When he split up with his girlfriend, Anthony Paine needed to store his stuff somewhere fast. As he shut the door of their flat for the final time, the irony struck him that there must be lots of people with space to spare nearby, if only he could connect with them. So he and his business partner David Mantle began their mission to create a kind of Airbnb for storage. The result was Stashbee, a company that links people with spare garage and attic space with those looking for cheap storage. It is one of a growing number of storage start-ups worldwide testing the boundaries of the tech-fuelled sharing economy. But how does it work in practice? I’m renovating my house and need to store three boxed items, a bag and a set of golf clubs. So I decide to give Stashbee a try. The website connects me with Rowena who lives near me and has more attic storage space than I can dream of. “I’m a great believer in the sharing economy,” she says, after we’ve hoisted my stuff into her loft. “It’s great that resources that aren’t being used full time are being used more widely.” Does it feel weird having a stranger’s stuff in your house, though? “You have the right to pull out on meeting the person,” she replies. “If my instincts were going ‘eeuugh’, I wouldn’t go ahead with it.” Thankfully, I passed her test. To store my stuff with Rowena for two months costs £56. The traditional self-storage industry is worth £440m a year in the UK and more than $20bn (£16bn) in the US, dominated by established companies like Public Storage and Big Yellow. Can storage start-ups also win our trust? Carlos Sousa, a sales manager with Access Self Storage, a national self-storage firm in the UK, is sceptical about storing with “amateurs”. “Here you have access to your goods 24/7,” he tells me, as he opens up a typical locker in the basement. “If you share with a stranger there’s no guarantee they are going to be home when you need your stuff.” Storing my same stuff at a warehouse like this in London costs around £75 – with long-term costs creeping up afterwards. And he questions their security arrangements too. The big problem, argues Stashbee’s David Mantle, is that people are taught from childhood to distrust strangers. The sharing economy forces us to overcome this training, he says, and recognise that most strangers don’t want to harm us. This is why, unlike rivals, his site prioritises hosts’ profile pictures as opposed to pictures of the storage spaces. Like a dating site, it’s about that first, human impression, Mr Mantle believes. He confirms that Rowena could have pulled out if she didn’t like me. And for customer peace of mind, they perform background checks on hosts. And they have just organised an opt-in insurance policy to cover goods, beginning at £3.77 per month, which covers up to £1,500 worth of stuff. With a company like Access, insurance is compulsory and also costs extra. While start-ups increasingly target the competitive social storage space, a new company is trying to make money out of our shorter-term storage needs – the few hours we have to kill before taking a train, for example.