My wife and I recently moved apartments for the first time in years.
Moving sucks in general, but the worst part was feeling like our past selves betrayed us by buying all this stuff that was now burying us alive.
We managed to dig ourselves out, but many people in the same situation end up stowing their excess possessions in storage units. A standard storage unit can cost up to $180 a month, with higher costs for climate-controlled units, according to Move.org. (Learn whether the belongings in a storage unit are covered by renters insurance.)
If you want to free yourself from the cost of a storage unit, you have to first free yourself from your excess stuff.
Cutting down on your possessions
Conduct an audit of all your extra stuff, said Lisa Mark, a certified professional organizer and productivity consultant based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Start with the largest possessions, like furniture, which can potentially free up the most space.
Save items with emotional significance for last. They'll be the hardest, most time-consuming decisions.
"A box of memorabilia which yields, a foot-and-a-half of cubic space once it's freed up might take more time than any non-memorabilia items in the unit combined," Mark said.
You don't have to get rid of all your unwanted possessions for free. Learn how to turn your old clothing, books and other stuff into money.
When to hire help
Some people turn to professional organizers like Mark to help them sort through their clutter. Compared to paying for a storage unit month after month, a professional organizer who can push you to get rid of stuff can be a lot less expensive, Mark said. Organizers typically charge by the hour with rates varying depending on the size of the project.
Mark recently helped a client who had paid $5,000 a month for four 10-by-20 storage units for five years after a move from the Midwest.
Hiring a professioanl can be a significant cost up front, Mark said, but even if you are only able to reduce the number of storage units you're paying for by one, the savings could be worth it.
"After a certain point it's more advantageous to dive in and make those decisions and try to minimize the amount you pay for storage," Mark said.
The National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals provides resources for finding a professional organizer. Mark recommends interviewing multiple candidates before deciding on an organizer.
Avoid accumulating in the first place
"Generally the reason people have items in storage units in the first place is because they don't have room in their dwelling," Mark said.
Before buying something, ask if you'll really use it. If not, it could cost you now and, if you end up paying to store it, in the future.
"Ask yourself if your future self is going to thank your current self for purchasing it," Mark said.
When you need a storage unit
This doesn't mean you should avoid using storage units altogether. There are some situations where their use is justified, like if you're remodeling your home, or if a family member dies and you're not emotionally ready to go through their stuff.
Ideally, the use of a storage unit is temporary or targeted for a specific use, Mark said. If it's just a way for you to put off deciding what to do with the stuff that won't fit in your house, you may want to examine whether it's the best use of your money.
Want more money answers in your inbox? Sign up for the Policygenius newsletter.
Image: Steve Johnson