Ask Unclutterer: Keeping cardboard boxes?

Reader Douglas submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

I had a quick question about boxes. How long do you recommend I hold on to old boxes for things like TVs and computers? I have some big boxes, I’ve kept just in case I have to return the items. I’m not sure if it’s actually necessary for me to keep them though, because they take up a lot of space.

This is one of those questions that I answer so often that I thought I had already used it for an Ask Unclutterer topic. Apparently, I haven’t.

Most electronics purchased from major retailers have a 30 or 45 day maximum return policy for those instances when you simply decide you no longer want the item. This date is always printed on the receipt, which you’ll also want to hold on to if you are seriously considering returning the item. So, for items you think you may not want to keep, it is reasonable to hold onto the box for that amount of time.

In all other circumstances, I only recommend keeping the box IF:

  1. You plan to sell the item in less than three years after its date of purchase, and
  2. The original packaging improves the price of the product when you sell it.

For example, I sell my laptops on eBay when I upgrade to a newer model. After tracking laptop sales on eBay for many months, I found that people will pay a little more for the product if it still has its original packaging. So, I keep my laptop boxes to ship them in to the new owner. Granted, the boxes that laptops come in are relatively small and, since I only have one computer at a time, our storage space isn’t overrun with cardboard boxes.

If your situation does not meet both of the qualifying statements above, then you should recycle the boxes immediately or right after the 30 or 45 day return deadline. Keeping lots of cardboard in the house is an awful fire risk and it wastes a significant amount of storage space. There is also no need to keep the packaging because if the product is a lemon or has some other manufacturing defect, you don’t need the original packaging to return it. Additionally, if you move, you can wrap your electronics in towels or bubble wrap surrounded by packing peanuts and put them into traditional cardboard boxes.

Thank you, Douglas, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

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71 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Keeping cardboard boxes?”

  1. posted by honey k on

    It is also a good idea to hold on to cartons for electronics (even large kitchen electrics) for when you move. It is much easier to transport them that way. I alsway complain to my husband (a total clutterer, but smart about this)that the boxes take up a ton of room but when we moved a few years ago it made things a lot neater and safer for the equipment. Now we are storing the same cartons again…yikes

  2. Profile photo of

    posted by s on

    If you’re in the military, you probably keep most of the boxes for delicate electronics since you move them often. As Erin says, you could just “waste” government funds by having them pay for new boxes each time you move, but the boxes they come in are the right size and usually have good protective padding, so I think it’s worth keeping some of those.

    However, with the proliferation of large flat panel tvs, please be aware that those boxes cost significantly more than a standard packing box (I’ve heard they’re around $300, if you have to purchase them from the moving company.) I think it makes sense to keep those large boxes so that your equipment is protected and so you’re not filling landfills and wasting money.

  3. posted by Lisa on

    As a recent college grad who has done her share of moving, I’m all for keeping a box if it will help transport an awkwardly-shaped item down the road. For example, I kept the slim box from my diploma frame just for piece of mind next time I haul that thing to another apartment. There are also some things that I store in the box it came in–like a set of baking pans and a hand mixer–to guarantee that I don’t lose a component along the way.

    If you can break down the boxes and have open space for them, I don’t see the harm in keeping them.

  4. posted by Greg on

    Most boxes can be broken down and folded flat for easy storage. I keep a stack of broken-down boxes in a closet for the reasons mentioned in the OP, and also to have them handy for shipping and transporting things.

  5. posted by Laura on

    The TV box is the one that’s vexing me! We also have the styrofoam inserts that came with the TV. My solution is to keep flat-fold cardboard boxes for the office inside that big one…everything else goes.

  6. posted by Brad on

    It’s also worth noting the warranty period for an item. Much easier to send/transport an item for repair in the original packaging.

  7. posted by Rory on

    I tend to keep boxes until the warranty period is up on the product (1 or 3 years usually). Often times once a retailer no longer covers warranty (30 – 90 days) you need to send it back to the Manufacturer and you are responsible for any damage that occurs on the way. If you have the original packaging it is a piece of cake to send it back.

