How To Get Boxes For Your Back-To-School Move

College move-in is just a few weeks away and I’m literally counting down the days (there are 10 left for me). During this time of anticipation, excitement, and listening to The Ultimate Showdown, I can’t help but to think back to my days as an incoming freshman. Ah, those were the days… knowing absolutely nothing, getting all my stuff together, trying to figure out just how the hell I was going to move it all…

Ok, so one of the hardest things anyone – not just students – has to deal with while moving is finding boxes. Boxes are one of those things you always have at the wrong time. The entire year, you buy tons and tons of useless crap that comes in boxes of all shapes and sizes. Immediately after opening your new bouncy castle, USB desk fridge, or slingshot monkey, you promptly throw away the box (or, if you’re some sort of hippie, you recycle it. Dork.) Now that move-in is looming, you’re probably wishing you still had those boxes. Well, you don’t. Deal with it, bro. Your boxes are probably being used to give away rabid kittens on someone’s porch in Georgia.

Never fear, though! There are ways of getting free, or at least cheap, boxes that don’t involve violent coercion of your neighbors or using up your last favor with the don. They’re just thick pieces of paper, for Pete’s sake. It’s actually not that hard.

Convince Your Parents to Buy a New Fridge

Yeah, man – bet you didn’t think of this one. If you’re in need of a big box to move all your Pokemon plush toys and Yu-gi-oh cards (you did remember to put those on your packing list,right?), then you might ask your parents to coordinate any large item purchases they were already planning on making.

Heck, you can take this a step further; ask your neighbors and other family members to do the same. Odds are that at least a few people were already planning on buying a new TV or a large piece of modern art. Coordinate and ninja yourself some boxes!

Raid Stores

Grocery and department stores go through a lot of boxes every day, and most of them recycle those boxes after they’re used. This presents a perfect opportunity for you; you just need to get there when the boxes are empty, but not yet disposed of. For me, this meant going to my local grocery store around 2 a.m. the night before I moved. The night staff there was really cool and let me take all the boxes I wanted.

Don’t waste your time trying this at Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart uses so many boxes that they’ve become a large expense, so the company actually reuses every box. Because of this, the employees won’t let your poor college ass take any. So much for helping the community, Wal-mart.

Hit Up Craigslist

Craigslist is a great place to get used cars, sofas people died on, and “casual encounters”. It’s also occasionally a great place to find moving boxes. Just go to the site’s “Free Stuff” section and do a search for boxes. Often there will be someone who’s just moved themselves and is now looking to get rid of their own boxes.

Become SUPERBUM, the Great Dumpster Diver of the West

Yep, dumpsters are also a great place to get your hands on boxes. More often than not, you’ll find boxes in a separate dumpster from all the real trash, so contracting super-herpes from a discarded needle isn’t a prerequisite for this method of getting them.

One very good place to look for boxes in dumpsters is a school; schools serve lunch every day, so you’re likely to find tons of discarded pizza and chicken nugget boxes out back.

Buy Them, If You Have To

If your parents are super-rich and snack on caviar like I snack on Wheat Thins, then you could theoretically skip the dumpster diving and just buy some moving boxes. Here are some cheap ones – though I didn’t look very hard; you may be able to find a cheaper back elsewhere.

Boxes are like water – you can buy them, but they’re just as easy to get for free. Good luck, and have fun moving.

Thomas Frank is the geek behind College Info Geek. After paying off $14K in student loans before graduating, landing jobs and internships, starting a successful business, and travelling the globe, he's now on a mission to help you build a remarkable college experience as well. Get the Newsletter | Twitter | Instagram

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  1. wow this is so nice that you Craigslist is a great place to get used cars, sofas people died on, and casual encounters.

  2. We offer free high quality (double walled) boxes with our service!

  3. @annedreshfield I might not be to the mold consumption point yet, but things like moving are definitely done more haphazardly now than they were freshman year 😛

  4. @thomasfrank09 I think the farther along you get in college the more you adopt that mentality. “What’s this moldy mug on my desk? Eh, maybe it’ll flavor my coffee.”

  5. @annedreshfield true – the dumpster method’s prerequisite is to get into that “try not to think about it” state of mind…

  6. I caved and bought some sturdy moving boxes my freshman year, and for anyone who’s worried about wasting money on them, if you take care of them (don’t throw them around from storage unit to car trunk, don’t hack at them with an X-ACTO knife, etc), they’ll last you a while. Mine are all still functioning and baking in my storage unit in Southern California, and I’m planning on making them last through my senior year! The small investment is worth it if you’re careful, and honestly, you have no idea what’s in/on/all over those boxes you yank out of the dumpster. 😉

  7. @StephRWong I didn’t have any boxes when I moved back home this summer either! And, since I was only 30 minutes away, I never bothered bringing any luggage either. I was super lucky to have a friend who randomly had a bunch of extra boxes – otherwise I would have had to carry everything by hand 😛

  8. Yeah when I moved back home at the beginning of summer I had the same problem of not being able to find boxes. Then I ended up putting everything in plastic bags (like grocery store or clothing store ones) so I had like 50 of those and I looked like I was a pack rat. So thanks for the tips cuz I definitely needed this lol

  9. @djsoults That’s a really good idea. The one downside to using something like the dumpster method is that the boxes are usually small – if I had a lot of stuff, I might use something like Uhaul to avoid having tons of little boxes that don’t hold much.

  10. @thomasfrank09 You can just buy boxes… Any order over $25 ships free. It is worth mentioning that if you “use” the box (as in, you crack it open so it’s not flat anymore) you can’t return it. But, it’s still nice to be able to order extras with no risk of losing the money. They also rate their boxes for 4 moves, and after 1, they’re still in pretty good condition. The only down side is I have a closet filled with flattened boxes, but it will make the next move that much cheaper.

  11. @djsoults that’s really cool! I had no idea you could “rent” boxes. Is renting a truck required or can you just get boxes by themselves?

  12. Surprisingly, UHaul has fairly reasonable rates on boxes. They’ll ship them to you for free, and you can return any unused boxes for the full purchase price to any UHaul store. I’ve used them for 1 move, and will be using them again when I move in a few weeks. It’s a pretty painless system — plus, you get to deal with the irony of getting a group of boxes shipped in a box (and you get a free box)

  13. Yeah some of the best places to check out is retail stores. They are willing to just give them away so if you check out a couple places in a week like Radioshack or Target you’re going to be just fine.

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