Here’s a funny joke: Studies show that you should spend less than 30% of your income on rent.
Not laughing? Then you probably know how rarely life follows statistical rules. If you’re living in an insanely expensive city like San Francisco or New York, you might find yourself shelling out $3,000 a month for a teeny, tiny apartment that your landlord claims is a one bedroom but that you know full well is a studio. Even worse, the high rent forces you to work long hours and get a second job only to end up spending more than half of your paycheck on rent. Gone are the days when your financial woes meant choosing between going out on the weekend or buying a new bicycle. Suddenly, you’re choosing between paying for groceries or paying for electricity. Like two-thirds of Americans, you live in fear of being financially ruined by an emergency.
If you’re struggling to get ahead (or even stay afloat), and paying for housing is the main reason why, it’s tempting to consider moving into your storage unit. Even in markets where storage is expensive, it’s still considerably cheaper than paying for an apartment. For example, if you’re living in California and you’re paying $2,500 a month for a one bedroom apartment, moving into a 10x10 storage unit (roughly the size of an extra bedroom), could save you about $2,300. As good as that might sound, just the thought of moving into your storage unit is already the worst idea you’ve ever had. Here’s why:
You Will Get Caught
Even if your day job is being a professional ninja, there’s no way you’re stealthy enough to get away with living in a storage unit. All storage facilities have some level of security measures in place and these measures are only getting smarter and more sophisticated as we head into 2021. Staff rely on things like security cameras, key-coded gates and on-site management to keep tenants safe, but they can also use these tools to find out if someone is living in a storage unit. One facility manager that we spoke with simply compares the number of times that the entrance gate code has been entered against the number of times that the exit gate has opened up. If the final number isn’t even, that means that a tenant is potentially still on property after hours. Storage facility managers will also look for other telltale signs that you’re living in your unit, like footprints in the snow, an abnormally low amount of bathroom supplies, and strange noises. Video tutorials might show you how to draw electricity to your unit, but they don’t tell you how quickly the facility will notice the spike in power usage.
If you get caught, you’ll be on the hook for violating the terms of your lease (almost every self-storage lease states that you can’t loiter around or live in your unit) and you’ll be guilty of a civil offense. A facility manager might slip a warning letter under the door of your unit or confront you and tell you to stop, but if you’re committed to living in your storage unit, you and your stuff will eventually get kicked out of the facility.
It’s Super Uncomfortable
In Houston, a family of eight lived in a storage unit for five years. Thanks to a climate-controlled unit, electricity, access to nearby water and most importantly, a facility manager who was willing to look the other way, they were able to call the storage unit home until the law (and Child Protective Services) got involved. As far as living in a storage unit goes, even this grim situation is still the best case scenario. If you attempt it yourself, expect to be far less comfortable. If you’re living in an outside, drive-up unit, you will be freezing cold in the winter and very hot in the summer. Even if you’re living in an indoor, climate-controlled unit, you’re still going to be susceptible to the psychological effects of claustrophobia and lack of natural light. If your facility doesn’t offer 24 hour access, you’ll have to plan your days around entering and exiting the property. Hanging out at your unit during business hours will only be an option if you’re planning on staying inside of it and remaining perfectly silent. You will also have limited to no access to a bathroom, running water or electricity. At best, this means nowhere to charge your iPhone. At worst, this means dangerous dehydration and a host of issues brought on by poor personal hygiene. There are also the logistical things that make living in a storage unit uncomfortable, like having no permanent address. This will make getting mail, getting a job and signing up for a bank account much harder.
You Can Get Locked In and Die
Storage unit doors aren’t designed to be opened from the inside. If you’re dealing with a roll-up storage unit door or any door that doesn’t open from the inside, you’ll want to keep it slightly ajar so that you can get in and out. The problem is, the staff of the storage facility will see your open or unlocked door and assume that you forgot to close it all the way or you neglected to lock it properly. Because their job is to keep your stuff safe, they’ll remedy the situation by closing the unit or popping a new lock on the door, leaving you trapped inside. If you’re brave enough to risk cooking or smoking inside of your unit, you can cause a fire, like one homeless man in Topeka did. He was lucky enough to survive, but that’s rarely the case. If any disaster strikes, whether you caused it or not, you will be trapped and unable to escape. Not to get too morbid on you, but if no one hears your cries for help, your storage unit will become your grave (mausoleum, technically).
There Are Other Options
The decision to move into your storage unit probably doesn’t feel like a choice. It’s an act of desperation, a last resort. However, like almost every single other storage related dilemma, it’s a situation that can be avoided by communicating with the facility. Many storage facilities have dealt with live-in tenants before, and despite how it may seem, the staff isn’t out to get you. They’re actually concerned about your safety, the security of the other tenants and the facility itself because like it or not, they’re liable for anything you do while on property.
Ask for Help
The storage facility doesn’t want to throw you out on the street and they definitely don’t want to toss your stuff out either. Talk to the them. Many facilities are connected to resources that can help you, whether it’s a connection to a food bank, a shelter or a charity that helps those on the brink of homelessness avoid it. There are also homelessness resources available online that can help you out if you'd rather not talk to someone directly.
We get it. Paying for that overpriced apartment is tough. Struggling to take care of your family, pay bills, and provide food is downright exhausting. But secretly living in a cold, dark, unventilated storage unit with no access to sunlight, fresh air and people who want to help you? That’s a thousand times worse.