12 Things You Should Know Before You Rent a Self-Storage Unit

At a glance

From stashing your Beanie Baby collection out of sight to storing extra furniture after downsizing, there are plenty of reasons to rent a self-storage unit.

But if it’s your first time leasing one, you may not know the ins and outs of the storage business. We’re here to help. From unit pricing to usage rules, we’ll tell you everything you need to know before you sign on the dotted line.

What you should know before renting a storage unit

Self-storage facilities offer short- and long-term options for keeping home, personal, and business goods secure.

Whether you’re a college student stashing your stuff for the summer, a small-business owner storing files, or a new homeowner waiting on construction to be completed, you can use your self-storage unit to house your belongings (without having to resort to your parent’s basement).

Before you move everything in, get your self-storage unit questions answered in our first-timer’s guide.

1. What should I look for in a self-storage unit?

Making sure the unit you rent is safe and secure is a top priority, but here are a few other self-storage services to check for before you commit:

  • Accessibility: Does the facility offer 24-hour access and weekend availability? Ensure you can get to your goods when you need them most.
  • Security: Locks, video monitoring, in-person surveillance, and security gates or doors all offer protection for your priceless items.
  • Pricing: Ask for specials and online discounts, and note any pricing variability in the contract to get the best bang for your buck.
  • Availability: If you need a specific size or type of unit, be sure your storage location has one open.
  • Location: While a facility closer to a city may be more convenient, it can cost you more. Balance convenience with price based on how often you need access to your unit.
  • Reviews: What current and former customers think matters. Surly staff, robbery reports, and one-star reviews should knock any self-storage facility off your list.
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No matter how cheap the rent is, if you have a pulse, you don’t belong in a storage unit. Not only is it a violation of the lease to have humans or animals living in storage, but you could also get trapped if someone locks your unit from the outside!

2. What do you need to rent a storage unit?

Prepare to show some identification: you must provide a valid, government-issued form of ID to rent your storage unit. Here are your options:

  • Driver’s license
  • State ID
  • Passport
  • Military ID

You’ll also have to sign a storage unit agreement or contract (which you should definitely read from beginning to end!) and follow the rules it lays out.

3. How is the cost of a self-storage unit determined?

What you pay for your storage unit will vary based on the size of the unit and how long you plan to store your stuff. Many self-storage facilities offer month-to-month contracts, but you could get a discount by signing up for a longer term.

Pricing can also depend on whether your unit is indoors or outdoors, if it has drive-up access, and whether you need climate control. Location is also a huge factor. Expect a pricing surge in metropolitan areas like Washington, DC and New York City and more budget-friendly rates in less busy ‘burbs.

Learn the ins and outs with our detailed self-storage pricing guide.

4. How do you get your stuff to a storage unit?

While you can max out the trunk space in your Mazda, we suggest taking advantage of free truck rentals from select self-storage companies. A truck rental allows you to transport your bulky items in a single load, which cuts down the time (and headache) of moving into or out of your unit.

CubeSmart, Life Storage, Total Storage Solutions, and others include a truck rental with storage unit sign-up at select locations. And if you’re storing with U-Haul, you can rent a truck for a day.

Interested in our take on CubeSmart’s storage options? Read our complete CubeSmart Review.

5. Can you rent a storage unit for a week?

This depends on the company. Some self-storage companies—like U-Haul—don’t require a storage contract, meaning you can rent on a super short-term basis. Expect a higher rate per day for this type of storage.

Many other companies, like CubeSmart and Extra Space Storage, have storage unit rules and regulations that require at least a month-to-month contract. Renting on this schedule will typically net you a better rate too.

Want to know more about Extra Space Storage’s options? Check out our full Extra Space Storage Review.

6. Do you need a climate-controlled storage unit?

While all of your belongings can benefit from climate control, it’s especially important for items like clothing and furniture to prevent mold and mildew from growing. Protect your most prized possessions from extreme heat, cold, and humidity with climate-controlled storage units, which maintain temperatures between 55 and 80 degrees all year long.

Climate-controlled units generally cost more than standard storage, but the extra cost is worthwhile to ensure temperatures and humidity never rise or fall dramatically enough to damage your goods.

Here are a few items that we recommend placing in climate-controlled storage:

  • Wooden and leather furniture
  • Clothing
  • Photos
  • Artwork
  • Electronics
  • Instruments
  • Stamps
  • Household appliances
  • Antiques


7. Can you work in a storage unit?

As tempting as it may be to use your storage unit as an office, don’t. Living or working in a storage unit is illegal and a violation of the terms of your lease.

You can, however, use your unit to store files and stash any other business-related goods. Plus, many storage facilities have on-site business centers where you can work, print documents, and mail packages. That’s a serious upgrade from working in a dark, windowless cavern!

8. Can you work on a car in a storage unit?

Since flammable and hazardous chemicals are no-nos in storage facilities, most reputable companies aren’t down to let you use your unit as your own personal auto body shop. Plus, the lack of electricity in storage units could make fixing a car inside a challenge.

