Updated on 05.26.08

Tomorrow Boxes

Trent Hamm

Danboard Super Box at Flickr, uploaded by Steve KeysIf you were to take a peek inside of our closets or on the shelves in our garage, you’d find a lot of sealed boxes with a prominent date on the outside and a label of some sort. I call these boxes our “tomorrow boxes,” and they all serve a similar purpose – they’re storing something to be utilized or re-evaluated on a certain date. Even more interesting, these boxes have saved us a tremendous amount of money and space over the years. Here are three of the best tactics we use.

A “get rid of” box Some of the boxes have a date on them that indicates when we’ve agreed to sell off or get rid of the contents because we aren’t actively using the stuff inside. For example, right now there’s a “get rid of” box in the garage with an October date on it full of about 80 DVDs – half of our remaining collection or so. The first time I notice that box after that date, I’ll know that I can just get rid of those DVDs without a worry, because we haven’t looked at them at all in almost a year. This method has convinced me to get rid of many items that I would have otherwise felt an urge to keep for some reason, when the truth is that keeping the item was totally unnecessary.

You can do this with any items that you’re tempted to get rid of but aren’t quite sure if you’ll miss it in the future. Put it in a box that says something like “DVDs to get rid of on” and specify a date several months in the future. If you haven’t looked at the box and that marked date has passed, you can pretty safely get rid of the contents of the box.

Future clothes I’m clearly in the “big and tall” clothing group, and so when I find an opportunity to buy clothes that fit me well at a cheap rate, I stock up. I actually have shoes that will fit my size 16 feet still in boxes, waiting to be worn when my current shoes wear out (I don’t need to look at shoes again until I’m 40 or so).

Rather than just stuffing my closet with a bunch of clothes, I just keep ten to twelve shirts and a similar number of pants in my closet and the excess is in storage boxes. When one of the articles of clothing gets a bit worn, I take it to Goodwill and then pop open the storage box at home to replace it.

Since I live in Iowa, I actually have “summer” boxes and “winter” boxes, and during the opposing season, I’ll just box up all of the clothes from the other season. Then, when the weather starts to warm up or get cold, I get out clothes appropriate for that season from the boxes.

This allows me to shop for clothes not based on need, but based on when I find a ridiculously good deal. That makes clothes shopping incredibly cheap for me.

Future entertainment Quite often, I’ll read a great book and realize at the end that I’ll want to re-read it again someday. At the same time, I like to keep a pretty empty bookshelf, never over-cluttering it.

I solve both problems by keeping a “future re-read” box. If I have a book I like that I’ve acquired off of PaperBackSwap or as a gift and I know I’d like to re-read it again in the future, I stick it in a box. When that box fills up, I date it about two years in the future, label it “books to read,” and stick it on a shelf out in the garage. Then, when that date comes, I pop open the box … and have a ton of fresh reading material.

Opening that box again is almost like Christmas. I usually remember two or three of the ten or so books in the box, but the rest are a very pleasant surprise and I’m really anxious to curl up with the books again. At this point, it’s basically free reading – an extremely cheap way to entertain myself for quite a while.

A tip on labeling If you actually start doing this, I strongly encourage you to use masking tape for the labels so that the boxes can easily be reused. Once the date has been reached, just empty out the box, peel off the masking tape label, and you’re ready to store something else.

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  1. teelag says:

    What a great idea! I am going to definitely utilize this, since I have basement full of things “I might need”, but never seem to use.

  2. I love the throw-away boxes, but not the hording so much. Clothes and shoes change over time. In my field, it’s very important to look modern and good in your dress.

    Often, clothes are on clearance or a “really good deal” for a reason. In clothes, sometimes it really helps to splurge a little for better fit or better fabric. If you really have an irregular size, you need a good tailor yesterday. That would probably solve many of your problems.

  3. Mickey says:

    I had never ever thought of “future clothes”. It is pure genius!!

  4. warillever says:

    I will have to implement your “get-rid-of-box” idea.

    My husband is reticent to get rid of anything because we “might need it someday.”

    This way he would be able to see that we haven’t used that particular group of items in a year, and would be more willing to part with it permanently.

  5. The throw away boxes are a great idea. I don’t have a lot of doo-dads, but my widfe likes to keep everything she owns for ever and a day!
    This system would work great for me, but woudl just give my wife more room (my garage) to hoard her stuff that she “might use when earth freezes over”- but that’s another issue.

  6. Jules says:

    @dogatemyfinances: Not entirely true, about the clothes on clearance being “cheap”. It takes a little more looking, but you can find fantastic deals on really nice clothing. Even in Europe. I have a pair of (REALLY NICE) pants that I wear on interviews. Total cost? Fifteen euros. There are jeans with holes that cost more. Ánd nothing is more frugal than a needle and thread when it comes to replacing buttons and shortening hems (of course, you have to know how to sew).


