guinea pig in amazon box

How to handle your Amazon problem

Amazon in small doses is convenient, helpful and a great invention. But too much of a good thing leads to clutter, both in the things you impulse buy and the boxes that clutter comes in. Here’s how to beat Prime and deal with all those boxes.

Don’t tell Amazon about this post

Who knows if they’re coming after the little guys or not but I don’t want to chance it.

Most of your clutter is Amazon’s fault.

Maybe that’s a little harsh but who else sends you boxes of goodies day and night? All you have to do is click and they’re on it. Impulse buying is at a whole new level now we don’t have to get dressed or find our keys and credit card to physically go buy things.

They offered me Prime. Free shipping for an annual fee. I knew better and refused and so now every time I buy something, they offer me free shipping for the next 24 hours.

How smart is that? Fiendishly smart, that’s how. I mentally scour the house and my heart for things I’ve been needing or wanting – free shipping! – and if I don’t come up with something, there’s dear helpful Amazon with a targeted list of items they think I might like. And of course I do, because their algorithm is spot on.

How to tame the shopping monster

If you want to get free of the cult, there’s an easy way to do it and good old Amazon has even thought of it for us.

Use the wish list

Save items you want to the Amazon wish list and watch yourself click on them next time anyway. Better you should go old school and start a list. Pen and paper or a spreadsheet if you must.

Make a list

Every time you find yourself with that Amazon itch, write down what you want to buy on the list. Stay off the site because they’re going to tempt you to buy it while you’re there.

Keep adding to the list every time something comes up for a whole week.

I know, you have Prime, it’s free shipping. But it’s just like going to the grocery store. Shop once a week and you spend less. Every time you go to the store, you find something you didn’t know you needed. Stick to your list and you save money.

Maybe money is no problem for you. How lovely. But if you’re reading this blog, clutter is most definitely a problem. Dealing with clutter requires a two-pronged approach. More leaves, less comes in. If you’re diligently decluttering but spending freely without thinking about it, perhaps that’s why the clutter problem never seems to get under control.

Clutter is anything that’s crowding your space

Your clutter might not be tchotchkes and papers, but if you have three giant cartons of paper towels in your basement, you’re still dealing with clutter.

READ MORE >>> How to declutter and organize

Amazon subscriptions save you time going to the store, or ordering online but like the book of the month club that kept on delivering novels your parents never read, the subscriptions are easy to forget about about until you finally cancel the diaper subscription when your kid has been potty trained for 9 months.

Check it twice

So once a week, review the list you made. Do you still want twelve bottles of hand lotion? How about that worthy tome your uncle recommended? You weren’t going to read it anyway, now you have the chance to not buy it too.

You’ll probably find, like most us, that what seemed so urgent and enticing has become less exciting. Place your Amazon order once a week and you’ll be pleased and surprised at how much you save and how much less is coming into your house.

Which brings us to the boxes.

Do you have an Amazon box problem?

They pile up in the basement, it’s a lot of work to break them down for recycling so we put it off. We might need a box like that to send something to someone.

At this point, we all have all the boxes we’ll need for the next three years and then some. By cutting your Amazon order down to once a week – maybe even once a month? – you’re saying enough is enough. I don’t want box mountain to grow any bigger.

When I go into someone’s house for the first time and we’re looking for easy wins, I ask where the empty boxes are. It’s usually the garage or the basement but it could be the spare room or the corner of the family room. Wherever it is, breaking down those boxes and getting them out to the car for a trip to the recycling center clears space as efficiently as if I’d brought my magic organizing wand with me.

Assess how many you need

Of course, it’s prudent to keep a few. Think about how often you mail someone anything in a box. Twice a year, maybe? If you’re a frequent gift giver, look me in the eye and tell me you honestly don’t use Amazon to send their gifts to them directly.

If you’re saving them for dealing with the clutter or for moving one day, think again. The most efficent way to do that is use bankers boxes.

Uniform size

Lids

Stackable.

Compare that to the teetering boxes of all different shapes, sizes and condition you crammed your things into last time. Like the free liquor store boxes we all used for moving when we were penniless, these “free” Amazon boxes are suboptimal. The big boxes with all the paper towels in them are light for Amazon to deliver but if you fill them up with anything heavier than paper towels when you move, they’re going to be hell on wheels to lift and carry.

If you can afford to impulse buy at Amazon, you can afford the right boxes when you need them.

Ironic suggestion: next time you place your order, add a shrink-wrapped pack of uniformly sized boxes the right size for whatever it is you’re thinking you’ll use boxes for before your next move.

Don’t fall for it

Amazon has become aware that we keep too many of their boxes. That’s why they have a give back program. All you have to do is print out a shipping label, fill it with donations and ship it.

