The Ultimate Guide to Moving Boxes

This article will cover everything you need to know about about the most necessary moving item there is:  moving boxes.  What the are types?  Where to get them? How to pack them?  Here are answers and ideas to get you equipped and make your life easier.  After less than 10 minutes, you will be well informed and ready to get packing.  Let’s get into it!

Types of moving boxes

Paper or plastic?  Yes, this is a real option.  Probably 80% or more of your things will go into a moving box.  There are many options from thickness, to size, to specialty shapes and so on.  The first step is to choose the material.


Cardboard is the least expensive and most popular moving box material today.  Most big box retailers sell them.  Boxes will be purchased flat and come in various sizes.  We cover sizing and quantity a little down the page. What you need to know about cardboard:

PRO:  Inexpensive, easy to find, universal toy for children <7yrs old

CON:  Require assembly, crush under load, require breakdown and disposal

Moving Totes

Plastic totes are often used in commercial warehouse applications, however, rigid plastic moving boxes are becoming more prevalent for use in residential moves now in major cities.  You can rent what you need from a local business like reBOX, uHaul, or even directly from a few moving companies.  Equipment is returned after use.

PRO:  Anti-crush strength, zero assembly, quickly stackable, zero trash, delivery included (typically)

CON:  Often limited to local service area, slightly higher price than cardboard, no procrastinating when unpacking

Still not sure?  How about a bit of both?  Sometimes two is better than one!  You could use plastic for the things that benefit from more protection — kitchenware, glass, plates, decor, electronics — and use cardboard for the things that you may want to store awhile or aren’t as delicate to transport.  We delve into more detail comparing cardboard boxes and plastic moving totes in the zero waste article and in discussing benefits.

How many moving boxes do I need?

While there is not a one-size-fits-all answer to this question, about 8-10 boxes per room is a general rule to help with planning.  A room could be an office, kitchen, living room, den, basement, bedroom, garage, etc.  You could count bathrooms and closets depending on your space but for most of us those aren’t full on rooms.  It really depends on the person.  Answering this is like telling someone how much to eat.  

Collectors Beware

Certain circumstances will increase your box need.  Do you have space hungry items?  Are you a collector of sorts?  If you have shelves or furniture dedicated to display books, records, legos, crafts, dishes, tools, or anything else then you qualify to get more boxes.  Some of these “collections” require you measure the linear footage and assume 1 box for every 2 linear feet.  For example, a bookshelf with 4 shelves.  Each shelf 3 feet long.  You should estimate a need of 6 boxes.  [4 shelves * 3ft shelf = 12 ft of books; 12 ft / 2 linear feet packing estimate = 6 boxes for the bookshelf]

Customized Solutions

There is the option to google “how many boxes do I need” and you will find websites with calculators and quizzes about your space to get a bespoke output for you.  Here is an example of a box calculator.  Such an involved list of boxes can be overwhelming.  The important thing is to get started and not stall out on planning.  For that reason, we advise you to approximate and get packing quickly!

What size boxes do I need?

Size matters.  Packing large decor will require a larger box, easy.  However, most of the time it’s not the size but how you use it.  Be mindful about box weight.  An extra large box with books or dishes is a recipe for injury or destruction.  A bad news menu.  That’s why we advise you get medium boxes and get started.  (by medium we mean about 2 cubic feet)

Large reBOX with dimensions of 27 inches by 17 inches by 12 inches tallWe packed a large reBOX (2 cu. ft.) to show how much will fit into this amount of space.  Sure, some larger items that will need a larger container, so for every 500 sq foot of space you have, get 2 bigger boxes (by bigger we mean about 4 cubic feet).  That is the size of an XL reBOX.

Pro Tip:  use as much as possible of one size box.  The reason is because loading a moving truck should not require Tetris level 99 skills.  Same size boxes stack efficiently to maintain the structural integrity of the box (especially with cardboard).  Avoid stacking with weight falling on the top center or bottom center.

Special Moving Boxes

What about weird shaped items?  Some specialty boxes come in handy for items like art, TV, or clothing.  We do not go into discussing all the types possible.  Movers are typically equipped to wrap and transport anything.  If you are the DIY type, then consider splurging on a telescoping box for the flat screen TV or art pieces.  For hanging clothing that should not be folded or wrinkled (e.g. anything you spend money to dry clean), consider a wardrobe box or two.  Wardrobe boxes can also be convenient for lamp shades.

Where to buy (or rent) moving boxes?

To purchase new cardboard boxes, big box (pun intended) retailers are the most convenient and cost effective — places like Home Depot, Lowe’s, or Wal-Mart.  Amazon is good too but the moving kits are popular; assemble your own kit buying various sizes yourself down the street.  At some storage and equipment rental facilities you can buy boxes and any unused materials will be bought back.  Sounds nice but don’t go crazy.  Packing boxes is like eating chips — you end up consuming what is in front of you.

