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Your Personal Preservation Project

stacked paperThroughout our lives, we accumulate a serious amount of “stuff” whether it’s paper or photographs, items or clothing, and our digital collection might even be bigger. Often, we want to pass along items to our family members or perhaps donate our memories to an institution that would want to use them for research or reference. It’s noble to think about passing along these treasures of ours, but there’s a time commitment to identifying the value of the items and finding someone to go through them.

Last year, a book called “The gentle art of Swedish death cleaning: how to free yourself and your family from a lifetime of clutter” by Margareta Magnusson arrived in libraries and bookstores. It’s easy to admit that the title seems a bit morbid, but the concept as outlined by NBC News ( ) shows that going through your items regularly may contribute to better overall health and outlook. For those of you not interested in this concept, you can still tackle your items in a straightforward and positive way.

First, think about everything you might want to pass along as your collection. This is everything that you consider valuable and that might have a place elsewhere down the road. Looking at everything, break them into categories of your choosing. There are no right or wrong answers but some examples could be photos, letters, books, items, furniture, jewelry.

Next is to setup a work space and a dedicated storage space for keeping your collection as you organize it. As you go, you can choose to merely break items into piles and then house in boxes or create a grouping of piles for keeping by item (i.e. breaking up pictures by who is in the photos – a pile for Boy, a pile for Girl, a pile to copy for both). As you move along through paperwork and other items, consider if they are truly valuable and in need of keeping. Let yourself enjoy the art of letting go – for example, if you never look at yearbooks, consider donating them to local history agencies or perhaps even your schools that may no longer have a copy of them or create a special memory box for your relatives to see those things that you most valued, but are okay with them giving away after you can no longer use them. Providing a life story can be incredibly insightful and for those who love family history enlightening about those things you valued, treasured memories, important recipes, and more. Organizing items to make it easy for your family to see what was valuable to you can be incredibly important and adding information about where and what you’d like to do with certain collections can be helpful after you are gone. Knowing things like who is getting what items can assist with streamlining your collection when you cannot give instructions.

For use of your collection now, consider scanning your items so that they can be preserved and kept safely. Scan newspaper items and photographs that are in poor shape (damaged, ripped, or lightened). If you have funny letters, postcards, drawings, etc. from your past, scanning allows you to share them on social media, email to an old friend, or even forward along to relatives to talk about the story of the item. Scanning every item in your collection might be overwhelming, but doing it a bit at a time might help you to get through it.

Best practices for your items:

In order to guarantee your items stay in good shape, consider the following recommendations:

  • NEVER store valuable items in the basement or the attic. Store documents and audiovisual items in a cool/dry place with stable temperature and humidity. Ideal is 68 F with a humidity of 40%. The more stable the items can be the better preserved they will be
  • Attempt to store items away from outer wall vents and pipes and at least 6 inches off the ground.
  • Store items out of direct sunlight and limit light exposure as much as possible.
  • Store like items together (letters with other letters, photographs with other photographs). If items break down the chemicals will negatively affect other items, causing discoloration and/or disintegration.
  • Consider getting rid of newsprint, if possible. It is highly acidic and can be unstable. If possible, photocopy clippings on acid free paper to minimize damage to the rest of your collection. Otherwise, store the items away from other documents and photographs.
  • If items have major damage (mold, spores, etc.), consider sending it to a document conservator and/or remove away from collection, storing in mylar or other protective materials to minimize damage to other items.

Proper Storage

  • Handle items with care, storing them in sturdy boxes to guarantee protection for your items, but also limits its chances of collapsing.
  • Don’t use cardboard as it contains chemicals that could damage your items. Consider using acid-free boxes and folders to protect your items.
  • Store items in boxes as close to their original size, so that items can lay flat, neatly and are supported. Boxes that are too big can cause damage like curling or creasing or breakage; too small can lead to sticking and cramping/crushing. If necessary, protect items with acid-free materials to protect them and then properly store in a larger enclosure.

For more specific details on preservation of items, visit the Library of Congress’ page on collections care – or the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works’ Caring for Your Treasure page –

Next week, we’ll cover best practices for saving family heirlooms and digital materials.