This stolen plastic grocery basket may be the most useful thing I own

In 1999, Andreas and I tried living the urban 20-something dream of moving into an artist loft. This was not a swanky "artist loft" in air quotes with halogen lighting and stainless steel appliances — it was a complete shit-hole in Seattle's industrial district. Our unit had no heat, no kitchen, and a hallway bathroom shared with the 10 other people on our floor.

When we moved in, one of our new neighbors swung by with a housewarming gift: a stolen plastic grocery basket.

"You can use it as a shower caddy," she shrugged, offering no explanation for where it had come from (I mean, OTHER than Bartell Drugs, obviously) or why she didn't need it any more.

I only lasted six months in the loft, but a decade later, this basket remains one of the most useful things in my home.

Sure, I'd had baskets before, but there's something so unfathomably utilitarian about a grocery shopping basket. For starters, it's square instead of round — which makes it ideal for stacking crap. That's what it was designed for, of course, and it serves that function very, very well. I've used the basket to schlep crap when I'm cleaning out the car. I've used the basket to carry potluck dishes to friends' houses. Since it's plastic, it doesn't matter if food spills on it. It doesn't matter if it's holding a pile of wet laundry. The basket is impermeable and almost indestructible.

It's also the perfect size to act as luggage for a weekend trip. Laptop on the bottom, an extra pair of pants, two shirts, a couple pairs of socks and undies, a hoodie, my camera, the toiletry bag — it all fits perfectly. It's open at the top, so I can easily access everything once I arrive wherever I'm going, but deep enough that nothing ever seems to fall out. It's the ultimate utilitarian weekender.

The basket acts as a great cleaning accessory — I do the initial pass through the house with the basket, grabbing random crap that needs to be put away. Once the initial sweep is done, I carry the basket with me through the house, redistributing things where the belong.

When not in active use, the basket lives at the foot of our bed, where it catches solo socks and waits for the next batch of clean laundry to be dumped on the bed for folding (when the socks will hopefully find their mates).

This basket has proven so useful that I, uh, procured a second basket, which I primarily use in our Westfalia.

So, what's the moral of the story here? Well, of course I would never suggest, uh, procuring your own grocery shopping basket. But if you ever happen to, uh, stumble across one (you know, at a garage sale? maybe?) you should definitely grab it.

…and run.

UPDATED TO ADD:
Ooh, you can buy your own NON-stolen shopping basket on Amazon!

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  1. My favourite thing at university was a shopping trolley/cart that I, ahem, permanently borrowed. I used to wheel it across town and back to the supermarket to stock up on food, take it up the hill to campus with all my art materials and work inside it, fill it with laundry and take it to the machines in my building's basement. It was particularly useful for carting beer to parties too. And then sitting in it to be pushed home from said parties.

    These days, now my son is two and a half, I find myself increasingly telling him to walk so I can use his stroller in much the same manner (although I haven't tried coming home wasted in it yet!)

    5 agree
  2. I have one of these that my mother procured for me as well. I spray painted it team colors and use it primarily for schlepping burgers and beer to tailgate, but all of these are brilliant functions that I've never thought of before!

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  3. ours is our recycle basket. fits right up against our square(ish) trash can and when it gets full, pick up those handles and take out that recycle to the bin. i don't even know where we got ours. we moved and it just sort of surfaced while unpacking.

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    • this! ours is under the sink to catch recycling. and on the way back to the kitchen, serves as a kitty gondola for our cat who LOVES to jump in as soon as it's empty and ride it around the house!

      4 agree
  4. Years ago I walked out of the store with onea and put it in my car without thinking about it. It has been the best picnic basket/laundry basket/cleaning cart i have ever had!

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  5. I was going to mention that many places are are bringing in methods to stop people stealing or honestly forgetting to return baskets. (You'd be amazed how often it happens, people bag their stuff up and put the bags in the basket and the basket in the car without a second thought.) But I see others have beaten me to it.

    As another less morally unclear alternative there's also a mass of other plastic storage boxes that are pretty much the same size and shape and can serve the same functions avaliable from home/office supply places.

    I've got one which I suspect came from the company my dad used to work for back around the time I was born (note: these things are durable as all hell too). I'm not 100% sure but they used to throw out all kinds of useful shit (like our first computer!) and these bright yellow boxes were around the house as long as I can remember so it seems likely.

    It originally appeared in our flat full of stuff I'd left at my parents house. I always intended to get rid of it but somehow it's never been empty long enough. There always seems to be something it's perfect for storing.

    I really do need to get around to spray painting it or something though. Bright yellow plastic doesn't really go with our (complete lack of a) colour scheme.

