Last updated June 2020
America, we need to talk. We simply have too much stuff. The evidence: In the U.S., self-storage companies now rake in nearly $40 billion a year.
If you need to get rid of unwanted possessions, we've shared decluttering strategies plus tips on how to unload—from reselling clothes to donating romance novels to shuttling an entire household’s worth of stuff via an estate sale. (You think you need Marie Kondo, but we think our advice on tidying up and getting rid of junk is more practical and might spark more joy.)
But if you’re moving to a new home that won’t be ready before you vacate the old one, need to get belongings out of the way during a remodel, are getting crowded out by stuff that’s too valuable to part with, or need temporary storage for other reasons, the self-storage industry is ready to rent you a dumping ground.
Our undercover shoppers collected prices from a sampling of self-storage companies throughout the Chicago area. The table below reports the monthly prices we found for two different-sized units assuming we didn’t want to commit for more than a month, plus the total price for one year for each unit if we did agree to keep it for a year. For the month-to-month option, we also report separately any mandatory upfront fees (application or registration fee, cost of required lock purchase, etc.).
Here’s what we found, plus some shopping and storage tips:
We found big facility-to-facility cost differences for similarly sized spaces. For example, to rent a 10-by-20-foot unit for a year, we found prices ranging from $993 to $4,689.
Check different locations.
Even among facilities owned by the same company, you might find substantial price differences. For example, we found a $815 difference between two of the locations we checked for Public Storage for use of a 5-by-10-foot unit for one year.
Consider far-away locales.
You might find lower prices as you get farther out into the suburbs (although you can’t always count on that). If you don’t need to visit your storage unit often, consider grabbing savings available by renting from far-flung facilities. Visiting your unit can then count as a vacation!
Don’t assume chains offer the lowest prices.
We found no consistent price winners among the various self-storage chains.
Availability drives pricing. Check whether renting two or more separate units is less expensive than getting one large space.
Most facilities use dynamic pricing that is guided by availability: If a certain type or size of unit is in short supply, it's offered at a high price. We sometimes found that we'd save by renting two smaller units, compared to leasing one large-size one.
Consider floor level.
Ground-floor storage may be more convenient, but storage on higher floors sometimes costs less. So long as units on higher floors are elevator-accessible (and almost all are), the savings may justify the minor inconvenience.
Many facilities offer climate-controlled units. That makes them more comfortable to be in when you’re moving goods in and out. It also reduces risk of damage to your goods, for instance, from mildew, from freezing if you will be storing liquids, or from heat damage to glues if you will be stashing antique furniture. But climate-controlled units typically cost 20 to 40 percent more.
Consider indoor vs. outdoor access.
At some facilities you have a choice between outdoor access (drive up and unload directly) or inside access (located on a hallway). Outdoor access is often more expensive.
Ask for discounts.
Without even asking, our shoppers were sometimes offered half off the first month’s rent or the first month for $1. Be sure to ask. We found that some facilities became more forthcoming when our shoppers said they would be calling other facilities looking for the best price.
Consider a long-term commitment.
Some storage spots offer lower rates if you commit to six months or a year, or prepay several months’ rent.
Beware of extra fees.
Many facilities charge one-time “administration,” “set up,” or “processing” fees. These junk fees were for the most part modest, but check anyway.
Check your insurance coverage.
If you have a homeowners or renters insurance policy that covers your personal property away from your house, you probably don’t need to buy extra coverage from the storage company; ask your insurer for details to make sure. If your stuff isn’t covered, you can buy insurance from the storage company. It’s usually pretty cheap: At one facility we checked, $10,000 of coverage cost $47 per month.
Check hours of access.
If you’ll need odd-hours access, know that some spots aren’t open 24/7.
Consider other options.
We focused on self-storage facilities, but other options exist for parking your odds and ends. If you need to clear space for a remodel, you can rent a mobile storage container for your driveway; they cost about half what you’d pay at a self-storage facility. And if you want to hire someone to do all this schlepping and storing, moving companies usually offer that. Click here for ratings of local movers.