Storage Units vs. Moving Containers: A Comparison Guide

For many households, a big part of any move is finding a temporary storage solution. And nowadays, that often means deciding between using a more traditional storage facility or moving containers.

Storage facilities allow you to rent storage space on a temporary basis, and most of the best self-storage companies offer 24/7 access, climate-controlled units, and other amenities. You can load or empty the storage container at any time on your own or with the help of a moving company.

Moving container companies, on the other hand, deliver storage pods to your home. You can use moving containers for temporary storage at your property, or you will have a limited time to load them before the moving company picks up the container and moves it to your new home.

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So, which option is right for you? We’ll compare storage units vs. moving containers, going over the pros and cons of each option to help you make the right choice.

Storage units: Pros and cons

Self-storage units are the most common type of storage used during a move. With several unit sizes and storage options available, self-storage facilities can provide a temporary storage solution during a local move, or can be used for an extended period for storing seasonal items if you need extra space around the house.


Check out our guide to the best self-storage companies to pick one that fits your storage needs.

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Storage unit pros/cons

  • Flexibility: Self-storage facilities generally offer month-to-month contracts, making it easy to use them for as long as you need, whether you need short-term storage while you get ready to move into a new place or long-term storage for your seasonal items or other pieces.
  • Easy access: Many storage facilities offer 24/7 drive-up access with a gate code. This makes it easy to fill or empty your storage unit at your own pace, on a schedule that works best for you. You can access your items any time they’re in storage.
  • Several unit sizes: Storage unit sizes range from small “foot lockers” and 5×5-foot units to large 10×30-foot units that can fit the contents of more than six rooms.
  • Climate-controlled units available: Many facilities offer climate-controlled units, which offer extra protection against extreme temperatures and humidity. This can be especially valuable when storing sensitive items like wooden furniture, musical instruments, or books for an extended period of time.
  • Low costs: Storage units are generally much cheaper than using a moving container storage facility.
  • Extra loading and unloading: When renting a storage unit, you have to load and unload everything twice. You’ll need to load items onto the moving truck and unload them at the unit when moving in, then load everything back onto the moving truck when moving out. This can create a lot of extra work, especially if you only need storage for a short period of time.
  • Not suited for long-distance moves: Self-storage facilities aren’t very convenient if you’ll be moving to another city or state for your move. You’ll need to find a new storage facility in the place you’re moving to or leave items behind.

Moving containers: Pros and cons

Moving containers (also sometimes called moving pods) are a popular option for semi-DIY moves where people load up the container and a moving container company transports it to the new home. Portable storage containers from companies like U-Haul, 1-800-Pack-Rat, and U-Pack can also sometimes be used as temporary storage solutions.

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Moving container pros/cons

  • Great for long-distance moves: The movers will drop off the container at your house, after which you can load it up. When the container is ready, the company will take the container to your new home — no need to drive a moving truck yourself. Many companies offer temporary storage as an option for these moves.
  • Less loading and unloading: Unlike a storage facility, you only need to load and unload the moving container a single time.
  • Multiple location options: Depending on your storage needs, you may be able to keep the moving container onsite for easier access. Moving container companies can also store the container at their own facilities.
  • Scalable storage: While most companies offer few container sizes, you can typically rent as many containers as you need to store your items, giving you greater storage flexibility.
  • Not well-suited for local moves: Many moving container companies only offer their moving services for long-distance moves. Help with local moves isn’t always available.
  • Limited loading and unloading time: When using a moving container for a move, you’ll generally only have three business days to load the container and three days to unload everything at your new home.
  • Limited access: When using a moving container for temporary storage — like during a household renovation — you won’t be able to access the container while it is at the company’s facility. This is a relatively common concern, since many properties cannot legally or practically keep a storage container onsite.
  • Higher costs: Monthly fees for moving containers tend to be much higher than a self-storage unit. Some providers also charge additional fees for delivering and picking up the container.

Cost of storage units vs. moving containers

Keeping moving costs at a manageable level is an important consideration when choosing storage options. Here’s a closer look at the average cost you can expect for each storage option, as well as the factors that can influence your costs.

Of course, costs can vary between providers, so you should always get multiple quotes before making a final decision.

Storage unit costs

Monthly storage unit prices can range from as little as $57 per month to over $300 per month.

There are three main factors that will influence the cost of your storage unit: its size, location, and whether or not you rent a climate-controlled unit.

