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Professional organizer offers storage dos and don'ts


Photos Courtesy of Amanda Kuzak
A filled-to-the-brim storage unit, above, requires attention from professional organizer Amanda Kuzak and her crew. Among the first steps? A visit to a shredding service, below, to offload 127 boxes of outdated paperwork. Shredding the contents and disposing of the boxes enabled the owner to downsize his storage needs, saving him money in the process.

The Kuzak’s Closet organizing team recently tackled a large storage project in Menlo Park. The action shots I shared on social media caused a sensation – likely, a nervous sensation – as many readers recognized their own storage experiences.

Below I share the dos and don’ts of storage based on my years of experience as a professional organizer.

The client mentioned above has been renting storage units for more than a decade, spending on average $3,000 per month – more than $350,000 to date. This seemingly nutty situation is far too common. Most clients secure a storage space with a temporary plan in mind, but making time to tackle all of those “postponed decisions” – which is what I call items in storage – never happens. It becomes more convenient to pay the monthly fee than deal with the situation.

I have organized many storage units, but I have a hard-and-fast rule for clients before we start: The plan is to consolidate or liquidate the units, not to have them look pretty.

If items are in storage, they are generally not wanted or needed. My goal as an organizer is to train clients to realize that they can save money by creating systems that add efficiency and structure in their lives. These systems help with budgeting, regaining valuable space lost to piles of unwanted stuff and eliminating the cost of storage.

There really is no such thing as a “pretty storage unit.” Well, if you Google the phrase, the only image of a perfectly organized storage unit comes from a Kuzak’s Closet project in Los Gatos. For that client, storage made sense: It belonged to a single dad who lived in a small condo without a garage. He rented a storage unit a mile away, and we set it up like a garage, including bins for camping gear, shelves for extra household supplies and room for bikes and sporting goods. He used it daily, so the cost advantage over renting a larger home with a garage in pricey Los Gatos made sense.

When storage doesn’t make sense

Paying for a storage unit makes no sense in the following cases.

• When you are storing furniture. Unless you are remodeling and temporarily storing the furniture, it is time to say goodbye. The Menlo Park storage project included four sofas and six upholstered chairs, which had been professionally wrapped for storage. After a decade in plastic wrap, in a controlled-climate environment, the plastic stuck to the fabric and all 10 pieces had to be trashed. Adding insult to injury, it actually cost the client an additional $550 in dump fees. We tried valiantly to give the pieces away, but no one would take them due to their terrible condition.

• When you think you can sell it someday. Clients often ask me to assess their storage unit to determine what is sellable. Once you’ve invested cash storing furniture, there is no way that value can be recouped. If you are thinking about getting a storage unit to store items that might have resale value, just don’t do it! Note that second-hand buyers always want an item’s story – from their perspective, stored items aren’t valuable enough to be kept in the home or used daily, and resale value declines.

• When you think your kids will want it someday. I recommend only storing irreplaceable items – in a climate-controlled environment or private storage facility. Set a limit on how much you are willing to spend on storing these special items. Have realistic conversations with your children on what they might want someday and recognize that your 10-year-old daughter might not want your sterling silver now, but she might in later years. The smaller and more unique the items, the more I recommend keeping them for the next generation.

• When you have paperwork you think you’ll need someday. Our client in Menlo Park owned several Bay Area companies; one storage unit was devoted to paperwork. In this situation, he actually needed to keep hundreds of boxes of paperwork just in case of lawsuits, taxes, etc., when he put it in storage, but in the current year, it was OK to purge half of it. We coordinated shredding 127 boxes of outdated paperwork during the two-day process at a cost of $889 ($7 per box) for the shredding service alone, not including the time spent organizing it. With all of the shredding we did, the client was able to downsize the unit, saving him money down the road, so the expense was worth it.

I am happy to report that after our sessions with our client, he was motivated to tackle two garages and a portable storage pod.

As he pulled away from the storage facility, he rolled down the window of his sporty Mercedes and said, “Thank you, Amanda. Your team was amazing, and this was the best money I’ve ever spent!”

Too bad that as professional organizers we can’t get a dividend back on the money we save our clients after we purge the unwanted and set up systems that save them time. Seeing our client drive off into the sunset with a smile on his face will be just as good.

In summary, take the time to make decisions in the moment. It can be tough to handle the contents of your house after a divorce or when your parents pass away, but you will have to make decisions about the items someday, so you might as well do it before you spend thousands of dollars storing items you may not want.

Amanda Kuzak is a Los Altos-based professional organizer and estate liquidator. For more information, visit kuzakscloset.com.

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