Are you familiar with the chaos and dread associated with a storage unit cleanout? Cleaning and emptying a storage unit you inherited, won at auction, or haven’t visited in years is not always an exciting task.
We’ll show you an effective method for how to clean out a storage unit, when to consider donating or selling items, and how to get rid of whatever is leftover.
1. Take an inventory of storage unit contents.
The first thing you should do is scan the unit and take an immediate inventory of what’s inside. This step applies whether you inherited a storage space, got it at auction, or had it sitting for months. If you won the unit at auction, you might have to do this process quickly and in less detail.
Consider the following steps to assess the unit:
- Jot down what you see. 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 to estimate how much time the clean-out will take. Will you need extra people? This inventory will help you answer that question.
- Create an open space inside or outside the unit. If space is limited, carve out one free corner, which will become your processing area for step three. If there isn’t any room inside the unit, you can set up a temporary pop-up canopy and process items outside the space. Remember, you must clean out your unit and pick up your mess during business hours. You also can’t block 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 will help you know what work you have ahead of you.
2. Enlist help from friends and plan a day to declutter.
To lessen the chances of being overwhelmed, it’s essential to prepare yourself for what’s to come. Pick a time to do the actual clean out and come back equipped with moving supplies, garbage bags, labels, and sorting totes.
Before you clean out your unit, make a mental note of the following:
- How much time do you need? Overestimate here. You may need more than one day to clean out your storage unit thoroughly. Plan accordingly, so you have all the time you need and more to dedicate to the job.
- What rules apply to storage unit auctions? If you won the storage unit at an auction, determine how much time you have to empty the unit. You may need to clear out the unit immediately and sort through the items at a separate location.
- 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 process. This response is natural, so don’t beat yourself up if you become emotional if you inherited a storage unit or used one to store items from a loved one.
3. Sort stuff into categories like keep, sell, toss.
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.
- 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.
4. Stay on task and get the job done.
The biggest storage unit clean-out mistake is not getting the job done in the scheduled time frame. If you’ve gone through the above steps and find yourself 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.
Here are some 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. Try not to transport too many items back home. Think about how you can get rid of stuff, so you don’t create a mess elsewhere.
5. Find creative ways to get rid of storage unit stuff.
If you have a lot of valuable items, it might make sense to rent the storage unit for an additional month while you sell off some items. If you followed the steps above, you should have the storage unit organized into four sections (toss, keep, store, sell/donate). When the organizing stage is complete, it’s time to remove everything.
Consider moving items in the following order:
- First, remove all the trash from the unit. If you have way too much waste for the dumpster on-site, proceed to step seven.
- For donation items, contact a local thrift store to schedule a free pickup. A dumpster should be your last option for things that can still be used or repurposed. If there are only a few donation items, load those into your car and drop them off at a donation site.
- Next, load your vehicle. Include all the items that are going back home with you, including things you’re keeping or putting into storage.
- Lastly, move all the sell items to a location for further processing. You could keep them in the storage unit if you have time left in your rental or move them somewhere offsite.
6. 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 you could sell each item individually. Popular online venues include Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. If you have more valuable items, consider selling on eBay or Etsy.
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.
7. Hire a junk removal company if necessary.
Numerous companies can help you get rid of storage unit contents without you needing to 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.
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!
Update: This post originally published on July 21, 2017. It was revised on August 21, 2020.