    That is a fantastic idea! I know I’ve said before that we don’t have much stuff, but it’s amazing how much crud accumulates even if you don’t have much stuff.

    I’m definitely going to do that with my counterpart’s clothes–they’re crawling off the shelf.

  7. Sarah says:

    I like the ‘get rid of’ box concept. Of course, packed away you’re less likely to think of using it, but if you go for several months or a year without wanting it, you probably don’t need it.

  8. Sara says:

    I totally do this! It really helps me deal with the sunk-cost issue. If items have been out of sight for a certain number of months and I haven’t missed them, I don’t wring my hands when it’s time to get rid of them. However, I often end up pulling one or two things back out to put in my closet/bookcase, so this method saves me some money along the way, too.

    I really like the book idea. Since most of my collection is in boxes anyway, this seems like a reasonable way to sort them. I might also create fiction/non-fiction dated boxes so that I pick some easily based on my mood.

  9. Andre Kibbe says:

    Question for anyone using PaperBackSwap: If the books are titles you’re willing to let go, don’t you feel compelled to keep it around indefinitely if you list them? I’ve always though PBS was a great idea, but it took me a while to realize why I resisted listing my “expendable” books. How do you reconcile reducing your overall collection (assuming that’s one of your goals) while actively contributing to the exchange?

  10. lilith says:

    I use plastic bins (I pick up one or two whenever they’re on sale or I find them at Walmart), especiall for clothes because clothes stored in cardboard boxes are subject to dampness, smells, and damage. Shipping tape & a magic marker make great peel-off labels.

    I don’t date my boxes, but we’ve made annual visits to Goodwill for a few years now and I don’t even remember most of the stuff I donated.

  11. I love the book idea – it reminds me so much of the Little House on the Prairie books, and the enjoyment they get from the boxes of books and magazines the family occasionally receives from distant relatives. The forced appreciation feels right. I have two dozen books in my nightstand that I mean to read someday … but I keep getting books from the library and reading those first. Perhaps I should box ’em up.

    And the dating seems like good, gentle encouragement for those things you can’t quite part with. We recently did a “mental date” process with boxes in storage — especially things that were very lovely wedding gifts 12+ years ago that we really don’t use. I try to sell those items, thinking of “turning them into” something else that we can buy with the proceeds, and USE, rather than getting rid of them as if they are inherently bad.

  12. Andy says:

    That is a great idea. I am moving into a small apartment soon but always have trouble throwing things away. Maybe I’ll try this so I can slowly lessen my possessions.

  13. Stacey says:

    Hurray for saving $ on clothes! We currently stock up on sneakers and steel-tipped boots when they’re half off or BOGO. Sneakers and boots never go out of style (and they’re so comfy). These are my husband’s primary “work” shoes and my running shoes.

    I also am an odd size, so I like to take advantage of end-of-season sales. I can get some nice semi-professional clothes for a great price.

    As for it being dated, does anyone really wear clothes for just one season? I know I don’t! :)

  14. MoneyEnergy says:

    Pretty good! Sounds like you’ll have a lot of boxes, though, which would still take up a lot of space. For me, I think it might still just be easier to get rid of them.

    But I do like the idea of boxing up books and rotating them – books are my problem.

    Since I hate clothes shopping, I try to buy two or three items of the same thing at once when I know it fits. Then I just wear my clothes until they wear out:)

  15. Ryan McLean says:

    Great tips
    My dad often finds that he throws things out the day before he needs them…haha
    I think this is a great system though

  16. Mark says:

    You want to see boxes, I’ll show you boxes. For the first time in 17 years we are moving. We are swarmed with boxes and storage bins and we don’t even move for a month yet.

  17. Sally says:

    Great Idea for those who haven’t overcome their “stuff” habits. I think an even better idea and one I am practicing is to NOT BUY IT IN THE FIRST PLACE. From cleaning supplies to clothing – I’ve learned the hard expensive way to not keep buying stuff I will use once because of “Marketing ploys” This goes along with the pay off your debt/start it up again. Once you get rid of things – don’t just replace them again.

  18. paula d. says:

    This is a great system for getting rid of things that you can’t quite let go of, as well as a very frugal way of dealing with clothes.

    My only problem is I have no storage space so, where do I put the boxes?

  19. Renee says:

    I think that is very anal-who are you trying to be-Andy Warhol?

  20. !wanda says:

    For me, the “tomorrow box” idea would be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’d box something, never use it because I wouldn’t want to dig it out of the box, and then get rid of it because I never used it.

  21. Carrie says:

    @Sally: very good point! I’ve never been into stuff and have a hard time understanding why people feel the need to buy so much. I get overwhelmed at garage sales because people are getting rid of more stuff than I ever owned! I simply can’t think with that much clutter around.

