Storage Unit Auction Tips: Telling Junk from Treasure


In 2010, NPR did a story called “Needle in a Crapstack” that was part of a series titled This American Life. The story details how storage unit auctions work and follows a group of storage unit auction “veterans” in Northern California.

The speaker informs listeners that there are over 2.35 billion square-feet of self storage units across the United States and puts this number in perspective by stating that every man, woman, and child in the U.S. could collectively stand inside America’s storage units all at the same time!

So, if you don’t already know - this is how a storage unit auction works; bidders come to a storage facility that is having a scheduled auction - sometimes, and especially in Sacramento and other large cities, there are 25+ units to be auctioned off at a time; making storage unit auctions a long and time-consuming process.

Bidders are then given the chance to “browse” the contents of the abandoned storage unit without touching anything or even going inside; they usually only get 5-10 minutes to look inside the unit. Bidders often bring flashlights and step stools in order to examine the contents of the unit better.

This, according to the speaker, makes the “game” the same for everyone. But after speaking to a few seasoned veterans, many of which depend on reselling auctioned off items for a second or even a primary means of income, the speaker discovers, and inform listeners, of the most important tips and tools of the trade:


  • Be patient and know how much you are willing to spend.
  • Look for dust and cobwebs. Many of the people interviewed in Northern California stated that it was a good sign if there were a lot of cobwebs and dust in the unit. It implies that no one has been in the storage unit in some time and that it probably has old, perhaps even antique, items buried inside.


  • How a unit is organized matters. If the contents are disheveled or overturned, it might indicate that the previous owner knew their belongings were about to be sold and in a last attempt to save them, ransacked their unit and already took away the most profitable items. If everything is neat and organized, it implies that the previous owner may have had valuables that they wanted to take care of and keep organized.
  • Consider the types of boxes. While a 50 inch plasma TV almost never has a TV in it, it does indicate the income bracket of the previous owner and can give clues as to what else might be buried inside. Looking for these types of things helps bidders to build a profile of the previous owner and then bid accordingly.


  • Bidding can get pretty competitive, especially in large areas like Sacramento. So consider practicing your “game face,” many bidders have their own tactics in order to seal their bid on a unit, practice to find out what works best for you!
  • Don’t forget to bring flashlights, step stools, and extra boxes/organization tools. All of these things will make your next storage auction significantly smoother and probably, a more lucrative practice.

Many of the people interviewed acknowledged that for every great find, there are plenty of disappointments.

So what keeps them coming back? What propels a person to potentially throw hundreds, even thousands, of dollars down the drain on a storage unit that may not be worth anything?

Maybe it’s kind-of like being a pirate or a detective; building profiles, building a repertoire of techniques to seize and conquer, making connections and discovering items that give insight into another’s life and/or into history, and of course, there’s always the chance of finding something valuable! And Sacramento has seen its fair share of valuable goods and antique’s buried in her storage units, only to be uncovered at a storage unit auction.

Clearly, there is a large storage auction following (the speaker from NPR stated that there were nearly 100 bidders at the auction he attended in Northern California!). So how do you find these auctions?

Whether you are in Sacramento or another city, is the most user-friendly and informative auction listing platform out there. If you love storage unit auctions, you will probably enjoy Government, Estate, Police, or Auto auctions too - they are all great places to hunt, find, and pay an affordable price for quality items - and Storage Unit Auction List can give you access to every one of these auctions in your local area.


You’ll never know what you will find until you look! So let Storage Unit Auction List help you start.


Until Next Time!

Keep on Junkin’


Amy's Heart

Back to Blog
Leave a reply