Growing up, I was taught to evaluate an expenditure based on its potential earning power. In other words, if you’re renting an off-site storage unit, what, if any, will be the long-term return on your investment?

Start by assigning a cash value to the cost of renting a storage unit. In Southwest Florida, the average fee for a 10’ x 20’ unit is $277/month. That’s $3,324 a year! If you were to pay rent for five years, you’ve got yourself a deficit of $16,260!

(Note: Rates are based on pricing provided by 10 storage facilities in Southwest Florida in January 2017.)

Now imagine putting down an additional $277/month toward paying off the principal on your home mortgage or paying off any existing credit card debt. Need I say more?

THE PIANO: A friend paid more than $11,000 to move her beloved baby grand from one house into storage, and then, five years later, from storage into another house. And did I mention she doesn’t play the piano?

THE BOOKCASE: When a friend’s son left for college, she insisted he would want his 20-year old mattress and box springs upon graduation…needless to say, four years later, he didn’t. The damage? $7,200 in rental fees plus the cost of having 1-800-GOT-JUNK haul it all away.

THE CAR: How about the woman who has kept a 1990 Acura (145,000 miles) in her garage for more than 3-1/2 years while storing the things that should be kept in her garage in a storage unit. According to, her car is worth $1,234 – max! By my calculations, she’s spent more than five times that amount in rental fees.

If you still insist on keeping the monkey on your back, following is a step-by-step guide to organizing your off-site storage unit:

STEP #1: Decide in advance what your goal is and stick to it! Remember, you have only two options; either clear out the unit completely or consolidate and “downsize” into a smaller unit.

STEP #2: Choose an “absolute” deadline to complete the task. Remember, the BIG PICTURE is to save money, get organized and simplify your life.

STEP #3: You have a goal. You have a deadline. There’s no turning back, so check your emotional baggage at the door; put on your grubbiest clothes and a pair of sturdy shoes; buy plenty of bottled water, high-energy snacks, trash bags, latex gloves and surgical facemasks and go for it!

STEP #4: Be it a closet, office, drawer, cabinet, garage or storage unit, when it comes to getting organized, the process is exactly the same: EMPTY, SORT, CLEAN & DECIDE. Take for example, the ubiquitous junk drawer, the first task is to completely EMPTY the drawer out onto a countertop; next is to SORT through and cull each and every item asking yourself: “Do I need it? Do I want it? Do I use it? Do I like it? Then, before putting anything back, you need to CLEAN the drawer. The last step is to DECIDE what to do with all the stuff.

STEP #5: If you’ve decided to get rid of all or most of the “stuff,” how do you do it? Simply put: donate, consign, give away, sell or, in the case of old paperwork, be smart and hire an on-site shredding company to securely shred your records. (How to hold onto the memories without saving all the stuff will be explored in a future Get Organized column.)

Finally, if you’re saving something because you think your kids want it or because your kids think you should store it for them, it’s time to cut the cord. Take a photo of the item and text it to them, along with a deadline (max: 30 days) to remove the item(s) from storage. If they still want it, after being told they will need to pay for the shipping, or worse, pay to store it themselves, my guess is they’ll tell you to pitch it.

HIRE A PROFESSIONAL: Dollar for dollar, hiring a professional organizer to help expedite the project and keep you on task will cost less than the cost of renting the unit for a another year; not to mention the peace of mind you’ll achieve once you’ve cleared out all the “stuff” and moved on with living your life!

If today’s column hasn’t convinced you that renting an off-site storage unit is insane, think about what happens 10, 15 or 20 years from now when your loved ones are faced with the daunting task of having to clear out the unit only to discover a surfeit of moldy baseball cards, boxes of old hotel amenities, shabby pillows, bedding and silk flower arrangements, bins of old trophies, vinyl records and disintegrating books and photographs, et cetera. The greatest gift you can give yourself and others is to simplify your life by getting rid of the storage unit once and for all.