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Blog: Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles
Thinking Inside And Outside The Paper Boxes



It's been three weeks since Boxing Day. Are you still surrounded by cardboard shipping boxes from Amazon? Shiny paper boxes with plastic windows for Barbie and all her Botoxed friends? Perhaps you got fabulous new electronics? Be honest now -- have you or your family members starting using the boxes as end tables?

This long after the holidays, I hope you've recycled the used wrapping paper, and if you've been following Paper Doll's guidance, the greeting cards have been tossed or filed away. But those boxes remain.

To the chagrin of Paper Doll's very organized mother, Paper Doll's father insists on keeping every original cardboard box "just in case". They take up precious space in the basement and use up ridiculous amounts of energy when they want to reach the luggage or the washing machine. To compound matters, the more old boxes get stored, the harder it is to locate what is needed (in the unlikely event that it's needed) and it makes it easy to forget to discard a box when the item it came in is finally sent to its final resting place.

It's been three weeks -- it's time to face the boxes.

Start by tossing the "flimsy" boxes--anything that would be relatively useless for shipping. That includes department store boxes and shoe boxes. If you find a box of intriguing shape or design, you may be tempted to keep it because it's "so cute". If it's that charming, ask yourself if you're sure you'll be able to part with it when the occasion arises. If you have room, the box should be stored with your wrapping paper, ribbons, table and other gift-wrapping supplies, in or near your gift closet or gift drawer, wherever you collect gift items earmarked for recipients. Most purchases come with their own boxes, though, so try not to turn yourself into the curator of a box museum.

With sturdier boxes, pull out the essentials--make sure you have the warranty card and/or info, the user's manual, and the purchase or gift receipt. If you're going to be sending in for a rebate, you may need to cut the UPC code from the package. (Do this carefully, with an X-ACTO-style knife, with sufficient lighting and when tiny tots are not around.)

To keep or not to keep? There are five main reasons you should keep the original packing boxes:

  • You may return the item to the store and will need the original packaging.
Yep, that's true. But most returns must be made within 30 days of purchase; even items purchased during the holidays with extended return policies will still need to be returned soon. Does the item work? Have you had any problems with it? Do you like it? Be realistic and ask yourself what the likelihood is that you'll want to return the item.

Two brief notes for easy returns for the places Paper Doll frequents: If you received a gift from Amazon.com (or bought something for yourself), you do not have to return it in the original cardboard Amazon.com box; as long as the original shrink-wrap is still on the item, the shipping box is immaterial. Also, if you received something from Land's End, did you know you could return the item to Sears? Nifty!
  • The item that came in the box is a collectors' item, such as a holiday-series doll, a Lladro figurine or any other item wherein the value is dependent upon having the original packaging.
Such boxes are designed to help you protect the value of your investment. In some cases, the item must be kept in the original packaging; in others, the packaging must merely be kept for later display or resale. Collectors' item packaging should be kept in a dust-free, moisture free environment. Consider using a Rubbermaid tub or canvas storage chestto store all similar containers.

If you've only started to become a collector and are unsure about how to store and care for the item and/or whether you need to keep the boxing, use Google to locate a collectors' group for your interest and post a question to their online forum. In the era of the web, there's no reason not to have the information you need!
  • You might want to sell the item someday and believe you will get more money if you have the original packaging.
This depends on the value of the item. If it's not a collectors' item, or you're planning to sell it at a garage sale rather than on eBay, chances are the "cost" (in terms of storage space and your inconvenience) of maintaining the original box won't exceed the extra negotiating value. Your yard sale revenue won't dramatically increase if you have the original box for a toaster or baby shoes.
  • You think you'll need the original box if you move.
Reality check: in most cases, movers have perfectly adequate boxes, blankets and packing material for your items. Some items, like your vacuum cleaner, won't require boxes at all.

There are a very few cases where movers will require you have the original packing materials. For example, if you own one of those fancy-schmancy big-screen plasma televisions, your moving company may require that you either have the original packing materials or purchase an (expensive) specialized packing container.

"Aha!" says your box-keeping self!" Not so fast! You may want to ask yourself--how likely it will be that you will move while you own this item? If you live in an apartment and relocate every other year, moving is a real concern. However, if you purchased your dream house three years ago and plan to live in it until your great-grandchildren feel it's time to argue over the will, and if your attic or basement storage space is at a premium, maintaining a box for a moving day that may never come is foolhardy. Don't sacrifice the here and now for the "maybe someday".
  • You fear you may need to return the item for repair.
For most purchases, if you don't have the original box handy or a similarly-shaped or sized box, you can inexpensively acquire cartons and packing material at Walmart, office supply stores or The UPS Store.

Of course, if you've bought an electronic device like a computer, tricked-out cell phone, X-Box36000 (or whatever number they're up to), the most convenient way to return the item for servicing is during the warranty period is, indeed, in the original box. If you've purchased a product that has "specialized" packing materials, like my beloved iMac (about which you heard last week), you'll want to save that, too.

It's extremely rare for a company to require that you ship items for repair or exchange in the original box, but it does happen. Before tossing the cartons for warrantied items (especially those under "lifetime" warranty), read the warranty to determine if you must, indeed, keep the packaging.

In these cases, you will want to err on the side of caution. But boxes don't have to take over your life. Slice the tape holding the bottom of the box secure and with relatively little force, you can "flatten" the box to store at the back of closets, under guest room beds or anywhere out of the way. Specialized packing, like hard foam shaped to fit around your purchase, will be harder to store, but if you limit what you keep to essentials, you may be able to keep all the hard foam in one still-cubic box, which can then serve as a small table or shelf in your attic, basement or storage area.

Finally, what can you do with all the boxes you have but no longer need?
  • Toss them in the trash (if your neighborhood lacks recycling)
  • Ship care packages to loved ones far away--smaller, study Amazon boxes work best
  • Recycle--if there's none in your neighborhood, find out if your employer will start a program
  • Compost them in the yard (not recommended if you live in a city high-rise!)
And for you creative types (you know who you are):
  • Build a cardboard box robot with/for your kids or for your Wii-addicted friends
  • Create a Halloween costume
  • Hone your artistic skills by constructing small cardboard castles or some even huge play castles
Just don't get boxed in!

posted on: 1/15/2008 10:30:00 AM by Julie Bestry
category: Paper


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Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles


by Julie Bestry

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Julie Bestry, President of Best Results Organizing in Chattanooga, TN, is a Certified Professional Organizer®, speaker and author. Julie helps overwhelmed individuals and businesses save time and money, reduce stress and increase productivity through new organizational skills and systems.

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