  8. posted by EmpressBren on

    I was going to add the moving bit, but I see it has already been covered. So, I will just add that we also preserve electronics boxes for crime prevention, putting out boxes of things you’ve purchased is an advertisement for stealing stuff. But I also have a full unfinished basement, organized for the purpose of storage explicitly.

  9. posted by Jonathan on

    If you are worried about advertising to criminals that you have a new electronic gadget or gizmo, then cut the box(es) into small enough pieces to fit in recycle or the garbage. I did this with a HUGE box the last TV came in. You would have had to open the recycle bin to find the pieces. Granted, it took a couple of weeks to get them all out to the recycle bin, but I had already cut the box down to size and stacked the pieces to put out in the bin as there was space before pick up day.

  10. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @EmpressBren — You have insurance to replace your goods in case of theft. Don’t keep boxes for theft prevention. You can be discrete about how you recycle your boxes.

  11. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @s — Why are you paying for boxes when you move? I have never heard of such a thing. Do people actually pay for boxes? That’s ridiculous! They’re free at the back of every Home Depot, Walmart, Target, Best Buy, etc.

  12. posted by Mike on

    If you’re a frequent Mac upgrader, keep everything. I tend to jump to a new Mac every year or so, and by packing the old one and its paraphernalia as closely as possible to the way they originally came, I have been able to recoup usually 75-80% or better of the original retail price of the item on eBay. With a PC, you won’t have anywhere near this kind of resale value, so you can basically ditch the box. For notebooks of any brand, the box is worth keeping for transportation purposes, etc.

  13. posted by Chrissy on

    I admit I keep a lot of cardboard boxes. But I almost always reuse them for something… either transporting recyclables, or organizing Christmas ornaments inside of a larger storage container. The bigger ones I break down and recycle, but I have a lot of shoeboxes and slightly larger ones that I always seem to find a use for.

  14. posted by Jacki Hollywood Brown on

    We’re a military family. I keep all the original boxes for expensive electronics along with their styrofoam inserts. Make sure you label the inserts so that you can put them back in the correct orientation when you move.
    Also, you can often store smaller boxes within larger ones. Just make sure you don’t crease the cardboard in the wrong spot if you decide to break the boxes down!

  15. posted by Kenny on

    I moved last October with a moving company and had to move my 42″ TV myself because they would only move it in its original box or if I paid them $350 for a special packing crate for it.

    So, if you think you’re going to move it might be worth holding on the box the flatscreen TV comes in.

  16. posted by Richard Best on

    It’s also handy to keep the box for items that will store better in the box or that are only occassionally used, christmas tree stand for example.

  17. posted by Marcia on

    Warranties can be tricky. I bought an electric toothbrush and realized, reading the tiny fine print, that the two-year warranty was valid only if I hung onto the original packaging. This seemed to me like a sneaky and anti-customer way of infuriatingly refusing to pay out on a warranty issue if one cropped up. (Why do companies insist on trying to make their customers hate them?) However, I chucked the box in the basement and fortunately never needed it. Toothbrush is still delivering gum health several years later. (And the box is now gone.)

  18. posted by Noah on

    I admit that I have my LCD TV box in my attic, but only because I’m worried that I will need it for warranty reasons one day in the next few years and that box would be difficult to replace. I also have the space for it.

    I used to keep every box, for every electronic item I own, then I realized that I have never ever sent anything back for warranty reasons. If I ever do need to send something small back it is easy to package it at a mailbox store. It was so nice to get rid of all that extra cardboard and styrofoam.

    Last time I moved I just packed the electronic stuff into my car with my blankets and pillows. Everything arrived ok.

  19. posted by bklynchic on

    I’m going to echo those folks who suggest keeping boxes for your TVs and other high end electronics.

    We move pretty often (NYC apt dwellers tend to) and our TV, receiver and other component boxes have saved us numerous times. For a while, we had room for them in our loft apartment but now that we’re in a smaller space we actually rented a very small storage unit to keep them. I know it seems silly, but all the devices arrive safely at the next destination.

  20. posted by p on

    My first comment! As a recent college grad and frequent mover, I would say, Keep the boxes. Oftentimes, empty boxes = pieces of furniture (e.g., throw a nice tablecloth over one or paint it and you have an end table). Granted, they probably won’t support super heavy objects, but books, magazines, beverage is fine.
    If I find I have surplus of boxes, then one becomes temporary recycling bin. When it is full, it also goes out for recycling!

