The task of cleaning out a storage unit you haven’t visited in awhile can be overwhelming, but experts have strategies in mind to help you attack the job.

Professional organizer Julie Naylon of Los Angeles said many people rent units, fill them up with possessions and then simply forget about them. “It is out of sight, out of mind,” she said.

Diane Gibson, owner of Cox Armored Mini Storage Management, said she’s aware of some units that hadn’t been visited for 20 years before they were vacated.

Eventually, people might lose track of what they stored in seldom-visited units, Naylon said. “Most of the time,” she said, “people don’t even know what they have in there.”

One Step at a Time

Professional organizer Amy Trager said some of her clients have a hard time beginning the process of cleaning out units they’ve rented for a while. The key is to make a plan, and then take things one step at a time.

“If you are emotionally ready, it is manageable,” Trager said. “You can work your way through it.”

The first step is start opening boxes and taking things out, just to see what you’ve got, she said.

Try to see the task from a positive perspective. You might find precious family heirlooms or valuable items that can be sold or can be donated to charity.

Facing Up to the Job

Karen Dingwall, a former special education teacher who lives in Rancho San Diego, CA, said she was planning her retirement in early 2014 when she realized that her 10×30 self-storage unit hadn’t been touched since 2002. It contained household and teaching items.

When she finally opened the unit, she found boxes stacked wall to wall and covered with a thick layer of dust.

“I was completely overwhelmed,” she recalled. “I wanted just to throw stuff away, but I couldn’t because there were things in there that I wanted for sentimental reasons. I had three friends helping me.”

The trio started by going through the items box by box. Next, they separated them into three categories: things to keep, things to throw away and things to donate. Because most of the items were things that Dingwall no longer needed, she was able to empty the unit.

The project took two full days to complete. About two-thirds of the contents were donated to a local thrift shop.

Tips for Cleaning Out Your Unit

Naylon offered these five tips for making the job of organizing or cleaning out a seldom-used unit as smooth as possible.

1. Set a deadline. Pick a date to start the project and stick to it, Naylon said. “That will help you with motivation,” she said.

2. Divide the job into small parts. Accept the fact that it might take you several visits to sift through your belongings. Set aside enough time to do so.

3. Avoid the landfill. Naylon said she tries to find a new home for everything her clients no longer need. Hauling things to the nearest dumpster should be your last resort, she said. Many thrift stores will send a truck to your unit to pick up your donations, free of charge.

4. Don’t turn your home into a storage unit. Many people rent storage units to remove the clutter from their homes. Make sure you don’t reverse the process by turning your garage or basement into a storage unit.

5. Make sure you enlist enough help. Doing the job alone can be difficult and lonely, Naylon said. If your friends or a professional organizer can lend a hand, the task will go much faster.

Emmet Pierce