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    • one of those postal baskets appeared when I was unpacking a dorm room back in college. It was the most useful thing ever–I used mine as a laundry basket/ book storage unit/ project transporter/ occasional step-stool/ collection site for arts and crafts supplies, etc. The year after it "surfaced", I got a new roommate whose mother was a post-mistress. She was going to make me give it back, but it ended up as a prop in a play instead. (Ironically, the play was about 20-somethings that lived in "artists lofts") I think it's probably still being useful in the basement of my college theatre department…

      1 agrees
  6. O my gosh, my inner kleptomaniac had been awoken but if I stole a basket I could never really enjoy it. The guilt would ruin it, like what if someone visited and accused me of knicking it – now if only I could convince someone to give me one or if I see one in a charity shop I'll definetly be buying it !

  7. The best crap I ever gained is an empty 20 litre bucket that originally held cooking oil. It was "borrowed" from my workplace and never returned. It's an awesome size for everything that's been listed and totally free.

    I keep telling myself that it would only end up in landfill so it's perfectly ok to keep.

  8. We have some old school milk crates that I love, we use them all the time. Also we have approximately a bajillion Coca Cola bottle crates that our caterer brought our food in for the wedding. THEY ARE AWESOME. They're low and long and super stackable. We have 4 of them piled up right now as an elevated feeder for one of our dogs. I also have a couple of them in the back of my car for easy package sorting.

    1 agrees
    • Yes! Milk crates may lack the convenient handles of the grocery basket, but are otherwise totally awesome for storing just about anything! And they are still incredibly portable, you just can't sling them on your elbow.

  9. We got one when Circuit City went out of business…for like a dollar. So anytime a store like that closes you should check out the fixture sale!

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  10. I've always wanted one they've always been the best way to shop.I use a laundry basket for collecting things and transporting them to the right room. But having a basket with those handles would be much more fun! πŸ˜€

  11. MMM! I had my husband…. collect quite a few crates from the back of walmart (THEY'RE JUST LYING THERE!!!) and i stacked up a whole wall of them in my closet to be shelves for our clothes : ) They work AWESOME! You can move them in any shape, cause they're stackable, and we use some of them as laundry baskets, or for traveling (like sticking all of the wrapped presents for xmas in them!)

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  12. For anyone in Canada you can buy these at most President's Choice brand grocery stores (Independent, Loblaws etc.) for around $4! We have two, one that stays in our car to tote home our groceries, and the other which has unintentionally become the lost sock basket. Very functional!

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    • Whoa! Thanks! Canada just keeps getting better and better! (Says the newbie)

      2 agree
  13. I love these baskets! I straight up steal them. No problem w. corporate robbery here. I like the Target ones the best bc of their curvaceous design. I keep them in the top shelf of my closet to hold all my jeans, teeshirts, workout clothes, etc. The kitteh gondola is amazing.

    1 agrees
  14. Good idea! If we end up in an apartment I've already been trying to come up with ideas for carrying groceries and stuff upstairs to limit trips. My best idea so far is to use a laundry basket since its a little bigger…

  15. So, can someone tell me how stealing a basket is better than shoplifting?

    *you can buy this stuff

    1 agrees
  16. I like to use buckets for storing cleaning stuff. It's extra great to buy 2 that will nest. Then, you can use one for clean mop water & one for rinsing.

    *some stores like sams will give buckets away (ask for ice cream buckets).

  17. also i bet if you ask stores, esp local ones would let you buy the baskets from them. The coolness of sporting your favorite local place or market. hmmm

  18. Ever since you posted on this, as my mother would say "i had the want". I'm off to legally pick up my own basket this thursday (24 March) in Aldi Supermarket for Euro 3.79 (about 5 dollars in American money), so for any other Irish readers out there here's the link.
    Now to decide what colour to go for
    http://www.aldi.ie/ie/html/offers/special_buys3_16282.htm

    1 agrees
  19. We were just in our soon-to-be-gone Borders yesterday, and they're selling theirs off for $5 each. Since I used to work at Borders, I kind of wanted one, but then couldn't think of what I'd do with it. Serves me right for my lack of imagination!

    1 agrees
  20. You can buy those shopping bins at a lot of the grocery stores where I live. They encourage them the same way they do the reusable bags.

  21. I had a basket similar to the one linked to on Amazon when I was in college. Though, I think mine was shorter and more squire.

    I used it to carry bathroom stuff to and from the shared bathroom in my dorm.

    And then, when I suddenly a acquired a pet mouse (Long story) and found that keeping a mouse in a cardboard box only works for about 15 minutes, until the mouse chews through the box, I used the plastic basket to put over the mouse in the cardboard box to keep her contained until I could buy an actual cage.

    That was pretty much the end of the basket's usefulness though. After a few days of makeshift mouse cage duty, many of the baskets wholes were substantially bigger and more unevenly shaped:p

    1 agrees
  22. Mine came into my life by accident after setting of the alarm at the walmart. The friendly security guard and his helpful greeter companion checked through my entire bag and reciept and found nothing amiss, cheerfully waved me good day and watched me take the bags and my basket and obliviously stick the whole thing in my car. I figure this is a classic case of the "No Backsies" principle.
    Also one of those holds about 15 empty wine bottles. Very usefull!

  23. Not related to your basket, but we used a bed canopy just like yours to make the chuppah for our wedding! Way cheaper than buying fabric…

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