  21. posted by Celeste on

    I reuse boxes all the time for shipping. If the box isn’t plain, I just cover it with brown paper.

    I’ve always bought boxes for moving cross country. I think it makes a difference to have the right size and sturdier boxes from a mover when your stuff has to survive a long transit. They haven’t been a hassle to get rid of because somebody is always moving. If you set them outdoors somebody will always come and take them. I have used the cast-off boxes and towels etc. as padding when moving across town, but I wouldn’t trust that stuff on a moving truck.

  22. posted by john deese on

    I absolutely have to reiterate and agree with everyone else’s comments – if you’re in the academic track (college, grad school, postdoc) like I and my boyfriend are, you end up moving every 1-2 years. I found myself cringing as I wrapped my LCD screens in towels inside an ilfitting box and hoping that they’d make it through on the 3000 mile trip from Boston to San Francisco this past month. Now in our new place, we’ve already dedicated part of a closet to boxes for odd-shaped electronics.

  23. posted by Craig on

    I HATE keeping old boxes around. I throw them away after I’ve verified the product works properly out of the box. They take up a huge amount of space. I’m not going to waste that space for years on the off chance its defective.

    The argument of keeping it for when you move doesn’t make sense either. Why would you inconvenience yourself for years to make the one day you move easier. It’s not that hard to bubble wrap a flat screen TV. Suck it up and buy some decent packing materials.

  24. posted by Karen on

    Sorry if I gross anyone out, but many bugs will eat the glue that holds boxes and paper bags together. I once a had a bad experience with that. So, it may not be a good idea to hold on to cardboard boxes for pest control reasons.

  25. posted by Mary on

    I keep some boxes for holiday gift giving. Our family gets a big kick out of “red herring” wrapping because some people are too danged good at guessing what wrapped gifts are. Misleading them is half the fun of gift exchange.

  26. posted by New Madam on

    My family has decided to stuff the boxes for every appliance and gadget we have in the storage room, and there is hardly any space for any other item we would like to store. If it was up to me I would throw them all out. I hope I can convince them that it is fine to throw them away because they seem to be clinging onto them with the notion that holding on them will make moving to a new place easier.

  27. posted by Mletta on

    Hanging on to boxes is problematic for us city-apartment folks. However, to toss them can be VERY costly in the long run, as we found out when an expensive electronics product, still in its warranty period, required us to return it in the original packaging. Which we had tossed about three months after we got it. (The reason you need the original pakaging has to do with protecting the product. Most people do a lousy job of packaging such products, even in original containers–and even if packed by “professionals”. Companies rightly want to minimize potential additional damage when items are returned for whatever reason.)

    So now, one way or another (storing things inside large boxes), we keep them until the warranty period is over (these days, 90 days to 1 year). And if we think we will resell them, we also keep the boxes.

    We just bought our first LCDTV, a 26-inch model. The box is HUGE and we’re really not sure where in the world to store it but we know we have to keep it. Because the rule of electronics is the minute you lose a receipt, warranty or box, whatever you own breaks down.

    The real issue is that these boxes contain other packing materials that are needed to secure the items, so we can’t even break down the boxes.

  28. posted by SN on

    In Canada, Greyhound is (or used to be) the cheapest way to ship large packages long distances. They would also refuse to ship electronics that weren’t in their original packaging. When I was broke enough that that was my only option for moving, and I didn’t know how long I’d stay in the same city, it seemed worthwhile to save the packaging for items I couldn’t afford to replace if I moved.

    (I suppose you could just put the item in a different box and not label it, but Greyhound was NOT very careful with their boxes and you’d definitely want to insure anything you sent with them. I still overtape any box I’m shipping out of habit, even though I haven’t shipped with them in 10 years.)

