Our Post-FIRE Storage Unit Story

We decided we wanted to try living as nomads after we reached FIRE (financial independence / retire early) in 2018. Alison retired in April of 2018 and I gave notice three months later. We moved out of our 760 square foot condo in October of 2018 and sold it so we could leave our career-focused lives in Seattle behind and spend some time traveling.

When we moved away from Seattle we hoped we would live internationally as nomads for at least five years and maybe longer. But we also thought it was possible that we’d decide to set up a home base in the USA again after only a year or two. Life is unpredictable so we try to consider all of our options!

We did consider leaving a few boxes with various family members so we could avoid paying storage unit fees but that seemed like too much to ask of them and too much of a hassle for us to scatter our things between our siblings since our place in Seattle was a few states away from each of them. None of our siblings could easily accommodate more than two or three boxes and we originally planned to store at least a dozen boxes so a storage unit seemed like the right plan for us. On top of that we were already planning to leave two bags of extra clothes with one of my sisters in California and another two bags of extra clothes with one of Alison’s sisters in Arizona so we could swap out clothes between our trips when we came back to visit family. The point is, we didn’t want to become a burden to anyone!

The storage unit idea was never intended as a longterm solution. It was a failsafe in case our nomad life turned out to be a short-term adventure so we would be ready to settle down again if that’s the way the wind blew. And since life is funny, that’s exactly what happened.

What Went Into Storage?

The first things we decided to keep in storage were artwork. A lot of the artwork we had in our condo was large, and a lot of it was given to us by family members. We have some paintings that used to belong to Alison’s aunt and other paintings that used to belong to my grandma. We also picked up a few pieces of art on our own over the years that we loved. So when it came down to it we decided to keep most of our artwork because it means a lot to us and because seeing it makes us feel at home.

Storage in Downtown Seattle

While we were packing up our condo and getting ready to sell it we called a few local storage units but they had no units available. Then we found a brand new storage facility very close to our condo in downtown Seattle and rented a 5×10 unit there. We would have gotten something smaller but 5×10 unit was the smallest they built in their facility. That unit was tall enough and wide enough for all of our artwork but it seemed crazy big for what we needed to store. Once we safely packed up our artwork and stacked it all in the back of our storage unit we realized how much extra space we still had. We decided we might as well fill it up since we were paying for the space anyway.

Filling the Storage Unit

The decision to keep our artwork in storage was like a gateway drug so when we next looked around our condo the kitchen cabinets caught our eye right away. I definitely wanted to keep my colorful Fiesta Ware dishes and Alison wanted to keep her Roycroft Buffalo dishes. Back in the early 1990’s my grandma gave me all of my original Fiesta Ware when I started living on my own. My aunt gave me a few pieces as well and I have enjoyed adding to them over time with more colors and different types of pieces. In the late 1990’s Alison’s mom wanted to split up her family heirloom Minton china between her daughters but Alison wasn’t interested in fine china and declined to take any (*gasp). So Alison’s mom gave her a set of Roycroft dishes instead. We are each in love with our dishes and we always thought it was fun to alternate between the different styles every day and use a variety for dinner parties with friends. So we decided to keep all of our dishes and put them in storage as well.

Once we added all of our dishes to the storage unit we still had a ton of space left. So we put basically every kitchen related item we had in there including our Kitchen Aid Mixer and all of its fun accessories, pots and pans, bowls and bakeware, wine and whisky glasses, and even our old mismatched silverware. We had a total of six rolling racks in our 760 square foot condo to help us manage our perfectly small living space, so we decided to move all of those racks into our storage unit to keep the boxes organized and make it easier to navigate. We also put some file boxes in our storage unit with original trust and tax documents, some old family photos and slides from Alison’s parents and grandparents, and a few other family keepsakes.

After all of those boxes were in there we still had a ton of extra room so then we added Alison’s favorite chair and my favorite chair. Plus a few other odds and ends like tools, our walking sticks, and our camp chairs. We figured we might as well keep our collection of Christmas ornaments too. On the last day we pulled our maps off the walls in our condo and tossed them in the storage unit too. Finally the condo was empty and the storage unit was mostly full, and by November 1, 2018 we were ready to leave Seattle. Whew!

Change of Plans

In January of 2020 we were in Mexico starting our second year of nomad life. We were thrilled with how things were going after one year and 13 countries and felt like we had really found our comfortable groove with our travels. We were planning to stay in Mexico until early May of 2020 and then we would return to the USA for most of May and June to see family and friends. We decided to visit our storage unit in May to consider letting it go. We were incredibly happy with our nomad life and very excited about our plan to be spending the summer in Ireland, England, and Scotland followed by the fall and winter in Croatia and Portugal. At that point it seemed clear that we didn’t need our old things anymore since we had no plans to settle down again so we might as well give the rest of it away.