Which means you’ll never do it.

Hunt around for printer ink, install the printer ink, find the tape and scissors for attaching the label to the box. Gather the donations and schlep them to the specific drop off site.

This program is designed to help you feel better about your Amazon problem by offering a way to ameliorate it that’s too time-consuming for you to actually do. But since there’s an option, that gets tied in your brain with Amazon is a good guy.

Listen, if they really wanted to be helpful like that, they’d pick up your donations when they dropped off your packages.

by Lucy Kelly

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28 comments

  1. Think of boxes stored in your home as fuel for a fire, and you’ll want to store fewer of them. A little understood fact is that our homes are engineered not to burn. It’s the stuff in them, especially cardboard and plastic, that burn really well. When you keep boxes that you “might need someday,” you are actually increasing the potential for fire damage. It changes the perspective, doesn’t it?

    Great article. Sharing with my followers.

  2. OMG! We’ve all had those client that pay us to breakdown their amazon boxes. It’s crazy. I love your suggest that Amazon should offer to pick up donation when they delivery your packages!

  3. I definitely LOL’ed at the “Don’t tell Amazon about this post!”

    I’ve really been trying to curb my Amazon shopping, because I don’t think they need anymore of my money until they pay their workers better and give them better work conditions. That’s helped me prevent a few impulse buys.

    But boy is it WAY TOO EASY to click those buttons and get what you need in a couple of days. I do have a list though for some of these items. That’s what I use as my holiday wish list. 😉

    Also, my cat keeps on claiming all the boxes we bring in, but otherwise I’m pretty good at breaking them down.

  4. I’m laughing for so many reasons. I completely agree with your advice, globally, but for me and for my clients, I reject it! Aha!! 😉 (I do have an Amazon problem but it’s with their treatment of their employees.)

    First, I absolutely love Amazon Prime, but consider the free shipping a bonus; it’s all of the other benefits (Prime Video, especially their original series; Prime Reading with all the free books and magazine articles I devour; unlimited photo storage). Having the free shipping doesn’t make *me* order more or more often (though I know it absolutely does for many/most people). What it means to me is that instead of procrastinating on going out and buying something (especially during a pandemic) which would require me exposing myself to other humans and t their icky, icky germs, I buy what I need when I need it instead of going out at the last minute, in the rain, spending more than I wanted for the only version available in a store near me. 😉

    I even like the boxes, because it guarantees that when I go into a client location, there are going to be boxes into which we can pack donations (for delivery or GiveBackBox) and massive piles of shredding to be taken to the industrial shredding locations. Yes, people tend to pile up too many boxes for eons, and saving more than one or two for shipping is a waste, but having them during the organizing process is a real boon! Also, I live in a small city surrounded by a small rural area. Most of them have no recycling pickup and would have to drive up to 30 miles with flattened cardboard boxes to get rid of them. Holding onto them until an eventual backyard “burn” means they’re still around for me to use during organizing sessions.

    But I’m really laughing about having to “find printer ink…and scissors” as if I’m not already printing things every day anyway. GiveBackBox is a boon for anyone who lives somewhere without options for charitable giving that resonate with them. I won’t donate to Salvation Army, for example, because of their horrible human rights record, and not all of my clients want to give to Goodwill or to religious-based non-profits. In rural areas, charity drop-off hours can be really limited, too. A trip to UPS, FedEx, or the post office (or better yet, making a few clicks on the keyboard to arrange for a USPS pickup for free) can be so much more convenient and it GBB lets you pick the charity of your choice from a list that’s much more expansive than my options in my small city. My bigger problem is that until COVID, GiveBackBox was free; now it costs $15 for any donation box you want to send. However, for anyone who doesn’t drive or who can’t lift packages (like many of my clients), postal pickup and shipping is worth $15!

    So, yes, don’t impulse-shop and overshop. Don’t collect masses of boxes and let them crowd you out of your home. But if you’re going to be my client, leave those boxes because we’ll make use of all of them, quickly. 😉

    1. Julie, I love that Amazon works for you. When people can do what you do – “I buy what I need when I need it”, Amazon is a great tool.

      And I also love that you’re able to make use of all the boxes. Living and working in the Boulder County and Longmont area of Colorado, I never come across anyone with the same concerns you do about boxes. Great reminder that in different areas of the country, we’ll have different problems with available resources like boxes. Now I’m wondering which of my clients will contact you to see if you want their box mountains!

  5. In full disclosure, there was a time I was an Amazon junkie. No more! These days, even prime can’t swing me if I don’t need it.

    What I do love about Amazon is that they make it easy. Return? No problem. Problem? No problem!

