Storage 101: How to Pack for Long-Term vs. Short-Term Self Storage

Everyone relies on self storage for different reasons. Some people are in transition between cities and need a temporary place to store their belongings (while houses are bought and sold, rentals acquired, or the best neighborhoods sought). Others use storage units as an extension of their closets at home. Still others may rotate their belongings seasonally, and use a storage facility as a way to stay organized.

While there is no right or wrong way to tap into the self storage industry, it is important that you recognize your own goals and motivations—if only so you can pack appropriately. Leaving a box of books in storage for a month while you move to a new home is one thing; leaving a box of books for years is quite another, especially if you have rare or leather volumes that need a little extra care. Short-term storage packing is different from long-term storage packing, and knowing the difference before you load everything up can save you time, money, and potentially damaged goods.

Long-Term Storage

Long-term storage is available when you need to keep items safely stowed for any length of time beyond three months. Here are a few tips for making the most out of long-term storage:

  • Avoid packing items in plastic bags. Although it might seem like plastic is more protective against water damage than boxes, the opposite is really true. Plastic can trap humidity and moisture and speed up the mildew/mold process.
  • Buy sturdy boxes. Although you can recycle free boxes from grocery stores, it’s often best to purchase boxes that are similar in size and in good repair. They will be easier to stack and access—and your items will be safer over the long term.
  • Treat fragile items well. Individually wrap fragile items in bubble wrap and/or newspaper and mark their boxes accordingly. These should always go somewhere safe and away from the rest of the stored items.
  • Seal clothes and fabrics. Vacuum-sealed bags are great for storing a wardrobe or valued curtains—and can help protect against damages. If you’ll be keeping clothes in storage, you may want to invest in these.
  • For long-term appliance storage, always wipe down the interiors well (and with an item like baking soda or bleach). Leave the doors ajar and the cords carefully wrapped. Mold brought in on appliances can spread to other items in storage.
  • Place items on pallets (which you can often get for free from home improvement stores). Getting boxes and furniture off the ground helps prevent against damages and keeps the air moving.

Short-Term Storage

Short-term storage is a term used for when your items will be kept in a storage unit for less than three months at a time. You can skip some steps, but should also be careful of your more precious items.

  • Dust covers can replace more intensive packing for short-term storage. Because there isn’t as much time for dirt to settle and moisture to seep in, you may be able to drape large pieces of furniture with a cloth and call it good.
  • Leave an aisle in the middle of your storage unit. Because you’ll be coming and going within a short space of time, you want to be able to get in and get out quickly. Arrange items against the wall and use the vertical space, leaving a walk-through clear.
  • Continue treating fragiles well. Fragile items need just as much care in short-term storage as they do in long-term storage. In fact, they may need more. Because they are being moved around more often, it’s important to protect them against breaking or shifting.

It’s also a good idea to label your items regardless of how long they’ll be in storage. Keeping a solid inventory using a mobile moving app or a checklist can help prevent loss and ensure that each box is stored appropriately for its contents.