You’ve seen those TV shows that glorify minimalist living. The non-materialistic spartans somehow cram their entire world into 180 square feet (or less).
Chances are, you are not one of those people.
And now that you’ve sold your home and it’s time to move, you have a lot of stuff to box up—like that beanie baby collection that will help you afford to retire one day.
The American Moving and Storage Association reports the average move to cost about $2,300. Ouch! That hurts, but every little bit you can shave off that total helps, starting with…
Boxes. There’s no getting around it: a successful move requires lots and lots of boxes.
Packing up a 2-bedroom apartment could cost you $100 in boxes alone, according to ForRent.com, a leading resource for renters since 1982. That’s at least 20 Starbucks lattes you could buy to caffeinate your move instead.
When it comes to even moderately sized homes (say, 4 bedroom, 3 bath), we’re talking more than chump change. Using HomeDepot’s moving calculator, which takes all of your home’s details into account to give you a supplies cost estimate, you’re looking at $427.76.
This leaves you with a hole in your bank account and piles of pricey packaging taking up precious space in your new home. If you want to save money during your move, then cheap moving boxes can make a huge impact.
Time is of the essence during any move, so we called up local coffee shops, retail giants, and hardware stores to ask about their surplus box offloading schedules. Plus we talked to a professional organizer to get the inside scoop on how to scour a city for these precious cubes of cardboard.
All you need is to set aside 24 hours and get in the mindset of a scrappy hunter gatherer. Because free or cheap moving boxes are surprisingly easy to find—if you just know where to look.
In the morning: Scour the web for free or cheap boxes up for grabs
First things first—you must know approximately how many moving boxes it will take to pack up all your stuff. Home Depot has a great moving calculator that helps you to estimate how many boxes and what other packing paraphernalia you’ll need to get this job done.
However, “you can never be exactly precise on how many boxes you need,” advises Holly Connors, a top real estate agent in Arlington Heights, Illinois, who’s done over 320 real estate transactions (that all involved some kind of move).
So once you’ve calculated a ballpark quantity, make a list of the number and size of each box you’ll need—but don’t be disappointed if you have to run out for extras or end up with excess. You could always turn around and help out another moving friend in need.
With your estimation and box specs nailed down, hit the interwebs to source free and cheap moving boxes. Here are some great resources to help you get started:
No matter where you live, Craigslist has you covered! Simply select your city, go to the “free” section under “For Sale” and do a search for boxes.
You can also post a query in the “wanted” section asking for free moving boxes.
The best time to find boxes is at the beginning of the week or end of the weekend since people tend to use weekends to move and are looking to get rid of the excess pronto.
U-Haul Customer Connect
U-Haul has a drop-off location at all its stores where people get rid of their reusable moving boxes that others can take for free.
Plus, their online Customer Connect portal allows you to post callouts by entering your city or ZIP code and description of your moving needs.
Locals will have the opportunity to respond to your post via the same portal.
Make sure to study any photos of the boxes offered—you want a real photo, not a stock image or catalog photo. Otherwise, you may end up with useless, soggy boxes, or worse, find you’re dealing with a scammer.
The app has an entire section devoted to “free stuff.” Type or input “boxes” into the search portal, contact any local sellers that pop up and look promising, and arrange for a pick up (either in public or with a buddy system in place). Easy.
Facebook has it all—baby photos, throwback memories from 10 years ago, and Facebook Marketplace—a platform to sell and give stuff away.
Do a quick check on your local Marketplace for anyone who’s got boxes to spare by typing in “cardboard boxes” into the search field. Check the “Only show free listings” box on the left-hand side of screen to filter for freebies. If that doesn’t yield any results, someone might be selling them for half price or less.
This private social network for your neighborhood allows you to connect with everyone on your block and surrounding area about extra boxes—without you having to knock on any doors.
Create a post in the “General” newsfeed asking for what you need and see if there are any generous souls out there willing to help a neighbor out.
No dice? Check the “For Sale & Free” section by doing a search for cardboard boxes. Most neighbors will ask you to “PM” or private message them if interested and to set up a pick-up time.
You can also post your box needs in the “For Sale & Free” section and see if anyone bites.
