How to Rent a Storage Unit: A Beginner’s Guide

It’s estimated that nearly 40% of Americans use self-storage units. When you consider all the other storage solutions that are available, it’s easy to assume that millions of people make use of storage facilities outside their own home.

But if this is the first time you’ve found yourself in need of a storage unit, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed by how many options are out there.

What type of storage unit should you get? How big of a storage unit do you need? How can you find one of the best self-storage companies at an affordable price?

In this guide, we’ll cover how to rent a storage unit so you can go through this process with confidence.


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How does a storage unit work?

Storage units are housed at special storage facilities, which often include dozens or even hundreds of units. These stationary storage locations provide a place where you can temporarily store your belongings.

Storage facilities offer several storage unit sizes to meet the needs of their customers. While most facilities provide outdoor units with drive-up access, some offer climate-controlled storage units that are housed indoors for extra protection against extreme temperatures and humidity. Some also offer vehicle storage and other specialty options.

Most storage units are available on a month-to-month basis, with no long-term contracts. This gives you the flexibility to rent a storage unit for as long or as short a time as you need, with the option to move out at any time. You can generally access your items as frequently as you need while you are renting the unit, though hours of availability can vary by location.

When do you need self-storage?

There are several common situations when homeowners will need to use a self-storage facility:

  • Moving to a new home: If you need to move out of your old house before your new home is ready for you to move in, a storage unit will provide a convenient place to keep everything until moving day.
  • Seasonal storage: Many households keep seasonal items in storage units during the off-season to reduce clutter around the house. For example, you could keep your Christmas tree and ski equipment in a storage unit during the summer and store your lawn equipment during the winter.
  • Home renovations: If you need to move furniture and other household goods out of the way during a home renovation, placing them in a storage unit can help minimize clutter and the risk of damage.
  • College or military storage: College students may use a storage unit for their dorm room belongings when they go home for the summer. Military service members will often place their belongings in storage when deployed overseas.

Types of storage unit rentals

There are two main types of storage facilities you should be aware of when renting a storage unit: self-storage facilities and full-service facilities. Both types of facilities generally offer standard and climate-controlled storage unit options. Here’s what you should know about these options.


Self-storage units are a popular rental option, thanks to their flexibility and affordability. Self-storage facilities generally offer 24-hour access via a gate access code, allowing renters to come and go at almost any time. This lets you add or remove items to your storage unit at a schedule that is most convenient for you. An onsite facility manager is usually available during office hours to provide administrative assistance when needed.

Self-storage facilities offer a wide range of unit sizes, from small lockers to large 10 x 30-foot units that are large enough to hold the contents of a three- to five-bedroom house. Some facilities offer climate-controlled storage, but this isn’t always the case.

The big factor to consider with self-storage is that you’ll have to do all the work yourself. You will need to load and empty your storage unit on your own or hire moving help from a third party. Storage facilities generally don’t track what’s inside your unit, so you’ll need to keep track of this yourself.

Full-service storage

Full-service storage provides additional security and assistance moving your items in or out of the storage unit. The storage company’s crew will come to your home to transport your items after you schedule a pickup. You won’t have to do any of the heavy lifting yourself, which can save a lot of time and energy.

As part of their services, full-service storage companies will usually photograph and inventory your items before placing them inside a storage unit. This way, you’ll always know exactly what is in your storage unit.

Not surprisingly, this higher level of service comes at a much higher price than self-storage costs. Still, many people find the peace of mind and full-service support to be worth the extra cost. This is especially true in urban areas, where parking and driving options are limited and transporting items on your own can be a hassle.

Storage unit costs

There are several factors that can influence storage unit costs. Understanding what can increase or decrease your storage costs will help you find a solution that fits your budget and storage needs.

