I suppose I could live out of gigantic Tupperware containers, but...
September 1, 2007 1:54 AM   Subscribe

Due to my life as a secret agent, I constantly move house. Futon, possessions, toiletries, books, clothes, my entire life. Living out of boxes sucks, and moving loose unboxed items just sucks. Are there any fancy systems, boxes, thingamajigs that can help?

My relatives live out of the country, so there's no option of storing bits and pieces of my entire life at a relative's place. Renting a storage unit is out of the question, as I use all my stuff and I don't have THAT much anyway.

How much stuff do I have? The futon's the largest item, the laptop's the most expensive. Unassemble that and add everything else, and it all fits in the back of an SUV. Just one bedroom.

I don't quite fancy living out of boxes, or constantly having flattened boxes in my possession. I suppose living out of gigantic Tupperware containers is an option, but are there any other, more elegant, options?
posted by Xere to Home & Garden (25 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Boxes are highly underrated! They're great! Brown goes with everything. They come in lots of sizes, hold lots of stuff, cats love 'em. They're easy to find, easy to fold, easy to burn. What's not to like?

Then again, they are like little homunculi of the much larger box that you live in. Especially dreary reminders when both change often.

Maybe to spruce it up, go for fancier boxes. Like crates or cloth/leather-lined bins and cubes. You can unpack them, flip them upsidedown (and store all your special secret agent stuff underneath!) and place shelves on top of them, to create an attractive and easily transportable stacking jungle gym of surfaces and cubbies. The ceiling is the limit!
posted by iamkimiam at 2:32 AM on September 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

I might suggest a vintage steamer trunk or two (which cane be found at various places online. Examples: here, here, here [so pretty, but HOO BOY look at that price!]). They can be a pricey investment, but if you're moving around enough, perhaps the price of it even out your lost opportunity costs?

You can also find steamer trunks on eBay (keywords: steamer trunk, traveler trunk, wardrobe trunk, etc) and very occassionally on craigslist, though in my experience these offerings are always in various stages of disrepair.

As per your books...I, too, am a book hoarder (and as I am currently a student, books comprise 1/2 of all my belongings). My only suggestion is that if you're willing to part with them, perhaps sell them to lighten your load? We all too soon forget what wonderful resources our local libraries can be. If you live near one, dispense with your book collection and take advantage of it.
posted by numinous at 2:38 AM on September 1, 2007

Oops, I forgot a crucial word in there!

"...perhaps the price of it will even out your lost opportunity costs?"

Ahh, that's better.
posted by numinous at 2:41 AM on September 1, 2007

Books are really heavy. I'd sell them next time you move. Give away any clothes that are worn or that you don't wear anymore.

A footlocker might be cheaper than a vintage steamer trunk.
posted by grouse at 2:47 AM on September 1, 2007

Folding bookshelves are heavy but don't take up much space when you're moving.

That's actually true for most small furniture you can take apart (like with an allen wrench).

Ikea and some other places have cloth boxes that can fold up and look pretty decent.

good luck!
posted by lullabyofbirdland at 3:01 AM on September 1, 2007

The trouble with tupperware-alikes is that they taper. Packing them next to each other results in skinny pyramids and wedges of empty space between them, which means they shift in response to lateral acceleration, and the wasted space is frustrating. (Ditto with plastic buckets!)

Cardboard boxes solve this, but one rainstorm can really ruin your moving day. Wooden crates are heavy, when built strong enough to survive a few moves. Pelican cases are indestructible, but expensive, heavy, and they waste space.

My favorite straight-sided plastic boxes of late are the Really Useful Box line, which are made in the UK but I've bought them in the US, I'm pretty sure at Staples though their website doesn't list them. You might have to special-order the larger sizes, but you'd get your choice of colors.

Alternately, I like the concept of Benson Boxes, which are made of corrugated plastic like the oft-stolen USPS sorting trays, but with square sides and all sorts of extra features. They don't seem to do retail sales, but I bet they'd handle a small order of plain boxes, no foam liners, without too much trouble. And you get to pick the color!