But by March of 2020 the pandemic had covered the world and we were starting to talk about changing our travel plans. After we returned to the USA in May it wasn’t long before we started preparing for the possibility of buying a home and settling down again. By September of 2020 we bought a house and were very glad we had so many of our favorite things packed away in our storage unit! We hated the idea of starting from scratch to set up our new home.

The Numbers

Just to be clear, the storage unit was expensive. Everything in downtown Seattle was expensive and our storage unit was no exception. The cost of our storage unit for the first 12 months starting in October 2018 was $95/month with an introductory offer. We were pretty comfortable factoring those original numbers into our annual budget. But the cost of our storage unit went up in the second year after that initial offer was over, so from October 2019 through January of 2021 we paid $142/month. We were definitely not as comfortable with those numbers in our annual budget. Our total spend for the storage unit in downtown Seattle for just over two years was $3,412. Ouch!

We’re very glad we moved out of our storage unit. Renting that place was the right choice for us and we have no regrets. We don’t believe in holding onto guilt or shame about our spending. But honestly it would have made us crazy to see the cost of that storage unit in our annual budget for longer than two years.

Our Seattle Storage Unit Costs

The Bottom Line

Recently we were chatting with some FIRE friends who are planning their future nomad life and they asked if we would do it all again. We can’t go back in time but we can look forward, and if we’re talking about the future the answer is no. We wouldn’t get a storage unit again. The key element in this decision for us is “permanence.” The reason the storage unit made sense for us last time is that we didn’t have a sense of permanence about anything we were planning. We knew nothing about nomad life and had no idea if we’d be gone traveling for one year or five years or forever. We’re glad we got a storage unit in 2018 because it turned out to be the right thing for us. But if we decide to live abroad or nomadically again in the future we wouldn’t be rookies anymore. We would feel comfortable making a more permanent decision and that would make a storage unit unnecessary. If there is another chapter of nomad life out there for us we’ll leave a couple of family mementos with one or two of our sisters and leave it at that.

We’re glad we paid for a storage unit for two years, even if it was terribly overpriced due to location. Was it the best use of our money from a financial perspective? Maybe not. But it was a reasonable choice for us considering the changes we were going through as new retirees, and then the changes we faced during the Covid-19 pandemic. When it comes to personal finance, sometimes being reasonable is more appropriate than being rational. This is just one more example that personal finance is just an element of personal life. We make personal finance decisions by considering our emotional needs and and our finances together.

As much as we love giving things away and getting rid of stuff we still have an emotional attachment to some things. We’re settling in at our new house now and comfy in our old favorite chairs. I’m drinking Earl Gray tea out of one of my Fiesta Ware mugs and Alison is drinking peppermint tea out of one of her Roycroft mugs. And we’re happy!

Ali’s Fiesta Ware mug on the left and Alison’s Roycroft mug on the right. Resting on a table that used to belong to Alison’s Aunt who lived in British Columbia.


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18 comments

  1. Drinking tea out of Fiesta Ware and Roycroft mugs reminds me of Alexander McCall Smith’s 42 Scotland Street novels, where an entire plotline is made up of a mystery involving Spode tea mugs.

    When we moved from our 900 sf apartment to a 2,400 sf house, we wondered how we managed to fill it up, since we didn’t buy anything new when we moved.

    The answer was that we had a storage unit in the apartment. It was 10×10, but we also used the vertical space, which we haven’t done in our new house.

    My mother tried to give me some old things of mine a couple of years ago. I declined. It wasn’t because I don’t appreciate things like my baby blanket, but I’m sure that it would go to better use on an actual baby than in my attic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We are looking around at our old stuff here in the new house feeling glad we have our things. But at the same time we look around at everything and really don’t want any of it. We are really glad we didn’t have to buy new kitchen stuff!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for another interesting and relevant post. We also stored stuff (art, kitchen, a few very good pieces of furniture) for 2 years while our son renovated his house, hoping that he’d use most of it (we were determined to stay nomadic until we need a retirement home). Toronto area storage prices are in line with Seattle’s, so our budget impact was almost exactly the same as yours. In hindsight, I would have pressured him to choose and store any art he really wanted, auctioned the rest, and donated the kitchen and furnishings to the group locally who help resettle Syrian refugees.

    That said, I can understand the joy your fiesta ware must be giving you! (And we still have 2 bins of kitchen items, including my chef’s knives, that we store at our son’s house when those bins are not travelling with us in North America)

