If you spend any time at all attending storage auctions, you'll quickly discover that some units are filled with worthless junk. Not just family photo albums and old tax records; those items at least hold some value to the person storing them. No, inside a self storage unit you're likely to come across truly bizarre items: broken electronics, torn and stained couches, even bags full of regular household trash.
As you dig through the mess looking for anything of value, you might wonder: Why in the world was anyone bothering to store this junk?
To understand the phenomenon, it helps to look at things from the tenant's point of view. Most people who rent storage units are in a period of transition. They might be going through a divorce, lost a home to foreclosure or moved somewhere smaller than their old house. In any case, they very often don't have the time to leisurely move out or meticulously pack their items. They're often rushed and harried, and when you pack at the last minute, you make some odd choices – like gathering up every item in a room and throwing it in a box, whether or not it's actually just trash.
There's also the matter of landfill costs. Large items are hard to dispose of, and people moving in a hurry may find it much simpler to just store a couch along with the rest of their things rather than go through the hassle of driving it out to the dump and paying to get rid of it.
The original tenants may have told themselves that they'd have time to go back and tidy things up later. They might decide that they'll clean out the storage unit of its extra trash once things start to calm down at home. But, as they say, out of sight is out of mind, and it's easy to forget about things once they're no longer cluttering your home. Life gets in the way, and stored items are quickly forgotten.
Which is why you're so likely to find trash and treasure, often in the same unit. After the tenant starts renting it, he or she may start to forget what's inside. It's hard to recall every item you own from memory, and even harder to remember exactly where it is. Someone may have forgotten which items are in storage and which are hidden somewhere in their homes. This is especially likely in those units that were packed in a frenzied state. The tenant may remember moving in the heavy, dilapidated couch but forget all about the box of priceless antiques.
Storage facility rent is cheap, much cheaper than house payments or apartment rent. Most owners don't realize just how much money they've spent in storing items for several years. As time wears on, the task of dealing with the stored items can become daunting, and holding onto the unit may seem easier. So tenants end up paying thousands in rent to store items barely worth a few hundred dollars. Additionally, a unit may pass into the hands of a tenant's relative after death, and that relative may have no idea what's inside and no time or energy to find out. It's often easier to pay the deceased's bills without question when handling more complicated estate matters.
All of this psychology is useful for auction hunters to understand. By thinking like a tenant, you can avoid some common pitfalls that others might make when approaching a unit – such as believing that if someone paid to store a locker for years, it must have something of value in it. Learn to recognize the signs of a unit that was packed in a hurry, and go in cautiously: You may be just as likely to find trash as treasure inside.