Also, try cloth bags for a lot of stuff. They're durable, reusable, easy to pack into the nooks and crannies of a vehicle, and you can use 'em for grocery shopping when you're not using them to move. Duluth Trading has some very sturdy styles, but why go generic? Use that silk-screened space to advertise your taste: I like to get cloth bags from causes I support, or places I've traveled.
posted by Myself at 3:39 AM on September 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Plastic boxes with sliding drawers. I have one for toiletries that goes under the bathroom sink, and several for clothing that go on the closet floor. To move, I just stuff any empty space with crumpled newspaper and tape them shut.

One useful way of getting rid of useless stuff: don't open a box until you need what's inside. If you have a box that you still haven't opened after two moves, get rid of it.
posted by fuzz at 5:08 AM on September 1, 2007

I've made two transpacific moves (and 3 local moves since then), and the clear plastic boxes and clear plastic file-cabinet-type thingies are really useful, since you dont have to dig through everything to find what you are looking for. They stack up to 3 or 4 high with no problem.
The ReallyUseful link above looks like a similar product to what we have, which is from Japan. I've seen the plastic file cabinet things in Target, or similar stores.
posted by bashos_frog at 5:14 AM on September 1, 2007

When I was moving all the time, I had bunches of nestable plastic containers which stayed labeled as to what went in them. When not in use, they nested and took up a corner. When it was time to go, everything had a place without having to think about it.

As bad as it sounds, if you're a bachelor I recommend getting by on 2 plates and 2 bowls so that you don't have to bubble wrap that stuff every time. I also kept the original boxes for my small kitchen appliances, since they're pretty heavy-duty packing.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:18 AM on September 1, 2007

You should buy knockdown furniture, which is designed to be frequently and easily disassembled /reassembled without damage. This is the IKEA-type stuff that is shipped flat. Sometimes the fasteners do damage the wood/particleboard when you remove them, but there are cheap products at the hardware store (like plastic anchors) that will make them tight again.

If you choose to live out of nice boxes, put removable labels on the outside and write EVERYTHING in that box on the label. It seems anal and it seems like it might take a while to read a label with 25 items on it, but trust me, it is much, much faster to read 5 labels than it is to dig through 5 boxes for a small item.

Also, more obviously, it's worth spending time up front to organize your things so that like items are in the same box.
posted by underwater at 6:35 AM on September 1, 2007

Coffins. Seriously.

An old neighbor once bought some stuff from this batshitinsane dude that was living almost totally off the grid. He had to move alot so that the secret police and the aliens wouldn't catch him so he stored all his stuff in 4 coffins. Coffins are good because you can store lots of stuff in them, you can sleep in them and transportation is very easy if you can get help carrying them. When you feel that the authorities are breathing down your neck just slam them shut and move.

Small coffins should fit nicely into your suv and can be stylish enough. If you get hold onto the right kind of people you should be able to get nice but used ones almost for free!
posted by uandt at 7:18 AM on September 1, 2007 [8 favorites]

I used to tour a lot, move a lot, and generally have a pretty mobile lifestyle (8 years of college, and the road). What I found the MOST helpful is locating a cardboard box distributor (I had Tecumseh Blue Box in Columbus, OH) and purchasing a bundle of boxes from them. They were super cheap (a buck a box) and 12" x 12" x 18", which was PERFECT in a small moving van or truck. They stack well and they are heavy-duty, so taping and untaping was nothing. I had one stack of 25 for 3 years!
posted by jimmyhutch at 7:37 AM on September 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Would living in a smallish RV conflict with your secret agent lifestyle? Because that could solve the problem.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:53 AM on September 1, 2007

Small coffins should fit nicely into your suv and can be stylish enough. If you get hold onto the right kind of people you should be able to get nice but used ones almost for free!

I really don't want to imagine what circumstances would put a used coffin back on the market. . .
posted by doift at 8:07 AM on September 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

I might still be living the secret agent lifestyle, and as ugly as they are, those wire cube shelves were a godsend. I could put the crates that I had in there (although I might upgrade to Benson boxes), and they were off my floor and I could get into them without having to move all of them.

