12 Tips When Packing For Long-Term Storage

Packing, no matter what it's for, can be a stressful time. There are time constraints involved unless you want to pay an extra month of rent or other fees. There are potential arguments about what should go where and how to ensure that the fragile items do not meet an inglorious end as shattered pieces at the bottom of a box.

And while packing for a standard move is stressful enough, there is another entire set of concerns when you are packing for long-term storage. You might be putting away sets of items that you do not expect to use for years. You might require most of your life stored away while you go on a long trip or term of service or study. Whatever the case, you need to make sure that your possessions are safe and that they will be in good condition when you return to them. You also need to ensure that the packing itself is efficient, space-effective, and conducive to easy unpacking.

While everyone's packing needs are a bit different, here are 12 tips that can help you when you are preparing for long-term storage:

1. Trim the Fat First

The best way to pack easier is to pack less. Whatever space you are trying to use for long-term storage, using less of it will make things easier on you. If you are using rentable storage space, you might even be able to downsize after the trimming, saving you money.

You can either go about it ahead of time or while packing, simply move to the side whatever you want to get rid of and dispose of it after. Be sure to have an organization system while doing this, as in the bustle of packing you could misplace something you wanted to keep.

Some things you might want to get rid of are:

  • Books or physical media that have no value to you and you will never use again.
  • Clothes that are unlikely to fit you properly ever again.
  • Cheap furniture that is better replaced than stored.
  • Decorative items that will have no place in your home when you return to them.
  • Broken or worn-out items that you swear you will fix someday (you never will).
  • Electronics or devices that will be obsolete by the time you use them next.

Of course, on top of the above, whatever else you simply do not want anymore. While we are not telling you to embrace a particular lifestyle and get rid of everything, there is a good balance. Keep anything with sentimental value, monetary value, or future usefulness. Everything else might be better replaced when the time comes.

As for what to do with everything you trim from your life, it depends on what it is. You might be able to hold a yard sale or donate the goods if they still might be useful to someone else. You can also see if someone you know wants them (cheap furniture is still furniture to someone just starting out in life). If all else fails, recycle or trash the rest. The goal is not to make work for yourself; it is to get rid of these things.

2. Clean and Dry All Items

While this is a lot of work and sometimes the last thing you want to do, we strongly recommend that you clean and dry off any items that are going into long-term storage. Even if you think it is mostly fine, a once-over can make a world of difference, and we recommend that you clean items following the manufacturer's instructions (if they exist). Alternatively, use common sense and find cleaning products or tools appropriate for what you are storing.

Anything organic is your top priority. You do not want pests in your storage unit or container, as they can truly ruin most of your goods and leave behind droppings that only make things worse. Even bits of hair can be a bad sign for the future.

This step you might want to plan ahead for or do in the preceding storage days. Making things dry faster is a laborious process that can require more equipment, and the sun and time will likely do the best job. Do not try to rush it, or you risk being counterproductive.

The only exception to this is items that you are confident will be OK with a bit of dust or grime on them. Unfortunately, these are few and far between. Perhaps certain types of machinery or equipment, but the rules about organic material and following manufacturer instructions still apply.

One last benefit is that when you return to your long-term storage, you will not need to worry so much about the odor coming from a possibly sealed and almost certainly poorly ventilated storage space. Getting that out from everything you own can be a real pain.

3. Weigh the Pros and Cons of Vacuum Sealing

Some items such as clothing or even mattresses are mostly air, which takes up a lot of space. While that used to be a problem, now we have solutions that allow you to store fabric. Vacuum sealing involves putting your clothes into special bags and using a vacuum to suck the excess air out. What remains is far smaller than the original item and much easier to store.

There are, however, certain disadvantages to vacuum-sealing clothing and cloth items for the long term. Many fibers effectively need air to keep structural integrity, and when you vacuum seal something, it can be difficult to restore it quickly, even with effort. While something incredibly fluffy can be tough to store, it can also be safe to assume that the reason you use it or want it in the first place is because of said fluffiness. Heavy jackets might lose some of their effectiveness, and other items could even get damaged if sealed away for too long.

You should not seal delicate items for any length of time, and many people have reported that the process has ruined valuable items made of wool and cashmere. Others have noticed an unpleasant plastic odor lingering on their clothes after sealing. If you store multiple items together, it is even possible for color bleeding to happen. For many people, the negatives easily outweigh the positives.

In short, seasonal storage (about six months) using vacuum seal bags will probably be acceptable for some items, especially those you do not treasure, but be wary of extended periods and certain types of clothing. Using more space to keep your clothing safe is often the better call, even if it doesn't feel like it while you're trying to stuff jackets into storage.

