Cautious Generosity: Returning Select Keepsakes to Previous Owners

Here at, we do have a heart.  Sure, there are a million reasons why people’s storage lockers get left behind: some justifiable, some just lazy. A lot of the time, however, the tenant simply does not care enough to come back and reclaim their belongings.  Or similarly, they did care, but have moved on in life and need the money they would have paid in delinquent rent for more immediate life expenses.

A karmic rule that is thrown around in this trade (in some circles) is

“always returnpile of books personal keepsakes back to the original owner.”

Although I would not go as far as to say “always,” judgment calls can be made on a case by case basis where you weigh the potential value of random goods to yourself vs. the original owner.  More often than not, you may realize those miscellaneous keepsakes are destined for the Goodwill pile anyway.

Although this should always be the exception the rule, if you see a lot of photographs, hand written letters, poor condition childhood toys, books, burned DVD’s, cheap posters/prints, broken guitars, or a lot of things that will end up as donations, why not consider giving these things back to the person it all matters to most?

Here's the most foolproof was to go about playing Santa Claus to former storage tenants.

Cautious Generosity

Step One. See how much information the facility owner is willing to divulge about the current whereabouts of the original tenant.  Their name and last known address will always be readily available information.  You should see if you can eke out a phone number and e-mail, too.  If the facility owner knows that they have left the state or city, then this is valuable information for you.


Step Two. Create your Goodwill pile, separating fragile stuff like posters, DVD’s, photo albums, and the like.


Step Three. Send an e-mail to the original tenant.  E-mail is always preferable because your anonymousness is what matters here the most.  Tellkeep your distance sign Tell them honestly and directly what you do for a living, that you are running a tight resale ship, and that you have a box or two of things that you have no use for and would like to return if they are available in the next 48 hours.  Let them know that you prefer not to meet in person.  Write them asking if there is somewhere you can drop the things off discreetly, such as a family member’s address.

Tell them that if there is an item or two you may have overlooked, you will consider throwing it in as well.  However, that should be the extent of the negotiating. Be clear that this is not a sub-auction but an act of generosity.

Warning: Avoid give them any of your personal information: telephone number, address, workplace, or even where your kids go to school.


Step Four. Place the box or two anonymously at the address they have given to you, or hand it to the family member if they currently live there.

If the Tenant is Out of State

If the original owner is out of state permanently, put the personal keepsakes aside and begin your entire resale process first.  You do not have time to waste contacting them first, because it will probably not be easy (or even possible) to do so.  Before you even consider shipping them anything, you need to see what sort of profit you can make on the unit.

If they are out of state and do not respond to your e-mail, then consider yourself completely absolved from any responsibility.  If they are out of state and do respond, after you have gotten your major resale underway, e-mail them stating that you want all shipping costs covered up front (via Paypal) and then you will gladly mail them the things you decided to return beforehand.

Weeks later, if you are absolutely having trouble selling something of value, consider telling them you have a few things they make be interested in getting back.  Make sure they know there is a cap to this, and make sure you are getting more than fair market value (i.e. do a comparison on EBay) considering you are going to lengths to resuscitate their former wares.

All of this correspondence: via e-mail, and payment via Paypal.

A Delicate Balancing ActMr. Burns

Going about this process the wrong way is only going to be lighting a stick of dynamite. You can envision it: the pleading, bargaining, and negotiating that will ensue if you let your "face be known."


As you make case by case judgment calls about going this extra mile, always keep in mind that storage facilities do have values too.  They will more often than not give a universe of chances to tenants in reclaiming their things.  Be it cutting their delinquent rent in half or giving them 24 hours to get their belongings out of the way at no cost, most of the time their last resort is auctioning off the tenant’s property.

Seeing a storage unit purely in terms of potential value to be made is one way to look at things.  But when you’re handling another person’s treasured keepsakes, making conscious judgment calls on what to return to the owner as you comb through will make you feel better overall.

In turn, the former owner will feel relieved at not leaving their bad situation empty handed and will certainly appreciate you for your compassion (whoever you are?).


Image Sources









Back to Blog
Leave a reply