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Even long-term storage isn’t meant to be forever. Eventually, you’ll need to clean out your storage unit. These steps will help you streamline the process.

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Updated 7/21/17 from an article originally published 5/28/2014. 

How to clean out a storage unit, step by step

If you have ever rented a storage unit, you might be familiar with the chaos and dread associated with needing to clean it out. Honestly, emptying a storage unit you haven’t visited in years is not usually an exciting task.

When we invest in a storage rental, we have the best intention to keep our unit accessible and organized, but this isn’t always the case. Whether you’re keeping your unit or getting rid of it entirely, it’s important to clean out a storage unit from time to time. Remember, your storage unit is an extension of your home, and clean storage units make for a much better experience all around.

Not sure how to clean out a storage unit without feeling stressed? Here are some steps to get started.

Step 1: Get in the Right Frame of Mind to Clean Out

Get in the frame of mind for cleaning storage areas

If your storage unit needs a clean-out, chances are you don’t remember everything that’s inside. You might have been too busy to keep your unit tidy and inventoried. But, more often than not, people forget what’s inside their storage units because they are too overwhelmed to face the piles of clutter behind the door.

To lessen the chances of being overwhelmed, it’s important to prepare yourself for what’s to come. When cleaning out a storage unit, you may come across very sentimental items that could elicit an emotional response. This emotion can be draining and prevent you from completing the cleaning task at hand. You might come across things you forgot you had, and in haste, just want to throw out everything. This isn’t good either.

Before you clean out your unit, make a mental note of the following:
  • You may need more than one day to clean out your storage unit completely. Plan accordingly, so you have all the time you need and more to dedicate to the job.
  • 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 and some extra muscle.
  • Remember that cleaning out sentimental items can be an overwhelming process. This response is natural, so don’t beat yourself up if you become emotional.

Step 2: Take a Basic Inventory Before You Clean Out Storage Unit

Take inventory of storage unit to help cleaning out process

So now that you’re mentally prepared, it’s time to open the doors to your unit and get ready to clean. What’s the first thing you should do? Scan the unit and take an immediate inventory of what you have stored there.

Keep a pen and paper on hand and jot down some large items you can see immediately. Count the number of boxes and write down how many you’ll need to sort through so you can estimate how much time you’ll need. Open each box and take a quick inventory of the contents. If you packed your storage unit efficiently, your boxes would already have labels on the outside, so you won’t need to open them.

If space is limited, carve out one open corner that will become your processing area. Go through one or two boxes at a time, take a quick inventory, then move the boxes to the processing area. Once the processing area is full, move on to step three.

Having a rough inventory before you start sorting the items will help you know what you’re up against.

Read Also: How to Organize a Storage Unit for Frequent Access

Step 3: Sort Items Using the Four-Box Method

how to clean out storage unit: emptying a 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 using four empty boxes for sorting — a keep, toss, donate/sell, and store box.

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. The other boxes are pretty self-explanatory.

Learn more about how to use the four-box declutter method.

Here are some important pointers to remember while decluttering:
  • Start with one small area at a time and finish sorting that area before going on to another one.
  • For donation items, contact a local thrift store to schedule a free pickup. A dumpster should be your last option for items that can still be used or repurposed.
  • If you’re cleaning out your storage unit for good, your storage boxes can be relocated to an area in your home.
  • If you’re getting rid of your storage unit, don’t make the mistake of transporting too many items back home. The last thing you want to do is just transfer clutter to a different location.

Step 4: Get the Help of a Professional Organizer

when to call a professional organizer while cleaning out storage unit

If you’ve gone through the above steps and find yourself stuck, you may want to enlist the aid of a professional organizer. Someone who cleans out areas for a living will keep you on task and help you from getting distracted. Even the most task-oriented people can get sidetracked when cleaning out items from their childhood.

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.

Step 5: Hire a Service for Cleaning Out Storage Units

There are numerous companies that can help you get rid of storage unit contents without you needing to lift a finger. This is especially useful if you don’t have anyone able to help you or if you aren’t physically capable of doing the clean out yourself.

Our Life Storage team knows who is the best in your area at cleaning out storage units. Your local Life Storage facility will have information about storage unit clean out services on hand.

Find your local store’s contact information for more guidance. Good luck!

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About the Author

Lauren Thomann

Lauren Thomann is a contributing writer covering home, moving and storage topics for the Life Storage blog.

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