A Few Thoughts on Packaging

Empty Egg Carton. To keep packaging from becoming clutter, it is important to make wise choices about what to keep and why.

Almost everything we buy comes with packaging: blister packs, layers of cardboard, safety seals, bubble wrap, etc. Often, we simply remove and discard it, but sometimes we allow packaging to take up residence in our space. This isn’t always a bad thing, but to keep packaging from becoming clutter, it is important to make wise choices about what to keep and why. Here are a few thoughts to bear in mind…

Packaging is designed to: 

  • Protect items during sale and transit by being tamper-resistant (e.g. blister pack), weather-resistant (e.g. shrink wrap), and rigid enough to protect fragile contents.
  • Help sell products by being eye catching, colorful, and clearly branded. Sometimes, the container itself may be designed to make a statement (e.g. Leggs pantyhose), and often the package includes advertising or other paperwork to increase customer engagement.
  • Minimize shipping costs by being lightweight and easy to pack in boxes.

Packaging is largely not intended to:

  • Be reused. The goal is to get the product to you in good shape. Opening the package often renders it sharp, torn, or otherwise compromised.
  • Use space efficiently in the home environment. A container that protects an item on a cross-country truck ride is likely larger than what is required for safekeeping on a shelf.
  • Match/blend with interior décor. Companies wish to draw attention to their colors and logo, not subtly blend in with your home’s design aesthetic.

As you can see, a manufacturer’s priorities in designing packaging are frequently out of synch with a homeowner’s need for efficient storage. Nonetheless, we often retain and accumulate product packaging in our spaces. The most common reasons for the presence of packaging in the home are:

~ We think items will be safer if kept inside their original packaging until we are ready to use them.

~ We don’t take the time to remove the packaging when we bring products in the door.

~ We tear bulk packaging open only far enough to access the item we want, and leave the remaining hanging loose.

~ We keep boxes in the event we need to return an item, even if we rarely (if ever) ship items back.

~ We think we should keep a UPC code or other identifying piece of information on the package.

~ We remove labels and open boxes, but never get around to moving the “empties” to the recycle bin.

~ We keep packaging with the intent of repurposing it elsewhere in our space.

~ We feel guilty getting rid of a “good container” (e.g. a plastic take-out container)

To keep packaging from taking up unnecessary space in your home, here are my rules of thumb:

  • Recycle or pitch packaging cardboard, packing peanuts, bubble wrap, tags, bags, freshness gel-packs, tissue paper, safety seals, stickers, etc. Get the trash out of your space!
  • Immediately unwrap items from blister packs and either pitch or recycle the damaged container.
  • Whenever you open a product, recycle the advertising and excess paperwork. Don’t let it pile up on the counter.
  • Remove plastic wrap from dry cleaning before putting items in the closet (plastic isn’t good for the clothes over long periods, and it clutters the closet.)
  • If you buy large containers (such as giant bags of chips), reduce the size of the container as the contents dwindle (e.g. by cutting the bag down in size.) This will take up less space in your pantry, and help you avoid soiling your sleeve when reaching into the bottom of a large, greasy bag.
  • Remove shrink-wrap from bulk packaging and store individual pieces. Not only does this look better, it makes it easier to grab one piece at a time. If the items are odd-sized and don’t sit well on a shelf, put them in a sturdy, clear container, such as a shelf bin. If you are concerned with keeping items clean (e.g. storing rolls of paper towels in a garage), consider buying items that are individually wrapped inside the outside packaging.
  • Cut out any identifying codes or important information from the packaging and store it in a file. Or, take a photo of the code, label it, and save it in a file on your computer. This frees you to recycle the rest of the box.
  • Set a limit on how many of a given type of container you will allow yourself to keep for repurposing (boxes, plastic containers, and bags) A simple approach is to use one large container to hold smaller ones inside. For example, one large shopping bag holds smaller bags folded inside. Once the large container is full, any new ones that come in should be tossed. Another option is to decide how many you need. For instance, once you have 5 food storage containers, you have “enough”, and can now guiltlessly recycle new arrivals.

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Some packaging is designed to be useful in the home, such as the carton of soft drinks that is meant to keep cans from rolling around inside the refrigerator. I always appreciate a manufacturer who innovates in this way! However, if your space is crowded or looks like a war zone, removing superfluous packaging could make a quick and cost-free improvement.

Do you quickly shed packaging? What kind do you tend to hold onto?

35 thoughts on “A Few Thoughts on Packaging”

  1. Great post on new perspectives on packaging. It’s often something we want to save just in case and often too much is saved. It’s something to think about having a station for packaging items to mail. I use the prepaid USPS boxes so I don’t save much. We have a great recycling station in our garage and curbside single stream recycling weekly so it’s super easy for us to move forward. It’s definitely something to know your plan as we get more and more from internet purchases.

    1. Amazon Prime – which I love – has brought a new level of “just in case” boxes into many homes! We have single stream as well, which really does make it easy. My regular trash can I rarely fill anymore.

  2. I never really thought about it! Except that certain types of packaging are really appealing to the kids and/or the cat! You know how that goes.
    That said, Cassidy is very quick to think about the best uses for packaging – recycling, donating, re-purposing, etc.
    It’s almost always recycling.
    Tamara recently posted…Put on Your Cape. Lose Your Cape.My Profile

    1. I hadn’t thought about keeping them for the pets – good one! And agreed, most can go into recycling. It all comes down to whether or not different materials are glued together. Hats off to Cassidy!

