Where Can I Find Boxes for Moving?

Johnna Kaplan

At The Extra Mile, we know moving can be stressful. For some, it’s one of the most complex operations they’ll ever have to coordinate; and even if you’ve relocated many times, gearing up to move again can feel daunting. Partly, this is because there’s so much to plan and so many small details to organize. In this guide, we’re going to tell you all about one of our best moving tips-everything you need to know about one of the first practical questions people consider when planning a move–where can I get all those boxes?

If possible, start planning your move and acquiring your moving boxes six to eight weeks prior to your move day. Read through the options below and consider your individual situation – including how much time you have, your budget, and how much convenience matters to you – while you decide what’s best. (For example, free boxes are, well, free, but calling or driving around in search of them will take up more of your time than ordering online and having pricier boxes delivered.)

That said, now it’s time to find you some moving boxes.

Where Can You Get Boxes for Free?

Moving requires a lot of boxes, and you might end up using them only once. Naturally, most people would prefer to get those boxes for free. Luckily, there are many ways to do so. However, before you rush out in search of cardboard castoffs, be aware that the options below are only suggestions, not guarantees, so we recommend calling ahead to businesses to ask if free boxes are available.

U-Haul Box Exchange. U-Haul offers two programs that can help you snag free or discounted boxes. One is the “take a box, leave a box” system at U-Haul company stores and some independent U-Haul dealers. Customers can drop off old boxes here, or search for used boxes to take home for free. The other is the Box Exchange, a forum on U-Haul’s website where anyone can make a post requesting moving boxes or offering up their used supplies for free or at a low price. Whether your post will attract any offers depends on your location and timing; especially outside of major cities, posts can be few and far between. But the process is simple, so if you’re not in a hurry, it’s worth a try.

Friends and Neighbors. Of course, there’s always the time-honored method of asking friends and family whether they have any boxes stashed away. But don’t forget to ask your social media contacts, too. If you have a Facebook account, post a friendly request stating that you’re moving soon, looking for used boxes, and would appreciate if anyone had some to spare or knew of another good source. And don’t worry if you don’t have a lot of Facebook friends or Twitter followers yourself; one of your contacts might share your post with an old high school friend who knows that the nearby grocer gives away boxes.

Community Groups. Another way to use Facebook to find boxes can be inquiring via a post to a local group. If you don’t belong to one already, search for groups in your city or neighborhood, or even your street. Other local groups can be found on websites like Craigslist, Freecycle, and Nextdoor. You may also find others specific to your town or community. Each works slightly differently, but in general, you can scan the listings to see what others are giving away, and create your own post asking for what you need. When meeting up with strangers to exchange goods, be cautious and try to meet in a public, well-lit place. Some city police departments offer their parking lots as safe locations for such exchanges.

Large Retailers. You may be able to source big boxes from, well, big box stores – think Walmart, Costco, PetSmart, Sam’s Club, Home Depot, Office Depot, Target, K-Mart, and Best Buy. Some retailers may not give away boxes – for free or otherwise – however, it’s worth a call to ask. If they agree, ask them about the most convenient day and time for you to show up. But don’t grab any old box just because a store lets you have it; if a box is stained, damaged, oddly shaped, or has no top, it’s probably not a good bet.

Recycling Drop-off Points. This is an especially convenient option if you’re already planning on recycling items from your big pre-moving decluttering session. While you’re at the recycling center, ask if there’s a designated area for unused boxes for the taking. If you do find boxes, don’t just grab them all in your excitement; make sure any boxes you take are suitable, size-and shape-wise, and in good condition.

Grocery Stores. Small neighborhood grocers as well as large grocery store chains get frequent shipments of goods in boxes. The next time you go food shopping, speak to the store manager about your future move and ask if you can snag some boxes headed for the recycling bin. Before you take any boxes home, make sure they’re in good condition; a box that contained vegetables, for example, might be damp and covered in soil. On the other hand, banana and apple boxes, which are ventilated to allow the fruit to breathe, can nevertheless be great packing boxes because they’re sturdy.

Schools. Call nearby elementary, middle or high schools to inquire about potential delivery boxes you could reuse. This is an especially good bet if you’re moving in September, when schools have just received the most deliveries, but they also get deliveries of food and supplies throughout the school year, so it’s worth a try regardless of your timing.

