Jacob Beckstead
December 12, 2023
Article type:
Moving Help & Tips
Applies to:

Moving Company vs Portable Storage Container: Best Choice for Your Move

As anyone who has ever moved homes can attest, the process is always filled with excitement and stress. And when it comes to the decision of how to move or store your belongings, you may be left wondering what to do. Should you use a traditional moving company or a portable storage provider like PODS, 1-800-PACK-RAT, or U-Pack?

Both options have their pros and cons. Ultimately, the choice will depend on factors such as budget, convenience, and the distance of your move. In this post, we'll explore the key differences between movers and portable storage companies, weighing the pros and cons of portable storage for local moving and long-distance moving compared to using a local or long-distance moving company to help you make an informed decision.

The Cost of a Full-Service Moving Company vs the Cost of Portable Storage

What's the cost of working with a moving company vs. obtaining portable storage? This is the first concern for anyone who's considering using either movers or portable storage. On average, moving companies will charge more than portable storage companies. However, the true cost-to-you difference can be hard to spot because of the disparities in how both companies charge for moves.

Let's look at movers first. For local moves, which are moves in or around the same city or area, are typically charged by the hour or at an all-in price. That means that you either pay for movers for as long as you need them, or your mover will quote you for the cost of the entire move. Hourly pricing is more flexible, but knowing the total cost can be better for your planning since you'll get to see that cost upfront. Both hourly pricing and all-in pricing will include materials, labor, and basic protection for your belongings when handled by the movers.

Long-distance moves, such as those that cross state lines or exceed 50 miles, are more complicated. The pricing from movers is typically based on weight and miles traveled, plus extra services like packing and specialty hauling. Most movers will quote you a guaranteed price or something similar in a written estimate. Just as with local moves, you'll know the cost of a long-distance move with a moving company upfront.

Portable storage companies, on the other hand, normally charge a flat rate for container rental and transportation. Then, portable storage companies include additional fees for storage time and extra fuel charges. These prices will not include the cost of moving boxes, so make sure to add that cost to the projection.

Bottom Line: Movers are generally more expensive, but their services include the labor to load, transport, and unload. Also, they typically include all of their costs upfront in the moving quote. That will be pretty similar between local movers and interstate moving companies. Portable storage companies don't provide labor (or at least directly) and tend to have more add-on charges, both through them and through you (your time, the boxes you buy, the time you spend, etc.), making the total cost of portable storage companies harder to forecast.

The main difference is that movers are generally the ones managing the whole move - so they cover it from start to finish and give you one cost for all services you require. Portable storage companies rely on you to be the move manager. Think of it like you being the general contractor and they're a sub-contractor who provides the equipment. You'll be responsible for the various parts of the work, buying the materials, or doing it yourself.

Prices for the best moving options and portable storage solutions (PODS costs) vary widely at any time. Use the chart above as a general guide, not a firm estimate range. Your circumstances vary costs substantially. Why do prices vary so much?

Security & Damage Risks When Hiring a Moving Company vs Portable Storage Container

Moving companies are held more liable for lost or damaged belongings during a local move and long-distance move than portable storage companies are. Movers are typically trained on how to load, pack, and unload in a way that minimizes damages during a move; it's a skill you learn that isn't necessarily very intuitive. Conducting training for moving crew helps limit the security and damage risks. That's the trade-off for not keeping control of access to your belongings during a move; you're letting trained professionals do what they do best.

With portable storage companies, your items will be stored in storage units that you have control over, but you'll also be liable for damages that occur both from loading and during transport. Things like damage to contents caused by improper packing, normal shifting, burglary while the container is on-site at your home, and more are not going to be covered by the portable storage company. You'll need to make sure you can pack, load, and unload so that your belongings don't get damaged. Or, you should budget for potential damages or security threats during your local move or long-distance move with a portable storage container.

Do yourself a big favor: Research loading, packing, and unloading properly if you're leaning toward using a portable storage container for your upcoming move. These steps are not simple or intuitive when you're not a professional mover; mishaps often can lead to injuries or broken items. There is a right way to do it, and conversely, many wrong ways to do it that will cause damage.

Bottom Line: If someone else assumes the risk of moving your belongings on your behalf, they'll ask for compensation. That's what movers will do. On the other hand, if you're comfortable taking on the risk, you can save some money. That's where portable storage containers apply.

Your Moving Timeline: Flexible Timeline vs Hard Timeline

If flexibility is what you're after, and you have a timeline that isn't firm, then you may want to consider using a portable storage container for your next move. Unlike traditional movers or even truck rentals, with a portable storage container, there is no need to rush and pack everything on a timeline.

You can pack and load at your own pace and convenience, giving you the freedom to prioritize your time. Plus, you can keep the container on your property as you load and unload.

The only downside to this method is that it is incredibly hard to pack in place. Here's what I mean. In the beginning, packing non-essentials is easy. You don't need them to live your life. But after you get those out of the way, it gets hard to pack things like dishes, clothes, sheets, and towels because you need them to live comfortably. What do you do once they're in a box, but you're still living in your home? This problem is why packing yourself is one of the hardest parts of moving. However, the flexibility of being able to pack what you want and when you want is an advantage to portable storage containers to consider.

So, portable storage containers allow you to be more flexible with your moving timeline. When is it the case that moving companies are better for your moving timeline? The tradeoff movers give you in return for less flexibility is time. The total length of time you'll be "moving", meaning from the start of packing to the delivery of the last box, will be shorter when working with a moving company.

Movers will provide you with an estimated timeline for your move to help you plan. In non-peak times, moving companies should be able to complete the move, including loading all the way to delivery, in a short window. Their crews will be able to pack and load you faster than you can (they're professionals, after all) and the moving trucks will likely be able to go directly to your new residence.

In peak times, i.e. when moving companies are busiest, there might be delays in getting loaded and unloaded. It depends on a variety of factors, such as consumer demand and the complexity of the move.

For example, a local move, which involves the customer moving less than 50 miles away, can likely be performed in a single day. As long as the moving company has availability, it tends to go much faster for moving customers than renting portable storage.

In addition, long-distance movers take longer and vary depending on circumstances. Customers should plan for a day or two for loading and the same for unloading. In the middle will be transit time. For more information on moving timelines for long-distance moves, we've broken down how long moves usually take in our 8 most common moving questions article, here.

Portable storage container companies will often be able to deliver their container within a few days of your request, and then pick them up with enough advanced notice, but that doesn't include your time to pack, load, and unload.

Bottom Line: Portable storage is more flexible when you have flexible timelines to work with. Movers will make the move, from start to finish, go faster due to training and dedicated resources. So if you want a more relaxed pace on your move, a portable storage container will give you just that. If you need to get the move done and have hard deadlines, movers are often better at accommodating that.

Conclusion: Which Is Better, Portable Storage or Movers?

In summary, there are pros and cons to both moving companies and portable storage container providers. Your final decision will depend on factors such as your budget, the amount of control you want over your belongings, the amount of risk you're willing to absorb yourself, the distance and flexibility you require, and your timeline for moving. Make sure to weigh up the benefits and trade-offs of each option to ensure you choose the best option for your needs.

If you're curious about general pricing for moving companies, you can visit our online quote tool to obtain a better idea of what an upcoming local move or long-distance move with a moving company will cost you.