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Shipping Your Belongings

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In the process of packing up our things, we always seem to come across items we forgot about. It could be that something has outgrown its usefulness, or maybe it’s something that fell behind the bookcase, the dresser, or under the couch. Or, perhaps, it could be that we have procrastinated on giving back those one or two borrowed items for so long that we only now remember to whom they belong.

This is just one reason you may find yourself having to ship certain things as part of the moving process.

What you can't ship

The U.S. Postal Service, being a federally operated organization, keeps in mind the safety of United States citizens by laying out certain restrictions on what can be shipped. The distinction between what is deemed “mailable” and what is not is mostly one of common sense, but here are some examples of (in most cases) restricted items:
  • Firearms (assembled or dissembled)
  • Alcohol (other than mouthwash or cooking wine)
  • Controlled substances (drugs)
  • Anything emitting an obnoxious odor
  • Animal-fighting paraphernalia
  • Hazardous materials (chemicals)
Certain animals may be shipped, provided they can survive the journey that is ahead of them without food, water, or light. These include many birds and smaller cold-blooded animals that are not snakes or turtles. Perishables hold similar restrictions; as long as an item can reach its destination intact, it should be mailable.

Anything that can kill or injure another person or could harm other mail along the way is not mailable, including explosives, poisons, and poisonous animals. The exception to this rule is mailing scorpions to be used for scientific research or to manufacture antivenin (these, as you might have guessed, have some pretty specific shipping guidelines). No spiders of any kind may be shipped.

TIP: A good rule of thumb might be this: if it would get you in trouble at school or work, it probably isn’t mailable.


Now that you have determined if you can mail your items at all, it is important to take into account how you plan to mail them.

If you are using boxes, remember that any kind you use will need to provide enough space for the item(s) and adequate cushioning. Paperboard boxes are acceptable for loads of up to 10 pounds, but anything heavier will require metal-reinforced paperboard or corrugated cardboard. Wood and plastic boxes are acceptable for all loads, as long as they are sturdy enough for what’s inside.

Alternative methods of shipping include fiberboard tubes, shrink-wrap, cans or drums, and bags. Try to find something that best fits the shape and protective needs of your item.

If the package you have has been used before, just make sure you blank out any old writing on it with a permanent marker, so as not to confuse the postal employees.

Protecting your items

Bubble wrap and packing peanuts are more than just something for your kids to play with; their original function is to protect items that are being shipped somewhere. Newspaper is another classic way to protect your things in the mail.

But, before you start protecting, put your item in the box or other packaging. Make sure there is enough room to cushion it. Some items will need more packing material than others, especially if they are fragile or hold sentimental value (or both).

If you are packaging multiple items together, make sure you can protect them from each other, as well as the outside world. Once you have padded the box, close it and give it a shake or two. See if you can hear the item(s) shifting around. If you hear movement, add some more padding.

When it comes to closing and sealing up the package, cellophane and masking tape are only acceptable as reinforcement for other, sturdier methods. Paper tape of at least 60-pound strength is your best bet, though you could also use staples or plastic banding to hold the package closed.

Photo by: Stockimages (

  Posted by Patrick Hanan on August 27, 2009

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