Clutter doesn’t just come from things you buy (or are given) — it can also come from the associated packaging that sometimes winds up sitting around your home or office. That might be the manufacturer’s packaging or the packaging added by a company like Amazon.
Excess packaging is part of the problem. Sandy Barker wrote abut this on her blog, Off the Beaten Track: “My eye cream comes in an even more ridiculous array of packaging: inside a jar, inside a plastic shell, inside a box, inside shrunk-wrapped plastic.”
The following are some strategies for limiting the packaging debris that comes into your space and dealing with it when it’s unavoidable.
Choose products that minimize packaging
Amazon’s frustration-free packaging initiative began in 2008, and since then many more products have been added to this category. These products are easy to unwrap and the materials are fully recyclable. Toys, electronics, and such don’t need to come in those hard-to-open and non-recyclable plastic clamshells. An added benefit of buying a product with easy-to-open packaging is you’re less likely to procrastinate in putting it into use because getting at the product isn’t a struggle.
You can tell when a product, such as this Belkin surge protector, is part of Amazon’s program because the description says it ships in easy-to-open packaging, and you may be given the option of standard vs. frustration-free packaging.
Amazon also has its Ships in Own Container program, where the product ships in the box from the manufacturer, without putting that box inside an Amazon box. You can tell a product is part of this program when the product page says: “This item’s packaging will indicate what is inside. To cover it, select Ship in Amazon box on the checkout page.”
I buy my cases of toilet paper from Amazon because my local store doesn’t carry the product I want, and I appreciate that Amazon ships it without a second box that I have to break down and put in my recycling bin.
Of course, you can look for products with minimal packaging when buying from places other than Amazon. If you’re shopping at a local store, you can choose to buy products with less packaging than others. And you can look for companies like Green Toys, where “all products are packaged in 100% recyclable cardboard — no additives like blister packs, twist ties, or cellophane wrappers.”
You can also avoid packaging altogether if you buy from bulk bins using a refillable container. There are some stores that specialize in bulk purchases for things like cleaning supplies and shower gels, and many grocery stores have some bulk food bins.
Recycle what you can
Many packaging materials are readily recyclable: cardboard boxes, glass containers, etc. Some may take a bit more effort to recycle, such as packing peanuts. My local UPS Store takes these, and if yours doesn’t you may find another shipping and packaging store that will. And as we’ve noted on Unclutterer before, a number of cosmetics companies, such as Aveda, will take back any packaging (and accessories) that aren’t accepted by your local curbside recycling program.
You can also try offering packing materials (boxes, bubble wrap, packing peanuts, etc.) for free on places like Craigslist or freecycle, since people who sell on eBay or have other reasons to need packing materials may want them.
You may want to save some for your own reuse, perhaps for shipping off gifts. But be realistic about how much of this stuff you’ll really use.
If there’s no other good option, use the trash can
Have you ever bought a meal kit from Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Plated, or one of the many other such companies? If so, you’ll be familiar with the freezer packs that come with these kits. Blue Apron will allow you to mail them back for free, but in other cases you’re stuck with them.
And there’s really no good use for the multitude of packs you can acquire if you use such services regularly. As Kiera Butler wrote in Mother Jones, the companies are no help:
Many blithely suggest that customers store old gel packs in their freezers for future use. Unless you happen to have your own meat locker, that’s wildly impractical. I tried it, and in less than a month the packs — which are roughly the size of a photo album — had crowded practically everything else out of my freezer. …
As Nathanael Johnson at Grist points out, Blue Apron has also suggested that customers donate used freezer packs to the Boy Scouts or other organizations. I asked my local Boy Scouts council whether they wanted my old meal-kit freezer packs. “What would we do with all those ice packs?” wondered the puzzled council executive.
I know many people are loath to throw things like this in the trash, but that’s a better option than having them just sit around your house, unused and taking up space.