Just say no: With a little research, you’ll find it’s easy to score moving boxes for free. You can even save bucks on packing supplies. Here’s what you need to know.
First, decide what you need
It will take close to 100 boxes of different sizes to pack up an average single-family home (and around 50 boxes of different sizes to pack up the average one-bedroom apartment), according to Olympian Moving and Storage, based out of Washington, DC. How many different types of boxes you need depend on what you have, but this is how it typically breaks down:
- Book boxes: In the moving industry, these can hold about 1.5 cubic feet of stuff and are sturdily constructed and therefore appropriate for moving heavy and densely-packed items like books, canned goods, and small appliances.
- All-purpose boxes: Typically 3 cubic feet, an all-purpose box is appropriate for medium-weight items that are not densely packed such as pots and pans, toys, and lamps.
- Large boxes: At around 4.5 cubic feet, the large box is ideal for lightweight items like pillows, blankets and clothing. That way, you won’t get hurt when lifting and loading on moving day.
Commercial moving companies and suppliers also sell more specialized versions such as china boxes, which come with dividers for transporting dishes and glassware, and wardrobe boxes, which stand upright and come with a bar for hanging clothing and curtains.
As a rule, plan to use smaller boxes for heavier stuff, and only put light stuff in the largest boxes.
Second, plan your sourcing strategy.
It’s not just about where to get moving boxes for free, it’s about how you go about it. Generally speaking, there are two approaches, and you can mix and match; the first is private networking:
- Craigslist: Go to your local Craigslist site and search for boxes under “Community” and “Free Stuff.”
- Freecycle: Like Craigslist, Freecycle is a website that can hook you up with free stuff that people in your community would otherwise be throwing away. It’s a matter of signing up for your local group and posting that you’re looking for boxes.
- U-Haul Box Exchange: U-Haul’s website contains a feature allowing people to connect and find moving supplies. It’s as simple as entering your location and typing in “free boxes.”
- Facebook: Search for “free moving boxes” and you’ll find a treasure trove of listings. Or post that you’re looking for boxes in a status update.
- Friends and family: Send out an email asking if anyone has any boxes they want to get rid of.
Just be mindful that you don’t want the entire world to know your business, so try to keep the public posting to a minimum. While you’re at it, be wary of these signs you’re sharing too much on social media.
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The second strategy to try is public sourcing:
- Department stores (such as Walmart or Target, and you may even get lucky and score some wardrobe boxes)
- Dollar stores
- Liquor stores (good for breakables because the boxes come with cardboard inserts)
- Fast food restaurants (French fry boxes tend to be large and come with plastic bags inside)
- Grocery stores
- Office supply stores
- Bookstores (source for sturdy boxes)
- Banks or offices (another source for smaller, sturdier boxes)
- Electronic stores
- College dorms (swing by on move-in day)
- Recycling area in apartment buildings (people get deliveries every single day)
To use these public sources strategically, call ahead and tell them your plan to take some boxes off their hands. They may even tell you when they’re expecting shipments, or in the case of college dorms, when students are moving in.
Third, get creative about packing
Remember that you can also use laundry baskets, suitcases, garment bags, and even (scrubbed) garbage cans. In lieu of bubble wrap, you can protect your fragile items with clothing and linens—stuff socks in and around stemware and glasses. Use pillows, stuffed animals, socks, underwear—anything that’s soft and that needs to be packed.
Finally, give back after you’ve gotten unpacked
You got those boxes for free. If they’re still in good shape, pay it forward by finding someone else who can use them.