Thrifty Moving: Finding Free Boxes

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At the end of this month I’ll be moving for the first time in three years, and then three months after that I’ll be moving again, so my mind is definitely focused on finding ways to make moving simple and cheap when it can be so costly and stressful.

Boxes are an essential element of the moving process–you have to pack your stuff up before it can be relocated. The thing that amazes me is people pay money for boxes, or even pay people to box up their stuff for them. I know many of these people are short on time or have other good reasons for this, but I really don’t mind doing a little work to save a good deal of money in return.

Here are some great tips on finding free moving boxes:

1. Keep Your Boxes

I feel like this is the most obvious tip, but I’ve had countless roommates who move every year at the end of their lease and every time they finish unpacking they toss (or recycle) their boxes. Then the next year they’re running around buying or trying to find boxes.

If you know your situation isn’t permanent and you don’t mind take up a little (yes, just a little!) closet space, then the simplest way to score free boxes is to just keep them!

The amazing thing about the technology of boxes is they break down. Once flattened they take up such a small amount of space, easily placed against the wall of a closet while other things can be stored in front of them.

I also do shop online from time to time to nab a great deal, and sometimes the boxes my items come shipped in are the absolute perfect size for packing books, dishes, or even as big as a normal moving box. So I flatten those and keep them too.

It’s so simple: if you already have the boxes around then you just have to pull them out, tape them up, and put stuff in them. No money required (except for the tape–unless you can score that for free as well ;).

2. Craigslist

Oh Craigslist. Such a wonderful tool. The free section is a great source for all kinds of things, including moving boxes.

Here in Chicago, where a lot of renters move on the 1st of the month, that’s the best time to check. Usually the boxes start popping up on the first, though some will continue to show up through the first part of the month. Of course, you can check anytime by simply searching the free section for “moving boxes.” All you’ll have to do is go get them

(Side tip: If you’re looking for furniture or electronics like TVs, the end of the month is a good time to look for those on CL as well, for free or for cheap. A lot of people preparing to move realize they won’t need/be able to fit their stuff in their new home and want to get rid of it quick.)

3. Grocery/Retail Stores

Having worked in retail, I’ve seen countless boxes come in with inventory each week. After they’re emptied they go in the dumpster. Such a waste, especially in the eyes of a thrifty mover.

So you can easily “dumpster dive” for these boxes and hope you find something useful that hasn’t been contaminated by something gross/rotting. Also, my recommendation, is whenever you’re in a store that you frequent or is convenient to your home, just ask about boxes. Most stores have a certain day of the week that they receive their inventory and can let you know what time would be best to come by.

We used to give away boxes all the time at the store I worked at, as long as people asked for them. We’d often even set them aside in the back room until they came by to get them.

4. Your Friends & Family

Other people move as well! And a lot of the time they won’t mind lending or giving you boxes from their most recent move. If you put out the word far enough in advance, they may even do some of the work for you, saving boxes from online purchases or grabbing empty boxes they seen thrown out at various places.

Networking is a great tool, even just to score some free boxes.


If none of these suggestions work for you, many moving & storage companies sell boxes, including U-Haul or Public Storage (which sells an apartment pack, which a lot of my roommates have used and loved). So if you need to buy boxes as the last minute, then you still have reasonable options.

See Also:
Saving on Packing Supplies
Service Review: Public Storage


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