10 Creative Ways to Reuse All Those Extra Holiday Shipping Boxes

published Dec 23, 2020
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stack of boxes outside a front door
Credit: Africa Studio/Shutterstock

The holidays bring cheer, plenty of lights, excitement… and a whole lot of boxes. Especially this year, when home delivery is up 35 percent during 2020 compared to past years, with the pandemic obviously having a huge hand in that.

This year, you may find yourself drowning in cardboard, with an overflowing recycling bin. In fact, 62 percent of Americans still have some confusion about recycling rules, so their boxes aren’t even all making it to the recycling center. First: Yes, cardboard shipping boxes are recyclable nearly everywhere—you’ll just need to make sure you’re following local rules for pickup. (In some areas, they’ll need to be bagged; in others, stacked and taped together.)

But sending boxes out to be recycled isn’t the only option you have. With a little crafty creativity, your boxes can be just as valuable as the gift inside them this season. Here are 10 creative ways to put those boxes to work.

Credit: Asia Parkar

1. Organize your pantry

For smaller boxes, consider a major pantry reorganization, like Instagram user Asia Parker did here. By adding these cute little chalkboard labels, and cutting boxes into the shape of a can storage item, your next trip to the pantry while something’s burning on the stove will be quick and easy.

Covering bins with felt is also a popular option.

2. Set out a pile of boxes, and let everyone know they’re free

Someone’s bound to be moving near you. In this photo, one new California resident had used 250 boxes for her move, but only 20 of them had been purchased. “For the other 230+, I literally started picking up boxes people had discarded on recycling day. There was a huge apt complex near my old apartment and every Wednesday, I was about to grab 20+ boxes. Almost every single kind of box I needed. People move all the time and normally just throw away their boxes or put them out to recycle. So I took advantage of that, and reused hundreds of boxes!”

To recreate this kindness for others around you who are moving, make a pile of your boxes in a dry place and offer them up via social media or your local neighborhood group online, or simple make a “free boxes” sign and watch them disappear.

Credit: Sarah Owen

3. Stack and decorate celebratory boxes

Take inspiration from Instagram user Sarah Owen and turn boxes into celebratory decor by painting letters on the sides to spell out the name of the birthday person—or any other message, like “congrats” or “xoxo” for Valentine’s Day. Best part? This is one way to celebrate birthdays and other holidays that’s completely socially distant.

4. Get control of those plastic bags floating around

Some states have phased out of using plastic bags altogether, but many people still find themselves with piles floating around that they’d rather reuse than see in a landfill. To get a grip on organizing stray bags, create a plastic bag holder with a cardboard box by simply wrapping it in contact paper and cutting a hole at the top. To see the full project tutorial and what types of boxes work best, watch Feel Good Recycling’s video.

Credit: Ali Schwebel

5. Start a band

What better winter break project could there be than starting a family band using only recycled cardboard? Here, Ali Schwebel turned her shipping boxes into a kid-sized “guitar.” Boxes make excellent drums, as well. Just add simple kitchen utensils as drumsticks, and bring on the earplugs.

6. Beautify your gift boxes

Instead of wrapping gifts, use cardboard boxes turned inside out and decorated with paint, tape, marker, or ribbon. Get instructions here.

7. Practice life skills for cheap

In addition to instruments, those boxes can make entertaining kitchens, dishwashers, and washing machines for kids to play and practice with. Place your child’s washer or dryer next to yours, and you will have a little helper in training, ready to take on grown-up responsibilities. Another entertaining option for toddlers is to create a simple ball toss game (check out @bringingupbebe’s example). You can also go all-out and create a Home Depot-style Box Playhouse.

8. Make a shield for a sunny, work outside kind of day

Sorry, snowy states, but you’ll have to sit this one out. For those in warmer states, though, a box is a smart sun shield. This one even features an adjustable roof, created from the folding lid on a shallow Mr. Noodles box. “No assembly required—so simple a caveman can use it,” says sun shield architect Bruce McLaren.

9. Create an at-home drive-in movie theater

The days might be chilly and the pandemic fears high, but you can create your own drive-in movie theater for small children out of boxes covered in paper, modeled after cars. Samantha Curtis of The Samantha Show features this easy and high interest activity in her blog, complete with movie theater snacks and featured movie signs. Stuff the “cars” with cozy blankets and pillows, and antsy kids might actually sit through a whole movie.

10. Organize drawers

You can do this a couple different ways. If you have small boxes on hand, cut off the top flaps to fit them into your drawers and corral like items. Or, take a cue from Reddit user wahlb3rg and cut the boxes into pieces. Then, cut notches into the pieces so they fit together in a grid; use the sections that are created to organize small items.