  29. posted by PS~Erin on

    Great question and answer. We seem to hang onto these indefinitely and I’ve never really had a reason for doing so. Good stuff to keep in mind. Although most of our large boxes get used as forts, playhouse, dollhouses, and get kept for as long as I can stand stepping around or over them in my little house :-)

  30. posted by Wayward on

    My Sweetie is a box hoarder. He has kept the cardboard boxes that we used to move into our place… 7 years ago! (I have, however, managed to convince him to recycle to more awkwardly sized or worn out boxes and flatten the rest.) He even keeps those little boxes that Amazon uses for shipping. It’s frickin’ insane is what it is.

    I know I can’t convince him to part with boxes belonging to electronics, and that’s okay, I can compromise, but the vacuum cleaner box, seriously? We’re not returning it at this point (5 years), the warranty has expired, and a vacuum cleaner does not need to be repacked in its original container for moving. Can you feel my frustration?

    And this is why I will no longer set foot in the garage. It is his domain and if his house of cardboard cards tumbles, it’ll be on himnot me. I just make sure he is leaving space between the cardboard and the water heater. If something needs to be retrieved from the garage, he has to find it, unbury it, and bring it into the house—like the holiday decorations that I’m still waiting for.

    Argh! Is 11:00 too early for a drink?

  31. posted by chacha1 on

    I think my DH has a few electronics boxes squirreled away in our storage cabinet downstairs, but I would rather not have any of that stuff. The space issues, the bug issues. I only want to pay rent for stuff we use! Not for stuff we’re only storing “in case.”

    The next time we move – may it be a long time from now! – we will, as we did last time, move our delicate and/or valuable items ourselves. When you have a vehicle full of china & crystal, wedging in a flatscreen monitor doesn’t present a problem. And I wouldn’t trust movers with our LCD HDTV no matter what it was packed in!

    I understand this isn’t necessarily an option for military families, but pretty much anyone can manage a small rental truck, and being in charge of your own goodies is the best insurance you can have.

  32. posted by Rue on

    Normally, I toss any box immediately after I find out that the thing works. I would never consider keeping the majority of the original boxes for items I purchase. 95% of the time you can never get the item back into the box the same way it was originally, and who has the room to store all that anyway? The only boxes I keep are the ones for cell phones, because I sell my old ones to cellphonetradeins.com and you get a little more money for having the original box.

    I pay for U-haul boxes when we move. They are sturdy (supposedly sturdy enough for four moves or 10-year-storage), come in a variety of sizes and purposes, and are easy to stack and carry. Having boxes of similar shapes and sizes makes it so much easier to pack efficiently into a moving van than having a mish-mash of different size boxes. U-haul does make boxes for specific things (including flat-panel TVs!) and you can purchase all the protective shipping/packing materials while you’re there. I also make sure to take anything breakable, expensive, or sentimental in my vehicle as opposed to the moving van, so that if it gets broken it’s because of my own negligence.

  33. posted by Rue on

    Normally, I toss any box immediately after I find out that the thing works. I would never consider keeping the majority of the original boxes for items I purchase. 95% of the time you can never get the item back into the box the same way it was originally, and who has the room to store all that anyway? The only boxes I keep are the ones for cell phones, because I sell my old ones to cellphonetradeins.com and you get a little more money for having the original box.

    I pay for U-haul boxes when we move. They are sturdy (supposedly sturdy enough for four moves or 10-year-storage), come in a variety of sizes and purposes, and are easy to stack and carry. Having boxes of similar shapes and sizes makes it so much easier to pack efficiently into a moving van than having a mish-mash of different size boxes. U-haul does make boxes for specific things (including flat-panel TVs!) and you can purchase all the protective shipping/packing materials while you’re there. I also make sure to take anything breakable, expensive, or sentimental in my vehicle as opposed to the moving van, so that if it gets broken it’s because of my own negligence.

  34. posted by Jane on

    A lot of people here seem to be keeping their old boxes for electronics for warranty repairs. Some manufacturers can be sneaky, but with other companies like Apple I’ve always found that they just send me a box to ship the product back in, rather than assuming or relying on my correctly re-packaging it in the original packaging.

    While I keep all boxes from some companies (again like Apple, cause their boxes are pretty and sturdy and end up adding to the resale value of the hardware :P ), I’ll automatically toss any that I have a protective case/bag for, and I’ll only keep around a few unlabeled cardboard boxes for when I need to ship things.

