Get Moving Boxes On The Cheap With Box Exchange

We’re going to say something positive about U-Haul! No, not about the company (it has a rich history of complaints on our blog), but about the community trading service they’ve enabled on their “U-Haul Box Exchange” forum where people give away or sell their boxes after they’ve moved—although hopefully you won’t find an unpacked baby in any used boxes you get your hands on.

You have to register to post, and as Kevin Kelly points out on his blog, it’s no CraigsList in terms of size or reach, but moving boxes are so expensive that “it’s worth having another resource in your arsenal.”

U-Haul Box Exchange [Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools]

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U-Haul Box Exchange Forum
(Photo: Getty)

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  1. DeeJayQueue says:

    A great place to go for moving boxes is a print shop or copy center. Any place that uses lots of paper. They’ll have tons of empty paper boxes and usually they just throw them out. Places like Staples or OfficeMax/Depot might give you a hard time about them because they’re supposed to sell you packing boxes instead of giving you anything for free, but sometimes you can luck out there as well.

    Paper boxes are just about perfect. It’s difficult to pack them heavier than most people can lift, they’re a great size for carrying, stacking, etc. They fit in trucks well, are extremely sturdy and require minimal tape to get closed.

  2. CoffeeAddict says:

    This is awesome! I move alot don’t ask me why and boxes are great as I seem to collect more junk/stuff with each move. Yeah!!!

  3. TechnoDestructo says:

    Wow….that’s a great idea. Not to mention the boxes U-haul sells come in a wider variety of uncommon sizes than you’ll generally find (even if they aren’t especially cheap)…I was already going there first if I needed a box. I found a box that fit some drive shafts I needed to ship perfectly.

  4. HungryGrrl says:

    http://www.uline.com is the best place to get cheap new boxes… however you will have to buy them in bundles of 10 or more of each size.

    Similar to the paper ream box idea above, I’m a big fan of “bankers boxes” for home storage. My closets are stacked with them, and they’re so easy to move.

    My parents have a stash of empty plastic “totes” boxes in their basement which have been used several times a year for the past eight years moving three kids back and forth between college and first apartments.

    Now there’s an idea. Why don’t U-Haul rent plastic totes? They’re durable, waterproof, easy to cary, reusable, stackable, etc- many virtues over the old cardboard box.

  5. josh1701 says:

    U-Haul will give you a refund on any unused boxes you purchase from them. Copy paper boxes are ok for most things but the specialized boxes they sell are worth every penny, especially for packing plates and glasses.

  6. colflesh says:

    If you live in a big city, such as Chicago (where I live), you can usually get a ton of free boxes on Craigslist. You just have to be quick to email and be willing to deal with a few flakes. I haven’t paid for a single box the last 2 times I’ve moved.

  7. Jigen says:

    Just go to your local grocery store. People come in all the time to get banana boxes. Most boxes do go right in the crusher, but others (in our case banana boxes) are held onto for a while in case some boxes our needed somewhere in the store. When you take the big sale displays down at the end of the week, you need something to put all that stuff in. But, costumers are more than welcome to take what they like too, for free.

  8. Jeri Dansky says:

    Other ideas:

    1. Ask for boxes on your local Freecycle group. They get exchanged all the time on mine.

    2. In the San Francisco Bay Area, get boxes from Bay Area Box Express. They sell “precycled, too-good-for-the-recycle-bin boxes, at up to 50% off what most retail moving supply stores charge.” [bayareaboxexpress.com]

    3. Get boxes from UsedCardboardBoxes.com. They say, “Our used boxes have only been used once, were gently unpacked and are ready for you to use them again. They are guaranteed to work just as well as a new box. Our new boxes are factory misprints, overruns or customer returns that the factory no longer needs.” [www.usedcardboardboxes.com]

  9. SaveMeJeebus says:

    Check your local liquor store too. Big bottles of booze come in big boxes and they usually toss them after stocking the shelves.

  10. theblackdog says:

    You can always try dumpster diving for boxes. Behind one of my local shopping centers they have a bunch of “cardboard only” dumpsters that I regularly hit up for boxes when I was moving. I especially lucked out one day when the shoe store threw out a bunch of shipping boxes.

    I never caught any grief for it either, the one time I saw a cop he just kept on driving.

