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More book-boxing


This morning, after several phone calls that didn't pan out, I wrote a semi-frantic email (intending to send it to a mailing list) to ask for suggestions on where to look for boxes; I listed the places I'd called, and then (before I was done writing the email) I thought, wait, what about public storage facilities? So I used Google Local (a.k.a. Google Maps) to look for one, and immediately found The Storage Box, which didn't have exactly what I wanted but had something that was close enough. I stopped there on the way to Jordan's and bought 15 boxes, and a 1-cubic-foot bag of starch packing peanuts, a.k.a. "loose fill."

As the day progressed, it became clear that I didn't need anywhere near 15 more boxes. Back in March, we dumped a lot of books into a bunch of oversize boxes, which we didn't fill because it would've taken too long and because a box that size full of books would've been unmovable. (I've always been really bad at estimating how big a box to use for books; also, the only place we looked for boxes that time was Home Depot, which only had large ones that day.) (For my own future reference: a 16"x16"x12" box full of books weighs about 50 lbs, which is reasonably manageable. A 16" cube box full of books weighs about 65 lbs, which is too heavy and bulky for me to comfortably carry very far. I suspect a 14" cube would be best, though some books wouldn't fit in it.)

Anyway, so there were 21 big half-full boxes of books stacked all higgledy-piggledy in Jordan & Crystal's garage, all of them much too big to ship. My task this weekend was transferring the books into smaller and fuller boxes. I estimated that each of the original boxes would result in two smaller boxes, but in fact it was very close to 1-to-1.

So I used 5 of the new boxes and left the others to J&C, who'll probably be moving relatively soon. (Another reason it was a good thing I came up to do this now.)

There were several times today when I thought I was done but then discovered a new box. And today was a little rougher than yesterday; among other things, there were two boxes of papers that I'd completely forgotten about, as well as a bunch of framed photos and such. The papers were a mix of financial documents (I don't think there was anything there we need, but I packed 'em anyway) and dozens of articles from various online sources about how evil the Bush administration is (including a lot of conspiracy-theory stuff) that Nancy had printed out last year. I recycled those.

Also among the papers were a couple more student-feedback summary sheets from Peter's last couple of quarters teaching, and Peter's high school diploma. I put the teaching stuff in the box with the financial papers to send home, and pulled the diploma and a few other particularly noteworthy items (like photos, sans smoke-damaged frames) to take home in my luggage.

In the evening, Jordan and three-year-old Carter came out to the garage to help out. Jason taped up all the boxes I'd filled, while Carter ran around killing imaginary bad guys with his big plastic baseball bat and plastic sword, and I sorted through yet another last box.

But we did finally finish. Everything's in boxes, except for Peter's huge wooden go board (hand-made for him, I think; it was covered with smoke back in March, but Jordan cleaned it up and it looks pretty good) and the accompanying go stones. I don't have any use for them, and everyone else in the family who plays go has their own board and stones, but I'd hate to just throw that out. But Jordan said he'd hold onto it for me.

Tomorrow, I'll put the address labels on the boxes and drive them to the post office. I think we ended up with a total of 20 boxes, so it may take as many as five trips, but I think that's manageable; I don't have to leave for the airport 'til 3 p.m., and the post office is close to J&C's place.

It turns out the USPS will come and pick up any number of boxes from your home for free, which is totally cool; unfortunately, that requires that the boxes have postage affixed to them ahead of time, and I don't have an easy way to get exact weights nor to get the postage for those weights. Also, they won't pick up media mail packages (except as an adjunct to priority mail or express mail packages; I considered sending one box by priority mail and having them pick up the other 19 at the same time, but I suspect that wouldn't go over so well). And it won't be that big a deal to drive the boxes to the post office, I hope. (Turns out the post office is two blocks from my grandparents' old house. I drove by that house today; it looks like the new owners are taking good care of it.)

After we finished, we played with Carter for a while. I don't know him that well, but he was very enthusiastic about my being there (even though he couldn't quite remember my name most of the time), so that was nice. Especially because I missed seeing Rose last night. (But I did talk with her briefly on the phone.)

The weather has continued to be fine--cold, but not insanely cold, and it hasn't precipitated even once when I've been outside this trip.

I've been slightly hindered this weekend by two minor hand injuries: the burned finger from Wednesday night's cheese-and-spinach spill (a small area still hasn't completely healed), and a small cut on another finger from the airport on Friday. I was standing in line to board, and suddenly felt a sharp pain in my finger, and I looked down and found that the staple from my boarding-pass envelope had embedded itself in my finger. Ouch. Took some doing to extricate it. Anyway, Jordan provided bandages, so all's well. (I'm reminded that when I was a kid, I thought Band-Aids actively healed injuries, rather than just protecting injured areas.)

And now I am very very tired, so instead of doing the editing I really should be doing, I think I'm going to go to bed and either read a little or sleep. More busyness and heavy lifting tomorrow.

