by Elaine Johnson

iStock_000014370511SmallPreserving our memories properly is a major part of organizing many homes. All of us have items that have sentimental value to all of us but may not mean anything to anyone else. Photographs and paper mementos can be both a treasure and a burden for us. I’m all in favor of preserving these precious family treasures, but it is unfortunate when they get damaged because they were thrown too quickly into a cardboard box or shoved onto a free space on a shelf in the basement. If you’re going to save these items, it’s important to treat them as the treasures they are, or they will appear to have the same value as all of the other items you threw into a box to clear your kitchen counter or dining room table before company comes over!

There are several factors that can contribute to the deterioration of photos and mementos. Humidity, temperature, and sunlight are all environmental factors that can cause damage. In addition, rapid temperature changes, such as humidity followed by cold weather can cause cracking and ruin the image in photos. This is especially true in basements and attics where temperatures can fluctuate. Other things that damage photos are dirt, dust, and oil. Your photos can stick together, curl, or get moldy in damp environments. Insects and rodents can also tear away at paperwork. That all said, attics and basements are not the best locations for storing precious documents.

Your keepsakes should be stored in a place with consistent temperatures of 65 to 70 degrees and a humidity level of no more than 50%. Not all homes can maintain such consistent climate control, especially those without air conditioning. If this is the case, safety deposit boxes can be a safe solution for valuable papers and photos if another option is needed.  When storing your photos, it is best not to keep the negatives with the photos. Just in case something happens, you will have the opportunity to re-print the photos if they are stored in two different locations. Ideally, your photos should be scanned as well and backed up on your computer as well as cloud storage and CDs.

When making decisions to display valuable papers or photos in your home, think about making a copy and keeping the original in storage. Sunlight will slowly fade the photograph. In addition, glass will sometimes stick to the photo in the picture frame. To be safe, make a high-quality photocopy to ensure the preservation of the original.

It’s also important to never write on the backs of photos with ball point pens or use anything acidic. Acids can break down the photos over time and destroy the image. If a document or photo needs special protection, consider wrapping it in acid free tissue or paper to protect it from environmental elements. You should avoid using plastic bags, storage containers, or non-acid-free photo boxes. It may be tempting to use these means of storage because they are inexpensive and available everywhere, but they will not protect your papers and photos in the long run. Use only lignin-free, acid-free, buffered paper for photos and papers. These products can also be used in-between pages in photo albums. Use only PVC free plastics such as polyester, mylar, polypropylene, polyethelyne, and Tyvek.

These are just a few suggestions about how to preserve your precious memories. You made the decision to keep the papers and photos, so be sure to store and preserve them in a way that you and future generations will be able to enjoy them for years to come!

Image-11Elaine has been taking and organizing photos for over three decades. 15 years ago, she was amongst many pioneers who began chronicling the lives of her family through traditional scrapbooking. Today, her skills include but are not limited to: digital and traditional photo organization.
Elaine is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) and is the President for the CT Chapter of NAPO. She is also a Certified Personal Photo Organizer and member of the Association of Personal Photo Organizers (APPO).