Is A $20,000 Storage Unit Worth It?

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By now you have determined what size storage unit, the cost and how long you need it for. You have even played Jenga with paper furniture.

We are no strangers to a storage unit and the costs. As you may have read in our Downsizing blog, we moved 3-times in 5-years, following Don’s career. Then in 2018, we decided to leave the sticks-and-bricks behind for a life of living full-time in a 5th wheel. Read more HERE if you are interested in why we choose this lifestyle.

Now came our ultimate decision with a house full of belonging that will not fit into an RV. Below we will provide store unit tips, how to find the right size unit and, help you determine if the cost is worth it.

What To Keep

We had purchased a brand new bedroom set less than 24 months before deciding to embrace the RV life. That set put us back several thousand dollars. And we knew by selling it we would be lucky to get 30% of the original cost. Keeping the bedroom set was a high priority.

The living room furniture had been with us since 2001 and had no stains, wear marks or rips.  But the cushion needed new foam, which could easily be done by us. So this set was a ‘maybe’ keep, depending on the storage unit cost.

Then we had an old 6-person dining room set with hutch, passed down from my late grandmother. It had always needed new chair fabric and an overall re-staining. Sadly since acquiring it in 2006, we never got around to making it beautiful again. This too was in the ‘maybe’ keep.

Let’s Measure

Grab a pen and piece of paper along with a tape measure. Then measure the height, width, and length of each item, documenting it on your paper.

Tip: Round up to the nearest half or whole inch when measuring. This will give you a little buffer in the form of a couple of inches when planning the storage unit layout.

Paper Furniture

I have difficulty picturing items stacked in a 3D box. For this reason, I grab graph paper to help visualize length and width in a space. The height will only matter if you are building the tower of Pisa inside your storage unit. Graph paper is how I lay out everything from our storage unit rental to furnishing a new room. Here’s how:

  • Figure out what ‘scale’ you are going to use and be consistent.  I like 1-box equalling half a foot, so 2-boxes represent 1-foot.
  • Take the ‘length’ measurement from one piece of furniture and draw across (horizontal) on the graph paper.  Example: if the dresser is 5 feet in length, you will draw on top of 10 boxes (if 1′ equals 2 boxes).
  • Do the same for the width of the item, but this time drawing downwards (vertical) from one end of the horizontal line.
  • Now you should have what looks like an “L” shape. Draw the final vertical and horizontal lines to complete the item’s configuration.
  • Delicately cut out the piece and write what the item is on it. Continue this process until all your large items are done. Keep the pieces together, until we put them to use a little later.

Storage Unit Stacking Ideas

Knowing what big furniture pieces to keep helps determine what size storage unit to rent. Typically a loveseat can be flipped upside down to stack on top of a sofa. Dining room chairs can often be stacked as well. If the storage unit is tall enough, a headboard and dresser can lay on their side. If not you can stack the nightstands on top of the headboard or dresser.  

What Is The Size Of A Storage Unit

Storage units come in a vast variety of sizes, indoor, outdoor as well as climate controlled. We will stick to the basics here.  Let’s assume you are keeping either a bed headboard or couch. Typically both are around 5 feet long. That means you need a storage unit at least 6-feet in one direction. Why? Because not all storage units may be exactly 5-feet inside. Some walls over time may bow inwards from humidity or the ground shifting, making that tight fit now impossible. Tip: Measure the inside of your unit before you sign the rental paperwork.

Many places offer ‘Small’ storage units in: 5×5 and 5×10. Then ‘Medium’ storage units in: 5×15 and 10×10. The ‘Large’ storage units of: 10×15, 10×20 and 10×25 are said to hold up to 5 rooms of furniture. To put it into perspective an average car is 20-feet long.

Determine The Size You Need

Now that you have an idea of what storage unit sizes are available now it is time to get out the graph paper.  Draw the storage unit box you hope your belongings will fit in. Just like you did with the ‘paper furniture,’ and remember to keep the same scale (2 boxes = 1′). Now arrange your cut out ‘paper furniture’ inside the pretend storage unit. Keep playing around with different size storage units and arrangements until you have your perfect fit. Remember some items can be stacked.

