of relocating, or just need to do some seasonal cleaning and refreshing, we’ve got you covered.

Related: The Benefits of Climate-Controlled Storage: Do You Really Need It?

Preparing to Clean Out a Storage Unit

1. Take an inventory of storage unit contents.

The first thing you should do when it’s time to clean out and declutter your storage unit is take an immediate inventory of what’s inside. This step applies whether you inherited a storage space recently or have had it sitting for months. 

Consider the following steps to assess the unit’s current condition and contents:

  • Jot down what you see. Keep a pen and paper on hand and jot down some large items you can see immediately. Even if you don’t have time to sort through everything today, it’s a good idea to at least start somewhere— count the number of boxes, take some photos, etc.
  • Estimate what you need. Next, you can note how many moving boxes, totes, or other items you’ll need to get yourself organized. Start to estimate how much time the clean-out will take. Will you need extra people? Taking the time to conduct a thorough inventory will help you answer that question.
  • Create an open space inside or outside the unit. This will become your processing area for step three. If space is limited, carve out one free corner or set up a temporary pop-up canopy to process items outside the unit. Just make sure you’re not blocking anyone else’s unit with your stuff.
  • Look inside available boxes. Open as many boxes as you can and take a quick inventory of the contents. Skip this step if the boxes are already labeled. Make quick notes next to each box if you see something valuable, fragile, or otherwise significant.

Having a rough inventory before you start sorting the items inside your storage unit will help you know exactly what work you have ahead. And just a friendly reminder: You must clean out your unit and pick up your mess during business hours.

Related: 12 Seasonal Storage Solutions Everyone Should Know

2. Enlist help from friends and plan a day to declutter.

To lessen the chances of being overwhelmed during the clean-out process, it’s essential to prepare yourself for what’s to come. Pick a time to work on each task and return equipped with moving supplies, garbage bags, labels, and sorting totes. Recruiting friends and family members to assist can also help time go by faster and make the process much more enjoyable. Throw on some great music and you’ll be surprised by how quickly time flies! 

Before you clean out your unit, make a mental note of the following:

  • How much time do you need? Honestly, it’s better to overestimate here. Break everything down into smaller, actionable tasks and plan how long each one will take. Remember that you may need more than one day to clean out your storage unit thoroughly, so plan accordingly.
  • How many people do I realistically need? It may be helpful to have more than one person on hand. Ask for help in advance and be sure to have all the support you need, meaning both emotional support (if you’re cleaning out a loved one’s unit) and some extra muscle.
  • Do I have an emotional attachment to any of the stuff? Remember that cleaning out sentimental items can be an overwhelming and emotional process. This response is natural, so don’t beat yourself up if you’re unable to accomplish things as fast as you’d like. If you’re feeling up to it, it may be cathartic to go through this process with a friend or family member who also shared a relationship with this person.

Related: How to Store Old Photos and Preserve Precious Memories

Cleaning Out Your Storage Unit

Once you know exactly what you’ll be up against, it’s time to get to work. Here are the next steps in the storage unit clean-out process:

3. Sort stuff into categories like keep, sell, toss.

how to declutter your storage unit

The Four-Box Declutter Method is an effective way to sort through and clean out items on a grand scale. The premise behind this technique is fairly simple and straightforward: Sort everything into five separate piles or boxes — keep, toss, donate/sell, and store.

  • The keep box includes items you can remove from your storage unit and bring home.
  • The store box sorts things that will stay in storage.
  • You will have a sell box for items you plan to sell or donate.
  • The last box is a toss box, which will include anything that is broken beyond repair.

There are many other ways to utilize this method and cater it to your current needs. Learn more tips on how to use the four-box declutter method here.

4. Stay on task and get the job done.

One of the biggest storage unit clean-out mistakes has got to be abandoning the job before it’s over. It’s easy to start with the best intentions but get overwhelmed midway through and give up. Remember: It’s perfectly fine to take a breather, but get right back to it when you’re all rested up. (Another great reason to enlist help from a friend— you’ll have a built-in accountability buddy!)

If you’ve gone through the above steps and are stuck, you may want to enlist a professional organizer. Someone who cleans out areas for a living will keep you on task and help you from getting distracted. Even task-oriented people can get sidetracked.

Professional organizers are especially helpful when cleaning out estates. Since the professional organizer has no attachment to the items in your storage unit, they can help you make rational decisions about whether you should keep, toss, sell, or donate an item in question.