  35. posted by Christina @ Northern Cheapskate on

    This post made me chuckle because it reminded me of a moment from my childhood.

    My mother was a compulsive box saver… she believed you could never have enough boxes. One day, my father, who was sick of the box collection, got up early in the morning, dragged them all into the driveway and lit them on fire.

    I still remember my mom standing in her nightgown, yelling at my dad, “Not that one! That’s a perfectly good box.”

    It was nice to have the clutter gone, but my dad made the mistake of asking for a box about 2 weeks later and almost didn’t survive. LOL! :-) My mother has since become MUCH better about saving boxes.

    I think your suggestions are right on – that’s how I approach boxes, too. You can always find a box somewhere when you need one.

  36. posted by Elaine on

    @Erin,

    You might be surprised at how some communities are with regard to disposal of cardboard boxes. There can be strict ordinances that require businesses to break down and bundle their cartons before they can be placed outside. Other localities are much more loosey-goosey. I’ve moved several times and remember having a terrible time getting boxes in some places. Naturally, the companies that sell moving boxes love this! I suspect the heads of these companies serve on the city councils…

  37. posted by Celeste on

    Weirdly enough, I just read on a blog about them packing for a move, and when they went to clear the husband’s box stash out of the basement, they found a lot of mold growing in the heap from basement floor wetness. Yuck.

  38. posted by Gina on

    @Erin:

    Around here, companies like WalMart and grocery stores crush their boxes and REFUSE to let you snag any for free use. It’s next to impossible to score boxes from businesses for free.

    I keep my moving boxes: I just tear them down to store flat. I also keep boxes for my special electronics. They are the primary content of the storage bin that comes with my apartment.

  39. posted by Tracy on

    Thanks everyone, this is excellent. I’m looking forward to reading through all your comments. When it comes to boxes, well, I often question myself. :)

  40. posted by Laetitia in Australia on

    I echo p’s comment about turning them into furniture. We bought a new printer about 3 months ago and as we knew we’d be moving this month, kept the box. We couldn’t flatten it as it has the styrofoam in it but I found that it sat nicely between the end of the couch and the wall and was just the right height to act as a defacto table for putting a cup on while sitting on the couch.

    Despite the fact that we’ve been here for almost three years, I’ve always thought of our time here as temporary (due to the funny nature of the lease) so have kept our boxes, generally flattened. The most awkward boxes though have been those with styrofoam or other inserts that don’t flatten. There’s even an insert to sit under the washing machine in it’s box. The box flattened and the insert has sat in a cupboard for 21 months.

    As a Creative Memories consultant I’ve kept the boxes my stock comes in, not only for packing my stock but, being two standard sizes (1/2 height and full height), they make it easier to stack full boxes somewhere in the house in the weeks before the removalists come. They’ll also make it easier for the removalists to organize in the truck.

    When we move somewhere “permanently” I’ll happily ditch a bunch of boxes, starting with the odd-sized ones.

    As for free boxes, talk to your local library, particularly if you have a lot of books to move. Libraries get books delivered to them in a smaller “standard” size box so they aren’t too heavy when full of books. A friend working at a library was able to get a bunch of these boxes for us when we last moved.

  41. posted by Laetitia in Australia on

    “it’s” tsk – it’s too early on a Saturday morning. :-)

  42. posted by Malcolm on

    Like Gina, I have found that many grocery stores are no longer a source of boxes. But for moving, we have found that buying the removalists’ cardboard boxes is easily the best bet – they are the right sizes to stack easily and the cost is insignificant in the total for a move. We keep very few boxes now, although a handful can be useful from time to time (throwing out other clutter). Our current flatscreen TV arrived in the usual huge box and we threw it out – had to send it back for warranty repair a couple of months later – so I had to build a box myself! Not that hard, a couple of old refrigerator cartons (found at a nearby building site) cut up into pieces, and a bit of packing tape and it was OK, the repair shop sent it back to us in that same homemade box!

  43. posted by infmom on

    My husband is a dedicated box saver. The last time we cleaned the garage I finally put my foot down and made him get rid of the box for the TV we bought new in 1975. I wish I were making this up. We got rid of the TV circa 1988 and there that box was, still in the garage. Ye gods.

