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Portable and Fixed Storage Solutions

by Mary Leigh Howell

From downsizing to delays, movers often find they need extra storage space for their belongings— after a relocation. But what type of storage is best— portable, self or warehouse? That depends on a number of things. How long will you need to store the items? How valuable are they? Will any be damaged by extremes of temperature or humidity? How often will you need access? Here are some specifics to guide your decision.

Portable Storage

The most flexible type of storage is a portable unit. Made of steel, aluminum or wood, it can be delivered directly to your home before you relocate and you can keep it as long as you need. When you're ready, the company will move it to your new home or to a long-term storage facility.

Portable storage units are available in most cities from companies like PODS and 1-800-Pack-Rat. Units typically come in 12-foot and 16-foot sizes. According to PODS Chief Marketing Officer George Spowart, a 12-foot unit typically will hold two-to-three rooms of furnishings and a 16-foot unit will hold three-to-four rooms.

Costs are determined by geographical location, container size and delivery distance, but monthly rental prices for a 16-foot container are usually $150–$200 per month. Plus you'll pay for hauling the unit to and from your home, with local delivery fees running about $75. 

Temporary containers are permitted in most localities and can fit in a single parking space. But if you live in a historical neighborhood, apartment complex or congested area, play it safe and check with the neighborhood association, complex management or city before ordering your unit.


If you have the time and energy to pack and move items yourself, self-serve, garage-style spaces are affordable options for short- or long-term storage. The size of units varies widely, from closet-sized to ones that can hold a car or an entire household.

Self-storage units are typically metal or concrete buildings with individual, lockable roll-up doors. For easy loading and unloading, select a "drive up" unit where you can back your vehicle directly into the space. Some units offer climate control, but it’s minimal— designed only to avoid extremes of heat and cold.

Two advantages of self-storage stand out. First, it's cost-effective. Small units run about $30–$50 a month, while large units go for $200 and up. Second, you can get to your stuff most any day of the week. Hours and days of access vary, so ask the company about its hours of operation. Some allow 24-hour access, 7 days a week. Facilities usually have security gates and cameras.

Warehouse Storage

Warehouse storage is good for climate control, heightened security and long-term storage. Space options in a warehouse are similar to a self-storage facility with a big difference: the company picks up and stores your belongings for you.

"Our customers often don't have time to move things themselves," says John Chipman Jr. of Chipman Relocations. "Sometimes they have age or physical limitations."

Another advantage of warehouse storage is controlled access, adding a higher level of security. The general public is not allowed inside these facilities, so no one’s peeking at your stored belongings without your knowledge.

How to Choose

To locate the type of storage you need, start with your realtor. He or she has seen many people in your situation and can recommend a local service with a good reputation.

“Another good place is the American Moving and Storage Association,” says Chipman. AMSA awards its ProMover certification only to companies that pass a rigorous review of business practices, promise to uphold ethical standards and conform to government guidelines.

The self-storage industry also has a professional organization, the Self Storage Association. SSA can help you locate a nearby facility.
No matter what type of storage you select, talk to your insurance agent to make sure your belongings will be covered, wherever they're kept.

Mary Leigh Howell specializes in communications for the home, furnishings and garden industries.