    About the wish list. I started one a while back. It got kind of long. After a while, the wish waned and I didn’t even like the item anymore. So I scratched it off the list.

    This is another fun piece of yours that really hits home. It’s one of those subjects we never talk about. However, seeing how clutter builds, this is a great conversation to have.

    1. I think we’ve all been there, Ronni. I thought about writing this because I was literally straining my brain to try and figure what I could buy to get that free shipping within 24 hours. Crazy-making. You’re right, we all laugh at the memes with the huge pile of Amazon boxes outside the front door, but the bills and the clutter aren’t that funny after a while.

  6. Ha ha ha! At first I was just nodding in solidarity. But I ended up LOL-ing at “…look me in the eye…”, “If you can afford….you can afford…”, etc. Most of my boxes these days are from Chewy (pet supplies), but I do my part to keep Amazon in business. And I totally suffer from “Primenesia”. But just because I forgot what I ordered doesn’t mean I don’t still need it! It just means I made a decision and my brain moved on to something else.

    I made a deal with myself early in the pandemic, after the boxes started piling up: I don’t let a trash day go by without cutting up a few boxes and putting them in the recycle bin. (And putting the recycle bin out by the curb when it’s full, to keep the flow of boxes moving.)

    And I use my Wish Lists a little differently: If I REALLY NEED it, I just order it. If I WANT IT but can certainly do without it, I put it on my Public Wish List in case someone happens to want to check and order it for me as a surprise. I’m not saying it happens often, but it’s happened! If I sorta might want it, and don’t want to lose track of what I’ve already seen because I might want to compare it to something else later if I am still wanting it, I add it to my Private Wish List. Some of those things I eventually buy, or a version of it, but most of them just get deleted. I wrote about this in an old blog post called “Try This Simple Trick to Curb Impulse Buying”.

  7. This is a great, no-nonsense take on how to deal with the Amazon problem. Turning an impulse buy into a weekly list is a great habit to get into. You’ll often find that at the end of the week, you don’t need half of what you thought you did.

  8. Love the idea of a wish list on paper or a word document – when I think I want something from a catalogue I usually mark the page and wait awhile. If I still want it after a week or two, I’ll order.
    The boxes made me smile. So many times we see these at clients. But also because my 3 year old grandson uses the boxes for art projects and construction!

    1. Jonda, I’m getting flashbacks to when my kids were in elementary school. The teachers wanted the kids to bring in empty boxes and toilet rolls for end of the day craft time. That was great. What wasn’t so great was getting all of the empty boxes back and then some, depending on if my kids made a giant robot or a giant tower. It was always something huge they wanted to display. We set a one-week limit for how long each creation stayed – only to be replaced next time!

  9. I often think about what life would have been like for my Dad had Amazon been as pervasive as it is now. He was a major mail order shopper. I’m pretty sure that things arrived almost daily. And if he had Amazon Prime, I’m not sure how that story would have gone. We do use Amazon, but it’s been more helpful than not. We don’t overbuy, return things if they aren’t what we need, keep some ’empty’ boxes, but recycle the rest. I completely get how things can get out of hand. For those that have a challenge with the ease of Amazon shopping, your suggestions are right on point.

    1. Yes, you’re right, Linda. Anyone who can’t resist mail order shopping, or QVC, or any of the other ways sellers make it easy for us to buy, is going to have trouble with how easy Amazon makes it for us to buy.

  10. Great tips! I do find that Amazon is useful for time management. I don’t like running around trying to find things at stores that may or may not have the needed item. Regarding boxes, my husband is all over that; he always collapses the boxes to be recycled. Our home is small; we only keep regular-sized boxes (1 or 2) in the basement; everything else must go.

  11. I feel like everyone is using Amazon these days – including me! I have a stack of nested boxes on top of the refrigerator in my garage, but when it starts to teeter, I remove and recycle a few. I’ve never signed up for the subscription services because I usually end up with more than I need. I think they are a great if you use a predictably reliable amount of product.

    Making a list or a wishlist is a good idea. If I make myself wait, the urge to buy may pass!

  12. Oh, Lucy… you have me shaking my head and smiling. I’m going to remember that question; “where do you keep the empty boxes?” Cutting them down and recycling them makes such sense and takes so little time if you do it as soon as you unpack the box. Shopping on Amazon can be a real problem. I love your suggestion of making a pen and paper wish list. It reminds me of when I was a child and I used to turn down the pages in catalogues or magazines as ideas of things I wanted my parents to give me!

  13. Wow! I didn’t know they had that program. That’s pretty cool. Although, I suppose you could also refill the empty box and take it to a charity near you, verses a Post Office.

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