A Few Thoughts on Packaging

Empty Egg Carton

Almost everything we buy comes with packaging: blister packs, layers of cardboard, safety seals, bubble wrap, etc. Often, we simply remove and discard it, but sometimes we allow packaging to take up residence in our space. This isn’t always a bad thing, but to keep packaging from becoming clutter, it is important to make wise choices about what to keep and why. Here are a few thoughts to bear in mind…

Packaging is designed to: 

  • Protect items during sale and transit by being tamper-resistant (e.g. blister pack), weather-resistant (e.g. shrink wrap), and rigid enough to protect fragile contents.
  • Help sell products by being eye catching, colorful, and clearly branded. Sometimes, the container itself may be designed to make a statement (e.g. Leggs pantyhose), and often the package includes advertising or other paperwork to increase customer engagement.
  • Minimize shipping costs by being lightweight and easy to pack in boxes.

Packaging is largely not intended to:

  • Be reused. The goal is to get the product to you in good shape. Opening the package often renders it sharp, torn, or otherwise compromised.
  • Use space efficiently in the home environment. A container that protects an item on a cross-country truck ride is likely larger than what is required for safekeeping on a shelf.
  • Match/blend with interior décor. Companies wish to draw attention to their colors and logo, not subtly blend in with your home’s design aesthetic.

As you can see, a manufacturer’s priorities in designing packaging are frequently out of synch with a homeowner’s need for efficient storage. Nonetheless, we often retain and accumulate product packaging in our spaces. The most common reasons for the presence of packaging in the home are:

~ We think items will be safer if kept inside their original packaging until we are ready to use them.

~ We don’t take the time to remove the packaging when we bring products in the door.

~ We tear bulk packaging open only far enough to access the item we want, and leave the remaining hanging loose.

~ We keep boxes in the event we need to return an item, even if we rarely (if ever) ship items back.

~ We think we should keep a UPC code or other identifying piece of information on the package.

~ We remove labels and open boxes, but never get around to moving the “empties” to the recycle bin.

~ We keep packaging with the intent of repurposing it elsewhere in our space.

~ We feel guilty getting rid of a “good container” (e.g. a plastic take-out container)

To keep packaging from taking up unnecessary space in your home, here are my rules of thumb:

  • Recycle or pitch packaging cardboard, packing peanuts, bubble wrap, tags, bags, freshness gel-packs, tissue paper, safety seals, stickers, etc. Get the trash out of your space!
  • Immediately unwrap items from blister packs and either pitch or recycle the damaged container.
  • Whenever you open a product, recycle the advertising and excess paperwork. Don’t let it pile up on the counter.
  • Remove plastic wrap from dry cleaning before putting items in the closet (plastic isn’t good for the clothes over long periods, and it clutters the closet.)
  • If you buy large containers (such as giant bags of chips), reduce the size of the container as the contents dwindle (e.g. by cutting the bag down in size.) This will take up less space in your pantry, and help you avoid soiling your sleeve when reaching into the bottom of a large, greasy bag.
  • Remove shrink-wrap from bulk packaging and store individual pieces. Not only does this look better, it makes it easier to grab one piece at a time. If the items are odd-sized and don’t sit well on a shelf, put them in a sturdy, clear container, such as a shelf bin. If you are concerned with keeping items clean (e.g. storing rolls of paper towels in a garage), consider buying items that are individually wrapped inside the outside packaging.
  • Cut out any identifying codes or important information from the packaging and store it in a file. Or, take a photo of the code, label it, and save it in a file on your computer. This frees you to recycle the rest of the box.
  • Set a limit on how many of a given type of container you will allow yourself to keep for repurposing (boxes, plastic containers, and bags) A simple approach is to use one large container to hold smaller ones inside. For example, one large shopping bag holds smaller bags folded inside. Once the large container is full, any new ones that come in should be tossed. Another option is to decide how many you need. For instance, once you have 5 food storage containers, you have “enough”, and can now guiltlessly recycle new arrivals.

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Some packaging is designed to be useful in the home, such as the carton of soft drinks that is meant to keep cans from rolling around inside the refrigerator. I always appreciate a manufacturer who innovates in this way! However, if your space is crowded or looks like a war zone, removing superfluous packaging could make a quick and cost-free improvement.

Do you quickly shed packaging? What kind do you tend to hold onto?

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