Storage unit cost factors

Let’s break down some of the main factors that will influence your storage unit costs:

  • Unit size: The monthly cost of a storage unit will increase with its size. However, the cost per square foot may actually be cheaper with a larger unit than with a smaller unit.
  • Contract length: While most self-storage facilities offer month-to-month contracts, full-service facilities are more likely to offer extended contracts. Sometimes, you’ll get a slight discount on your monthly fees if you choose a longer contract. Both types of facilities often offer discounts on first month’s rent and other seasonal specials that can help you save. (Check our Storage Unit Discount Guide here!)
  • Standard or climate-controlled unit: Climate-controlled units offer much-needed protection against extreme temperatures and humidity but they cost more for the storage facility to operate. As a result, you’ll pay anywhere from $20–$50 more per month for a climate-controlled unit.
  • Specialty storage needs: If you have special needs like motorcycle or RV storage, you’ll generally have to pay more than you would for a standard unit. Read our guide on how to store an RV here!
  • Demand: Just like with moving companies, storage unit prices will be more expensive in high-demand areas like Los Angeles and New York City. Many storage facilities also see higher demand between May and September, which can result in higher prices during this time.
  • Location-specific features: Even within the same company, different locations can offer different features. For example, you might pay more for a facility that has 24/7 onsite security than one that just has security camera monitoring. A storage facility with multiple floors may charge different amounts for ground-level and upper-level units.

You should also check out our article on the cheapest storage options!

Choosing the right storage unit

So, how can you choose the right storage unit for your needs? To find storage that works for you, you’ll want to consider some important factors.

First, you’ll need to make sure you find the right size storage unit for the items you need to store. Obviously, you want enough space to fit all of your stuff. However, you also don’t want to rent a unit that is too large, as this means you’ll be paying for storage space you don’t use.

For example, a 10×20 unit is generally recommended for storing the contents of a two- to three-bedroom home, while a 5×5 unit is only recommended for very small moves. A storage unit size guide can help you determine what will be best for your needs.

You should also make sure that a storage facility offers the right type of storage for your needs. If you need boat storage, for instance, you should never assume that every self-storage facility has this option, as many don’t. If you have sensitive items such as antiques, documents, or plastic or vinyl products, you should use a climate-controlled unit.

Access is another important consideration. Some facilities only allow you to access the unit during office hours, while others enable 24/7 access with a gate code. Depending on when you need to access your unit, an office hours-only facility may not be a good fit. Similarly, make sure your storage location is easily accessible for you, especially if you will be visiting your unit often.

Finally, make sure your facility has adequate security features. At a minimum, your facility should have video monitoring and coded gate access to keep criminals from trying to access your items.

Storage unit tips

With all of the above in mind, here are a few final tips that will make the process of renting and using a storage unit go smoothly:

  • Always review your rental agreement. You don’t want to think you’re getting a short-term rental only to get locked into a long-term contract. Double-check the terms and conditions to ensure you fully understand monthly rates, move-in and move-out fees and requirements, and other aspects of your rental. This document will also list items you cannot store in your unit, such as food, paint, or chemicals.
  • Book your storage unit online. Many storage facilities offer significant discounts when you book your rental online rather than doing a walk-in rental. You can pay online using your credit card and make your reservation in minutes.
  • Disassemble furniture. To fit more items into your storage unit and reduce the risk of damage, consider disassembling larger pieces of furniture, such as wardrobes or mattress frames.
  • Organize items properly. Stack larger and heavier boxes on the bottom, with smaller and lighter boxes on top. Avoid placing heavy boxes on top of fragile items. Label everything, and store items you’ll need to access more often near the front of the unit. This will make it easier to find what you need.

FAQs about renting a storage unit

What is the most rented storage unit size?

The most rented storage unit size in the U.S. was 10×10. Roughly the size of a small bedroom, this unit size is popular for a variety of short-term needs, such as storing items during a remodel or apartment move, as well as to free up garage space.

Do I need a storage unit that is climate-controlled?

You should use a climate-controlled unit if you will be storing items that are vulnerable to humidity and extreme temperatures. This could include items such as artwork, clothing, paper documents, bedding, and wax or vinyl products.

What should I look for in a storage unit?

Always check reviews for storage companies online so you can get an idea of any potential issues with pricing or security. You should also check the company’s website to confirm they have the storage options you need, such as climate-controlled storage or vehicle storage. Look for facilities with good pricing, adequate security, and accessibility.

How do I transport items to a storage unit?

For a self-storage unit, you’ll likely need a truck rental to transport your items to the facility. However, full-service storage facilities will transport items for you.

Should I insure my items in storage?

Many storage providers also offer optional insurance to renters to protect their items in storage from covered hazards like fire or theft. Insurance is generally recommended if you’ll be storing expensive or hard to replace items. It may not be needed if you’re storing easily replaceable belongings, though it can still offer peace of mind.

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