I had a very strange, nearly out of body, experience while touring a client’s half-dozen storage units a few months ago. The first unit was 1017, the street address of my childhood home, which I took note of, also noting the fact that it contained (among other items) an antique automobile and my father restored antique cars when I was a kid.

The second unit was 1154, the house number of my best friend in college, a person I studied, hiked and camped with, and the unit contained books, a canoe and outdoor gear. I didn’t start to perspire until the third unit, 2063, the house number of one of my present best friends, an art collector. It was filled with art.

As we walked toward the next few units, in the 2200 block of the storage facility, I felt dazed. My mother’s address is 2252. The fourth unit was 2-2-5…0. Near miss. But close enough to be trés spooky. Inside it were Christmas decorations and family photographs. The ghost of Christmases past. I think I have some serious karma to work out with this client.

Something (besides smoke) is in the California air this summer—people are going gangbusters cleaning out their storage units. They’ve scanned the detritus their parents and grandparents have left behind and are grimly determined not to burden their own progeny with the depressing task of disposing of old mattresses, the ever-present extra sofa, files of obsolete travel clippings from magazines and photographs ruined by heat and moisture.

More people are also doing the math and waking up to the fact that very little has such sentimental value that it is worth storing for $50 (at the very lowest) to $250 or more per month for years. One client was storing IKEA-type furniture from a child’s bedroom at a cost of $1200 a year. Once the numbers were run, the decision to donate couldn’t be made fast enough.

I’m known for being tough on my clients when it comes to their storage. My mantra is, “If it is worth storing, it’s worth storing well.” There is no point in storing wine in a non-temperature controlled storage unit in Sacramento or photos in a humid garage in Marin. “Use it or lose it” also applies. I had a Pendleton blanket in a chest and hadn’t used it for a few years. When I pulled it out to look at it, it was quite moth-hole ridden. Things that sit, untended, tend to decay.

Storage units can be very useful if, when you sign up, you go into it with the trepidation of a date with a potential kidnapper. Have a clear exit plan. A temporary downsizing is a good time to engage a storage unit, but the emphasis is on temporary—six months max.

For someone in their 70s or older, is there really a larger home in the future? Moves are stressful and exhausting. Clearing out storage units is also stressful and exhausting. Finances will play a part, to be sure, in whether or not a larger property is on the horizon, and whether storage units are an affordable choice long term.

Another way a storage unit might be sensibly utilized is as a second, off-property garage for seasonal items, such as Christmas decorations, snow gear, and other things that might prevent you from parking your car in your garage at home. Sometimes a home truly is too small for some of the things you need now and then, and the expense can be justified. Store things in rows with aisles or line the walls in a U-shape so that you have access to everything when you need it.

Another way I see storage units being used effectively are by people in the business of buying and selling furniture or other bulky items or staging homes for sale. Obviously, whole houses-worth of furnishings can’t be stored at home, but if the pieces are income-generating, the dollars spent on storage make sense.

People always surprise me. Sometimes a client I’ve worked with for years, slowly going through a box or two a month, will suddenly clear out an entire unit. The other day the client I described above and I cleared out 1017. It was tense and slow-going at first but became positively meditative as we plowed though and the session ended jubilantly. Some of that karma definitely got burned.