Since I seem to move house every six months or so, I have ample opportunities to test new strategies. This time around I experimented by putting plastic storage totes through FedEx Ground, and for the items I moved myself I used cardboard boxes with the addition of nonadhesive strapping tape and tubular handles. Much quicker and easier, less effort, no breakages, big success.
— Charles Platt
Plastic Totes via FedEx
Wal-Mart sells them for storing items such as bedding and clothes in the home, but their semi-rigid construction makes them ideal for moving fragile possessions such as dishes and stereo components. They are stackable, waterproof, easy to pick up (recessed handle at each end), reusable (can be nested during storage), and will pass unscathed through FedEx ground. Best of all they barely cost more than cardboard boxes! My local FedEx-Kinko’s was skeptical about accepting them for fear that the lids would pop off during transport. I allayed their fears by putting 2-inch tape around the perimeter of the lid and folding it under the rim. I had to make little notches in the tape so that it would seal properly either side of plastic strengthening ribs under the rim, but this was still much easier, quicker, and safer than using cardboard. Wal-Mart sells gray Sterilite brand totes (the type I prefer) through its stores, but not online. Models 1830 and 1835 are the ones I have tested through FedEx without any problems. You can pay a little more and get “latch totes” (models 1940 and 1945 with a flip-up latch at each end) but since you’ll still need to add tape, I feel the latches are unnecessary. (NOTE: One reader pointed out that plastic totes may buckle if they are stored in a very hot place with heavy objects on top of them. I haven’t encountered this problem myself, but I do follow the standard practice of filling each container to minimize empty space inside it)
If you still want to use cardboard boxes for items you move yourself, or if you are moving stacks of books secured with cling wrap (as I have suggested previously), consider adding half-inch nonadhesive plastic strapping tape. This is the stuff you sometimes see wrapped around boxes containing big items such as refrigerators being transported as freight. Often it’s yellow in color. Shipping departments have a tensioner that they use to pull the tape tight, but you don’t need that. You can get 3000 feet of half-inch strapping and a lot of little buckles, with a manual tensioner, for ~$45. You thread the tape through the buckle, pull up on it while bearing down on the box, and you have it as tight as you need it. You trim the tape near the buckle. The advantages are that it greatly strengthens the box while giving you something to grab it by, especially if you augment it with a handle (described below). Also you can link two or three boxes together so that you can carry them easily with one hand, especially up and down stairs. Much more efficient and secure than cradling boxes in your arms, less hazardous (you can see your feet and obstacles in your path), and less risk of back injury, since you don’t have to stoop to pick them up. Note that FedEx and UPS don’t like string or strapping that can snag their package processing machinery, so strapping is for transporting packages yourself or with assistance from movers.
DIY Box Handles
Make handles from half-inch plastic water pipe sawn into 5″ lengths. My local Lowe’s sold me six feet of pipe for around $3 and you can use any wood saw to cut it. You may feel this is a luxury, but if you want to protect your hands from the edges of the plastic tape, handles are nice to have.
Thread tape through handle.
Turn box upside-down and cross the tape ends.
Turn box right-side-up and thread one of the returning tape ends through the handle.
Add the buckle.
After pulling the tape tight, your box is now very easy to carry.