The VICE Guide to Right Now

Why Do People Keep Their Empty Apple Boxes?

Across the world, people are posting photos of the iPhone, iPod, and MacBook packaging they’ve kept through the years.
January 7, 2021, 10:15am
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Photo: Courtesy of Corbin WIlliams

People collect a lot of things — coins, comic books, vinyl records. Some are even into pretty outlandish things like celebrity hair strands. They’re usually novelties, but sometimes, they’re as basic as they can get. It turns out that a lot of people save the packaging that Apple products come in. Not just the old iPhones, MacBooks, and Apple Watches, but all their boxes too. It’s a pretty common habit and people have different reasons for keeping them, but some don’t even realize that they’re doing it. Until, of course, the internet started talking about it. 

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This all came to light on Sunday when Twitter user @Bisserat wrote: “I don’t know who needs to hear this but throw away that box your iPhone came in. You don’t need it. You will never need it.” 

Many found the tweet revealing, as if they discovered something new about themselves.  

As of writing, the tweet has over 54,000 retweets and 690,000 likes. This was followed by thousands of collectors sharing why they keep Apple boxes and posting photos of their stacks of white packaging with the hashtag #TeamKeepTheBox.

Apple product box collection

Photo: Courtesy of Jordan Stephensen

Some mentioned practical reasons for keeping the boxes, like how they could come in handy when you lose your iPhone and need its serial number to locate it. 

For Canada-based product designer Jordan Stephensen, 29, it’s all because of the design, which he calls a “masterpiece.” “Honestly, Apple’s boxes feel too nice to throw away,” he told VICE. Nineteen-year-old student Minh Tan, from Singapore, echoed the sentiment. “Opening each product feels expensive. The box is just part of the experience,” she said. And to 30-year-old Corbin Williams who lives in Los Angeles, it’s not so much the aesthetic appeal of the boxes, but rather the memories attached to them. 

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Ever since he was a highschooler, Williams would wait in line to get his hands on the latest iPhone on the day of its release. He now has a total of 14 iPhone boxes, which he keeps as souvenirs from those days. “I keep the boxes as a memory of the time my friends and I were in line for those devices, and the fun we had waiting for them to release,” he said. 

iPhone box collection

Photo: Courtesy of Corbin Williams

Others get creative, turning the seemingly useless boxes into something, well, more useful — from a place to stash their food to a video game joystick controller.

Tea and condiment packets in iPhone boxes

Photo: Courtesy of Emma Jacqueline Chung Hui

Hannah Chang, an associate professor of marketing at the Singapore Management University, said that people could be keeping these boxes because of a perceived value and functionality. 

“In the resale market, having the original box with the phone increases the resale value of your iPhone,” she told VICE. “These sturdy boxes also provide suitable raw materials for upcycling, recycling, and repurposing.”

But there could be a more emotional explanation too. Jonathan Robert Ilagan, a psychology lecturer at the Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines, believes that these boxes may carry sentimental value for some people. 

“There might be a sense of accomplishment attached to it, or maybe even a particular time period,” he said. “That’s because people may have a tendency to attach dreams, hopes, and memories to certain possessions.” 

Ilagan added that this is especially true for Apple products, which are considered premium and often used as status symbols.

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“Before, one of the determinants of status was the watch. If you looked at a person who had a nice watch, it means they had a certain level of social status,” he said. “But recently, the status symbol has changed from a watch to a phone.” 

Collecting Apple boxes also isn’t as random as it seems and could be likened to more common collections like dolls or action figures. 

“If you look at people who collect things like toys or Funko Pops, it’s a very similar behavior, wherein it’s a display of something that they like,” he said. “It’s kind of a feat in itself, as if to say, ‘Hey, look! I’ve been following Apple for this long.’”

Similarly, Matthew Philp, a professor of marketing at Ryerson University in Canada, said that keeping the boxes is a way for people to brand themselves as Apple followers or fans. 

“An analogous comparison you can make is when someone likes a certain musical artist, and they find status in making sure other people know that they liked that artist before they were as popular as they are now,” Philp told VICE. 

Of course, Apple’s huge fanbase is no longer news. It has come a long way since it was founded in 1976. From their very first product, the original Apple computer, also known as the Apple I, to the highly sought after AirPods. In January 2020, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that there were 1.5 billion active Apple devices worldwide. The company has amassed a huge cult following, with people camping outside of stores for hours to make sure they get the latest Apple device.