Low-Cost Strategies for Preserving Your Family Treasures

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By Donia Conn

All of us have treasured memories of our family vacations, holidays, and special events.  Often these photographs, newspaper clippings, films, or other items have been passed down from previous generations and have been stored haphazardly in shoeboxes under beds or in boxes in the basement.  Here are some simple tips for caring for these treasures so they are available to pass on to future generations.

Store.  Store your collections where you are comfortable: a dry, moderate, and stable environment.  High relative humidity can lead to mold, a lot of light can fade prints and textiles, and high heat can lead to brittleness in paper, textiles, and leather.

Clean.  Dust and dirt attract insects and can serve as substrates for mold growth.  They are also abrasive—making them especially harmful to photographs and audiovisual materials—and can cause staining.  Good housekeeping will go a long way to preserving paper, textiles, and leather.

Elevate.  When space is in short supply, boxes often wind up in stacks on the floor in the basement or attic, putting them at high risk of water damage and mold growth in the event of a roof leak or burst pipe.  To minimize this risk, use shelves or palettes to raise materials at least four inches off the floor. 

Identify.  Make sure photographs are labeled in pencil so that future generations know who is in the images and how they are connected.  Date newspaper clippings and identify the newspaper.

Enclose.  Storage enclosures that are acid-free, lignin-free, and buffered will help to protect materials from physical damage as well as chemical deterioration.  Folders, boxes, mats, and other paper enclosures will help protect as well as organize to ensure that collections are not lost from accidental misplacement.

Share.  Digitizing family collections means that more people can be involved and pass down the stories and heritage.  Good quality scans, identifying information, and multiple copies in multiple locations will also help ensure this information will not be lost.


These guidelines should get you well on your way to ensuring your treasures survive into the future.  Future columns will cover the specifics for common collection items such as letters, photos, and textiles.  If you have questions that aren’t covered here, don’t hesitate to ask “Dear Donia.”



Photos in shoebox by Wanderin' Weeta

Creative Commons License


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