Oh, wait, one other thing I wanted to say: if you ever find yourself boxing up a bunch of books, and you don't know how long they'll be in boxes, and they're going to be in a wet part of the world, I strongly recommend lining the boxes with plastic (such as trash bags) first, and/or putting the whole box inside plastic. Back in March, Jordan did stack most of the boxes on a piece of wood and put a plastic tarp over the top, which helped a lot, but I left a couple of the boxes on some flattened cardboard, and that cardboard later got wet, and the water seeped through the cardboard of the boxes containing the books, as water does, and the upshot is that I now have maybe a dozen or two hardcover books with warped covers. Oh, well.

(I'm also a little dubious about my having used water-soluble starch packing peanuts in the box that I put the water-damaged books into today. But I think it'll be okay; the books weren't actually wet, and it'll only be for a week or so. And those books are already water-damaged, so it won't be awful if they suffer further damage.)


Some random bits of info from having packed, unpacked, and moved some thousands of boxes of books:

1. Book printer standards call for boxes to be 40 pounds -- I believe this is a combination of what seems reasonable to move and what will not put too much stress on a typical "200-lb." strength cardboard box. Most printers I've dealt with go up to 45 pounds. When I'm moving dozens of boxes at a time, I've found it a big improvement to ask for half-size boxes from the printers, so they cap out at about 22 pounds. But postage is definitely cheaper for 1 larger box than for 2 smaller boxes.

2. If you know in advance that you need a bunch of boxes, I highly recommend Uline (www.uline.com). Good selection, good prices, good service.

3. Staples and similar office supply companies, Target and similar "everything" stores, UPS and other carrier stores, post offices, U-Haul, Ryder, Penske, and drugstores all tend to have new boxes for sale. Liquor stores often have sturdy used boxes available for free.

4. Typical sturdy cardboard boxes are "200-lb. test", which does not mean they can comfortably hold 200 pounds of anything. It's a measure of when that particular thickness and strength of cardboard will burst. Uline also offers 275-lb. test single-wall or double-wall boxes. These are much sturdier, and I much prefer them if I'm not double-boxing or heavily padding books to ship. Nothing will protect against a forklift punching into a box (I've seen this happen way too often), but 275-lb. boxes do survive typical shipping in much better shape, and can be reused more often.

5. At least here, the USPS does not complain about picking up 1 Priority Mail package with dozens of Media Mail and/or international packages. The local manager has also called me to let me know that he'd be fine with a large pickup that didn't have any Priority Mail packages, though the computer system requires you to claim at least 1 Priority Mail package. It's definitely worth checking with the local post office, because the pickup service is really convenient if you can put the postage on yourself.

6. When you pack a box of books, always fill any voids as tightly as possible. When you pick up a box and shake it, you don't want to hear or feel any books moving around. Fill, whether it's foam sheets or crumpled newspaper or packing peanuts, will settle and degrade a bit in shipping, so a very tight box may be a bit loose by the time it arrives. Folded paper, cardboard, and cloth seem to do this least. But packing peanuts are the easiest way to fill odd spaces. When you tape up the box, the box should be trying to stay open a bit -- that means you have it full enough.

7. Media Mail is cheap and has become faster and more reliable than it was 10 years ago. If you prefer a non-USPS carrier (or you want to include items that don't qualify for Media Mail), FedEx Ground is cheaper and often faster than UPS Ground. When I'm shipping boxes back from a conference, I use the FedEx web site to find the closest actual FedEx location, and it's always been pretty fast and easy to ship my boxes from there. (I usually bring the FedEx forms with me on the trip so I can fill them out ahead of time.) And if the boxes aren't going that far, Ground may arrive faster than FedEx 3-day.

8. Water-soluble packing peanuts survive pretty well in humidity -- they really don't dissolve more than styrofoam unless they actually get wet. They do tend to be a little softer than styrofoam, which means you can compress them more and pack them in more tightly.

Xerox (or other copy paper) boxes are the ideal size for books -- they're sturdy, and due to size you won't make them too heavy to move.

Trick is, you have to work somewhere that uses a lot of copy paper, and doesn't mind you taking home the boxes.

Thanks, Michael! That's a lot of great and very useful advice. I can't believe it didn't occur to me to call you and ask you about this stuff; in retrospect, you're the obvious person to ask. Next time.

I like the USPS and have had good experiences with them (including the last time I mailed a large number of boxes of books), and media mail is way way cheaper than UPS Ground, so I think I'm gonna go with them. But definitely good to know about FedEx; I somehow tend to think of them as being pricy, so it's useful to know that's not true.

Thanks, Amy! Though I'm always dubious about sending boxes with lids through the mail; I'm never entirely convinced that I'm taping them securely enough to keep the lids on.

I've done stuff like this for my grandparents and great-aunts. I know how hard it is, just in the stuff/logistics sense, let along all the heart aspect... Love to you, even belatedly as I usually am.

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