Buying boxes can break a moving budget, but it’s not hard to find clean, sturdy boxes for free. You just have to get creative and think outside the box. (See what I did there?)

When it comes to scouring your area for free cardboard boxes, keep in mind what makes for a quality box for moving or storage. Don’t waste your time with flimsy boxes, you want the ones made from corrugated cardboard only. The thicker the walls of the box the better. Thinner cardboard boxes, like those used for your larger Amazon orders, can work okay. Just be sure to not overload them and use extra tape to secure them.

Remember when you go to pick up used boxes, to inspect them to make sure they aren’t about to fall apart. Moving boxes can withstand maybe three to five used before they become unreliable. Also check boxes for bugs carefully, especially ones from food service establishments. You don’t want to turn your free boxes into a Trojan horse for nasty bugs to enter your new home or storage unit.

With all that said, there are plenty of great places to find free moving boxes so you don’t have to spend another dime on moving supplies.

1. Friends and Family Members

Know anyone who moved recently? This is is probably the easiest way to snag some free boxes. Keep your eyes peeled on social media like Facebook for posts from anyone you know looking to unload a stash of boxes. Or, put up your own post asking if anyone has boxes they don’t want.

2. Neighbors

One of the best places to get free moving boxes is Nextdoor, a site and app that allows neighborhoods to create private social networks. Business owner Shannon Robeson, who runs Natures New Green, which sells supplies for urban and organic gardening, saves all her extra boxes and offers them free on Nextdoor. “I offer my extra supplies there first,” she said.

3. Freecycle

The Freecycle Network is a great way to get free stuff, including moving boxes. Robeson also uses Freecycle to unload extra boxes.

4. Craigslist

Check out the “free” section of Craigslist, where people are always giving away boxes. You might have to be vigilant, as these get snapped up pretty quick. The good news is that people post boxes to giveaway on the site regularly. Letgo is an an alternative to Craigslist where free boxes can often be found.

5. Large Apartment Complexes

Tenants regularly move in and out, and also receive packages, so the recycling room should be overflowing with cardboard. Stop in and ask the manager if you can take a bunch of boxes.

6. Liquor Store

Your local liquor store is a great place to get sturdy boxes, some of which contain divider inserts, said Eileen Roth, author of “Organizing for Dummies” and a professional organizer.

“Those divided boxes are great for vases, glasses, and other tall or fragile items,” Roth said, adding that they also work well for bathroom items like shampoo, conditioner and shower gel. “The tops are often cut off, so be aware that these might be boxes you will move in your own car,” she said.

7. Big Box Retailers

Stores like Costco, Walmart, Home Depot and other large home improvement stores are known as “big-box stores” for a reason. Office supply stores are also another good bet. Just ask a worker if they have any empty ones to spare. Chances are they do.

8. Grocery Stores

Grocery stores can offer heavy duty banana boxes, egg boxes and detergent boxes. Many grocers and other large stores use machines to crush their surplus boxes, so show up early in the morning or late at night while employees are stocking shelves, Chantay Bridges, a Los Angeles real estate agent, recommends. If boxes already have been smashed, ask a manager to put aside some boxes for you.

9. Pet Stores

At pet stores, you can get large boxes that work well for packing clothes, bed sheets and towels.

10. Work

See if you can get copy paper boxes, which are good for packing books, dishes and other heavy items. Most offices receive several boxes delivered on a weekly basis. Check with each department to see if they’ll hold a few for you.

11. Starbucks

Your local Starbucks most likely gets deliveries two to three times a week, which is a perfect time to get some free boxes. If you’re one a first name basis with your favorite barista they no doubt will hook you up.

12. U-Haul and Other Moving Truck Rental Locations

When people return their moving truck, they often bring a load of empty boxes with them to drop off. U-Haul and other rental truck locations have a free section for boxes. You might have to stop in a few times to find enough boxes in good condition, but eventually you’ll accumulate what you need.

13. Dumpster Diving

Behind some retail stores and other strip mall businesses, you’ll find recycling dumpsters marked “cardboard only.” Never climb inside a dumpster, only take what you can reach easily.

14. Local Recycling Center

Your local recycling drop off center likely has a hoard of quality cardboard boxes at any given time. Remember, never climb inside a dumpster! Nonetheless, odds are good you’ll be able to get your hands on some boxes.

15. Colleges or Universities.

You can check with the mail room at your local college or university to see if they have surplus boxes. Or, check with the campus recycling center or initiative to get the locations of recycling drop off points on campus.

Allie Johnson
Freelance writer on money, lifestyle & more. I also love travel in the South, cooking without a recipe and helping rescue dogs find homes.