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How to Get Free Moving Boxes at Retail, Chain, and Big-Box Stores

How to choose among so many potential—and potentially disappointing—options? Take a moment to think about what kind of moving boxes are most important to your project. What size, shape, condition, and number do you need? When are you available to visit stores, and what’s nearby? Does it make more sense to talk to places near your home or work? Often, this perspective can guide you in choosing which places to visit first. Here, take a look at this list of possibilities to get a general sense of what’s out there.

  • Fast Food and Fry Boxes: We’re talking now about the shipping boxes the frozen fries arrive in. But the point is fast food joints sell a ton of fries and so have a ton of uniform, medium-sized boxes. As with any store, but especially with fast food restaurants, try to plan your visit during down times. More than likely, you’re not going to get a favorable result, if you ask while the line at the counter and drive-thru window is eight deep.
  • Shopping Centers and Outlet Malls: The bigger, the better. If one store can’t help you out, chances are the next one will. You’re also more likely to get a positive response rate from outdoor shopping malls that may have not have the space for a bailer. Often, you’re good to go so long as you’re willing to fish boxes out of a commercial-sized recycle bin.
  • Electronics: Much like the grocery store and wood crate boxes, many people visit retail and electronic stores specifically looking for TV moving boxes. And the results tend to be very hit-and-miss because, unless your friend works there, you need just the right timing to get an empty box for the floor demo. Even then, some places will save the box for their customers, knowing they’re going to sell the demo TV eventually, too. 
  • Book Stores: Boxes can be used for all sorts of items, but especially good for books. You generally run less risk of being overrun with paying customers who make employees unapproachable, but there are still no guarantees. We had one sales associate tell us there was probably boxes in the back, but she wasn’t allowed to leave the store unattended.   
  • Target: A decent bet for cardboard boxes on the fly, but even better when calling ahead. More of a niche packing solutions for loose items, pick up a handful of Target’s plastic bags, which are uncommonly strong. This is a great example of something that’s just as well reused as recycled. Because these bags are wide and yet hard to rip, they’re also great for cleaning multiple litter boxes in the home.
  • Walmart/Lowe’s/Home Depot: These places seem like the perfect spot to pick up free moving boxes in bulk, but just as often, it’s their size that’s the problem. These stores create and bale cardboard at such a high rate that they’re able to sell the cardboard as a supplemental revenue stream. Still, most are willing to set aside some number of boxes if you call ahead. Here’s a nifty trick about showing up during stocking hours that we were able to use with mixed success.
  • Walgreens/CVS/Rite-Aid: Pharmacies and convenience stores are great options. They’re easy to find but typically not big enough to see their spare cardboard as significant revenue. Yet, they’re also not as commonly used for their cardboard boxes as the big-box stores. Less competition means more opportunities for success.
  • Starbucks: Known for sturdy, medium-sized boxes, the trick is often to call ahead as these types of deliveries may only be made once or twice a week. Other local coffee shops are also a good bet when you call ahead, especially if they have a reasonable spot where they can leave the boxes out for you to pick up.