30 Uses for the Humble Cardboard Box

By Kentin Waits on 7 October 2010 (Updated 1 December 2010) 11 comments

Cardboard boxes are part of our visual vernacular — trash to shopkeepers, treasure to eBay sellers, an annoyance to blade-wielding stock boys (and girls) around the world. Whether we're breaking them down or taping them back together, we are awash in a sea of these multi-sized corrugated work horses.

The list below is a love-letter to the cardboard box — 30 tips to reinterpret, reinvent, and reuse it either temporarily or permanently. Take some tongue-in-cheek, take some to heart, and the next time you can — take a few home from the curb.

1. Packing and moving: Larger boxes from warehouse stores, supermarkets, or the office are perfect for packing and moving. Moving is expensive enough — why not save a few bucks and get the boxes for free?

2. Shipping: Probably the most obvious recycled use is the cardboard box's primary use — packing and shipping. I use boxes I get for free at the grocery store and local dollar store to ship items I sell on eBay, which helps keep my overhead low.

3. Filing: Create the perfect low-budget filing system by grabbing some printer-paper boxes and organizing your tax returns, instruction manuals, old college papers, or extra family photos.

4. Recycling bin: I've always found it strange that we spend money buying containers to sort recyclables. Grab a big cardboard box, label appropriately, and truly go green.

5. Trash bin: See Tip #4. Isn't using garbage to store garbage poetic simplicity?

6. Car trunk organizer: Toss a medium-sized box in your trunk to organize quarts of oil, windshield washer fluid, jumper cables and other emergency items.

7. Signs: Having a yard sale or estate sale? Does your industrious child need some serious lemonade stand marketing? Cardboard boxes can become signage with just a few easy snips.

8. Income method: eBay, storage facilities, on-demand container moving, and a society in transition have all conspired to make selling recycled packing, shipping, and moving supplies a new cottage industry.

9. Laundry basket: They don't make laundry baskets they way they used to. Avoid the $10 every few months and go rogue with cardboard. Cut handles in the side for easier toting.

10. Little kids' makeshift car: One of my favorite family photos shows my 8-year-old brother pushing a 3-year-old me in an old cardboard box across the living floor. Despite having no batteries, no steering, and no wheels, I look absolutely delighted in my little makeshift car.

11. Oversized blocks: Small boxes are great as disposable toy blocks. Use markers to draw windows doors, and chimneys on your kid's block houses or make entire little villages. Who needs Lego's?

12. Fort building: Stack boxes of various sizes and shapes to make a fort with your kids. Let them knock it down, repeat.

13. Toy box: Tape over any sharp edges, paint with fun colors, and personalize liberally. There are no heavy lids to fall on tiny fingers and no frustration when this toy box wears out.

14. Gift-giving: Splurge more on the gift by getting the box for free. Whether you're shipping the item or giving it in-person, recycled boxes make any gift more wallet-wise and eco-friendly.

15. Diorama projects: Those inevitable school projects and science fair displays are all designed perfectly for cardboard. I once explained the process of photosynthesis with just a shoebox, magic marker, and painted golf-ball.

16. Makeshift canvas: Let your kids channel Jackson Pollock with cardboard as their canvas. Frame accordingly.

17. Ugly insulation: We've all done it — installing that window air conditioner and then trying to insulate around it with reused cardboard or Styrofoam. It's cheap, it's easy, and it works.

18. Pet bed: A low-sided or shallow box makes a perfect pet bed. It may seem down-market, but with an old pillow and soft blanket, Spot won't complain. Involve the whole family in decorating it with pet-safe items and non-toxic paint.

19. Memory-keeper: An old shoebox is perfect for those greeting cards or old love letters you can't part with.

20. Kitty-litter box: It may not be pretty, but shallow boxes are perfect for the kitty litter. Line with newspaper or fit with plastic sheeting for extra protection.

21. Table base: Display space is always at a premium during a yard sale or garage sale. Use boxes to keep your merchandise off the floor and closer to eye level. Boards bridging the tops of upturned boxes can optimize space.

22. Puppet stage: Get creative with your kids on a lazy winter Sunday. Create a puppet stage from a repurposed box and decorate the backdrop with wallpaper scraps, gift-wrap, or paint.

23. Pinhole camera: Create that vintage photo look by capturing your digital images through a small pinhole punctured in a cardboard box.

24. Halloween costume: Become a robot, knight, or big piece of wrapped candy by using cardboard boxes as the foundation of this year's Halloween costume.