  22. HebsFarm says:

    Buying clothing into the future works better for men. It only takes a little work for them to stay the same size & shape. Women have less control. A little pregnant – a lot pregnant – nursing (tummy may have shrunk but chest is a crazy size) – even if her body returns to its original size & shape after baby (or babies), she might not want to show as much leg as she used to – there go all those shorts she bought on super-clearance sale!

  23. cv says:

    To !wanda, I think that’s part of the point. If you don’t care enough about an item to take it out of a box in the garage, do you really need it in your house cluttering up your life? Americans in general are buying larger and larger homes to store all the stuff they barely use or “might need some day”, and that comes with real financial implications, never mind the environmental ones.

    I’ve been doing something similar to the tomorrow box, but without the box. I moved almost a year ago, and have to move again in a couple of months. Pretty much anything that hasn’t been used or worn since the fist move isn’t coming with me for the second move. I’m going on memory, but it’s still a useful way to sort through things.

  24. Trent,
    Where do you usually stock up on size 16 shoes for cheap? I wear the same size and while I have a few extra pair, I don’t have a surplus like it sounds you do!

  25. sm4k says:

    Living in Missouri, my wife and I also do the “winter clothes/summer clothes” boxes because we have a pretty small closet.

    One tip I picked up somewhere is that when you hang up your clothes after they get washed, hang the hanger backwards on the rod, so that in order to get the hanger off, you have to push the hanger away from you after you lift it off the rod. That way you can evaluate what is in your closet after a few weeks and instantly tell what you wear and what you don’t. That helps keep your closet from being cluttered with clothes you don’t wear.

  26. sm4k says:

    Sorry for the double post but I meant to add that doing the “winter clothes/summer clothes” boxes is a great way to routinely weed out clothes that are too small for growing children.

  27. MES says:

    Great tips – reminds me to take a look in a couple mystery boxes that never got unpacked after our last move.

    I have a terrible time finding shoes that fit properly so when I find a pair that I like (on sale of course) I often go back the next week and get another pair to store for later. It is a great relief to know that the next pair of tennis shoes is waiting in the closet when the current one wears out.

    I have also done a lot of the “future clothes” shopping for my toddler. When he was about a year old I found a few great deals on Craigslist and ended up with several bins full of larger sizes. I have to buy a few filler and seasonal items but it has saved me a ton of money because I’m just not tempted to buy more.

    Now I’m saving Kid #1’s clothes for Kid #2, so my bins have multiplied. I found that I need to sort the clothes thoroughly, and really think about why I’m keeping each item. Do I like it? Does it function well? Did I actually use it the first time around? Will it be appropriate for the season?

  28. Margaret says:

    Re comment 27

    I also saved my kids clothes for the next one along. Apparently not everyone does this. I’ve even heard of someone who gave away her stroller, car seat, high chair etc because she thought the next baby deserved to have everything new. Crazy. Anyway, I’m on child number three, and between gifts and hand me downs and clothes at the second hand store, I have ended up with a lot of children’s clothes, and I have a hard time getting rid of any of them. I notice with baby number three that the drawers are stuffed, but we do not use about half of the clothes because I don’t like the style/colour/fit. Why am I keeping those? If we have baby number four, I am probably not suddenly going to like the clothes and start using them. Even before I read this post, I had been thinking about putting all the clothes in a box for a couple weeks. Then I could get rid of whatever was left in the box because it wasn’t getting used (obviously just the seasonal stuff).

  29. Ann at One Bag Nation says:

    Hi Trent, you could stand in over at unclutterer with this post!

    I have boxes in the basement with larger-sized clothing for my daughter,as she’s still growing.

    The other thing I have (for her, though she doesn’t know it) is a Transition Box. I’ve posted about it on my blog, but in a nutshell, I use it to store “treasures” that my daughter *thinks* she can’t part with . . . I leave the stuff in there for just a couple of weeks and when I know she’s forgotten – out it goes! She is truly the Queen Pack Rat and I was getting desperate – everything is special to her!

  30. Marci says:

    I love the dated boxes idea!

    And I also ‘stock up’ on clothes/shoes when I find them on sale. As I’ve worn the same brand of women’s 5 pocket jeans – everyday/every job/different colors is the only change – for the past 20 years, when they’re on sale I buy them up :)
    Same with sneakers – always buy at least 2 pairs alike when I find them on sale. My clothing doesn’t change much – rural area – rural work clothes :) Very comfy! lucky for me!

    Am downsizing (trying to…) at this time, so will give this a go! Thanks!

  31. Oogie M says:

    The only problem with boxing up stuff and getting rid of it if you haven’t used it in a while is if you forget you had one and went out and bought another. So when you get to the box you now find you have 2 or more of the item in question. This has happened to me more than once. Especially with seasonal things that may go more than a year between uses due to weather conditions. So if you do this, label the boxes or keep a list of what’s in it so you can find the things again when you do need them or are ready to buy something. I check my stored box list whenever we add any major item to the shopping list just in case we have one stored somewhere we forgot about.

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