  11. umeditor says:

    I’ve had really good luck at the local recycling center. They encourage people dropping off moving boxed to set them aside so other people can come in grab them. There’s always a pile whenever I go.

  12. Whoa says:

    @Jigen: The boxes for nuts are great too – sturdy, medium sized, and rarely if ever soggy or greasy (i.e. leaked on or in). Banana boxes often do not completely close, so they may not be appropriate for all purposes. If you go to a grocery store, go early in the morning before everything ends up in the crusher. You can also try calling ahead and asking them to put a few aside for you (we would sometimes do this at Trader Joe’s, but I can’t speak for other places).

  13. weg1978 says:

    Try going to a restaurant that sells a lot of wine/booze…they’ll have a lot of those boxes, and they’re pretty tough

  14. Mary says:

    BOOKSTORE. Free boxes at the bookstore. Where are these places where people pay for moving boxes? I’ve moved 12 times in 10 years and I’ve never paid for a single moving box.

    Seriously, I can’t say it enough. Go to the bookstore and ask for boxes. If they’re not doing inventory/a big return then they’ll probably give you a stack of broken down boxes. They’re the perfect size, they’re uniform, they’re designed for the average employee to be able to lift even if they’re full of dictionaries.

    Copy paper boxes are also EXCELLENT for moving.

  15. rmz says:

    Are packing peanuts really sufficient for packing babies? I’ll have to try that sometime.

  16. HaxRomana says:

    You can’t pack a baby in a box with just a fragile sticker on it! That’s completely unacceptable! You need to put a “this side up” label on it. Babies are easily disoriented.

  17. OmnipotentQ says:

    Speaking of craigslist, I’ve been compiling collections of craigslist RSS feeds that I use (for personal things, of course, keeping in line with the TOS). I’ve been toying with the idea of releasing some of these feed collections (i.e., every writing/editing job feed in America) on my website. What do you think the response would be to that? Would anyone like to have those feed collections? I know that having every writing/editing feed has helped me enormously in getting writing gigs, because I can respond to any job as soon as it’s posted.

  18. OmnipotentQ says:

    Speaking of craigslist, I’ve been compiling collections of craigslist RSS feeds that I use (for personal things, of course, keeping in line with the TOS). I’ve been toying with the idea of releasing some of these feed collections (i.e., every writing/editing job feed in America) on my website. What do you think the response would be to that? Would anyone like to have those feed collections?

  19. StevieD says:

    Uline is a great source for small quantities of boxes. Reliable is another. A local (not OD, OM, Stable) office or industrial supply store is great to avoid freight charges and buy boxes as well as peanuts in 15 cubic foot sized bags (about $20 per bag). 15 cubic foot bags of peanuts are about the size of your refrigerator.

    HOWEVER, buy boxes not based upon price, but on performance ratings. Double wall, high weight rated boxes, usually 250 up to 375 lb burst strength, are much better than single wall boxes rated to only 100-200 lbs Yes double wall boxes will cost 30 to 60% more than single wall boxes, but the rate of damage is great minimized.

    Packing a box is much more than just using a few peanuts and hoping for the best. Use generous quantities of cardboard dividers and bulk wrapping matterial (cellulose or bubble wrap). Oh, and sheets of EPS (expanded polystrene) can be purchased in 1/2″ and 1″ thicknesses from most industrial supply vendors. A 4′ x 8′ 1″ thick EPS sheet can cost as little as $10. EPS can be easily cut down using a razor knife and provides excellant content protection and reinforcement of packing boxes.

  20. RevRagnarok says:

    I agree with many of the above…

    - Liquor stores. Very sturdy boxes and added bonus of new neighbors thinking you’re crazy.
    - freecycle.org – My last move (3 bedroom house) I got at least 75% of my boxes there, and ended up recycling maybe 4 – the rest got picked up and used by another person
    - If you end up buying, uline.com is very nice, at work we use them

  21. Matt says:

    any advice on where to buy moving supplies in the NYC area? Shrink wrap gun, bubblewrap, etc??

  22. Anonymous says:

    You can also try a new used box marketplace called BoxCycle. Buyer prices for moving size boxes are $0.38-$1.25. You can also post your boxes on the site and even make money while helping the environment.