    My daughter asked us to save the box that her big-screen TV came in for her, but I considered this to be legitimate because she and her partner had been planning to move for quite some time. In about a month we get rid of that box for good, woo hoo! :)

    In our community cardboard boxes can either be put into the regular recycle bin, or taken to a recycler. Given that the payout on cardboard from a recycler is so much per TON… better put them in the recycle bin. Not even a box saver like my husband could accumulate that much cardboard in one place.

  44. posted by Ed Eubanks on

    One thing to note about collections of cardboard, too: they are the preferred home of Brown Recluse Spiders!

    When we moved for grad school, we had a lot of very nice boxes provided by a moving service. So we kept them broken down and stacked up in a pile in the corner of our basement. That is, until we began to see spiders occasionally, and my wife learned that this is the perfect habitat for breeding the Brown Recluse.

  45. posted by T on

    I wanted to post be careful about throwing out custom fit boxes for electronics or things that may break during the given warranty period.

    Case in point, my mother’s new LCD broke within a few months of ownership. She thought the original box took too much space so she threw it away. Then, when she had to return it a UPS fee of only $19 turned into $65 for a custom box/packaging etc (she couldn’t do it herself).

    On a different topic, our LCD T.V.’s warranty was only valid if you kept the original box for the 37″ tv. So we keep it, turned out nothing happened in a year.

    I’d lean towards keeping original boxes for expensive electronics, laptops, camera’s, game stations, etc. Toaster box, after return policy expires can go.

  46. posted by luxcat on

    we keep boxes for very expensive (such as flat screen tvs and computers) items up to only the period that the warrenty lasts for. I write this date on the box with a nice fat pen. It gets tossed on that date. we live in a smallish city condo with no storage space and it is a pain in the butt, but not as big a pain in the butt as not being able to return your $2,000 TV because you don’t have the original packaging. we’ve gotten creative with storage- putting them under beds, behind clothes in closets, and even in a corner that is hidden by a large furniture unit.

    I can’t wait until we have a house and these few items can go into a closet or garage space of their own.

  47. posted by Nancy on

    Many people pay for boxes. One of the reasons to have same sized boxes is that it saves money if you move or are putting things in storage because you can pack more efficiently. The least expensive moving boxes I’ve found are at Sam’s Club.

    In our business we always list used moving boxes and packing paper on Craigslist. It’s a good way to get high quality boxes to keep your things safe when moving – you just have to jump on the ads because they go quickly.

  48. posted by Melanie on

    I prefer new moving boxes for many of the reasons listed above. One exception- I use free boxes from a local liquor store to pack drinking glasses. They come with the nifty inserts to separate bottles. If the space is too large, in goes a kitchen towel and you’re set.

  49. Profile photo of

    posted by Sky on

    My husband had a box collection in the attic for some time. He had phone, TV, computer, monitor, shoe, appliance, tool, and every other kind of box you can imagine. It was ridiculous and took up way too much space and bugs love them.

    I cleaned and organized our attic recently and he let them go….all of them.

    So far so good. We have had no catastrophes living boxless. It feels good to know they are gone and really, if we need a box they are available.

  50. posted by Keri on

    Once you decide to get rid of boxes – whatever your criteria for making that decision – I suggest passing them on instead of tossing them or recycling them. Between my family members and my 50 coworkers, I find somebody will always jump at the offer of a good box, especially if it’s large and has flaps or a lid.

  51. posted by Shandos Cleaver on

    Interesting comments about large flat screen TVs. My partner and I no longer have the box for our TV, as we were storing a lot of our stuff at my parent’s house whilst travelling and we simply didn’t have the room to store that. Buckling the TV onto the back seat is a handy way to move them without a box.

  52. posted by chaotic kitten on

    Thank you for addressing this question, I often wonder whether to keep the packaging for certain items.

  53. posted by stef on

    wait a minute: if the item’s warranty is still valid (normally 1 year but can be extended to 3) you might need to dispatch back the item to the manufacturer in its original box if this got broken. So one more case to keep the original box of the item.

  54. posted by Hilary on

    Hi Erin .. interesting about the ebay sales .. I keep my boxes so that I can transport the breakable items easily and theoretically more safely.