The larger the storage unit, the more expensive it will be. Storage companies also vary their prices based on availability and demand in a particular location — places like Los Angeles will generally be much more expensive than somewhere like Milwaukee. Renting a climate-controlled unit can add $20–$50 per month to the cost of a standard unit.

In addition to your monthly rent (which can increase over time), many facilities charge move-in and move-out fees. Some also require an upfront deposit when you move in.

Moving container costs

When using a moving container for storage, you can generally expect to pay around $149 per month per container. As with traditional storage units, you will pay more for a larger container, and your costs could also be influenced by the level of demand and availability in your area.

In addition to your monthly rental fee, you will typically need to pay $75 pickup and delivery fees when storing a moving container at your own property.

Of course, if you’re using a moving container as part of your move, your costs will be much higher. In this case, your cost will also be based on the distance of your move. Long-distance moves range from $800 to $5,000. Generally speaking, this will be cheaper than using full-service movers.

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How to choose the right storage option

So, what type of storage solution is best for you? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but it largely comes down to your individual situation.

Use a storage unit if:

  • You’ll need to access your storage space on a regular basis
  • You need climate-controlled storage to protect fragile or sensitive items
  • You are temporarily storing items locally
  • You’re moving to a new location within the same city
  • You want to avoid overspending on storage

Use a moving container if:

  • You need temporary onsite storage (such as when doing renovations)
  • You don’t want the hassle of driving a moving truck for a move
  • You want to avoid frequent loading and unloading of your items
  • You don’t need to access items while they’re in storage
  • You need temporary storage for a long-distance move

Storage sizes

Not sure how much storage space you need? Here’s a quick breakdown of the most common storage size options for both storage units and moving containers. Remember, size availability can vary by facility/provider.

Storage unit sizes:

  • 5×5 and 5×10: These are the smallest storage unit sizes, with space similar to a small walk-in closet. They are good for storing boxes but don’t have space for larger furniture.
  • 10×10: 10×10 storage units can fit the contents of two full bedrooms or a large family room. They can fit some pieces of furniture.
  • 10×15: These units can fit the full contents of two bedrooms, with space for larger furniture like couches and pianos.
  • 10×20: 10×20 units are typically large enough to fit the contents of a small house, including appliances like a refrigerator and washer/dryer set.
  • 10×25: These units are sometimes referred to as “garage units” because they are similar in size to a typical two-car garage.
  • 10×30: The largest storage units can fit the contents of a fully furnished house with three to five bedrooms.

Moving container sizes:

  • Eight-foot: Eight-foot storage containers are comparable to a 5×10 storage unit and are generally recommended for studio apartments or spaces of less than 500 square feet.
  • 12-foot: 12-foot storage containers are similar in size to 10×10 storage units, with space for a one-bedroom home.
  • 16-foot: A 16-foot storage container is comparable to a 10×15 storage unit, with space for the contents of a home up to 1,200 square feet.

FAQs about storage options

What is the difference between a storage unit and a container?

A storage unit is a stationary part of a self-storage facility. You take your items to the storage unit and unload them there. However, you can access the contents of your storage unit at any time.

Storage containers are delivered to your property, where you generally have a limited amount of time to load them. Storage containers can be stored at your property or at the company’s own facility. When stored off-site, you generally don’t have access to your possessions.

Which is better: a storage unit or a pod?

The best option largely comes down to your specific storage needs.

Storage units are better for local moves, situations when you need to access items while they’re in storage, or when you need climate-controlled storage.

Moving containers or pods are better for shipping household goods for long-distance moves or when you’d like to store items onsite.

When money is a concern, choose a storage unit, as they are usually cheaper than comparable containers.

How much does it cost to use a storage container?

When using a moving container for storage, expect an average cost of $149 per container per month, plus $75 each in delivery and pickup fees. Your costs may vary based on the size of the container and demand in your area.

What is the advantage of a storage unit?

Storage units are great for storing items on a temporary or long-term basis. They offer convenient access to your items, the ability to fill or empty your unit at your own pace, and flexible contract terms. This makes them well-suited for moves, storing seasonal items, or even getting extra storage space to help declutter your home.

What items can’t be stored in a storage unit or moving container?

Most companies do not let you store hazardous items such as flammable liquids, guns and ammunition, or chemicals. These dangerous items could cause damage to the unit or container.

In addition, you cannot store food, plants, and other perishable items that could attract pests.

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