With colleges and universities across the country canceling in-person classes and closing dormitories to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, thousands of students are scrambling for new housing, travel, and storage plans.

Even as many students are heading home to live with their families while attending classes online, there remains the question: What do I do with all my stuff? This can be even more complicated for seniors who won’t be going back. We hope these college moving and storage tips will help you find the best option and simplify the process during this challenging time.

1. Find out what your college or university is doing about coronavirus moving and storage.

Many institutions are allowing students to visit their dorm to collect their belongings only during specific pick-up times. For students who aren’t able to collect their belongings themselves, some colleges are working with companies to pack and store their stuff for a fee.

2. Check for discounts – but study the details.

Self-storage and portable storage companies may offer special discounts for college students, as well as deals for storage for three months or more. Just be sure you get all the details and think beyond offers for a free month. Consider that it’s quite possible you’ll be storing your stuff for several months, so factor that in.

3. Research college moving and storage options and costs.

Depending on your college, you probably have three types of choices for storage:

  1. School-specific storage services arranged through your institution
  2. Self-storage units where you have to get your stuff to the storage location
  3. Portable moving and storage containers that are delivered to you and then picked up for storage or delivered to your home or next address.

For self-storage and portable container solutions, expect to pay about $100 to $150 a month for the storage rental. If you don’t have enough stuff to fill a storage unit or container, you could split the cost by sharing with a friend who will be returning to school, too. Just be sure to be clear about payment responsibilities. For school-specific services, which include pick-up and drop-off (may require a fee), you’ll pay per box or item, with costs running from about $12 per month for small boxes to $40 for large boxes. But if you’ve got more than a few large boxes, those costs can quickly add up!

If you’re a senior, you may need to research moving and shipping services, too. In general, you’ll find moving with a portable container service can be a lot cheaper and more flexible than using professional movers. Temporary storage may also be included in the service, which can be especially convenient during uncertain times. Keep this in mind as you consider your options.

Here’s a quick summary of the options and their pros and cons:

School-specific storage services

There are a handful of college storage services that specialize in storing students’ belongings. If you live on campus and your college has an arrangement with one of these services, they can often be the easiest and most affordable options. However, their availability may be limited, and free pick-up and drop-off are usually restricted to specific dates. Prices also may go up as their storage facilities reach capacity. So you’ll want to check into these early to reserve your spot and get the best price.

With most school storage companies, you’ll pack your belongings into boxes. Then they’ll send movers to your dorm on a designated date to pick up storage boxes along with larger items like furniture, bikes, or musical instruments. The items are stored at a facility and delivered back to your next location on campus when you return to school. Storage is typically charged per month and by size, although some have set terms (usually four months). These services may not offer a shipping option, so be sure to ask about this if you think you won’t be returning to the area.

Self-storage units

For a DIY option, you can try self-storage. If you live off-campus, self-storage units can be a decent option for temporary storage, especially if you have furniture. But keep in mind you’ll need access to a vehicle or truck big enough to tote your stuff, or you’ll need to pay to rent one for the day – and again when you return to school. You’ll be responsible for getting your belongings to the storage facility, but you normally have full access to the unit in case you realize you need something in the middle of your storage term. If you’re a graduating senior, self-storage is probably not the best option if you don’t expect to be returning to the area.

Portable Moving and Storage Containers

Don’t have access to a vehicle or don’t feel comfortable driving a huge rental truck? A portable container service like PODS might be the solution for you, especially if you may need your stuff shipped to another location. A container will be dropped off at your place and you can pack it up and load your stuff yourself – so no one else needs to touch your belongings, providing more health safety. When you’re ready, your container will be picked up and stored in a storage center, or transported to your home, even if it’s in another state or across the country. What’s cool, is this lets you keep your options open if you’re graduating and have no idea where you’ll end up landing your first job. You can have the container kept at the storage center until you know where it needs to go. Then it will be delivered to your new address when you’re ready.

If you live on campus or in an apartment building, be sure to check with your property manager or dorm supervisor before reserving a container to make sure you can reserve a parking spot for the container while you’re packing it. Don’t worry, though, as portable storage services like PODS frequently deliver and pick up containers on school campuses. If you’re renting a house, it’s even easier because the provider can place the container right there in your driveway, which means storage is just steps away – convenience that’s hard to beat.

4. Pack it up

Start by getting rid of as much stuff as you can. No doubt you had no idea when you left your dorm room that you’d be having to pack up and leave as soon as you returned. To keep costs down, part with everything you don’t need – whether it’s old books and notes or clothes you never wear. Be prepared to be ruthless and make snap decisions. If you’re really good and you’re able to drive home, you may not even need storage!

Here’s a few quick packing tips:

  • Packing for storage is a lot like moving. Though your time may be more limited because of the national emergency, resist the urge to just chuck stuff into boxes. It’s better to maximize the storage space and make it easy to unpack. Same goes for making sure everything is totally dry to prevent mold and mildew from spreading in storage. And if you’d rather not invite bugs for a party, you want your kitchen items and appliances squeaky clean — no food, spills, or crumbs.
  • Grab plenty of storage boxes before you start packing. Since the coronavirus can live on surfaces, this isn’t the time to save money with used or recycled boxes. It’s safer to use what you may have on hand and purchase new ones from a home improvement or office supply store. Once you’ve got the boxes, make use of every available space. Stuff socks into shoes and small kitchen gadgets into the microwave (just remember to remove everything before you plug it back in again!). You’d be surprised at how much hidden space you can find.
  • If you’re dismantling any furniture, clear sandwich baggies are your friend. Use them to store small pieces like screws, and tape baggies to the underside of furniture items. That way you won’t have to worry about losing parts, and you’ll know what piece belongs to what item.

5. Store it (or Move it)

You’ve done it! All that’s left is having your stuff picked up or loading it in your storage unit or container. If you have locked storage, keep the key in a safe place and make note of that hiding spot in the Notes app on your phone. File any online documentation about your moving and storage where you can find it easily. Do things like forward the email with details to yourself with a subject line that says “Storage,” save the company name in your phone contacts (make sure “Storage” is in the company name), or save the details in a file folder named “Storage.” Snap a photo of any paper records so you’ll have a copy on your phone just in case anything happens. This all may sound silly, but it’s amazing how hard it can be to remember details after a few months.

If you won’t be returning and you’ve chosen to use a moving container service like PODS, it’s up to you where and when you want your container delivered. You can have it shipped straight to your home, or kept at the storage center where it will be safe until you know your destination after graduating and landing your first job.  

One more note about safety. Avoid the temptation to hug your friends when you’re saying good bye. We know you’re going to miss them. But to make all these sacrifices worthwhile, everyone needs to avoid the kind of close and physical contact that makes it so easy for this crazy-contagious Coronavirus to spread. You don’t want to bring it home to your family members and others who may be at much higher risk. So remember: Air hugs all around.