Safe, Long-Term Storage of Household Goods

If you've had a hobby for a few years, you've probably amassed a collection of items that you need to keep somewhere. As a result you may be considering self-storage either to keep your hobby items in or to put other stuff in so you can keep your hobby items close at hand. And that's where this guide comes in because there's more to safely and effectively storing household items in a self-storage facility than pulling up, placing them in a unit and proceeding on your way. Without taking the appropriate steps ahead of time, your items could be in a lot worse shape when you come back to retrieve them. The good news is that there's nothing particularly tricky or even time consuming that you have to do. Rather, you just need to be aware of the different considerations needed to be made for different types of items. And that's what you'll find below — a comprehensive guide to properly storing your goods.

Pile of Junk that Spells I Have to Much Stuff

Things to Consider

In a self-storage facility, your belongings will be under lock and key. As long as you store them at a reputable place, you shouldn't have to worry about them being stolen. Instead, a more significant concern are the natural forces that can wreak all kinds of havoc on things like furniture, clothing, old documents and tools. By understanding the kinds of things that household goods are exposed to in self-storage facilities, you'll be able to prepare them more effectively.

Out of all of the things that can damage household goods, moisture (including humidity) is the worst. With the exception of things that are made out of plastic, moisture can quickly cause huge amounts of damage. Just because household goods are in an enclosed environment doesn't mean that they won't be exposed. In fact, sealing certain items too tightly can backfire in surprising and troublesome ways. When it comes to fighting back against moisture, air circulation is key. Properly cleaning and drying items before storing them will keep you compounding the problem.

Extreme temperatures can damage certain household goods too. In most cases, however, preparing those items properly beforehand is all that's needed. Power tools and electronics are a prime example. The good news is that steps can be taken to prepare such items for storage in outdoor units, but it's also worth considering climate-controlled, indoor storage.

Dust and debris are also problematic. They accumulate in even the most well-sealed storage units, so you shouldn't assume that your items are adequately protected. When dust and debris work their way into clothes, paperwork, tools and other items, they can cause surprising amounts of damage. Doing something as simple as draping a sheet over a mattress can prevent all kinds of trouble.

Insects, rodents and other pests are sometimes issues too. It's nice to think that they can't get into storage lockers and units, but that's not the case. They're attracted to food and moisture, so thoroughly cleaning household items prior to storing them is key.

Panning Ahead

While some storage tips apply to specific items, certain tactics are useful for storing just about anything.

  • Fill Boxes to Capacity: If you're going to stack boxes containing household items, fill them all to capacity. Otherwise, the boxes are likely to be crushed, which can cause damage to their contents.
  • Buy Boxes that are the Same Size: Using a hodgepodge of different cardboard boxes isn't conducive to safely and effectively storing household goods. Matching boxes can be stacked easily onto one another, and they are less likely to topple over at unexpectedly.
  • Keep Space Around Items: It's tempting to cram as many things together as possible, but this creates a perfect environment for humidity and moisture to run rampant. Remember that the best way to ward off high levels of humidity and moisture is by keeping air circulating. Avoid pushing furniture, boxes and other items directly against walls. Don't push items directly next to one another. Finally, store items on pallets to allow air to flow beneath them too.
  • Clean Items Prior to Storing Them: From wiping down appliances to washing clothes, it pays to store items that are nice and clean. The biggest advantage to doing so is keeping pests at bay, but it can also prevent stains from setting in permanently.
  • Disassemble Things First: You'll be able to maximize space and minimize the risk of damage by disassembling large pieces of furniture and other items prior to storing them.
  • Consider Climate-Controlled Storage: Climate-controlled storage may cost more, but it may also be the only surefire way to keep certain items in excellent shape.

How to Store…

Now that you've got a sense of the best practices, here are some specific tips for some of the more common items. The list is sorted alphabetically to help you zero in on the what you're considering for storage.

