While most plastic totes aren’t designed to be locked, I experimented until I found a way to lock any plastic storage bin with a lid.
Keep scrolling to learn, step by step, how I recently locked a set of standard plastic storage totes for secure cross-country shipping.
Why you Should Consider Locking your Plastic Storage Totes
My move from Seattle to St. Louis exposed my plastic storage totes to several different handlers during the journey, so before I left, I set out to experiment with a way to lock my plastic storage totes.
Moving with the help of a moving company or storing your belongings in a storage unit exposes your belongings to a higher risk of theft than home storage. While most people are worried about a storage unit being cleared out by thieves or movers “losing” boxes, many people report the theft that occurs in less dramatic ways. Opportunistic thieves may open boxes and take a few valuable items while flying under the radar.
Plastic storage totes are often advertised as having “locking lids.” However, these small plastic clips don’t actually lock. They are intended for securing the lid. A minor upgrade can help. While there is no way to make a plastic storage tote as secure as a safe or a firebox, you can add a theft-discouraging layer of security by using very heavy-duty zip ties and a simple drill in the process described below.
How to Semi-Permanently Lock a Plastic Storage Tote Securely
You’ll need the following supplies:
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- These .3″x 10″ heavy plastic zip ties are the ties I used. They can withstand 120lbs of pressure each, aren’t too brittle, and cannot be snipped with most scissors or a pocket knife (I tried and failed for 5 minutes to remove one with a sharp knife before giving up and digging out wire cutters, which made removal fast Permanentlyand easy)
- A Drill bit fractionally larger than 1/3″ (Most small home drill bit sets won’t include this size, but an extended drill bit kit will, or you can buy a single drill bit at your local hardware store.
- Plastic storage containers with rims and lids that meet in a flat section for at least a 1/2″ wide rim. The rims on most Rubbermaid storage containers are perfect.
How to lock storage containers close for theft prevention and privacy
Total Time 10 minutes
Purchase zip ties. For the storage tote locks to work, your zip ties need to be heavy enough that they that are difficult or impossible to cut with a pocket knife or standard scissors.
Drill Aligned Holes in Lid and Container
Try not to drilled oversized holes, or the contents of your tote may be exposed. Place the lid on an empty storage tote and, following all appropriate precautions for using a drill, drill holes through the lid and into the rim at intervals along each side.
Try not to add too many holes, as this can weaken the structure of your plastic tote.
Drilling through plastic will produce microplastic filings- dispose of these plastic bits properly by working on a drop cloth and depositing the drill filings in a lined garbage can.
Load Storage Totes
After holes are drilled, load your tote with belongings you want to lock and protect and place the lid on the container.
Attach Zip Ties to Connect Lid and Container
Insert zip ties through each hole, being sure that the zip tie passes through both the rim and the lid holes. Faster the zip ties tight enough that the lid cannot be removed and scissors cannot easily be slid under the zip tie, but not so tight that the lid is under constant strain.
Have the Right Tools Ready to Unlock
Make sure that you have wire cutters, snips, or heavy-duty fingernail clippers on hand when you are ready to unlock your totes. (I had to get into a few earlier than anticipated, and I can tell you it took a lot of effort to break the zip ties with standard scissors! Thankfully, small wire cutters made for jewelry worked great at clipping the zip ties)
Estimated Cost: 3 USD
- Zip Ties
- Plastic Totes
- Drill & Drill Bit
Making Your Storage Containers Air-Tight
Most affordable storage totes are not meant to be airtight. With the exception of a few expensive Rubbermaid containers that have a seal or a lock that applies pressure along the rim, plastic storage totes are meant for general storage – not storage of sensitive air sensitive materials or meant to be exposed to water.
If you need the items in your storage tote to be extra protected, these zip-tie locks probably won’t be sufficient. Although they can apply some pressure on the rim that helps create a bit tighter seal, nothing will guarantee the items inside your plastic storage totes stay clean, dry, and un-infiltrated by odors in the space outside of the tote.
To really seal off items in a plastic storage tote, use plastic bags. There are two options for stealing items in a plastic storage to using bags:
- The least expensive option is simply to use trash bags. The large contractor’s bags have plenty of room even for the largest storage bin.
- Vacuum sealed bags. If you are a fan of this blog you know how much I love my Foodsaver vacuum sealer. I have a similar affection for space-saving bags that connect to a vacuum. Almost everyone knows just how much space can be saved by vacuum-sealed or Space Saver™ bags. Vacuum-sealed bags in plastic storage totes can save space and create an airtight, watertight seal.
Pro-tip for using plastic totes and vacuum-sealed bags: rather than sealing your vacuum bags and then placing them in your tote, place loaded bags in the storage tote before applying the vacuum. By sucking the air out while applying downward pressure on the bag, your vacuum seal bag will conform to the shape of your plastic tote, saving even more space and potentially doubling or even tripling the capacity of your plastic storage totes.
How to Seal & Lock Plastic Storage Totes for Personal Privacy
In my day job, I find myself sometimes counseling teens growing up in families they feel like their privacy isn’t respected (often legitimate concerns as they navigate becoming independent humans within a family) and it sometimes, it’s appropriate for me to share options, like this one, to protect and hide personal possessions from prying eyes.
While most adolescents can’t get their hands on a locking fireproof box (although, IMO, everyone should have a fireproof case by adulthood) or an expensive Rubbermaid tote designed to lock with a padlock, most can access a plastic storage tote, a hand drill, and zip ties. This method can be used, in addition to other tips on keeping your bullet journal private, to store journals or other very private items in your bedroom while limiting access to prying eyes or accidental discoveries.
My Experience with Locking Storage Totes
I’ve had a few bumpy years when it comes to places to call “home”. The past few years have included:
- turning Hawk Hill into an Airbnb.
- living in a 280 square foot apartment in Seattle temporarily for graduate school.
- putting all my things in storage so I could travel the world for six months.
- and moving back across the country without a permanent place to land (whew!)
I’ve learned a few things about storing belongings during moving and storage. With practice, I picked up the best (and worst) way to keep items in storage.
My most recent move was from Seattle to St. Louis, and while handing over my moving storage plastic totes to the transport company charged with getting my belongings from point A to point B, I did decide to seal my plastic storage totes more than I had during previous moves.
In 2019, when I left on my international travel, I signed off all my possessions to the custody of a (not defunct) company that picked up items and stored them in a warehouse before eventually re-delivering them on request. I had a good experience using this off-site storage service. Even with the built-in locks on my plastic totes, though, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with putting valuable things in storage.
At that time, I simply attempted to give myself a bit of peace of mind by wrapping totes with shrinkwrap and packing tape. This mostly failed. By the time my totes were returned, my makeshift seal looked like a mummy wearing oversized wrapping: loose and falling to shred.
When I began planning my cross-country move from Seattle to St. Louis, I knew that I needed a better way to seal my storage totes. A particularly complicated move, the Seattle to St. Louis move involved packing what I could in my car, leaving the remaining totes outdoors for the movers coming several days later, and then having my belongings delivered to a storage unit outside of St. Louis where they would stay until I purchased a home.
My totes, then, had to be secured against theft and rain while waiting to be picked up from my housemate’s deck in Seattle, secured against pilfering during transit, and protected once delivered to my storage unit. Sealing my plastic totes using plastic zip ties was the solution. The plastic zip ties kept the lids on securely helping protect my belongings from both natural elements and theft.