    1. I live with one of those… it can be tricky to negotiate compromise. BUT, I believe he is coming around to see things more my way. At least the boxes he keeps have some limits now:)

  3. I go through an ebb and flow of collecting boxes. I try to just keep one of each general size to use to send gifts to family and college care packages. As a military family, we struggle with keeping boxes “just in case”, but we’re working on it.

    1. Especially when you are moving frequently, holding onto anything unnecessary is a challenge! I keep some boxes for gifts and shipping as well, on top of the refrigerator in my garage. Once that is full, no more!

  4. I love how you’ve compared the package designers’ intent with how we use the packaging after purchase. You’re so smart! I practice all of what you’ve suggested when something enters our home. I like to immediately remove and recycle all extraneous packaging so that the item can be stored or used most efficiently (ease and space-wise.)

    However, there are instances where I’ll save some of the packing material (because it’s nice … like beautiful tissue paper, or practical…like bubble wrap) because I know I’ll use it for sending something. That’s saving the material for re-use. I draw boundaries around how much is saved so that I’m not overwhelmed by more than we need or have space to store.

    The one tip you shared that I particularly love that is taking and storing a digital photo of any pertinent UPC codes etc… That’s an excellent way to keep an record without taking up space. Brilliant!
    Linda Samuels recently posted…What Is Your Next Step and Why Is It Important?My Profile

    1. I save nice materials as well, but that boundary really keeps it from getting out of control. And the tip about the photo? You are much more likely to able to easily access a code on your computer than on some box in the back of the attic, right?

  5. I always keep the paper bags with handles – big and small – because I find them super useful. I also keep plastic bags . but that’s only because I don’t know what to do with so many of them. I have an old drawer full of them but I just keep them because we use them as trash bins. I love keeping shoe boxes. Sometimes they pile up so I choose the pretty ones to use as storage bins and throw the rest. 🙂
    Rea recently posted…Social Media Habits: 5 Lifestyle Changes To Start Doing NowMy Profile

    1. I like the paper bags with handles as well. I use them to donate items and carry large stuff around. Plastic bags I keep in a small trash can, and once that is full, I recycle any more bags that come in. A few shoe boxes are handy, especially when you have children – they always seem to need one!

    1. I’ve cleaned out many an attic full of boxes with good intentions! A few is good, but too many can be a problem. Bugs actually enjoy munching on cardboard. Lovely thought, right?

    1. You and I often seem to be on the “same page”, Hazel! Just a few thoughts about something most of us deal with, but don’t give much thought to.

  6. Yes! Boxes, boxes, everywhere and yet how many of us really reuse them? I encourage clients to think in terms of how many is “enough” – how many times do you really send a gift? How many of each size of box do you feel comfortable with? And will there be more where those came from? As you say, thanks to Amazon Prime, the answer to that one is always yes!

    1. “Enough” is a powerful question that we seem to struggle with these days. As if there is no amount that is enough… excellent point! We need to be able to identify this amount if we hope to control the clutter.

  7. Neat post, Seana! The plastic take-out food containers kill me! So many people save them and then I end up weeding them out when I help them organize their Tupperware cabinet.

  8. Great advice, Seana! I will keep boxes for small appliances for a week or so, just to be sure I don’t have to return it because it doesn’t work. The only boxes that I keep long term are ones for high-end electronics like laptops and iPads and these are kept in my attic, not my living space. I’m always amazed when people keep these sorts of things in high value locations like kitchen cabinets.
    Andi Willis recently posted…My Capsule Wardrobe ExperimentMy Profile

    1. Exactly, Andi. You and I run across these items taking up important space, so just a little reminder to let them go or at least move them to the attic!

  9. Ha! Great minds think alike. I just posted on this same topic this morning. I was talking about options to get CD’s out of those jewel cases. Talk about a TON of wasted space. But I’m guilty of this with cell phone boxes – why do we keep those things? In fact, I can see it from here. I think those boxes are just too darn pretty to throw away.
    Adrian recently posted…Clever Ways to Maximize Your StorageMy Profile

    1. I’ve got a client today who has a lot of DVDs and we were talking about options for the jewel cases! My husband would agree with you on the phone boxes… he really struggles to let those go!

  10. It sounds like you really know your stuff when it comes to packaging! Proper packaging is essential if you want your item to reach its destination in pristine condition, so packaging certainly serves a good purpose. Still, the things you need to make this happen can take up a lot of space. You give really good tips for helping conserve some of that space that are very useful! Thanks for sharing them!
    Morgan recently posted…Hello world!My Profile

  11. Hey!

    This is really a nice post and I must say that there are always many opportunities for us to reduce our carbon footprints and save the environment.

    Using eco-friendly ways to pack your goods or things is a wise move when you are shifting home or relocating office. These are some smart eco-friendly packing ideas each one of us can use in our daily lives and reduce waste.

    And I think you can re-use old empty boxes of television, furniture to hold them better you can create triangular cut outs on the side of the boxes.

    Hope This will help you out.

    Keep doing good work.

    Blessings to you 🙂

  12. Its hard sometimes to discard attractive packaging and not reuse them for storage or future repacking. But yes, if you have no space, best option is to recycle.

  13. I agree, Packaging can be made reusable it designed correctly or attractively. Everything comes in a package and only some companies design it in a way to be reused. Good read!

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