    Liked by 1 person

    • You were very generous to store things for your son for two years. It’s perfect that he is now storing a few bins for you. Hope you are doing ok up in Ontario and looking forward to a good 2021!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. We are 20 months into our nomad lifestyle. Prior to starting out we sold, donated, gifted, and junked most of our possessions. We did end up deciding to keep some family heirlooms, a few things we couldn’t part with yet, and our treasures (i.e. precious memory items). Luckily my mother had a huge empty basement that we could use a corner of to store these things. Then last fall my mother made a quick decision to move into a retirement community and now her house is for sale. We have been in panic mode ever since she told us this, as we are in Europe and refuse to fly back to the US for fear that we can never leave again. We’ve been going through our list of things that we have in her basement and are OK with getting rid of most of what is there, except of course for our treasures. We were going to put these few item into a storage unit somewhere, but then my wife’s sister volunteered to store these few boxes for us. As nomads we have done a great job of getting rid of most of our possessions only to discover that it is so tricky to figure out the best and cheapest way to safe keep the few boxes of treasures that we won’t need to get at for years. It really is a chore to have “stuff”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow. Congrats on your 20 months of nomad life. I would feel exactly the same way about returning to the USA right now. Thank goodness for your sister in law! Having stuff and storing stuff does feel like a chore, and truly nomad life has changed the way we feel about the things we saved. Since we are settling down I’m grateful for everything we kept. And I hope we get another chance to get rid of our stuff again in a few years. Next time we’ll get down to the little bit of treasure we love most and that’s it!

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  4. Funny how sometimes things just work out for the best. After such a jolting year, I’m sure it’s comforting to enjoy some of your favorite things.

    We have a 5×10 storage unit in Philadelphia that we paid $62 for the first 6 months, then increasing to $72 since. After seeing those Seattle prices, I feel like we’re getting a steal. We are very determined to get rid of it and donate most of that stuff sometime this year. For a hot minute, we discussed using it in a short term rental while we wait for things to play out. Then we booked an Airbnb in Mexico instead.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You guys do have a really good rate for your storage unit! That’s good to hear. I hope seeing our numbers helps you guys feel much better about the cost of your storage unit. It was a relief to get back into our storage unit after two years and I know it will be a relief when you can deal with yours. But for now, Mexico!!!

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  5. Oooh dealing with long-term storage is tough. I stored some kitchen things in a friend’s basement for 5 years (when I was doing shared housing/didn’t need my own kitchen stuff) and then moved all of the boxes with me when I moved to the Bay Area. Lo and behold I didn’t need almost ANYTHING in those boxes, I should’ve gotten rid of them years earlier! There were a few items I was happy to have but nothing I couldn’t live without.

    Still, if I think of getting rid of ALL my things, I do think I’d want to keep some of the plates and bowls and mugs I’ve been using my whole adult life, and also much of my kitchen gear. I guess I’d have to assess how long I was going to be paying for storage, but if the fee was somewhat affordable I’d rather keep what I know works for me than have to rebuild from scratch at some point.

    This, of course, is why the storage industry does so well! It’s very hard to get rid of items if we think we may ever need to return to that life again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Getting rid of things is incredibly satisfying! We definitely felt like storing things was conflicting but it seemed like the right thing for us to do, this time. The one thing that would have made this situation harder would be if we had to start over completely and rebuild from scratch right now. I’m quite sure we won’t be contributing to the storage industry again though!

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  6. Stuff is very emotional and humans are irrational – so we pay multiple times the cost of things to store them! But a few ideas for all of you: (a) consider storing things away from expensive city centers (like cheap storage near the airport or on the city’s edge) and better yet (b) pay your friends or family to store it. When choosing b, you feel less guilty and are picking a better supplier!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Phil. Those are all great options for the average person using a storage unit for a relatively short amount of time. Unfortunately for us we didn’t have anyone who could store the amount of stuff we had and we also had time constraints that prevented us from moving our things further away to save money. On top of all that we were both recovering from surgeries (Alison’s foot and abdominal for me) which motivated us to keep things simple. It was a perfect storm moment in our lives. In our case the cost was worth it for convenience and time constraints. If we even need to store things again we will do it differently for sure.

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  7. It’s funny how the decision you’d make differently next time has worked out so well for you – life can be strange in that way. I’m sure I’d wish we kept more of our things if we were setting up a home right now, but fortunately nomadic life is still right for us. Glad it all worked out for you two!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right! I think all of these realizations about what we would do differently are the funniest part of this whole process! But the benefits of this current choice are about to become real since we’ll be able to start spending time with family in the next couple of days. 🥰

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  8. “Life is unpredictable so we try to consider all of our options!”

    I see what you did there 😉

    And as far as the storage unit goes I think it may have ended up giving you two a positive return (maybe)! This is based mostly on thinking over how much money you’d have otherwise spent making your new house purchase into a true home. This goes double for us being in a pandemic; I don’t want to imagine the additional risks involved in buying some furniture or decor, especially if you go the thrifty route. How much might you have spent otherwise to not live in an empty house?

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are right! We were tempted to try to calculate savings in that way but it didn’t feel realistic enough to try to come up with numbers. Regardless, there’s no doubt that the cost of storing our stuff was less expensive than the cost of buying it all again now. And besides the money, it would have freaked us out on an emotional level to have to buy that kind of stuff again only 2 years after giving it all way. It will be interesting to see how long it takes us to buy the things we’re missing most, like a couch!

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