Pack tight, safe and secure

For some, the process of storing stuff is to toss everything into a unit, lock the door, and leave. That can work for those with less valuable items and lots of extra storage room. The rest of us would be well advised to be more discerning and deliberate in our self-storage strategy.

For example, an efficient and well-thought-out storage plan can minimize the size of unit needed-saving money and providing an organized way to retrieve certain items when needed. Then, there's safeguarding of possessions from thieves and the elements to consider, along with any desired insurance to cover losses if they do occur.

Taking some time upfront to develop a self-storage plan can be well worth the investment. Here are some ideas/areas to address as part of that plan:

1. Determine if you need a climate-controlled unit. Think of it as the difference between storing items in your house or an unheated garage. While a garage provides protection against many environmental factors (e.g., drenching rain), your possessions may be subject to extreme temperature fluctuations, humidity and possibly moisture seeping through the garage door and other points of entry.

If you have items such as artwork that can be degraded or destroyed by humidity, moisture or major temperature swings, then a climate-controlled unit is likely the way to go.

2. Know your insurance coverage. First, determine what, if any, insurance the facility provides for individual units (and make sure this matches up to state insurance rules and regulations). Read this very carefully and, if needed, confirm that your understanding of the information is accurate. Based on what is/is not covered by the facility, engage an insurance specialist to assess additional contents insurance. Some facilities offer this additional self-storage tenant insurance; others offer protection plans.

According to Inside Self-Storage magazine, "Self-storage tenant insurance is the transfer of risk from one entity (your tenant) to another (your provider's insurance carrier) in exchange for payment. Those payments are pooled by the insurance carrier to pay claims within that pool. The carrier is required to provide the tenant with a contract (policy) that outlines the terms of coverage and his rights under that contract. Tenant-protection plans are a contractual relationship between the tenant and the storage operator. Under a protection plan, the operators agrees to retain limited responsibility for the tenant's property under very specific terms and conditions."

3. Don't store what you can't stand to lose. Generally, this falls into either sentimental or irreplaceable items (e.g., one-of-a-kind artwork) for which no amount of monetary compensation is suitable. In these cases, it is worth pursuing more secure types of storage than the typical self-storage facility provides. If you choose to proceed anyway, make sure the items are well protected from the elements and not readily apparent to a thief who likely will seek out obvious items of value. You also might consider adding your own alarm system to the unit.

4. Give yourself some space. Consult an experienced storage consultant if you're not sure how big a unit you need. Besides sheer volume, there may be specialized considerations such as the need for easy access to certain items, which will require additional clearance such as aisles. There also may be stacking issues, where maximizing available cubic space may harm or even crush items beneath. And, of course, there always are those irregular/awkwardly shaped items. In these situations, plan for additional floor space or develop a shelving system to support the items. As part of this process, identify and make easily accessible items you may want to get to periodically/frequently.

5. Pack smart. Don't skimp when it comes to getting uniform size boxes and packing materials. Free boxes from the local store may suffice in some cases, but generally having quality boxes with tops, bubble wrap/packing peanuts, and suitable tape will prove the best way to go. As much as possible, make each box solidly packed with items and such fillers as packing peanuts, bubble wrap or newspaper.

6. Consider critters. Even in a new, clean facility, unwanted vermin and insects can find their way in and potentially wreak havoc. To prevent or at least control problems, do some research and apply counter-measures as needed. First, check with the facility staff about any reported problems, both complex-wide and in your area; and what, if any, routine pest control measures they use. If you don't feel confident about the situation, get suggestions about what additional measures to take within your unit.

For example, the cleanest facility in the world may still be vulnerable to cockroaches if items stored in a nearby unit are attracting them. Once they show up, they tend to spread. If there's anything in your unit that could be subject to problems with cockroaches (or, if you just don't want them in the vicinity), beef up protection in your unit.

In summary, the more valuable you deem your valuables to be-whether it's sentimental, monetary or other considerations-the more time is worth spending to make sure everything is adequately protected and easily accessible.

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