25. Oil spill mat: Catch oil drips before they have a chance to stain your garage floor. A broken-down cardboard box provides two layers of hassle-free protection.

26. Dangerous sled: I'm not advocating this one for the kids (or for anyone with a tree-filled yard and a penchant for SWI — Sledding While Intoxicated). But in optimal circumstances, a flattened box makes a great on-the-spot sled. A little extra ski or snowboard wax makes for a white knuckle ride.

27. Floor protectors and furniture movers: Cardboard is a perfect hardwood floor protector. Cut out discs that fit under your couch and chair legs to prevent scrapes and scratches. Moving large pieces on carpet can be made easier by placing cardboard under heavier pieces and sliding instead of pulling.

28. Eclipse sun viewer: A la Dolores Claiborne — use a cardboard box to make a safe solar eclipse viewer.

29. Food storage: Gardeners can appreciate heavy-duty cardboard boxes during harvest time. Use them to transport produce to market or store potatoes in the pantry. Cardboard flats are great for large quantities of canned food — just load and stack!

30. Furniture making: Entire books have been written about crafting easy, cheap and light furniture from cardboard. It's not just for dorm rooms anymore — cardboard furniture is becoming high art and eco-chic.

We've just scratched the surface of all the ways to rethink and reuse the cardboard box. What are some of the creative re-uses you've thought of? What common box types have you found the perfect new use for? Share your ideas here and, for once — feel free to not think outside the box.

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Guest's picture
Guest

I've had cardboard laundry basket since I've moved out from my parents house few years ago. It's a very good idea indeed

Guest's picture
Guest

Besides cardboard, I've use repurposed shoe boxes for my crafts instead of the expensive plastic shoebox sized totes, why not use the real thing.

Guest's picture
Guest

For my son's first birthday, I made three round cakes and that required a large surface for serving. I cut the sides off a large cardboard box, taped them together and then covered them with foil. It was sturdy and large enough to serve from. The cardboard box to the rescue.

Guest's picture
gayle

I have seen a Scout Troop (credit to Troop 38 in Brick, NJ) roast an entire turkey in a cardboard box oven. Actually, I've seen them do this twice.

Facing with the flap end towards the chef (other side taped shut), it was lined with tin foil, a metal rack was inserted into two slits, and a pan of hot coals was at the bottom. A thermometer registered about 350 degrees. It took all day, but it was the best damn turkey I've ever eaten.

I was amazed that someone even thought about that, let alone got it to work. But pretty impressive!

Guest's picture
Guest

I took unique cardboard boxes with interesting writing on them and cut to coaster size. Than I dipped them in poly for a coating and BAM - hipster coasters.

Guest's picture
gt0163c

Simliarly, I cut squares from plain cardboard and provided permenant markers for guests at a party to decorate their own coaster. Worked great and there was never a question about whose drink was whose.

Kentin Waits's picture

All great ideas! May soon be time for "101 Uses for the Humble Cardboard box"!

Guest's picture
Emily

I made a can rack for my pantry following the plans found on The Pantry Panel blog

http://mormonfoodstorage.blogspot.com/2008/09/pantry-paragon-or-how-to-m...

Also: When moving, I contact my local grocery store ask the produce manager to save apple boxes for me. They have a full bottom, handle cutouts, and a full lid.

Guest's picture

Don't forget lasagna gardening! Cardboard boxes are as precious as pearls for many of those folks. It's way better than newspaper, provided that there is no ink. It's recycling at its finest. You're putting it right back where it came from.

Guest's picture
Guest

When using card board to make signs, the fastest way to do a lot of bold lettering is with black paint (or other dark color) and a 2-inch brush. I am always amazed to see folks who try to do signs with magic markers. I just use my can of house paint I use for my wooden screen doors.

I use a large cardboard box with high sides to contain a plastic litter-box container, so that when the cat digs, the litter doesn't go everywhere. When we have a kitten, we cut a special door in the box.

The wholesale club has a bin of free-but-weird boxes that were used as display boxes... might be a double-bin with open top and front. These sorts of boxes are nice for my "pantry" of bulk-stored items, especially brown and powdered sugar that comes in plastic bags.

A box with writing can be turned inside out and retaped for a clean mailing box.

Guest's picture
Guest

I glued sheets of corrugated cardboard together then cut in holes for my 60 piece socket set. All labelled and organized it fits neatly in the drawer of my tool chest.