Related: How to Organize a Self-Storage Unit for Frequent Access

Here are a few more important pointers to remember while decluttering:

  • Don’t take on large areas in a random fashion. Start with one small area at a time and finish sorting it before going on to another.
  • Have a spot for everything you’re removing from the storage unit. If you’re cleaning out your storage unit for good, consider relocating storage boxes to a garage or basement.
  • Challenge yourself to get rid of junk and unneeded items. It can be difficult to let go but try to think long and hard about what you’ll be keeping— whether in storage or at home. Transporting heaps of stuff is time-consuming, and then you’ll be tasked with finding a spot for it all at home. If you’ll still have access to the storage unit, you’ll thank yourself on your next visit when it’s less cluttered than before.

How to Get Rid of Storage Unit Stuff

1. Consider the Optimal Method

When the organizing stage is complete, it’s time to remove everything. If you followed the steps above, you should have the storage unit organized into four sections (toss, keep, store, sell/donate). This is a great starting place when deciding how exactly to get rid of items in your storage unit— the decision is already made for you!

Note: If you have a lot of valuable items, it might make sense to rent the storage unit for an additional month while you donate or sell off some items. 

If you’re operating off of the four-pile sorting method, consider working through everything in the following order:

  • First, remove all the trash from the unit. This is an easy step with a big payoff— the space will immediately feel less cluttered. If you have way too much waste for the dumpster on-site, proceed to step seven.
  • For donation items, contact a local charity or thrift store. A dumpster should be your last option for things that can still be used or repurposed. Most organizations even offer free pick-up and/or drop-off options to make things more convenient. If there are only a few donation items, load those into your car and drop them off at a donation site. You can learn more about the donation process in our article Donation Pick Up or Drop Off Options Near You.
  • Next, load your vehicle. Include all of the “keep” items that are going back home with you, including things you’re keeping or putting into storage.
  • Lastly, move all of the “sell” items for further processing. This location is entirely up to you and what space you have available. You could keep them in the storage unit if you have time left in your rental, or move them somewhere offsite for easier access.

How and Where to Sell Items From a Storage Unit

There are several ways to sell items from a storage unit. You could sell the entire unit through an auction company or sell each item individually. Popular online venues include Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. If you have more valuable items, consider selling them on eBay or Etsy. Check out our article The Best Resale Apps to Help You Downsize and Declutter Your Home for more information and to learn about a few more great options.

If you’d prefer the old-fashioned route, you could always set up a garage sale. Some storage facilities also do occasional flea markets, so you could ask a storage manager if this is ever an option.

Related: What’s This Worth? How to Value Inherited Furniture

2. Consider Hiring a Junk Removal Company

Did you know: There are companies that clean out storage units professionally! These organizations can help you get rid of storage unit contents without you needing to even lift a finger. Hiring someone is especially useful if you don’t have anyone able to help you or aren’t physically capable of cleaning out yourself.

How much does it cost to have a company clean out your storage unit? 

As with any type of service, prices will vary with every company. On top of that, factors like location, time of year, and size/contents of the unit may also impact what rate junk removal companies might quote you.

Interested in hiring professional cleaners or movers? Our Life Storage team of experts knows who is the best in your area at cleaning out storage units. Contact your local Life Storage facility for more information about storage unit clean-out services you can take advantage of.

Clean Out Your Storage Unit Like a Pro

Cleaning out a storage unit can be a major undertaking. Whether you’re just getting started or picking back up where you last left off, hopefully, this article helped provide valuable information and guide you in the right direction. If you are looking to rent a larger storage unit or need a location closer to you, find affordable self storage rentals with Life Storage! Not sure what size will work for you? Our storage unit size calculator can help you decide.

As always, if you have tips you’d like to share with anyone cleaning out a storage unit for the first time, feel free to reach out! You can easily continue the conversation by finding us on social media. 

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Update: This post originally published on July 21, 2017. It was revised on August 21, 2020 and May 22, 2023. 

About the Authors

Emily Malkowski

Emily Malkowski is a writer and SEO strategist with over 5 years experience, in Buffalo, New York. Having graduated from University at Buffalo with a Bachelor's degree in Communications, her work has appeared in outlets like The American Prospect, Roadtrippers Magazine, Step Out Buffalo, and more.

Lauren Thomann

Lauren Thomann has written about self storage and moving since 2015, making her our storage expert. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in English and Linguistics and has published over 150 articles on moving, storage, and home organization. She is also a contributing writer at and Martha Stewart.

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