Need Free Moving Boxes? Go Dumpster Diving

Updated on December 8, 2017

Free Cardboard for the Taking

The Fun Part of Moving is Finding Your Boxes!

I have moved 12 times in the last 13 years. Some places I lived longer than others, of course. The last move was out of a long term rental and into a home I bought. The one thing that never changes no matter how many times you move is the need for cheap, if not free, moving boxes. So, how do you get boxes for all your stuff? Do you search online for giveaways? Get them from your work? Ask friends to save every box they can get their hands on for you? Or do you just give up and buy them from U-Haul or some other moving company?

Well, I have a great solution for you that is easy, cheap and fun!

Go dumpster diving for your cardboard! This is honestly my favorite way of getting free boxes and I have done it since move #2. I'm actually serious. I love this method for a couple reasons.

  1. It's free.
  2. There is a "bad girl" element involved that is exciting.
  3. It's a fast way to find a lot of boxes at once.

Most medium sized retail stores have cardboard recycling dumpsters in the back of their businesses, right next to the regular dumpsters. They break down and throw away all their extra cardboard into these containers, and it just sits there waiting for you to pick up! Anything in a garbage receptacle is no longer a possession of the person or entity that put it there. That simply means that you can't get in trouble for "stealing" the boxes. (Unless otherwise posted, or located behind locked gates. Please use common sense when engaging in this activity.) Now for most of us, dumpster diving is not a regular activity, and getting caught doing it could be embarrassing. Plus some employees may get defensive in their overzealous desire to "protect" their employer if they caught you doing it. That makes digging for cardboard a little exciting to us goody-two-shoes types. I wouldn't want to make anyone upset, so being a little sneaky is fun.


Where to Look and What to Avoid!

Now, that being said, here are some tips I have learned in my years of dumpster diving for moving boxes.

  1. Avoid grocery stores. It's a waste of time as most of the boxes will have yucky food juices on them and smell bad. Just a few bad produce boxes or a broken bottle of cleaner and you have a lot of messy boxes.
  2. Most big box retailers have cardboard bailing machines in their stock rooms, (and therefore don't have cardboard dumpsters) so you must stick to the smaller retailers.
  3. The best places to look are mid sized drug stores, book retailers, toy stores, schools, malls and strip malls. Businesses that sell car stereo parts have great boxes too.
  4. If you are having a hard time finding boxes, call ahead to the store of your choice and ask what days their cardboard dumpster gets picked up. Let them know you are looking for moving boxes. Most stores have no problem telling you when it will be full and some will even hold onto the boxes, or stack them next to the dumpster if they know you are interested. This is less fun, but very practical.
  5. Wear your "I'm-getting-dirty" clothes. Even though the dumpster is for cardboard, it is still a dumpster.
  6. Take a kid or two with you on your hunt! Believe it or not a great looking box may be just out of your reach. You can jump in yourself or throw the kid in to get it. My kids love helping with this activity. They find it just as exhilarating as I do.
  7. Avoid alcohol boxes. Personally I'm not a drinker, so I don't want a bunch of alcohol boxes all over my house and garage. But the other reason is that when you put them back together they don't have a solid top and bottom, so they are only good for a very limited type of stuff. No small knickknacks or anything, as they will fall through the holes.
  8. Last but not least, avoid wet or damp cardboard. Previously damp/wet cardboard is weaker, and can be smelly. You don't want your stuff to forever smell like wet cardboard. I once bought a new set of dishes, and the box had gotten wet. That set of dishes smelled like cheap cardboard chemicals for about a year, even with routine washing in a dishwasher!

Don't Forget to Recycle

Obviously, at the end of your move, if you have leftovers guess what you can do with them? You got it! Take them all down to one of the cardboard dumpsters you got them from and toss them in. Now that you know where they all are, it won't be hard to recycle them. Or heck, you could find other ways to recycle them. Ask your friends if anyone needs a few boxes. Put them on an online classified site. Try craigslist or your local freecycle group. I'm sure there are lots of people who could benefit from your new box hunting skill.

Have fun!

© 2009 Willow Mattox

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    • deanoman777 profile image

      deanoman777 

      7 years ago from Independence

      was cracking up at this "You can jump in yourself or throw the kid in to get it." I could just imagine you hurling your kiddo into a dumpster after a box. Great article.

    • Enelle Lamb profile image

      Enelle Lamb 

      9 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Another great place for uniform and clean boxes is K.F.C. believe it or not! My daughter works p/t at our local establishment and brought home boxes for our last move...

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