    Interesting blog .. I’ll be back to look at more posts – thanks
    Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

  55. posted by Onepot on

    I nth many of the comments above: if you have the storage room, save the boxes of pricey/oddly shaped electronics. I am a big-time purger; however, I must say that I was glad for our speaker/stereo/computer boxes during our last move, since it made the packing so much faster (they just slip in and are instantly safe–no need to worry what to wrap them in!).

  56. posted by Lauren on

    The returning issue aside, I’d recommend keeping boxes for things like TVs and other electronics if you’re planning on moving anytime soon. It makes it so much easier to have the perfectly-fitted styrofoam when it comes time to pack everything up. When I was in college, I kept boxes for EVERYTHING because I had to move home every summer/change apartments and dorms every year and it made life so much easier. I finally got rid of the box for my TV this year when I moved to New York (after using it to ship the thing here), because it took up way too much space in my teeny apartment!

  57. posted by Spencer on

    I keep boxes for odd shaped appliances like food processors, blenders, coffee makers, etc. because moving a cube is far more easier than a pile of odd shaped things. I also keep boxes for monitors and things like that to help protect them during moves or transports.

    Additionally, I keep sturdy printer and bank boxes without styrofoam supports because they take up almost no space when collapsed, and if you have to move it’s nice to not go hunting for decent boxes. Collapsed, they fit nicely behind couches and dressers, or in the back of the closet (or in the garage, if you have one).

    Can you tell I’m sort of a pack rat?

  58. posted by gypsy packer on

    Cardboard boxes are bug condos and mildew pits. And, yes, I’ve had a black widow spider and her babies crawl out of one. For this reason, I keep only plastic tubs to store clothing, and use funky antique wooden packing cases for organizer boxes. If I move, I’ll wrap the electronics in clothing and pack those items in the plastic crates, and pack the surplus in cardboard boxes.

    My old computers and electronics go to the local unsung teenaged computer nerd, who can use them or sell them in exchange for all the low-priced and free help he gives me.

  59. posted by Tracy on

    Freecycle is a great place to get or give away moving boxes.

  60. posted by Sarah on

    I’m piling on to the “keep electronics boxes for moving” bandwagon. Of course, my husband thinks this should apply to boxes for things like alarm clocks (I, of course, disagree, and get rid of them in one way or another.)

    Otherwise, we keep some boxes broken down in case we need to ship a gift or something but many go straight into the recycling.

    Another great source for free boxes when moving is liquor stores – we found in our last move that wine boxes are just the right balance of size to weight for moving books and DVDs/VHS.

  61. posted by BakeLiteDoorBell on

    I hate storing things so much that if I have to keep a box, it will impact my decision to buy something in the first place.

  62. posted by Jennifer on

    Ok, This post has really given me a good chuckle to start my day! My husband has a mighty fine collection of boxes! Pencil sharpener boxes, boxes for various childrens toys, shoe boxes, all added to the boxes for all of our electronics! Trust me if it came in a box- we’ve got it! How large is our collection? Well it is taking up the attic and a parking space in the garage. I would also like to add that we have every. single. piece. of paperwork that came in those boxes too! It’s a sickness I tell ya! Oh, I would love for him to read this post and get rid of them all, however once he gets to the comments and see’s that there are a bunch of box collectors that disagree with the post my arguement will be lost…thanks.

  63. posted by Judith on

    Maybe you should check what your laws say about the requirement to keep boxes in order to keep the warranty. I live in Germany, and although some companies write this requirement into their warranties they are actually not allowed to do it; it’s a void clause. They are required by law to accept returns inside the warranty-time as long as they are packed safely, original box or not. Many people here don’t know that either, though, and I imagine many companies gladly keep on weaseling out of the warranties as long as the customer doesn’t raise a stink about it.

    That said, I do keep some original boxes for easier packing, those from my scanner and printer (they have inserts and any attempt to recreate a save-enough packing would result in a much bulkier package – not what you want during a move). I also keep the boxes from my lenses and cameras, as the resale-value is slightly higher.
    Unfortunately I have to keep those in my apartment as my basement is a small compartment in a shared area you can look into, and I don’t want to alert people to the fact that there is some quite expensive stuff in my apartment. In cases like this a usual insurance wouldn’t cover a theft, as it is above hobbyism. I hope I can afford adequate insurance soon, but it is insanely expensive.

