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Q. Dear Umbra,

I will be moving soon, and a friend suggested buying cheap but durable plastic storage bins with lids as an alternative to traditional moving boxes (or whatever empty boxes I can find from local stores). The idea is appealing, especially for a lot of stuff that I typically keep stored in closets or my basement, because I wouldn’t have to unpack when I get to my new home. But I’m sure there has to be an alternative to plastic when it comes to storage bins. What are the alternatives for lidded storage containers?

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A. Dearest Jules,

Continuing on our moving theme, we hold back the tears as we think about boxes. As I mentioned earlier this week, quite a bit has changed in the three years since I last investigated green moving, so soon I will write about actual self-titled “green movers.” Boxes are thrilling, though, and get to be first.

girl with boxesKilroy was here … till he moved.tew via flickrThere’s nothing wrong with the old box from a local store. It’s reuse, after all. Liquor boxes are about the same size as an officially purposed book box. As long as you don’t mind a colorful assortment in your closet or basement, you could still happily not-unpack them. The problem comes when you want any kind of larger box for equally large people to heft in to a moving truck.

With reuse in mind, I briefly scanned Craigslist, and turned up scads of free moving boxes proffered by folks who have done all their unpacking and either are generous or can’t deal with the recycling part. Other online classifieds should provide a similar pool of opportunity for reusing. If you are the last user of a box and the cardboard has been reduced to pulp, you can lay it on the lawn and plant a garden.

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Plastic storage bins are a good option for moving and for storage. But they aren’t as cheap as cardboard boxes. The only free plastic lidded containers I can think of are the five-gallon food service buckets one can obtain from a restaurant or church retreat center kitchen. There are only so many objects one can pack into a cylinder. I briefly looked for other lidded storage containers for you, but they seem few, far between, heavy, metal, and kind of silly. Cute canvas or steel containers are available, but too small for your needs. Wicker baskets seem too flimsy. All the East Coast rain must be sogging my brain, because I’m going to say that plastic bins are a pretty good idea. Especially if (drumroll) you can rent them!

Leading me to the only potential revelation of today’s column. A few companies are making a go of renting plastic moving tubs. A few have a national profile; one I found is in southern California, one is more nationwide-ish. But I started looking more closely, and in several cities local moving firms were renting plastic tubs. Let your fingers do the walking. This may be a win-win solution. You get a durable crate, and so do 400 other people. You do still have to unpack at the end, but perhaps this will be a useful lesson in reducing what you own and owning what you need.

By the way, I also found cardboard boxes for rent, which is apparently also a fairly common offering. I’m not sure this is any better than Craigslist.

Best of luck, and lift with your knees.


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