A Guide to Portable Storage

Written by: StorageUnits.com Editorial Team - Published: May 18, 2024


Portable storage has been growing in popularity in recent years and is quickly becoming the preferred alternative to hiring a moving truck. This flexible and often hands-off approach to storing valuable items has several advantages over rented trucks and trailers. And despite being portable, many containers can store the contents of an entire house or office.

Key Points

  • 1 Pay attention to item type and storage length. The longer items are in storage, the higher the risk of complications.
  • 2 Portable storage companies won’t do the packing, so purchase a container with enough room and pack items correctly for weather and other circumstances.
  • 3 Physically inspect portable storage containers for signs of trouble.
  • 4 Companies vary in price, unit sizes, materials and delivery options. Always ask about company policies and choose the best fit.

Most people use portable storage when they’re moving to a new home or relocating a business, but it can also be useful to those looking to declutter a space until items can be organized, sold or given away. Having extra storage is especially important to protect belongings during home remodeling when large sums of money are already being spent on repairs. Contractors can also benefit from storing their materials in a portable container between jobs and have it delivered to the next work site.

There are plenty of portable storage options to suit a variety of needs. When choosing the right portable storage, renters should create an inventory list of all the items they’re planning to store, including size and approximate weight, and determine how long those items will remain in containers. There are various container sizes, and portable storage companies have different prices and policies. Using the right storage unit will save time and money, providing the best value.

What is Portable Storage?

Portable storage consists of containers or pods used to temporarily store items or have them transported elsewhere. It’s often used by people who need time to pack up their belongings or need extra storage space before a move. Many contractors also use portable storage to manage inventory and equipment at job sites.

Once a portable storage unit is packed, customers can call the company and have it delivered to their requested location on demand. The customer is normally responsible for loading or unloading stored items. Moving companies or other contractors can help with this, but the portable storage company is usually only responsible for delivery to the renter’s destination.

Some containers act as semi-permanent storage. In this case, a business may buy the containers outright and keep them at work sites for convenience. Larger units may be placed in the back of a truck, while small units may sit at ground level to be loaded and lifted into vehicles as necessary.

Things to Consider When Using Portable Storage

The best storage option depends on an individual’s inventory, wants and needs. What’s beneficial for one renter may be unnecessary or even disadvantageous for another. Before agreeing to rent a portable storage unit, there are several things to consider.

Unit size

Portable storage companies typically carry containers in various sizes. Some offer containers that are the size of semi-trailers, about 53 feet long. There are intermediate sizes as well, most of which are better suited to industrial purposes than home use. Units meant for residential storage tend to be much smaller, though the range of options is larger.

While sizing options vary by company, there are generally multiple small, medium and large units available. Most companies provide a visual breakdown of their offerings, which contains the exact measurements as well as a familiar size reference, such as “walk-in closet” or “one-car garage.”

As with regular moving trucks, transportation can shake objects up, so it’s critical to choose a container that can be loaded neatly to avoid accidental damage to valuable items. Using the correct type and amount of packing materials is just as important, too.

Financial terms and agreements

Renters should understand their full financial obligations before entering into an agreement. Pricing information about storage, pickup, delivery and any other fees should be explicitly listed somewhere on a company’s website. If not, call and ask for this information.

In many agreements, the renter is responsible for repair costs if the portable storage container is damaged on his or her property. Just like traditional storage, failure to pay can result in the renter’s property being auctioned off to clear the debt.

Outside circumstances

One of the key advantages of portable storage is delivery on demand. However, unpredictable events such as weather changes can crop up during transport and storage, so it’s best to plan accordingly. Make sure to rent a container that best protects against the elements and other outside circumstances.

If planning to transport items that are sensitive to extreme heat or cold, find a unit that is climate-controlled and ensure that all items are packed with proper cooling, heating and insulation materials. Many companies have climate-controlled storage facilities, but the containers themselves, which sit outside the renter’s home, may not have this feature. Not all containers are waterproof, either, so always ask to be sure. If it isn’t waterproof, attempt to seal out water intrusions during packing.

Another potential concern, especially for containers left out on the street, is pest infestations. Containers left outside for long periods of time are vulnerable to insects, rodents and other pests that can damage the contents. This is a good reason for storage time to be determined in advance or for smaller containers to be kept in an indoor space, such as a garage.

Watch Out for Warning Signs

In many ways, portable storage is similar to traditional storage. The general concerns customers have when storing their belongings apply in this case as well. It’s a good idea to inspect storage units for flaws in-person. A reputable company should be able to address all of the following concerns: rust, problematic doors and poor unit sizing.


A rusty container is a larger issue waiting to happen. Severe enough corrosion can be potentially damaging to the contents of a portable storage container. Many customers believe that spotting rust and damage requires a simple eye test. Unfortunately, some companies will save money by painting over rusty areas instead of fixing or replacing their units. For contractors, who may be purchasing units for industrial use, this can lead to significant losses.

Problematic doors

Like rust, problematic doors can also lead to losses. Container security is a top storage priority. If the hinges, locks or any other components don’t work properly, the container is an easy target for theft. In addition, an unsecured container might open during transport, resulting in significant displacement or damage to its contents.

Poor unit sizing

Though container selection varies between portable storage companies, unit sizes are relatively standard across the industry. All measurements should be listed plainly on the company’s website and other promotional materials. Companies that provide nonstandard or unlisted sizes should be avoided, especially if they’re charging extra to upgrade or downsize.

Shopping for a Portable Storage Company

Each portable storage company operates differently, and it can be difficult to tell which one is the best fit. A good company is simple, flexible and cost-effective. People who are used to regular moving truck rentals may find themselves overwhelmed by all the options and be worried about spending even more money than usual. However, getting the right information can streamline this process.

Fortunately, Move.org provides summaries as well as in-depth reviews of companies such as U-Haul, PODS and SMARTBOX. The pros and cons are clearly listed, and the breakdown allows customers to focus on what matters most — distance, budget, storage, convenience and availability.


How much does portable storage cost?

Pricing varies. It’s important to read the terms of the particular company and ask when unsure. Some companies charge a flat rate but have additional surcharges that weren’t originally quoted. To ensure financial flexibility, be clear about contract terms and whether or not month-to-month rentals are possible.

What storage unit sizes are available?

This also varies by company. Although sizes should be available somewhere on a company’s website, the easiest way to find out is to speak with a customer service representative. The representative should be able to make useful recommendations based on your particular storage needs.

Where can storage units be placed?

The universal answer is the front yard (or the driveway). If that location is a problem, call the company and asking about alternative placement options. Businesses, for example, may be able to have their unit(s) placed in a lot.

What are the containers made of?

Companies use different materials for their storage containers, such as metal, wood and plastic. Some companies make “weather-resistant” containers, whereas others fully weatherproof their products. Most companies provide this information online.

Are storage units locked?

All have the ability to be locked, but sometimes a lock isn’t provided. If the unit is being kept at a storage facility, there may be additional security. As always, asking the company directly is a wise choice.