Your Workplace. Some corporations no longer allow employees to take boxes for free, but if yours does, this can be an easy way to acquire moving supplies. Ask around, starting with your office manager or at the loading dock. If that doesn’t work out, your workplace may also have an online buy/sell community. (This option is probably easiest if you drive to work as opposed to using public transportation, but what you’re willing to carry on the bus is up to you!)

Office Supply Store. Boxes used to ship stock to stores like OfficeMax and Staples are usually sturdy, and often come with lots of packing material too. The best boxes to score, if they let you, are those that printer/copier paper are shipped in. Some of those boxes have a lid already, so you only need minimal tape. These relatively small, tough boxes are ideal for packing small, heavy items like books, or fragile items like dishes. Because you can easily lift them yourself, they’re also good for anything you’re bringing with you in your car.

Bookstores. Another potential source for smaller, sturdy boxes are bookstores. Ask the manager at Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million, and also check with smaller independent booksellers in your area.

Bars and Restaurants. Eateries get frequent deliveries, and the staff might be happy to hand some boxes off to you instead of breaking them down at end of their shift. Some of these boxes can be perfect for moving, e.g., strong liquor boxes designed for heavy and breakable items. Some boxes may not have lids, but these can work for items you’re transporting in your car, like plants, clothes, or toiletries. As with grocery stores, beware of restaurant boxes with stains or strong food smells that can be absorbed by your packed items.

Pharmacy. Major drugstore chains like Walgreens, CVS, or Rite Aid, as well as local independent pharmacies, are another option. Talk to a manager first, and if they agree, coordinate a pick-up time on their delivery day or whatever time benefits the store. When placing boxes that aren’t broken down into your vehicle, save space by nesting them, small inside medium inside large.

Liquor Stores. As mentioned above, liquor boxes are solid, but generally small, and often have the tops cut off. Plan to use them creatively by making lids yourself or packing items that don’t need to be sealed. The cases that six-packs arrive in can also be excellent packing boxes, though they’re not as sturdy. Be aware that liquor boxes are often stapled together, so watch for rogue staples that can poke you or damage your packed items.

Home Improvement Stores. When you need large boxes, e.g. the kind that major appliances come in, the large retailers mentioned above, like Lowes and Home Depot, may be an option. However, store policies may prevent them from giving these away. Try smaller, locally owned hardware or appliance stores where owners may be more flexible and happy to do a favor for a customer.

How to Measure a Box

You may need to measure your moving boxes at some point, either to determine whether they will fit in your car or truck, or to figure out whether a certain item will fit into a particular box. When measuring boxes, make sure to measure their length, width, and depth. If very precise measurements are needed, remember that there will be a slight difference between the inside and outside dimensions of a box.

Understanding Box Packing Calculations

Sometimes, you’ll see references to the volume of a box in cubic feet. To calculate a box’s volume in cubic feet, measure its length, height, and width in inches; multiply the three numbers; then divide the total by 1728. If your moving truck or container is measured in cubic feet, your moving or shipping company will tell you how to estimate the volume of your belongings. Many companies use online calculators where you select specific household items, rather than asking you to do the measuring or math yourself.

Types of Boxes

At first, you’ll probably just want to accumulate as many good-quality boxes as possible. But as you start packing, you’ll notice that the type and size of the boxes is important too. This, in addition to your budget and other individual circumstances, is why you’ll probably end up using a combination of purchased and free boxes. For expensive, fragile, or sentimental items, you may want to buy new moving boxes, and large or oddly shaped items might demand a special type of box that you won’t find in someone else’s cast-offs.

Every household is unique, which makes it impossible to guess exactly how many boxes you’ll need. But generally, estimates range from about ten small boxes, five medium boxes, and five large boxes for a small apartment, to 40 small boxes, 25 medium boxes, and 15 large boxes for an eight-room house. This does not include special boxes like wardrobe boxes or dish packs. If this proves true for your home, and you buy boxes at $2 to $3 apiece (this, too can vary widely) you could end up paying about $45 per room for new boxes, not counting any specialty boxes or other packing supplies.