That said, many top self-storage companies offer vehicle storage. So whether you’re stashing a vintage hot rod or keeping a car safe while you’re on an extended trip, self-storage units can be the perfect place to park your ride.

9. How do you save space in a storage unit?

Did you know that simply packing your belongings more efficiently may mean you can rent a smaller storage unit? This is one of the easiest ways to save on storage unit costs—so knowing how to pack is key.

  • Stack your stuff. Storage units typically have high ceilings. Use stackable bins and arrange furniture to fill the space all the way to the top.
  • Disassemble bulky furniture. Remove chair and table legs to stack and store furniture in less space.
  • Fill ‘er up. Don’t leave hollow spaces empty. Fill dressers or wardrobes with smaller items to maximize space.
  • Leave an aisle. The last thing you want to do is have to unload your whole storage unit whenever you need something. Leave space to get at your goods easily.

Follow our time-tested packing tips for loading your storage unit.

10. What can/can’t you store in a storage unit?

Storage units are built to hold household and business goods like furniture, files, and clothing. They are not designed for anything toxic, dangerous, or alive. Here are a few examples of what not to store:

  • Flammable or combustible items
  • Hazardous materials
  • Food or items that attract bugs
  • Living things (e.g., plants, animals, humans)

For a full list of what NOT to store, check out our guide to self-storage do’s and don’ts.

11. Do you need insurance for a storage unit?

Not-so-fun fact: storage companies are not responsible for the contents of your unit. So if a break-in, flood, or act of God occurs, the company doesn’t have to pay for or replace your belongings. For this reason, we highly recommend opting into storage insurance.

But before you commit to the insurance offered by your storage facility, check with your homeowners or renters insurance to see if you can add storage to your policy—it may even be included at no extra cost!

12. What do you do if your storage unit is broken into?

Your storage facility can have all the latest and greatest security features, and theft can still occur. If you’re a victim of a storage unit robbery, you’ll only be able to make an insurance claim if you’ve purchased a policy before placing your items in storage.

If you opted out, you’re likely up a creek without a paddle as the facility is not liable unless the theft was due to neglect (i.e., company staff left a gate or door unlocked). If you’re insured and a theft occurs, make a claim as soon as you find out what’s missing.

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Make an inventory of everything you have stored in your unit to provide to your insurance company. This will simplify the claims process in the event of damage or theft.

Recommended resources

If you’re ready to rent a storage unit, find a reliable option with our self-storage company picks:

People also asked

Still have questions? Here are a few of our most popular storage unit FAQs:

About Jenny Willden

Jenny Willden
Jenny’s been writing stories since she first picked up a pencil and is lucky to call it her profession. She’s lived in five U.S. states (and counting) and uses her mishaps to help you master your next move.
  • Sophia Slate

    Thank you for stating that you should ask for specials and online discounts before getting a storage unit. My husband and I are currently looking for a storage unit. I will definitely utilize all of your great tips and information when looking for a storage unit. https://airportnorthstorage.com/

  • Ellie Davis

    It’s interesting to know that you need to consider the accessibility of a storage facility before you choose one. My husband and I are thinking about decluttering our garage, and we are looking for advice to find a place to put all those items. I believe that a self-storage unit will be a great idea to store all those items and have more room in our garage. http://www.elkhartmovingandstorage.com/services

  • Megan Alder

    Thanks for the information about storage units and for explaining the different types that you can choose. I recently inherited some items from my grandmother and I want to properly store them. Where I live it gets terribly cold so I’d like to rent a storage unit that has heat so when I have to go get an item I don’t have to suffer from the cold. http://www.storitestorageak.com/self-storage

  • Sophia Slate

    I like how you mentioned that storage units typically have high ceilings. My husband and I are thinking about moving into a smaller house this summer now that all of our kids are gone, and are considering getting a storage unit during the transition of our move. I will definitely keep all of your great information on getting a storage unit in the summer in mind when trying to find the perfect unit for my family and I. https://www.giantlockbox.com/storage-containers-for-rent-new-york/

  • Charles walk

    I didn’t know before that if we are going to be storing clothes, that we should consider getting a unit that is climate-controlled. My wife and I are going to be moving to a new home, but we will need to find a storage unit to put our belongings in until the home is done being built. We will have some clothes in the boxes. Because of that, I will be sure to consider a climate-controlled unit. https://sequimstorage.com/unit-sizes-and-rates/

  • Adam Golightly

    My brother is thinking about getting a storage unit so that he can put away his extra car during the winter when he can’t use it. Getting some space from a professional could be really useful for him and allow him to be more flexible with his space. I liked what you said about how it may be a bit pricer because of the location and how it should be outdoor, and drive-up access. http://www.garagecondos.com/

  • James Getchell

    I paid 6 months rent on a storage unit for an ex wife. She then borrowed money that she won’t pay back and stole some items from my home. I want a refund on the remaining 5 months. Am I entitled to change my mind on helping out someone who is helping themselves? I paid but I think she put her name on the paperwork. Thanks