Used Cardboard

Used boxes are easier to source online.  Websites like are helpful.  We are assuming these boxes come clean without any funky smells or juices.  Given the business is still around, this assumption seems reasonable.  Finding used materials on social media could be an option as well which we discuss below for freebies.

Rent Boxes

Renting boxes is a growing trend.  Plastic moving totes can offer a stress free way to get boxes quickly and with zero assembly required.  This will maximize your time and productivity to the task of packing.

Where to get FREE moving boxes

There are so many ideas and your city will have its own hidden gems to find freebies.  We have a short list for the frugally-minded to nab free cardboard:

  • Liquor stores
  • Costco or Sam’s Club
  • Social platforms (Facebook or Nextdoor are the top picks for us)
  • Hobby Lobby or other craft stores

Obviously, this list is not comprehensive.  Almost everything in a retail environment is shipped with cardboard.  The highest likelihood to get freebies is by relieving a pain point for someone else — like someone who just moved and wants the used materials gone.  Businesses have a process for discarding spent boxes but capturing a few boxes isn’t a big deal.  Finding freebies will require your time and effort to go out of your way to talk to strangers.  If you have the time, there’s no limit to how many boxes you can acquire!

Bottomline:  Investing time and creativity, there is no limit to finding freebies.  An outgoing personality help with talking to strangers too.

Environmental impact of boxes

This consideration does not get much attention because we need the boxes to get moving.  The relocation isn’t happening without them.  A tremendous amount of trees, power, and water are consumed to create corrugated brown cubes.  We cover this is much more detail in our article about zero waste moving.

Renting moving totes will use 44% less water, 70% less power, and generate zero landfill.  That’s a lot less waste!  Buying recycled cardboard is thoughtful but even the recycled stuff takes 75% of the power and about 9 gallons of water to produce just 1 box.  Look, we are not here to “box shame” you.  We are here to inform.  For nearly the same cost of cardboard, renting totes offers a choice to contribute to less waste and a better tomorrow.

How to pack boxes

Let’s assume you are packing yourself.  Depending on your age and income, a packing service is divine!  Professional organizers, movers, and 3rd party apps offer you this luxury for a price.  Enough fantasizing, let’s talk about the basics.

Generally, it is a good idea to eliminate air or empty space when you are packing moving boxes.  Start with “crush” at the bottom of a box.  Crush is wadded up newspapers, packing paper, towels, love letters from your ex — anything that will provide a slight shock absorption to the jostling of being dollied around and sitting in a metal box truck that is bouncing over pot holes.

recycled plastic moving box containing kitchen items packed with honeycomb packing paper instead of bubble wrapNext, you pack your goods.  It’s a great idea to use packing paper for breakables.  There are plenty of household items to help with your packing if you do not purchase packing paper.

Before closing the box, there should be about 2 fingers worth of air gap at the top between the last item packed and the box top when closed.  Put some filler into any dead space, a little crush on the top, and close ‘er up.  Bravissimo!  Next box please.

How to label boxes

A recycled plastic moving box is easily labeled and zip tied closed for safe keeping of items withinThis is easy.  Write on the label everything you just put into the box.  Haha!  No.  Clearly, you are the kind of person to declutter prior to your move, right?  Thought so.  Now we can assume everything you pack is necessary to be unpacked quickly because you need it.  Since all your boxes need to be unpacked, the easiest way to label is by writing the area/room on the label.  Movers or friends are looking to set down boxes and efficiently use there time.  Keep it simple “OFFICE, LIVING ROOM, GARAGE” should be good enough.  We go into detail about other labelling options.  Prioritizing some boxes for immediate unpacking is often a good idea.  If you want to nerd out with us, then check out the labelling article for more information.

Necessary supplies for packing boxes

Depending on if you purchase cardboard boxes or rent recycled moving toes, your list could vary greatly.  If you rent moving totes then a lot of supplies listed below are not necessary or are provided as part of the service.  We do not want to tell you how to spend your money but this is a shopping list to get you started if you decide to go the cardboard box route:

1. Boxes

2. Box Tape (paper or clear packing tape is best)

3. Tape dispenser

4. Box Labels

5. Packing Paper

6. Markers

7. Box knife (for breakdown)

Get packing now!

Armed with the information above, you are ready to take action.  Get boxes and start packing now!  Momentum builds quickly once you begin.  Best of luck on your move!


If you read this far in the article then you deserve something extra!  Why not?  Moving means changing address, bills, decluttering – all the things.  Below is a free checklist that can help keep you organized and on track during the move:

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