Battling the Burden of Self-Storage: A Personal Story

GUEST BLOGGER: Karen Mason, Approachable Business Services

About a year ago, I signed on to support The Organizing Mentors as a social media consultant. It has been a great experience, because to work with Lisa is to see both passion and compassion at work in her business. It’s gratifying to know that the information we share is helping people who are facing the same struggles I’ve faced in the past: the battle with time and energy and emotions surrounding clutter.  It’s only fitting that this month, when we are focused on the unnecessary financial and mental burden of self-storage, that I share my own story.

AN UNEXPECTED BURDEN

In 2010, we bought my childhood home from my mother, downsizing from a house that was almost twice the size, with a large unfinished basement and a 2-car garage. Demanding jobs with long commutes, a wedding, a prom, and a graduation made it difficult to prepare for the move, and we concentrated on packing our belongings rather than purging them. We knew it would be a challenge to fit into an old Victorian style home with no garage and a musty, stacked stone basement, but we hadn’t counted on the decades of family stuff left behind when my mother moved out. Pressed for time, we piled things to the ceiling in the formal dining room and let it go until we could deal with it.

At some point, we set up a large garage-style tent in the back yard, with plans to go through both our things and the things left behind. At first, we made a lot of progress, but it didn’t end well. The tent collapsed in a snow storm, and it was months before I was able to empty the tent – the good news, I suppose, was that we got rid of a lot of things we didn’t need, but there was still a lot left in the house, especially in the basement.

AND SO IT BEGINS…

When my daughter graduated from college in 2014, we moved some things from her apartment into storage until we knew what her next move would be. There was plenty of room, so we added things like our camping and tailgating equipment and seasonal decorations to the mix. We still had very little elbow room in the house, but it solved the problem of where to store items that could not survive the musty basement or too-hot attic.  It would be bad enough if I were to tell you that we kept that storage unit for four years, spending about $4,800. But it’s worse than that. Much worse.

In the fall of 2016, after my husband and I both lost our jobs, we decided to do some painting and refinish the hardwood floors in the living room. With no room to spare in the house, we got that “first month free” at a local storage place and moved things into storage so we could do the work. Things happened. A death in the family, a change of job, the decision to give up the house. By March, we had been paying for another storage unit for four months. Racing against the clock, we got yet another storage unit to stash STUFF and get the house on the market. In the first wave, we did not have time to go through things – we simply boxed it up and moved it out.

A GROWING PROBLEM

From what was left in the house, we donated more than 150 boxes and bags to charity, filled two dumpsters, and left countless bags on the curb on trash day. Still, on the day of our move, we were faced with a basement full of nearly 50 years of things accumulated by my family and we’d barely made a dent. Our Realtor sent a junk hauling company to help us empty the basement, we topped off the third dumpster, and filled a van full of miscellaneous metal that was too heavy to add to the dumpster.

Because there was a week between the day we had to move out of the old house and the day we could move into the new one, the movers took everything to – you guessed it – storage. Let’s tally this up. On the day after we moved, we had the original storage unit from 2014. We had moved the items left in “temporary” storage in March to a larger unit, to which we had added the items we shuffled out of the house to prepare it for showing. And we had a third storage unit to hold the stuff moved from the house on moving day.  A week later, we moved into a four-story, 5 bedroom, 4 ½ bath townhouse. You would think it ends there.

You would be wrong. From the day we moved into that house until the day we moved out, I was never able to park in the garage, and we still had two storage units. A year later, the kidults had moved out and we decided to downsize into a 1,069 square foot apartment.

It was during this time that I was introduced to Lisa Geraci Rigoni and The Organizing Mentors. I attended her presentation on the LITL system of organizing and it really resonated with me. As I went through our belongings, I envisioned our new apartment and how we would use and enjoy the things we moved into it. If it didn’t create value in our lives, I let it go. Before the move, we donated another 150+ boxes and bags full of stuff, took at least one trip to the dump, and continually put extra bags out on the curb on trash day.

AN UNEXPECTED BLESSING

Even after all that, we were still in two storage units – smaller, and much better organized – but with such a tiny apartment, the storage was still a necessary evil, and a relatively small price to pay since our rent dropped more than $1,000 a month.  It was our goal to continue whittling down until we had just one storage unit, so we started maxing out the space in our apartment.

Then two things happened that changed everything. First, I had a spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD), which is an unusual kind of heart attack. Next, we were literally (cigarette) smoked out of our apartment by the neighbors, and the landlord agreed to let us out of the lease just four months after we had moved in. This turned out to be a great blessing. Unable to find a suitable rental in town, we expanded our search.

Honestly, I was hoping that the trade-off for the long commute would be much lower rent, but I was exhausted by stress and my medical issues, so I listened to my Realtor when she said I should look at a more expensive house. I let go of the idea that we had to reduce our rent by $400-500 to make it worthwhile. She found us an affordable single-family home with a garage and a basement — we could finally get out of storage!

PROGRESS, NOT PERFECTION

A year ago today, we got out of storage. I was just a few days out from a medical procedure related to the SCAD so I wasn’t much help, and yes, we still have clutter to handle in our basement and garage. But it’s manageable, and we have a plan to address it all this fall using Lisa’s LITL system.

The total we spent on storage from 2014 to 2018 must be more than $10,000, but I haven’t bothered to add it all up. Regret is a terrible master, so I took Lisa’s advice and let it go along with the clutter.

Karen Mason is the owner of Approachable Business Services, a team of virtual assistants that provides marketing, publishing, customer service and administrative support to business owners on an as-needed basis. She holds a B.S. in Accounting from Shepherd University and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Entrepreneurship.


For more info, check out this video review on storage units from Lisa.