Kya deLongchamps looks at the soul-draining issue of packing up a house and the problem of storing an entire household of goods over the short or long term.
The only thing we can really count on in life is change — and there are periods for every individual and family when the settled domestic round becomes suspended for weeks — months, even years.
You might be on sabbatical from your career or studies or perhaps be finally snagged by that irresistibly well paid contract work?
Or, conveyance delays or building work can leave you with a toe jammed in the door of a new property, making camping out with friends and family a must.
Selling (where a great offer arises), and taking a breath in furnished, rented accommodation will perhaps be a better fit for now, relieving the vice-like pressure to buy.
Suddenly then, the volume of all that blessed and necessary stuff you have accrued along the way becomes a confronting nuisance.
Let’s not forget either, the overwhelming and mysterious mounds of possessions you didn’t plan for at all.
The death of someone in your life can present a spontaneous management issue of a lifetime’s ballast that needs to be gone through, piece by piece.
Yes, you could simper with gratitude and sprinkle the 12 hefty boxes, the Mini-Cooper sized Gorenje fridge/freezer and the other disparate anchorage into a few willing homes and garages.
But appointing personal stewards is tricky. The conditions in an unheated outbuilding are not likely to be secure or ideal environmentally (or politically, as the term drifts on and the sense of obligation starts to chafe).
Many unexpected human adventures can make self-storage in a lock-up a positive and reasonable investment.
In the US, the industry refers to their clients coming in the wake of life’s great 4 Ds — death, divorce, downsizing, and dislocation.
The concept of self storage is a relatively new one in Ireland. Elephant Self-Storage is a family run, Irish owned, modern, high-tech self-storage facility, located just off the M50 in Dublin and run by the O’Meara family.
Managing Director, Jude O’Meara, spent a number of years with Storage World Manchester, gaining dedicated experience before moving back to Dublin in 2005 to work alongside her father setting up Elephant Self Storage.
They regard their business as nothing less than a five star ‘hotel for goods’. Jude explains: “ninety-five-percent of people that call us have actually never used or heard of self-storage before”.
Having made a €10m investment in their facility including a bristling of 800 CCTV cameras as part of their sleek, state-of-the-art detailing, Elephant have taken a stake in a highly competitive industry here in Ireland, where customer peace of mind is closely guarded.
Its guided system of book/order/collect/store — booking an appropriate sized unit online, ordering packing supplies, collection or delivery of the goods and storage — streamlines an otherwise weighty, stressful dilemma.
Jude and her team answer a range of needs, and some unexpected problem solving they can claim as their own.
“We have a customer who stores their computer hard-drive backups with us, at a cost of just €5 per week and another that has stored the full contents of a 40 ft shipping container.
“More recently, one of our customers had their house rewired and needed to store absolutely everything. We arranged for our removals team to call out with boxes and the necessary packing supplies and packed all of her belongings.
“The removals company moved the entire contents of her home to us until the work were complete. We are the only storage provider that specialise in attic lockers, or as one of our customers called it - her bat cave.
“She stored her kids’ toys, Christmas decorations and anything not used every day. The smallest of our attic lockers are the same size as a car boot with larger attic storage available that can hold the full contents of a small van.”
The cost of storing the contents of a one-bedroom apartment is approximately €50 a week, and access can be unlimited.
Most lockers at a self-storage are accessed inside a building (comfortable on a winter day), with drive up loading-bays, trolleys and pallet trucks. Others are set where a van or can easily pull up and directly load and unload.
Consider what would suit your potential comings and goings.
So, what happens if you run into a financial bump or don’t collect your things according to your agree terms? Will an army of locker-bidders turn up and pick off the goods like modern day pirates?
“If a customer has not collected their items, we try to get in touch,” says Jude. “If this fails, we hold the items for a certain period of time, moving them to a special area for uncollected goods.
“There are times when customers just don’t come back – in these circumstances we seek legal advice or hand the debt over to a collection agency.
“We have never had anything valuable left behind, and have donated uncollected items to charity. We could sell the goods but we do all we can to avoid that route.”
Elephant, like all reputable self storage facilities offer access by electronic access codes through the primary gate and into buildings, and padlocks for the individual lock ups.
Round the clock security via live monitoring means there are eyes on the premises outside office hours, but client access may vary — check with your potential firm.
Also, take a tour of your chosen self-storage facility before agreeing terms rather than scanning their online gallery or taking a Google tour.
Arrive without warning during business hours. Does it appear clean, efficient, well run, with staff on duty and happy to answer rookie questions?
If your own insurance cover does not extend to items kept outside the home, it’s important to buy some short term cover for fire, theft and damage. Your storage firm may be able to help you in this respect.
Don’t assume that your term contract or standard house insurance protects one-of-a-kind, irreplaceable valuables. Rental terms start at the reasonable expectation of a month’s use with most companies.
Increasingly, short notice to change up to larger rooms, or to leave the facility earlier than expected without penalties, are accommodated (seven day’s notice is very fair).
Be wary of any company demanding contracts with lengthy locked in periods touted as ‘the norm’ or any sniff of holding your goods hostage to fortune. Flexibility, experience and professionalism should be written large.
TIPS FOR STORAGE SURVIVAL
A half-filled box is structurally weaker when stacked, and they do degrade over time. Double walled quality boxes are worth the extra spend. Boxes, wardrobes boxes, rope, bubble wrap and even locks are available at national providers.
Some self storage facilities have large trolleys that help transport boxes and other items around the site.
Wrap larger pieces, electronics and boxes you don’t need to access. Grab helping hands for heavy tonnage, use good grade clear plastic for mattresses etc, and buy a retractable knife and duct tape from a trade style dispenser — that’s all you need.
Soft packing paper can add an insulating protective layer to screens and fragile surfaces. Don’t store dangerous objects, flammable liquids (empty the mower tank) or anything remotely perishable or ALIVE such as plants.
Clever Americans (routine with self storage at some time in their lives) keep everything they store in outdoor lock ups off the floor on palettes. This allows air to circulate, and prevents pieces being damaged by any spillage in the unit or adjoining units or from minor flooding due to the ingress of rain in an outdoor unit. Place boxes about 3cm from the walls.
Mark your boxes — write directly on the cardboard rather than relying on sticky labels which may work loose over time. A loose sheet in the top can tell you exactly what’s in this edition, reducing the need to dig through multiples.
Sketch out a little floor plan showing where each box and item is to avoid confusion. Put this map with a master inventory in a zipped poly-pocket and tape it up inside the unit. Keep a photocopy of this list elsewhere.
Organise by necessity. Things you will need to access regularly should obviously be placed towards the front of the unit. Be wary of stacking weighty boxes or items right to the roof without stabilising the storeys.
Rent the space you need. Irish lockers for domestic customers run in the smaller 10-30 box range, with the latter large enough for a few pieces of light furniture. Larger rooms offer square footage up to 100 sq ft that can take the carefully packed contents of a standard three bedroom house, or four transit van loads. Vehicle store is also offered (try U Storit, and Mini Storage in Cork). Overloading a small locker can make excursions into your stuff more problematic.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved