Several months ago, my wife and I decided to reintroduce air to one of our largest closets. It felt great to get rid of all kinds of stuff that no longer had a place in our lives. But when I first opened the closet, I got smacked right in the frontal lobe. Like a heavy brick flying off the top shelf, it hit me that we had amassed an insanely large collection of empty boxes over the years. There was packaging for mobile phones we no longer had, kitchen gadgets, iThis and iThat, and so much more.

Worst of all, these boxes were occupying at least half of the space in the closet. Half! Our closet had become a large container of empty containers.

After seeing this embarrassment, I vowed to never again save product packaging unless extraordinary circumstances required it.

I’ve managed to stick to this policy pretty well, but this Christmas season has reminded me how hard it can be. It's staggering how much packing waste our economy generates and even more staggering how quickly it settles into the nooks and crannies of our lives. Keeping this cruft out takes effort, will, and above all, an awareness of the potential problem.

Here are a few tips for avoiding excess packaging retention:

  • Don’t open things until you’re ready to do something with them. If it’s a gadget, first make sure it works of course. If it does, get rid of the packaging immediately.
  • Put user guides and small accessories (that you really need) into zip lock bags. Label the outside, and put them in a bin with others. This is much more space efficient than using the original cardboard box as a container.
  • Throw out any paper user manuals that you can get in PDF. These days, it’s not hard to find manuals online with a quick Google search.
  • If you must keep a box and other packaging materials for X days (e.g. for a store's return policy), set a future task or appointment to throw out the box at the end of that period.

You’re probably going to pick up a few pounds this holiday season. Your closets don’t have to.