Make sure to select “Your broader local area” to maximize your callout so your immediate neighbors and also those close by in the community see the post.
Put some calls out to friends and family
It’s never a bad idea to call up people you know, especially any who have moved recently.
Contact friends and family to check for any unused boxes they’ll happily let you take off their hands. There’s a good chance your Uncle Ed has a few unused boxes collecting dust in his garage.
Pro tip: Janet Schiesl, a professional organizer at Basic Organization and past president of the Washington, D.C., chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers, has packed and unpacked many clients during their moves.
She says as she and her staff breakdown boxes, they list them online for free. She recommends scheduling your box hunt on the weekend since that’s when people are most likely to move and when the highest volume of boxes will be up for grabs.
In the Afternoon: Hop in your car to make your collections
Now it’s time to hit the streets—literally. It’s surprising to learn about all the places in town that will simply give you boxes for free. All you have to do is ask.
The best places to source free moving boxes in most cities are:
- Liquor Stores
The boxes used to ship bottles of liquor are often sturdy and durable, which makes them perfect for moving. Ask to speak with the manager and explain you would like some boxes. They’ll let you know where to find them or arrange to set a few aside for you.
Books are heavy, so the boxes they come in are strong. Simply go to the store and ask for some boxes. They’re usually happy to have someone take them off their hands.
Target stores receive their largest shipments for the week on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Go in before noon and speak with a manager. If they don’t have boxes to give you at that moment, they’re usually glad to set some aside.
A typical store gets at least one large shipment a week, usually on a Friday. So, cruise down to your local Starbucks on a Friday morning and ask for boxes. If they’ve not unpacked everything yet, they will hang onto them for you until you can come back for a pickup.
- Office Depot
Each Tuesday, Office Depot stores across the nation receive a large shipment that leaves them with an obscene number of boxes to break down. Go to your local Office Depot between noon and 3 p.m. for the best chance of scoring boxes—some of which even come with lids!
- Recycling Centers
Many recycling centers have a designated area for the drop off of lightly used boxes. Simply stop by your local center and ask if they have boxes for free.
- Local Wineries
This is an often-overlooked treasure trove for free moving boxes. Local wineries go through a ton of sturdy boxes they’re happy to give away. Plus, many of the boxes have dividers inside, making them great for stemware and other breakables.
- Grocery Stores
Ask to speak to the produce manager at your local grocery store. They’ll be your best bet for procuring boxes, most of which have lids.
Don’t forget while you’re out and about to pick up boxes that you arranged for this morning via U-Haul Exchange, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Nextdoor, or any of your other online callouts.
In the evening: Take inventory of your box supply and fill in the gaps
Now is the time to sit back and bask in your ability to acquire free moving boxes like a hunter and gather in the days of old—and then take inventory of your spoils. Are you missing any boxes you need? No worries, it shouldn’t be hard to fill in the gaps.
You can find cheap moving boxes online through these sites:
- Boomerang Boxes
This company had the brilliant idea of reducing waste through corporate recycling contracts. They get new and gently used boxes from manufacturers, retailers, and distributors, then sell them to you for half the price of new ones.
One of the best things about U-Haul is their buy-back guarantee. If you purchase boxes for your move through them and don’t use them all, then you can simply return them with your receipt to any store.
This company offers cheap moving boxes direct from the factory, saving you from fees incurred by the middleman.
If you’re a savvy eBay shopper, then you can easily find great deals on moving boxes and other packing supplies. Try searching for sellers near you to keep your shipping costs to a minimum.
This innovative online marketplace is a great source for cheap moving boxes. Simply search the site by your ZIP code to find individuals and companies offering used boxes for sale in your area.
Another website that sells used moving boxes, you can also find packing supplies such as wrap and tape on sale here too. Plus, you can keep it in mind to sell back a few things after you own move!
This is a box renting company that will deliver plastic boxes to you, then come to get them from your new digs when you’re unpacked. Perhaps a little more expensive than other options, but environmentally friendly and less of a headache for you.
Why pay a hefty price for moving boxes you can essentially get free? Take the extra money you saved on moving boxes and treat yourself—or bribe your friends and family with pizza to help you move all those free and cheap moving boxes to your new home!
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