My other thing that helps with the constantly moving lifestyle (every 3 to 4 months) is to purge things. Become the opposite of a hoarder and declutter constantly. Keep only the books you love. Get rid of the rest, in whatever fashion you choose. Keep only a small amount of technical gadgetry that you really use, keep only the clothes you love. I can now fit everything I own into a Corolla and drive off into the sunset if I so choose. That's pretty cool!
posted by lilithim at 8:22 AM on September 1, 2007

Gosh, when I DID have to live like that (moved to Texas, moved in with a friend, moved in with my girlfriend, moved in with another friend, moved to a new house with said friend, etc... all within two months) I *did* live out of gigantic tupperwares. They actually make decent dressers, they're stackable, sortable, fit into closets well, and you can pack stuff back in them the same way every time if you move frequently.

I'll also second a few steamer trunks (just because they're cooler) and purging whatever you don't need.
posted by SpecialK at 8:53 AM on September 1, 2007

I'm stuck between recommending Container Store type boxes as above, and Japanese Tansu furniture that is made to be portable, with some pieces being disassemblable into boxes.
posted by rhizome at 9:33 AM on September 1, 2007

cremation, doift! Paging ColdChef
posted by anthill at 9:57 AM on September 1, 2007

Cardboard: If you're going to use boxes, make friends with somebody at a grocery, to get banana boxes, or in IT, to get medium sized heavy duty boxes. You want boxes with a double layer of corrugation; they're very strong and last a long time. If you use banana boxes, you put the box inside the lid; also very strong - can be lined w/ paper bags if the ventilation holes are a problem. Boxes can be painted, making them look nicer & last longer. If they're all the same size, they're easier to stack.

Blankets and quilts come in nice zippered clear vinyl bags. Great for clothes & bedding. You could probably find them on Freecycle. As a plus, you're recycling, and they're free.
posted by theora55 at 10:50 AM on September 1, 2007

A more fun, if not more elegant, option for storage: Buy some filing cabinets and spray paint them. You can make one for the bathroom, one for the bedroom... If you use stencils (daisies, flowers, birds, stripes), they can look pretty nice, and you know that they will stand up to rain, bumpy car rides, bullets, etc.

Otherwise, wicker baskets that fit into shelves are nice-looking and functional, as are those cloth drawers you see at Target sometimes. For books and DVDs, a small shelf (possibly with divisions, for organization) looks nice and packs well - just turn the shelf on its back.
posted by ramenopres at 12:49 PM on September 1, 2007

Craigslist under "free" pretty often has someone who just moved giving away all their boxes.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:57 PM on September 1, 2007

We use stackable Sterilite containers, which I guess are vaguely Tupperware-like. They're plastic see-through drawer tubs, and can be found at Target, Wal-Mart, and other mega-stores. Ours have white frames, but they also come in more fun colors. A friend has hot pink, and uses that for clothes.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:52 PM on September 1, 2007

The one minute folding wardrobe.

Also you can find some interesting things searching for canvas + boxes.
posted by gomichild at 7:21 PM on September 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Well, a bit more stylish than the tupperware or footlocker would be the Japanese Tansu. Can be a bit pricey, but that's usually because someone refinished it and is selling it as an antique. You can find them for reasonable prices at consignment furniture stores sometimes.

The greatest thing ever would be to have a carpenter make a custom piece for you. I first saw these in the shipyard, where the various shop crews would have the carpenter shop make them up a few boxes for their routine jobs. Kind of like a roll top desk, these things opened up to be a workbench, with little stowage compartments for each thing required for the job. When closed, it made a shipping crate that protected all the gear really well. They called them "docking boxes," because they were mostly used in the bottom of a drydock when going back to the shop was a PITA. A google search on that just finds heavy duty tupperware things, though.
posted by ctmf at 7:27 PM on September 1, 2007

My parents had kickass modular book shelves that stacked, and had glass fronts. We'd move each shelf as it's own box very quickly. They are a bit hard to find now though.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:43 AM on September 2, 2007

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