How to Clean Out a Storage Unit

Published on 7/17/2023

Do you feel a pit in your stomach when you think about cleaning out your storage unit? Cleaning and emptying a storage unit isn’t always easy.

Here are some effective ways to clean out your storage unit when you’re moving out or considering donating or selling items; and how to get rid of leftovers.

  1. Take inventory of the contents of the storage unit

The first thing you should do is scan the room and immediately list what’s inside. This step applies whether you’ve inherited a storage unit, bought one at auction, or had it for years and you just haven’t looked inside for a while. If you win the unit at auction you will need to go through this process quickly and in great detail. If it was inherited or you’ve been storing your own items for a while, you can be in less of a hurry.

Use the following steps to evaluate the unit

  • Record what you see. Grab a pen and paper and write down a few important things that will come to you quickly. Wondering if you need an extra person to help clean out the unit? This inventory will help answer that question.

  • Create an open space inside or outside the unit. If space is limited, the corners can be freed up as processing areas. If you don’t have space inside your unit you can set up a temporary pop-up tent so you can work outside but still be out of the sun/rain. Remember to keep your space relatively neat - during and after your work. Also, you cannot block other people’s units with your belongings.

  • Check out the contents. Open as many boxes as possible and quickly see what’s inside. If the box already has a label skip this step. If you have any fragile or important items, write them down next to each box.

               Having a rough checklist before you start moving items will help you know what to do first.

  1. Ask friends for help and schedule a date.

To reduce the likelihood of feeling overwhelmed it’s important to prepare for what’s to come. Set a time to move out your items. Be sure to save time to come back with a tag trash bag and broom to make sure you leave the unit in broom-clean condition.

Before cleaning your unit remember the following:

  • How much time is needed? It may take a couple hours or even a day or more for the storage unit to be completely cleaned out. Plan accordingly so that you have more than enough time and you don’t have to rush at the end.

  • What rules apply to storage unit auctions? If you win a storage unit in an auction it will determine when you need to empty the unit. You may not have a lot of time to sort and clean at the unit - you may need to get everything out within a couple days and sort through everything off-site.

  • How many people do you need? Sometimes it is convenient to have more than one person on hand. Get help first and make sure you have all the support you need—like emotional support (if you’re cleaning a loved one’s unit) and extra muscle.

  • Am I emotionally attached to anything? Remember that getting rid of emotional items can be an overwhelming process. This reaction is natural so don’t blame yourself if you inherited a storage unit or used it to store a loved one’s belongings.

  1. Clean out

Four-Box Declutter is an effective way to classify and declare at scale. The essence of this technique is to use 4 empty boxes to sort as donate/sell and store.

  • The home box contains things that you can take out of storage and take home. 

  • The storage box gets items that should stay in storage. 

  • The sale box gets items you plan to sell or donate. 

  • The last box is a throwaway box that should cover everything that’s damaged or unneeded

  1. Find creative ways to get rid of big items.

If you have a lot of valuables to get rid of, you might want to sell them slowly over time so you’re not bogged down responding to inquiries about the items. If you followed the steps above you should have a four-part storage unit (minus the sale/giveaway storage). Once the organization phase is complete it’s time to put everything away.

                    Consider moving items in the following order:

  • First remove all debris from the unit. If you have too much trash, consider taking it out in multiple loads.

  • Contact a local thrift store to schedule free pickup of donated items. Trash cans should be your last resort for items that can still be used or reused. 

  • If you have any items to donate, load them in your car and deliver them to the donation location.

  • Load the items you’re going to keep into your vehicle and take them out.

  • Finally, all the goods to be sold are moved to a location for further processing/packaging.

  1. Sell items from a storage unit.

Here are several ways to sell items from a storage unit. Popular places on the internet include Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. If you have more expensive items consider selling on eBay or Etsy.

If you prefer the old-fashioned way you can always host gargle sales. Storage options are sometimes offered by some flea markets so you can search for a storage options manager.

  1. If necessary, hire a company.

Many companies can help you get rid of the contents of a storage unit without lifting a finger. Hiring someone can be very helpful if you have no one to help you or are physically unable to clean yourself.