Updated 12/7/16 from an article originally published 1/2/2013.
Imagine you see a weather report calling for freezing temperatures and realize that all your cold-weather clothing is in storage. With temperatures plummeting and the wind whipping, you make the trip to your self storage unit and start digging through boxes looking for your sweaters, coats, and boots.
Before you know it, a stack of boxes has tipped over, half of your belongings are outside of the storage unit, and you still haven’t found your boots. As bad as that may sound, imagine the frustration when one week later you realize all of your holiday decorations and bakeware are also in storage.
The last thing you want to do is pull everything out of your storage unit and dig through boxes looking for something, especially if the weather is bad or the timing is inconvenient. A little bit of planning ahead to make sure your storage unit is organized can save you from a bunch of headaches later on. Here are nine simple tips to help organize a storage unit so that you can find what you need with ease.
1. Pick one box size for most, if not all of your items.
Same-size boxes help with stacking and accessibility. Life Storage’s small or medium boxes will be perfect for most of your belongings. Keep in mind large boxes are excellent for items that aren’t very heavy, but may not hold up well at the bottom of large stacks. Large boxes (especially at the bottom of a stack) are also more difficult to remove if you need something out of them.
2. Identify the items you may need to access while in storage.
Things you don’t use regularly when you’re packing may be needed later on. Carefully consider what you may need while your items are in storage, giving extra thought to seasonal items.
Here are a few things you may need to retrieve from your storage unit:
- Winter or summer clothing
- Trip supplies (tents, sleeping bags, snorkeling gear, sleds, cookout utensils)
- Holiday items (decorations, costumes, bakeware)
- Kids toys (kids may enjoy a “new” box of toys when they get bored of the toys they held onto when packing)
- Tools and hobby supplies
- Office documents
3. Label each box you pack.
Label each box on the top and at least one side with a unique box number, the room it came from, and the contents of the box. Place a special mark on boxes you may need to access at some point during storage and remember to put them in your storage unit last. Be as detailed as possible with the contents.
4. Create a master contents list.
Write down all of the contents of each box along with the box number on paper. This seems like a cumbersome step, but a master list becomes really handy when you need to find a specific item, especially if some of your boxes will be completely out of view.
If you prefer to keep things digital, there are even tools you can use to dictate text so you don’t have to type as you go. And if you want to take the organization one step further (or don’t trust your handwriting), you can print each line from your inventory to create custom labels for your boxes!
5. Plan an organized layout for your storage unit.
If you’re going to access your unit frequently, you’re going to need to put some thought into how you pack your storage unit. Ideally, you want to put the furniture against the wall opposite your boxes to leave a path in the middle of the unit. This way, you can access boxes and furniture items without any hassle. If you need to use the space in the middle, place your most moveable items there so you can remove them with ease.
6. Consider upgrading to a larger unit.
You could pack every square inch like a Tetris master, but that makes retrieving items very difficult. A little extra space can give you room for shelving units and a path through the middle of your unit for easy access to most of your belongings.
It’s also a good idea to use some space to place something on the ground like wooden or plastic pallets to ensure your furniture, appliances, and especially boxes aren’t resting directly on the ground where they’re vulnerable to spills. Obviously, you don’t want to pay for space you won’t use, but Life Storage’s Size Estimator should give you a good idea how much space you will need.
7. Shelve or stack boxes.
If this is a long-term storage solution, place sturdy shelves along one wall of the unit. If not, stack your boxes with these guidelines in mind:
- Stack from back to front in order of need. The boxes that you will access most frequently should be the last ones packed inside the storage unit and be near the door or on shelves with labels facing out.
- Put larger, heavier boxes down first, and then you can stack lighter ones on top. Be careful how high you stack. If boxes are stacked above your head, the whole stack is susceptible to falling, creating a hazard for you and anything breakable in the storage unit.
- Consider using a brick-wall pattern when stacking same-size boxes. It’ll seem somewhat inefficient, since you’ll have spaces on the ends of your stack, but the brick wall pattern allows you to remove and replace boxes without moving the boxes above it.
8. Place a map of your belongings inside the unit where you can see it.
There’s no need to map out boxes or items that are visible, but you should list anything that gets buried on the map. You just need to get in the ballpark so there’s no need for a technical drawing—a hand drawn sketch will do fine.
Divide your unit up into four or more sections and list the items and box numbers in each section on your map. If you happen to need a box or item that got buried in the back of the storage unit you can use your master contents list and map to find it without digging through boxes blindly.
9. Don’t be afraid to unpack all of your boxes.
If you’ve already packed and have a bunch of unlabeled boxes filled with whatever fit conveniently, you might want to invest some time repacking now to save yourself a lot of time later. Repack similar items like seasonal clothes or bakeware into their own boxes.
Packing items that fit within general categories are fine; you just don’t want to pack things like boots and coats with snorkeling gear. You’ll have an easier time forgiving yourself if you spend extra time to repack, label, and organize everything now than if you decide not repack everything and need to tear your storage unit apart to find something simple like boots.
While these five steps may take some time at first—especially if you already have everything packed in boxes—they are well worth your effort. You will save yourself a lot of time and energy in the future, which would otherwise be spent sifting through unmarked, disorganized boxes. Remember what Abe Lincoln said about how he would go about cutting down a tree:
Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”