Cash In On Your Creativity

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As a small business owner and storage auction hunter, you wear many hats. You work in inventory sourcing each time you attend a storage unit auction. You work in sales each time you take that merchandise and resell it. You work in accounting and record management with every receipt that you receive and file. You work in the manual labor field each time you load and unload the contents inside a storage unit. You work as a professional organizer each time you take the contents of your storage unit and classify and store them. As a professional in this field, you're probably acutely aware of just how many plates you have to keep spinning at any given time to keep your business running smoothly and successfully on a day to day basis. One job title you may never have considered is "Interior Decorator," but in reality, if any part of your business involves you taking the time to rehabilitate pieces that you've won at a storage auction, this is something that you do as part of your business as well.

You never know exactly what you'll find and unearth in each storage unit that you win at auction. The mystery is part of the thrill of the job. Often times, people stumble onto older merchandise and write it off as donation material and not worth the cost of trying to sell it and have it take up space in their storage, store, or not worth the effort to post on their online selling platform.

However, with a little bit of creativity, there is almost no item that can't be refurbished or upcycled, given a new life, and sold.

Getting The Creative Juices Flowing

So, you've stumbled across a storage unit full of older items that won't net much profit on their own. You see potential in the pieces, but you're not sure where to get started. How can you take these items and turn them into interesting and unique pieces that will attract buyers?

Get Inspired

The internet is a great place to get started. There are many discovery search sites, such as StumleUpon and Pinterest that allow you to search for any item or topic, and get back thousands of returns with creative ideas for projects, how to tutorials, images, and more. Take the time each day to wake your brain up by making yourself a big cup of joe, booting up your computer and and reviewing your favorite sites for half an hour. Organize all your favorite ideas so that you can easily come back to them later when you are ready to get started with a new project.

Think Outside the Box

Start by thinking outside the box. For example, a suitcase is never just a suitcase. When I searched Pinterest for the term "refurbished suitcase" I got a return of over 50 pins. There were project ideas and tutorials for taking an average run of the mill suitcase and turning it into everything from a coffee table to a bathroom medicine cabinet. My favorite project entailed using suitcases to create decorative floating shelves.

This project does require a bit of handy work to complete, but overall should only take a few hours to complete with some basic tools that most people keep in their garage.

Below is a simple to follow, step-by-step tutorial for creating this project. This project does include actually attaching the shelf to the wall, so as part of your sales pitch for the item, you could include the cost of your man power hours. This could eventually become another regular stream of revenue for you!

Suitcase Floating Shelves

Getting Started-Supplies

  • Vintage suitcases
  • 1x10 wood
  • Painter’s tape and scrap paper (for templates)
  • Screws
  • Level
  • Jigsaw
  • Table Saw
  • Electric drill with a screwdriver bit

Step 1. Prep

Open the suitcase and remove all of the lining inside. This will help with the messiness of the project once you begin to cut the suitcase. You should decide the depth you'd like each shelf to be. For our purposes, we'll say that each shelf should be 6 inches. Take your painter's tape and wrap it around the section of the suitcase you intend to cut. Take a Sharpie and mark the painter's tape, so that you know exactly where you want to cut the suitcase later on. The painter's tape allows you to make a precise cut without having to Sharpie the suitcase itself and allows for a cleaner line and cut. The front of the suitcase will serve as the front end of your shelf, with the handle facing the room, so keep that in mind as you begin the process of measuring.

Step 2. Start Sawing

Use the table saw to begin making the cuts. Depending on the suitcase and the power tools you have available, you may be able to use only a jigsaw, and you may find that you need a  table saw, but need to use the jigsaw later to make final cuts to the suitcase. Important Note: If your suitcase has metal banding around it, as many older suitcases do, you will need to use a metal blade on your jigsaw.

Step 3. Get Measurements


Use a tape measure to measure the length of the opening at the back of the suitcase that will be flush with the wall. You will want to measure from Each side of the opening, but do not include the suitcase itself in the measurement. Then use you your saw to cut a piece of plywood that will fit into the opening, creating the mounting for your shelf, and stabilizing the suitcase and preventing sagging.


When you're done cutting, fit the wood piece into the suitcase to ensure the proper fit and make any cuts to the wood as necessary. The piece of wood should be flush with the back of your suitcase as shown in the image.  You won't combine the two elements until later in the process when you actually hang the shelf, but before you get there, you want to make sure that everything fits together properly. As the next image shows, the piece of plywood needs to be the length of the opening, but does not need to be the same depth as the suitcase. In most instances, the vintage suitcases used to complete the product will be thick plastic material that is stury enough to act as a shelf without the plywood, however when cut to be flush with the wall, the center of the suitcase is less sturdy and requires the additional support.

Step 4. Decide Placement


Before you begin posting your suitcase shelves onto the wall, take the time to determine the layout. You can use scraps of paper that mirror the measurements, taping them to the wall beforehand to decide where your shelf or shelves will look best.

Step 5. Mount Your Shelves

There are several suggested ways of mounting the shelves. For this guide, you'll want to use a stud finder to mark out the studs on your wall which will make the placement sturdier and avoid causing any long term damage to the walls by placing them where there isn't' enough support. Your board(s) doesn't have to be centered on the studs, but it should have to cross over at least two studs to be secure.

Final Product

Start by placing your piece of wood onto the shelf and screwing in one side. The size of the screw used will depend on the particular shelf.  Once you've started hanging your plywood, you'll want to make sure that the board is level before screwing in the next side.

Once the boards are in place, you'll want to use screws to attach the suitcase to the board. You'll want to add a screw at the top of the suitcase, at the bottom, and one on screw on each of the sides. To make sure that the board and the suitcase are properly attached, you'll need to determine the screw size necessary to keep them combined.

Images and Tutorial Courtesy of Red Hen Home, a member of the Self Storage Association, provides our customers with a comprehensive auction list in multiple auction formats for all 50 states and over 51,000 facilities. Subscribers can review over 10,000 auctions each month through their personal dashboard making storage auctions easy to find whether you're treasure hunting for fun or running a profitable business.

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