Is your storage unit cluttered with Mom’s polyester pantsuits from the ’70s or Dad’s cassette collection of greatest hair-band hits from the ’80s? If so, you might be needlessly holding onto mementos of someone else’s past.

Storage units often are laden with a merry mix of outdated junk, whether it’s technological relics like “Seinfield”-era shoebox cellphones, VCR and eight-track players, Beanie Baby collections, period clothing or hopelessly homely furniture straight from Walton’s Mountain.

If you keep a self-storage unit on a regular basis, it can easily become a repository for all kinds of junk that you plan on taking care of later. But the truth behind old adage of “out of sight, out of mind” will become clear before you know it. Just because you are decluttering your home by stashing your items in storage, doesn’t mean you should be cluttering up your storage space.

If you need to clean out your storage unit, here are the six best places to start:

1. Vintage Clothing

vintage clothing

“Sometimes people hang onto things so long that they really no longer have any value for anybody else,” said Terri Stephens, a professional organizer in Atlanta, GA. “People feel such a tremendous amount of angst and sometimes guilt, as if they’re throwing the person away.”

Solution: “If it’s a large enough collection, consign it,” said Amy Trager, a professional organizer in Chicago, IL. “If not, sell the items yourself on eBay or Craigslist, or donate them to a theater group or fashion school.”

2. Toys


If you have kids, you likely have mounds of toys that they’ve outgrown.

Solution: Keep a few of the more novel or interesting toys for nostalgia’s sake and donate the rest to a thrift store like the Goodwill.

“If it’s from the past 10 to 20 years and plastic to where it can be washed, donate it. But a lot of places won’t take stuffed or fabric toys anymore because of germs and bedbugs,” Trager said.

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3. Furniture

office chairs

If you like it, keep it. If it’s broken or the wrong color, repaint or repair it. If not, what’s next?

Solution: “Don’t discard it without valuing it,” Trager advised. “eBay is a good place to start.”

Then take photos of the furniture and email them to your local antique shop, consignment store or estate auction agent to find a buyer. Mid-Century Modern furniture is especially hot right now and can attract big bucks.

4. Collections

doll collection

Is there more than one of something? It might be part of a valuable collection.

Solution: If it’s authentic and vintage, it could be worth your while to list it on eBay. If it has regional or local interest, an estate seller or auctioneer might be interested.

“If you have antique sporting equipment such as skis or ice skates, a local sports shop may buy them for display,” Trager said.

5. Old Gadgets

old computer

Pre-digital film and sound technology without a means to play the movies or music is a classic waste of space.

Solution: “Convert VCRs, reel-to-reel and cassette tapes to DVDs and CDs, and store them in the cloud,” Fink said. “Then recycle them.”

Check out Costco and local vendors for digital conversion capabilities, and Best Buy and other big-box retailers to recycle your old tech equipment.

But don’t just let go of vintage stereo equipment or record players, they might fetch a good chunk of change from collectors.

6. Family Memorabilia

family photo

“Memorabilia is the most difficult stuff to get through,” Trager said. “We find it fascinating to go through but feel guilty getting rid of it.”

If you are sitting on a pile of photos or journals from family members that have passed on, there comes a time when you should probably go through it instead of holding on to it out of some sense of obligation.

Solution: Fink offers these six steps to confront the physical past.

  • Step 1: Enlist five to 10 people you can count on to help. “You’re going to need this support,” she said.
  • Step 2: Inventory and archive. “Make an inventory and take photos of everything that’s in there. For some things, this photo may be the only thing you’ll ultimately choose to hold onto,” Fink said. “Also, get rid of cardboard boxes and store everything in see-through plastic containers.”
  • Step 3: Set a date to begin the winnowing of memorabilia.
  • Step 4: Break the project into periodic sorting sessions at home. “Maybe every two weeks you’ll bring home a couple of boxes to go through,” Fink said. Sorting at home keeps the primary goal front and center: This is the space you have to work within.
  • Step 5: Hire a young family member or neighbor to research the value of items of interest, and to scan photos, diplomas, newspaper articles and other hard-copy items to a digital format.
  • Step 6: Decide what to keep, sell, scan and shred, or to give away to family members.

Completing Your Storage Unit Clean Out

Now that you’ve identified all of the unwanted items in your storage space, follow through with your plan to sell it, donate it, or chuck in the dumpster (most self-storage facilities have one that you can use!)

If you don’t want to go through the rigamarole of listing and selling individual items online, rent a truck and bring the stuff back home so you can have a yard sale. You might be able to have a “garage sale” at your self-storage locker, but you’d have to ask permission from the facility manager first.

Once you’ve gotten rid of the junk in your unit, you should be left with the stuff that really matters like priceless family heirlooms or seasonal gear that you plan to use in the future. You should also be left with a lot of extra space in your storage unit. Having a roomier storage unit will help make it more functional and easier to keep organized in the future.  Or you could downsize into a smaller unit to save money.

Now if you ended up clearing everything out, I guess it is just time to get rid of your storage unit. (Even though we’re sure the manager will be sad to see you go!) Then again, there are a probably a few things in your house that you might need to get out of the way!

Jay MacDonald