Minimalism, Our downsizing preparation to RV Life

We were planning on our bedroom set made up of: queen headboard, storage footer, dresser, and 2 night stands. The sleigh headboard could not be stacked nor the other pieces with their ball foot design. So, out of the gate, we needed a 5×10 unit.  If we wanted to keep the living room set made up of loveseat, couch and end tables, we would need a 10×10. Now, if we wanted to keep the dining room set as well, we may have required the 10×15 unit.

Plan On A Bigger Storage Unit

After you play Jenga with the paper furniture, you will then have your estimated storage unit size. Of course, plan on getting the next bigger size storage unit. Why? Because we have not yet packed up boxes of other ‘stuff’ to keep. Be sure to keep in mind all the small items you want to store as well.  Even that vacuum cleaner takes up a 1-foot square section since it’s not ideal for stacking.

Pricing Tips

  • A lot of websites do not offer the price online. Instead, they make you call or email them. Be sure to set time aside to call, or you will end up with a ton of spam.
  • Call around to different parts of town. Prices can differ significantly based on demand for a particular location.
  • Ask which size storage units they often have a lot available of. Sometimes you can work a deal with them if the unit will fit your needs.
  • Make sure to get prices on the size storage unit you think you need, one smaller and one larger.
  • Ask for any specials, including to auto-pay.
  • When you find a cheap price, go to the location to see it first. Maybe the rate is low because it is in a ‘bad’ neighborhood and they lack security cameras.
  • Depending on your location and your belongings, you may not need temperature or humidity controlled storage units. Those are often higher in price.

Reality Of Storage

You may have sticker shock from the storage unit costs. So now it is time to think about what you absolutely need to keep. And for how long are you storing the items?

For us, we guessed we would be doing the RV lifestyle for 5 or 10 years before we could see ourselves back in a house. At the bare minimum, we wanted to keep the bedroom set which would fit in a 5×10 unit.

The Storage Unit Cost

By now you have determined what size storage unit you need, the current rate, and how long you need it for. With some basic math, you will know how much storing your items will dip into your pocket.

Monthly Cost x Number of Months = out of pocket

In our area, a rare 5×10 storage unit runs between $100 to $200 per month. This would only hold our bedroom set. To keep more, we were looking into the $200-$300 range. Also, we needed to store it for a minimum of 5 years. Assuming no yearly rent increases, our calculations were:

$100 x 60 = $6,000 (bedroom set only)

$300 x 60 = $18,000 (store it all)

Between $6,000 and $18,000 to store our items for 5-years did not seem worth it to us. Worse yet is if we decided to RV for 10-years. Looking at $12,000 to $36,000 was undoubtedly not happening. We rather keep that money and buy new furniture when (or if) the time comes to move into a house.

Store It All vs Sell It All

As you may have read in our Estate Sale blogs, we choose to sell it all. There were a few totes of must keep items. Such as the remaining copper bottom pots from a set we are using only two of in the 5th wheel. And other kitchen items we will use in the future, like a KitchenAid mixer, meat grinder, food processor and the rest of our Corelle plate set. Thankfully, we have a close family member that has allowed us to use their crawl-space. The best part is there is no storage unit fee (yet).

Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out the beginning of this series with blogs on downsizing, estate sale, and selling tips.


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Melissa McElfresh

Melissa McElfresh

In 2012 I was diagnosed with Gastroparesis (stomach paralysis), which made me realize life is too short and not to take simple things for granted. As an avid indoor-girl with allergies, I did not go on hikes of any sort. But, one day my Marine husband, Don, asked if I would go on a 'nature walk' with him. It was on the paved Going To The Sun Road in Glacier National Park. I went and was hooked, eager for our next adventure! The desire to see new places, meet new people, experience new cultures, has aided me to share with you my new adventure.

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We are sharing our adventures to not only document our full-time living in a 5th wheel but to provide others with information.  Our extensive research involved searching for answers to these questions: how to begin this lifestyle, what RV is best to live in full-time and what jobs could we do to support our dream.  However, we did not find a lot of answers out there that pertained to our quest.  Quickly we realized people choose this lifestyle and their RV for many different reasons.  There is no right or wrong answer.  We are here to provide you with another perspective.

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