4. Use All Available Space

Typically, when moving, you want to unpack quickly, and easy unpacking is a crucial element when packing for long-term storage. However, there is a difference between this and using your storage like a closet, where everything is immediately accessible. Such an arrangement can make you effectively waste valuable space you might need, especially if you have a lot of stuff.

This means that in this case, it is OK to use all the space if you need to. Stacking boxes or storage containers to the top is perfectly fine if the boxes can take the weight. Start from the corners and use every nook and cranny if you can. It's not a home or even a shed, and clutter, in an organized sense, is encouraged. If you have furniture, you can store things on top or inside (after protecting the furniture) so long as everything stays secure.

If you have extra space available, we suggest creating small pathways for easy access so long as all boxes and furniture are safely secured in doing so. There may also be a balance between space utilization and organization.

Of course, there is a limit to this. You do not want to put anyone in danger or overstuff your space to the degree that things might break or get strained by the pressure. If removing a single box from the top of the pile can mean a disaster, or you cannot even see what might be going on in the rest of the container, you might be going too far.

5. Label and Organize Everything

The more items you store, the more important it is to label everything. Even if you think you will be unpacking everything at once and you can deal with it then, the situation can change. Even when unpacking, it can help to know where to place the boxes in your new home or space.

A few seconds of work now can save you headaches in the long run, and labeling is cheap and easy, especially if you do it while loading up the boxes.

Exact organization systems can vary. If you are an organized person to begin with and know what you want, please skip ahead to the next section. Otherwise, you may want to consider some of the following:

  • Try to keep like items together. If you store a dresser and clothing, keep the boxes of clothes in or near the dresser, for example.
  • When labeling, be as precise as possible. Sure, you could label a dozen boxes "clothes," but that may not be best when you need to get a jacket in a hurry when you were not expecting to.
  • If you are uncertain where things will go, use labels on both the side and top of a box.
  • Use clear handwriting. You might have help when unpacking, and they should be able to read it.
  • Color coding can be beneficial, whether by the type of boxes or room they came from. You can use colorful labels or stickers, or something else.
  • You may want to take pictures so you can look up what went where. In truth, you probably will not rely on it much, but a few seconds to snap a photo can save you time in the long run.
  • If you are feeling industrious, create an inventory list with everything you are storing.

Whatever works for you will work for you. Just do not throw boxes into storage without rhyme or reason and make the contents clear.

6. Seal Boxes and Containers Well

Leaving boxes with the flaps open and containers unsealed can be inviting disaster in one form or another. By sealing boxes, you make it harder for you to get in, but it also makes it harder for pests or anything else to get in as well. For example, do you want mouse droppings in your pots and pans, even if you will clean them before usage?

If you are using cardboard boxes, first make sure they are sturdy (the cheapest boxes available can and will fail after a while.) Then be sure to assemble and seal them properly. There is even packing tape specifically designed for long-term storage.

Many types of containers seal perfectly with little effort. They are designed for storage, so just ensure you use them correctly and that you are careful if they are broken or compromised in any way. Depending on how much you want to store away, better containers can be a fantastic investment. They will also be easier to carry and move around due to better handles.

7. Don't Use Flimsy Plastic

Cheap plastic bags are not the way to go when you are prepping for longer-term storage, even for items you do not consider all that valuable. Even trash bags are not likely to be good enough on their own. You want sturdy boxes, sealable containers, and other storage solutions. Even cheap plastic containers can easily warp, get dirty, or have other problems that are simply not worth the lower price of the container. You will get what you pay for, and good-quality containers can last you for a generation or even longer.

Another note is that plastic can melt or warp if exposed to temperatures that are too high. While it is fine today, think about the hottest weather in your region plus a hotbox effect? This effect can lead to damage of the goods inside, and at worst, can be toxic.

While you think you might be saving money in the short term by using these plastic containers, and while you can likely get by for a little while with these, they simply will not do for long-term storage if you value your possessions.

8. Consider Using Shipping Containers

Shipping containers are designed to store items for the long term and protect them from the elements. If it is good enough to protect often valuable goods from weeks or even months on the ocean, sometimes in rough waters, then it is good enough for whatever you might want to store. Given the size of a standard container, you can also be reasonably confident that you will have more than enough space for everything. If you do not want something that large, you can get a 10' container instead.

A shipping container is, in our opinion, the best option if you have space for one and you want to keep things close at hand. They are easy to set up, easy to repaint or decorate if you find they stand out too much outside, and they will last for decades or longer if you treat them well. There is little better for long-term storage than a shipping container.

A used container will meet most storage needs, especially if there is nothing special about what you are storing in terms of setup, but do make sure to inspect it if possible.

