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Those of us who have never used a storage facility might be tempted to dismiss them as best-suited for pack rats. After all, if you own so much "stuff" that you need to store it away and pay for the privilege, you need to learn the fine art of throwing things away, don't you?

Actually, a significant percentage of consumers who rent storage units do so because they're in between residences, a very common scenario in our transient society. If you're faced with a temporary job transfer -- a couple of years, for example -- you may not want to take every last possession to a transitory residence. In such situations, a climate-controlled storage facility is often the wisest solution, enabling you to move to your temporary home without the burden of excess baggage.

Another very common use for storage units arises when owners are selling their homes. If you've ever placed your home on the market and opened it to a broker and prospective buyers, you know that their first impressions are often influence whether or not you're going to make a sale. Excess clutter is a fast way to turn off a prospective buyer. As a seller, you need to create the illusion of space (even if your house is small), which means your home not only has to be clean but also as uncluttered as possible.

So a storage unit is a quick, cost-efficient and effective solution to presenting your home in the best manner possible -- without throwing out cherished items.

Empty-nesters with college-age sons and daughters can often expect to see them return home after graduation, if only for a year or two while they get established in their new careers. Also, parents may have some furniture they'd like to pass on to their children when the young adults move into their first apartments.

In either scenario, it's quite possible that families will want a storage unit to keep items that are too important with which to part, but in the way at the moment.

If you've never been in the market for a storage unit before, keep an eye on the facility's policies regarding the termination of your contract. Let's say, for example, that your job transfer is shortened, and you arrive back in your hometown three months earlier than originally planned. Can you remove your possessions from storage without penalty, or will the facility expect you to pay for three months that you won't use?

When you've chosen a storage facility, you'll want to plan ahead before you move any of your possessions. With proper planning, you'll ensure that your possessions remain easily accessible and, most important, secure.

Check the lock on the door of your storage unit. Could it be easily broken by a seasoned "professional?" Is the site secured with a 24-hour guard, video cameras, and other protections? This is critical for everyone, but particularly for those who plan to leave town for an extended period and won't have the luxury of making periodic visits to the storage facility during that time.

Carry with you the facility's hours of operation and the name of a contact you can call at the facility. Make sure, too, that your contact knows how to reach you in the event of an emergency.

If you're having a moving company, a friend or family member drop off boxes for you, call your contact ahead of time and notify him or her. Have the movers or your friend/family member check in with your contact upon arrival at the facility. This will help to ensure that proper safety procedures are followed.

While packing your belongings, don't exceed reasonable weights in each box. Think about the hassle required to remove one item from a heavy box -- and, as the expression goes, "watch your back."

In addition, don't pile small items in large boxes; finding anything will be about as easy as locating a needle in a haystack. Label and number your boxes, and keep the labels facing outward so that you'll be able to easily pinpoint the location of individual possessions. Keep a roster of which items you have in storage, and in which box.

When stacking the boxes, don't pile them too high. Towering pyramids can be a safety hazard; and second, Murphy's Law says that the one item you desperately need to retrieve will be located in the bottom box underneath a tower of 25 boxes.

Given our here-today, gone tomorrow lifestyles, storage units can be the perfect short-term solution. If, however, you find yourself taking out more and more storage space and doing so on a more-or-less permanent basis, perhaps it's time to address what could be a growing collection of clutter. Garage sales, online auctions, and trips to the dump may be in order -- as is the purchase of a home with more space for those valued items.

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