And while you’re looking, keep in mind that moving boxes and shipping boxes are not the same thing. Shipping boxes, designed to be handled roughly by many people over a longer period of time, are sturdier. Moving boxes, built for a less strenuous trip, are relatively lighter and may have handles and lids.

Box Sizes

Moving boxes usually come in sizes small (about 16″ x 12″ x 12″) medium (about 18″ x 18″ x 16″), large (about 18″ x 18″ x 24″), and extra-large (about 24″ x 18″ x 24″.) In addition, moving companies also sell – or include in the price of their services – many specialized boxes meant for specific types of items.

Choosing Box Types

There’s no rule that says you need to use certain boxes (unless your movers have their own requirements.) But some types of boxes are ideal for particular items.

Corrugated Carton. The fluted and layered design of corrugated boxes makes them strong, so they’re great for packing fragile items like collectibles or glassware.

Hanging Wardrobe Boxes. Hanging wardrobe boxes are essentially cardboard closets in which you can transport your clothes without removing them from their hangers. They come in small (best for shorter pieces like shirts), medium, and large (ideal for long coats and dresses) sizes.

Lay Down Wardrobe Moving Box. These wardrobe boxes are large but shallow, big enough to accommodate clothes on hangers, but able to be stored under a bed. They can be used to pack clothing as well as bedding or any other items that fit nicely into a long but shallow box.

Mirror/Picture Boxes. A mirror box or picture box is designed for packing mirrors, artwork, and other framed items. These boxes come in different sizes; some are telescopic or formed from multiple pieces that allow them to be adjusted. Mirror boxes can accommodate foam or cardboard corner inserts to hold the fragile item in place. Make sure to protect your mirrors and artworks with plastic, packing paper, or bubble wrap inside their packing boxes.

Dish Packs. Dish packs, or dish boxes, have a double layer of corrugated cardboard and an insert divided into small sections. (These may or may not be sold together, so double check if ordering online.) They’re ideal for packing glassware, dinnerware, and other small and fragile items like electronic components and porcelain figurines. But don’t just slide valuables into the divider – wrap each piece securely with packing paper first.

Mattress Boxes. Mattress boxes come in a range of sizes, from crib to California King. They protect your mattress during the move or time spent in storage. For a short move in your own car, you may decide to skip this step. But if bedbugs, dust, dirt, or other damage is a concern, a mattress box – or mattress bag, which costs less – can provide the protection you want.

How Many Boxes Do I Need?

To determine how many of each kind of box to buy, start with the online box estimator calculators provided by moving companies. If you have the time, you can also get a good (and more personal) idea of your packing needs by starting with a small, safe number of boxes, like 10, and seeing how far they get you in packing up a room. You can then estimate how many you need for the rest of that room and for other rooms based on their relative size.

You may also choose to go with a moving kit provided by your moving company. The pros of this option are that it’s easy, specific to the size of your home, and takes the guesswork out of figuring out how many boxes you need. The cons? A kit may be more expensive than what you could assemble yourself, and even the moving experts might not know your individual needs as well as you do.

Alternatives to Boxes

To save money there are many alternatives like using drawers (cover the tops with plastic wrap or another makeshift lid that can be secured in place with tape.) Use every bag in the house, not just suitcases but overnight bags, tote bags, and reusable cloth grocery bags, which are great for books if you prefer to lift heavy loads over your shoulder. If you’re driving, you can pack pantry items, beauty products, paper goods, and any other light objects in paper or even plastic bags from the grocery or drugstore. Laundry bags and large garbage bags are great for soft items like clothing and bedding. If you have any sturdy reusable shopping bags, like the over-sized IKEA FRAKTA, they can be a good solution for last-minute, awkwardly shaped items that you need to transport in your car (e.g. water pitchers or cleaning supplies.)

One newer and greener alternative to traditional moving boxes is to rent plastic moving boxes. In select locations, companies like U-Haul (their option is called Ready-To-Go Boxes), BungoBox, and Rent a Green Box will send you reusable plastic bins and retrieve them from you once your move is complete. Pricing is based on how many boxes you need and how long you keep them.

Packing is never fun, but the process always goes better when you can do it in as organized a manner as possible. And understanding what supplies you need, as well as how to find them, will help you pack and move all your things safely and easily. And then you’ll only have to worry about unpacking.

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