  64. posted by Rue on

    @Gina Yeah, I’ve been to Wal-mart during restocking and seen some of their boxes that have instructions to flatten them and send them back because the store gets a monetary credit for doing so. They’re not gonna let you have any when that’s the case!

  65. posted by WilliamB on

    These are the rules of thumb I’ve developed about boxes and moving. They work for me, maybe they’ll help others as well. Of course, all of these depend on having space. It’s generally cheaper to buy more boxes than to buy the space to keep old ones!

    1. If you move a lot (military, student, etc), keep boxes. I’ve used the sames boxes for up to 6 moves, and specialized boxes for over a dozen.

    2. Keep the boxes & inserts for oddly shaped items and for expensive electronics. Note that the box isn’t much use without the specialized inserts. My KitchenAid Standing Mixer is 15+ years old; keeping the box & inserts has saved me about 1/2 the cost of the mixer, because I didn’t to buy specialized packing for it.

    3. Keep the boxes & inserts for anything you want to sell. This will increase your price – partly because it’ll be easy to pack and partly because people who keep the original packaging are perceived to take more care of their goods.

    4. If you have kids, keep shoe boxes if you have the space. They’re very study, have lids, and a good size for projects and storage of small items.

    5. For expensive or oddly-shaped items, keep the packaging till the warranty runs out. Some warranties require it and it’s much simpler to move/ship in the original packaging.

    I like to keep U-Haul book boxes. I find them to be a great combination of sturdy and size: most things I need to store will fit in one. Having boxes that are all the same size does wonders for organization and efficient use of space. I also like to keep the expensive specialized boxes, like the wardrobe boxes and dish boxes. What I don’t keep I give to friends, freecycle or recycle (in that order).

  66. posted by WilliamB on

    PS: I’ve done the scrounged box routine. I don’t like it. The boxes are of uncertain quality and almost always random and varied. Packing and shipping is so much simpler when the boxes are good quality and uniform size. Sometimes it work out – like the time I got 5 dozen egg boxes, each about 4’x2’x2′ (the local supermarket had a sale on eggs *and* a very sympathetic shipping manager) – but mostly it makes my life a lot harder. YMMV.

  67. posted by DaveL on

    If you decide to keep boxes and are concerned about bugs/spiders, try this. I do model railroading and read in a forum that used dryer sheets tucked into out-of-sight spots on a model train layout on a will repel bugs. So tuck one or two in each electronics box you deem worthy of saving and hopefully the bugs will stay away. I know this sounds VERY counter-decluttering, but sometimes ya just gotta flex a bit to achieve your goals :)

  68. posted by Freddy on

    The Fellowes SmoothMove moving boxes (Amazon has them) are absolutely wonderful. After using them, I will never ever use scrounged boxes for moving again. They unfold instantly and require no tape, the lid is built in and they are STRONG. They are also easy to put back flat for storage or reuse.

  69. posted by Jay on

    I would suggest getting rid of a box after the period for *returning* an item to the vendor is over, at the latest. I personally do not worry about the *warranty* period. If a product becomes defective during the
    warranty period, I am confident that the manufacturer will honor its warranty whether I produce an original box or not.

    When needed, new boxes are cheap and easy to get.

    I live in the Washington, DC, area, where the air in the summer is humid, and there are lots of bugs. I would not want to keep in my house a bunch of boxes that might attract bugs or become moldy.

  70. posted by Packing Tips-Cardboard Boxes for Electronics-How Long Do You Save Them? Tips on Packing and Unpacking Moving & Packing Blog-How to Pack Moving Boxes on

    […] Unclutterer blog had a wonderful post asking should you keep cardboard boxes for electronics? They asked if you should keep your original box packaging and for how long.? I felt this was […]

  71. Profile photo of

    posted by melissa.moreno05 on

    I use my cardboard boxes for storing things. One of them is for letters, another is for my crochet supplies, yet another for old school notes in case I ever need to refer back to them. I say keep them and use them to stay organized as I do. Loving this web site by the way.

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