Moving is all about the boxes. Also about the money, stress, and physical labor, but mostly about the boxes.

It's pretty much universally recognized you'll need a mountain of boxes for your move, but what many people don't realize is that many boxes were designed with specific contents in mind. And if you use those boxes as intended, your move will be far easier.

But for some reason, moving boxes don't typically come with instructions. It's entirely up to you to intuit which boxes are right for which contents. This leaves a great deal of your project's success up to guesswork and there are serious consequences when you guess wrong. You might find out your boxes are too heavy and you need to unpack them and start all over again. Or, you may run short of boxes because you weren't strategic enough, to begin with. The list of possible repercussions goes on and on.

Luckily, there's an easy way to figure out how to pick and pack the right boxes for your move. Oola has prepared the ultimate guide to moving boxes so you can pack the right contents into the right boxes with efficiency and confidence.

Oola's Guide To Moving Boxes

A man carries a stack of boxes.

1. Small Boxes

If you're planning for an upcoming move it's a good idea to start squirreling away small, sturdy boxes. The kind you find on your porch step after making an online purchase or possibly received a gift in. Small boxes won't necessarily be included in your moving box package and they come in very handy.

If you've read our packing guide you know we suggest placing your knives into a small, separate, clearly-labeled box. This will help prevent anyone from getting inadvertently cut while rooting around in a larger box that unbeknownst to them, contained knives.

Small boxes are also great for moving flatware, tools, bundled electronic wires, jewelry, toiletries, and heavy knick-knacks.

2. Medium Boxes

Medium sized boxes are ideal for heavy items that take up a significant amount of space like books and papers. They can also be used for DVDs, CDS, games, photo albums, and dishes.

Keep in mind that although these boxes may be stationary when you pack them, you'll eventually have to carry them outside and load them into your moving truck. It's important to make sure they aren't too heavy. Heavy boxes are extremely inefficient because they often end up getting unpacked and dispersed into smaller boxes or require two people to carry them. Even if there is someone willing to lug them on their own, it can lead to injury or overwork to them to the point where they require a break to catch their breath again.

The easiest way to see if a box is too heavy is simply to pick it up as you're packing it. If your box is incredibly heavy when only half full, don't fill it with any more heavy items like books. Use the remainder of the box for lighter items like throw pillows instead.

3. Corrugated Boxes

A corrugated box.
A corrugated box. Pixabay / matlevesque

Corrugated boxes have been specifically designed to prevent your fragile items from breakage in conjunction with the rest of your packing supplies. This could include glasses, fine china, breakable knick-knacks, and any other delicate items.

Tip: When packing breakable items, place the sturdier items on the bottom (such as dinner plates) and the more delicate items on the top (such as crystal wine glasses).

4. Large Boxes

Large boxes are ideal for awkwardly shaped items, such as pots, pans, small appliances, and toys. Once again, you'll want to keep tabs on the weight as you go along, particularly if you have heavy cookware. If your box is getting too heavy, fill the remainder with lighter items from the same room. In the case of heavy boxes of pots and pans, plastic utensils and dish towels are ideal for using the remainder of your box.

5.Extra Large Boxes

Do not fill extra large boxes with heavy items as they'll be virtually impossible to move. Extra large boxes are ideal for awkwardly shaped items that need to be protected. Lamps, large vases and other items of decor come to mind. Fill in the white space with pillows or soft goods from the same room, this will help prevent the box from growing too heavy and help prevent you from wasting space.

6. Wardrobe Boxes

Clothes hang in a wardrobe box.
Clothes hung up in a wardrobe box. Wikimedia Commons

Wardrobe boxes were obviously designed for clothes and that's what they should be used for. Most people don't have enough wardrobe boxes for all of their garments, and that's fine. Prioritize the wardrobe boxes for the clothing items you value the most (like your wedding dress), or items that will have to ironed should they get wrinkled to save yourself work when it's time to unpack.

7. Picture/Mirror Boxes And Poster Tubes

Picture boxes and poster tubes are pretty self-explanatory when it comes to expected contents. We do have a piece of advice, however. Load these items last and surround them with soft good like pillows if possible. Although these containers are designed to protect their cargo, they may not be able to withstand crushing from heavy boxes without breakage.

8. Electronic Boxes

It's always a good idea to save your boxes when you buy a new computer, television or gaming system. These items are best restored and moved in their original packaging. If you no longer have the boxes available, cut pieces of cardboard panels from your existing moving boxes and secure them with heavy tape. Afterward, cover them with pillows and blankets.

Please note that the proper way to move a flat screen or plasma television is upright. Do not lay such items on their side or you could permanently damage the picture quality.

9. Crates

A roomful of custom crates.
Custom moving crates. Flickr / wetwebwork

If you have a particularly valuable painting or piece of sculpture, you may want to invest in a custom crate to make sure it isn't damaged in your move. Custom crates are generally made of wood specifically to house your specific valuables.

Depending on your needs you can have one made for a single piece of artwork, or ask them to design one to protect multiple pieces at the same time.

10. Mattress Boxes

It's important to protect your mattress in a move. You sleep on it, so the last thing you want to do is expose it to dust, dirt, and germs. Mattress boxes were designed with this purpose in mind and are obviously ideal for moving, but if you aren't able to get your hands on one, don't worry. Mattress bags work just about as well. And if you don't have a mattress bag? That's okay, too.

Cover your mattress with fitted sheets for the move and pop them into the washing machine when you arrive at your new homes. If it's raining you can also use cut up garbage bags and sturdy tape.

10. Suitcases, Hampers, And Baskets

We know what you're thinking. Suitcases, hampers, and baskets aren't boxes. Oh, but they are! Each one of these items was meant for storage and that space shouldn't be wasted! Suitcases should be filled with clothes, hampers with towels and linens, and baskets can be used for canned goods and small miscellaneous items from your bathroom and kitchen.

11. Garbage Bags

Garbage bags can be used in conjunction with moving boxes to make your project a little easier. They are perfect for soft goods like clothing, linens, and pillows. Best of all, they take up less space in your moving truck and you can use them to surround boxes and give an extra layer of protection to items such as electronics.

The Best Places To Get Free Moving Boxes

A couple sits on a bare floor among their moving boxes.

Moving is expensive. Even if you plan a DIY move and do all the work on your own. One of the easiest ways to shave money off your move is to get your moving boxes for free. Here's how:

Save Your Shipping Boxes

Start saving your shipping boxes when you order packages online. Ask your friends and neighbors to do the same. Most people end up breaking them down and putting them into the recycling bin anyway.

Post On Social Media

If you have Facebook, Twitter, or other social media accounts, make sure you alert your followers to the fact that you could use some moving boxes. They, or someone they know, may have recently moved and be happy to put their boxes and packing supplies to a second use.

Ask On Buy Nothing Or Craigslist

Put Up an ask on Buy Nothing or the wanted section on Craigslist. Most people don't want to face the prospect of disposing of their boxes after a move. They'd much rather give them to someone who can use them. You just have to ask.


A row of large  moving boxes.

Corporately owned UHaul stores have a program where people can drop off their boxes after their move to pass on to the next person on a first come, first serve basis. Give them a call to see if they have any available.

Liquor And Grocery Stores

Grocery stores and liquor stores go through a lot of boxes. Most of the time they break them down and throw them into the recycling bin unless someone asks for it. That someone should be you!

Now that you know where to get free moving boxes and how to pack them when you do, only one thing remains. Your actual move! Your friends at Oola wish you many years of happiness in your new home.

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