When setting up, you will want to make sure that your container is ventilated well if needed, on a sturdy foundation, and that you get a quality container. Also, be sure where you want it, as they are not easy to move.

9. Cover and Protect Furniture

Even if your stored items are going to be safe inside, you can never be too cautious. Since we imagine they will not be in a box, getting a covering for them will be the best option to keep dust and potential damage away. This is especially important for fabric items such as chairs and couches that might be harder to clean. It is also vital for any furniture you do not want to get affected by moisture. While you should not have any issue with most storage solutions or facilities, humidity is a factor, and you can never be too careful.

If you store things on top of furniture, covering the furniture itself can prevent scratches and marks, especially from heavier items and sharp edges. Even if you are putting something into storage, you want it in excellent condition when you are ready for it.

As for which type of covering you should use, tarps are generally a great choice. Some furniture (especially outdoor furniture) may come with covers to use. Finally, there may be other cloth covers that might be a good fit. Use whatever you think will work best.

10. Secure Your Items

If you are wondering whether we are talking about securing your items from toppling over in the event of a tremor or impact or protecting them from criminal activity, we mean both. After you get the organization down, you will want to think long-term about how well everything will stay in place.

In terms of physically securing items, ropes and fasteners of various types may be helpful. The exact method will vary depending on what you are storing and what your concerns are.

You also do not want to put anything in a precarious position to begin with. Sure, most of the time everything will remain just as you left it, but there are vibrations, earthquakes, and other odd events which can knock things out of place. In an unstable environment, simply opening a door (especially a garage-like door) can cause issues. Do not leave fragile items on top of a stack, and be sure to use common sense when stacking boxes.

If you are using a storage facility of one form or another, check to see what security measures they use. You may wish to look up the neighborhood's crime rates, take appropriate measures, or even find a different facility if it is not up to your standards. Going a bit further to check in on your items is worth a reduced risk of your items not being there.

If you're storing items on your property, make sure that there is a solid lock on your storage that cannot be easily picked or broken. Cameras are cheap to come by and can easily be set up. Furthermore, alarm systems are available for storage containers, and if you are securing anything valuable, it might be worth it to install one.

11. Regularly Check on Your Storage

On a related note to securing your items, check on your storage regularly if you can. A common error people make is putting their items in storage and leaving them there for years, either at the back of their property or at a storage facility. Worse yet is people not updating any contact information with a storage facility if an emergency occurs or the facility is moving or closing down. While storage facilities cannot just get rid of your stuff, abandoned units do get emptied or auctioned off after a while. Naturally, you don't want this to happen.

You do not need to check in on it every day or even every week unless you feel the need. That can be a burden, and you will quickly break that habit. However, if you have the chance or are passing by, you should consider popping in. It will take just a few minutes of your time and can give you peace of mind, plus show anyone with nefarious intent that the storage is monitored. Open it up, make a quick inspection, add or remove anything you'd like, and move along. If it is something like a storage container on your property, you will also want to check that the structure is doing fine.

If you are using storage for long-term travel reasons, you might ask someone you trust to check on your storage for you. You may wish to leave a key with them and ask them to check on it every once in a while, just to make sure nothing has gotten in and everything is as it should be. Pick someone you trust, or pick a facility that can provide options or services to this effect.

12. Consider Storage Alternatives

Just because you are doing long-term storage does not mean that you cannot think outside the box. For example, you can try to keep things in the attic after a bit of cleaning up there (some people might not even remember that they have an attic). Others might store bits and pieces throughout the home, with just some reorganization and spring cleaning.

Other people still might want to bring more of their life with them, which can work for longer road trips if you have the extra space to spare and not much to bring along. Some will work together with like-minded storage and get communal storage spaces, either in a community (HOA or apartment) or with friends. It requires some trust, but it can be cheaper and a better option if you are not storing a lot and not storing anything precious.

If you have a fixed time for how long you will need to store your things, you might also consider more concrete alternatives without running into risk.

As you can imagine, the standard storage solutions or shipping containers will be the best choice for most people, but there might be something different out there for you that will be perfect. Do not be afraid to think outside of the box, and collaborate with others if you think that will be helpful.


None of this will be easy, but following all of the above tips can make the process run just a bit faster and help you create a long-term storage plan that works for your items and your peace of mind. Nothing will be perfect, and there is always the risk of something going wrong, but your job is not to worry about things you cannot control and instead take charge of the things you can.

We hope that everything goes well with whatever you are packing for, whether a trip across the country, a long journey where you won't be taking your things, or just creating some space for a thorough spring clean. Whatever your reason, we know it will be worth the effort.