  • Bicycles: Many of the considerations for storing a bicycle are the same as other metal objects that can rust. However, you'll also want to over lubricate the chain and derailleurs. Also, consider pulling out the seat so the seat post won't bind to the frame and then plug the hole in the frame. If you have old tires, put them on the bike and store the bike upright. Otherwise, look for a way to take the pressure of the tires to avoid a flat spot once the air has inevitably escaped. The cables connecting the brakes and gears are susceptible to rusting and it's probably worth taking the chance and then just replacing the cables down the road (they're fairly inexpensive). Of course, a low-humidity storage unit would also reduce, and likely eliminate, rusting.
  • Books and Paperwork: If you've ever found an old diary or book in an attic or basement, you're probably already familiar with what the ravages of time can do to paper. To prevent this, paper and books should be stored in smaller boxes. Store books flat rather than on their spines. Papers should be stored flat too if you're concerned about preserving their condition. For files, consider file boxes which will give you easy access to specific documents when necessary. Seal boxes securely with high-quality, moisture-resistant packing tape.
  • Chairs: If the seats of your chairs are made of cloth or leather, stack them seat to seat rather than upright like you see done in auditoriums. This will provide more protection to the most delicate part of the chair and it will also prevent the legs from scratching each other.
  • Clothes, Curtains, and Bedding: Hang clothes in wardrobe boxes rather than folding and stacking them in regular cartons. This ensures that air is able to circulate, which will reduce the risk of mildew, mold and other moisture- and humidity-related problems. Dresser drawers are ideal for storing items that do need to be folded. Storage chests and cedar trunks work well too. Just make sure that clothes and other items are clean and dry before hanging them and putting them away.
  • Electronics: Temperature variations are a key consideration for electronics. Regular expansion and contraction caused by shifts from low to high temperatures can damage electronics. The only real recourse is temperature-controlled storage which will also take care of humidity concerns.
  • Hand Tools: Tools are typically made out of metal, and metal has a tendency to rust and corrode over time. Clean and dry tools thoroughly, and then coat them lightly in machine oil to ward off rust and corrosion. In the case of things like rakes and shovels, tie them together for easier transport and more organized storage.
  • Lampshades: Prevent damage to lampshades, which can be very fragile, by nesting them together and storing them in the same box whenever possible.
  • Mattresses: Mattresses should be clean and dry. For best results, place them in plastic bags. Mattress covers also work in a pinch.
  • Metal Furniture: As with other metal items, including tools, metal furniture should be rubbed down with oil before it is stored. This will reduce the risk of corrosion and rust. Keep dust from accumulating by draping the furniture with blankets or sheets.
  • Mirrors: Depending on the kind of frame that a mirror has, it may need to be rubbed with oil or sprayed with wood furniture polish before it is stored. Either way, store mirrors on their edges. Storing them flat increases the risk of damage. Put them in a corner of the storage unit where people and objects are unlikely to bump into them. Covering or wrapping them with sheets or blankets will keep them clean, but be sure to label them so that they aren't mishandled by accident.
  • Plastic Furniture: Plastic items are pretty durable and don't require much care.  Still, it's nice to find them relatively clean when they are retrieved, so cover them with sheets or blankets. Because plastic is waterproof, it's okay to wrap plastic furniture in plastic before storing it.
  • Power Tools: One danger many overlook with tools is sawdust. While we typically think of sawdust as dry, it actually attracts moisture which can lead to rust – there's no greater concern when it comes to power tools. As such, prepare power tools by giving them the ultimate cleaning. Once cleaned, lubricate key joints and moving parts as you normally would. If you held onto the original plastic case that many power tools now come in, using for storage will afford your tools some added protection.
  • Refrigerators and Freezers: Thoroughly defrost freezers and refrigerators before storing them. Wipe out their interiors to get them as clean and dry as possible. Their doors should be secured, but they should be left ajar after they're placed in the unit. Keeping the door partially open will prevent the buildup of moisture. Moisture accumulation can also ruin the structural integrity of even the most well-designed appliances. Bonus tip: refrigerators and freezers are basically empty boxes so fill them to make the most efficient use of your storage space!
  • Tables: If possible, remove the legs from a table before storing it. This reduces the risk of damage and makes it easier to maximize your storage space.
  • Wood Furniture: Clean wood furniture and make sure it's dry. Prior to storing it, wipe it down with high-quality furniture polish. Drape large items with sheets or blankets. Don't cover wood furniture with plastic; it has a tendency to trap in moisture, which can cause warping and other types of damage.

By taking a measured approach you can safely store all kinds of household items for long periods of time, and they'll look just like you left upon your return.

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