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Packing and shipping

Whether you’re moving or sending a package it’s important to know how to pack a box properly.

When you mail a package you want to consider–

  • Cost
  • Who packs it and how
  • Ability to find supplies (if applicable)
  • Time in transit
  • Service guarantees
  • Insurance for high price items

Shipping a package at a shipping store

My personal preferences from experience on shippers

In my part of the country USPS, FedEx, and UPS are the big three for both domestic and international shipping. I think all of them offer great services but each has its advantages and disadvantages relative to the others.

  • USPS tends to be far cheaper than the other two as far as I can tell but it usually takes longer for the packages in transit. You can opt for a type of First Class Mail where you don’t get a tracking number and it’s cheaper than Priority Mail. To be honest, I think USPS is the most complex of the three big shippers and it seems to offer more services than the other two. I still get confused on how their system works sometimes.
  • UPS and FedEx are pretty much equivalent to me. You should get a tracking number on every package you send regardless of the service level you choose. In other words, even if you pick the cheapest thing they offer you can still track it. I like that.
  • Ease of contact and when things go wrong: Here’s something a lot of people don’t know when they want to track a package or reschedule it- calling your local UPS or FedEx won’t really help unless you shipped it from that location specifically. The best way to get help is to call 1(800) 463-3339 for FedEx and 1(800) 742-5877 for UPS. As for the US Postal Service, I’ve found their website to be the easiest method for contact.

How to pack items yourself

Recommended packing materials

  • Air-filled bubble rolls
  • Newspaper
  • Cardboard inserts (like wine boxes)

Materials to consider depending on your needs

  • Packing peanuts are going out of style. Several big box stores have discontinued them for environmental reasons. They are still a solid method to protect fragile items.
  • Foam boards are excellent for especially fragile packing needs.
  • Plastic totes and bins are great for moving but beware if you try to ship them on their own. Many companies consider them irregular if they are not inside a cardboard box and cost extra to send.
  • Fragile tape If it’s a reminder to you use it absolutely. If you expect companies to handle your packages with fragile tape any better or differently it’s not going to happen.

Materials to stay away from for fragile packs

  • Plastic grocery bags This one really hurts my brain. I know it’s tempting, they are freely available and cheap, but what exactly are you accomplishing here?
  • Be careful with tea towels and washcloths; they generally do not offer enough protection for fragile items in transit.

Packing a box

  1. Choose the right box for the packing weight. If you are packing a heavy item be sure to check the box manufacturer’s seal found on the bottom of the box. A quality box will tell you its edge crush strength and gross weight limit. Do not exceed the weight limit on a box. Seal the bottom of the box making an “H” with your tape: The inner seam and the two outer seams. For heavier boxes, reinforce with another strap or two across the box.
  2. (for non-vulnerable items skip to step 3) Start by laying down a layer of packing material on the bottom of the box. This could be crumbled newspaper, reused Airpack bubbles, or foam peanuts. Layer your item with its own cushioning material. Be sure to cover edges carefully so your item does not suffer broken tips or scratched edges. Layer packing materials up the side of the box for side protection.
  3. Load your box so that the weight is evenly distributed. You may have to rearrange a few times to get the right fit. An uneven box is more likely to tip and fall over, damaging the contents.
  4. Stuff empty spaces with packing materials. Make it snug but not so tight that it strains the contents or you have to pull really hard to yank an item out. Shake your box lightly. You will be able to tell by the shifting where you need more material. (for non-vulnerable items skip to step 6)
  5. Top off your box with a small layer of your packing materials. You should have materials protecting the bottom, sides, and in between the items. You can take out some material if you end up with too much. Do not stuff your box so full of material that it is hard to close. This makes a weak spot on your box.
  6. Finish your box by sealing the top in an “H” like you did the bottom. Never simply fold the sides in and ship it that way. The sides are likely to collapse when weight is set on them and they are moved around.
  7. Congratulate yourself on a professionally packed box. đź‘Ť

Bonus: Classifying packs

Here are some common items you might need to ship and how you might pack them yourself. Note that sometimes you might want to ship both fragile and non-vulnerable items together. When in doubt, especially for irreplaceable or valuable items, ship your fragile item by itself so that your other items don’t have the chance to destroy it when packed together.

Non-vulnerable items generally don’t require any packing materials and are pretty hardy. You may still want to corral them into smaller bags or boxes so they don’t arrive in a mess. These items include books, shoes, curtains, office supplies, pillows, fabric baskets, papers, etc. Note that heavier non-vulnerable items can become projectiles in a box with vulnerable or fragile items.

Vulnerable items will require at least a minimum of wrapping the item so they can’t be scratched, dented, or crushed. Things like reading glasses, jewelry, figurines, etc. Any type of liquid like shampoo or lotion should be placed within a sealed bag to prevent leaks.

Fragile items require the maximum of packing including wrapping the item, providing packing material under, over, and between items, as well as cardboard or foam inserts where necessary. Glass frames (this really extends to about all glassware), porcelain items, fine china, etc.

The take-away

The only thing that will protect your items is how well you pack them and the box(es) you use. Not any sticker, tape, or message written on them. A package is only as strong as its weakest spot. Package your items well and they can survive almost any conditions they will encounter. I hope you found this guide helpful. Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions to improve it.

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