Ground zero: Keeping for keeps
I am not done yet. I wonder if I ever will be.
Yes, I got my parents’ house cleared out all right. I sold, salvaged, saved and scrapped — all to get the old homestead cleaned up and on the market. The place was pristine. All new interior paint and finishes screamed fresh start for the next home owner, except … for the garage.
That was the way station, where I temporarily off-loaded those family keepsakes that would take a deeper dive and more time than I had. Stacks of slides in carousels, military discharge papers, marriage certificates and diplomas remained until someone (me) sifted through with an archeologist’s attention and a genealogist’s care.
The earth-mover methods I’d been using wouldn’t work now.
Besides, if these archive-worthy items were going to last another lifetime, I knew they’d need special handling. So I parked them in the garage, putting off the project until the house sold.
Which happened fast. Thanks to the improvements we made and an uptick in the real estate market (pause here to insert coast-to-coast wave and shout out!) we had five offers in 48 hours, three over asking. (More on that in an upcoming column.) Suddenly, I needed to get serious about preservation.
My job, as unwitting family historian, is to preserve forever — or until my unborn grandchildren can save as holograms all on a computer chip smaller than a pinhead, whichever comes first —what I decide, after all the whittling, matters.
But save how? Anyone who has ever opened a box of old precious possessions and found mouse turds, dead bugs, yellowed brittle pages, or stains so established they have mortgages, knows what it means to store things wrong.
I needed to figure this out.
Coincidentally, The Container Store was opening its 60th store in my town of Orlando this week. I was invited for a sneak peek before opening day. I told my tour guide I was particularly interested in archival storage.
They had — brace yourself for the shock — exactly the right storage solution.
Full disclosure: I have mixed feelings about The Container Store. One of my nagging refrains is: “Don’t buy stuff for your stuff!” But The Container Store has a place in a well-ordered world, and it is about to have a new place in mine.
“We have been working with our customers on storage solutions for over 35 years,” said Karen Hartman, sales trainer for store. “We have given this a lot of thought.”
“Perfect,” I said. “Lay it on me.” If I do anything well, it’s benefit from the hard thinking of others. Excuse me, may I borrow that intelligence? That is pretty much how I get through life. Here’s what Hartman taught me about storing stuff for keeps.
- Edit, edit, edit. Then preserve. We all agree, right? Only store what is really, really important. But once you’ve sifted artifacts from debris, store it properly.
- Go archival. Look for archival labels when selecting storage supplies. Archival means it’s treated to protect keepsakes from the ravages of acid, dust, dirt, pests and light, so when the items are stored a long time they will stay in good shape, said Hartman.
- Acid as enemy. Though they seem harmless, paper and wood contain acids that will cause paper, photos and textiles to yellow and get brittle over time. Though cedar chests have long been used for storage, wood has natural tannic acid in it. “That old dresser drawer is an unsafe environment,” she said. Archival storage containers are acid free or acid neutral, meaning they have had the acid buffered.
- Consider it a long-term investment. Because these are not your ordinary boxes, archival storage items cost more. You pay for acid-free treatment and sturdier, reinforced corners that keep boxes from crushing when other boxes get stacked on them, which you know will happened. At The Container Store, prices range from $6 to $45 for boxes, which may encourage you even more to be selective about what you keep.
- File under forever. Treasures come in all sizes. So does archival storage. Archival quality boxes come in a dozen sizes, right for files, photos and garments. Store paper items, such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, immigration documents and military discharge papers, in archival file or garment boxes.
- Protective plastic. You’ll also want acid-free plastic when storing photos, CDs or DVDs, especially those that contain family photos. Archival plastic sleeves also keep baseball cards or stamp collections from degenerating.
- Don’t forget the tissue. “If you buy an archival box, then wrap items in paper that is not acid-free, you’ve defeated the purpose,” said Hartman. This is true for envelopes and folders that items are in. Make them acid-free.
- Clean it up. Don’t store dirty stuff. Have garments professionally cleaned. Remove any embellishments, like pins, which also can leave stains.
- Stuff and wrap. Before putting the lid on, use acid-free tissue to fill sleeves and soften folds of garments. You want no hard creases, because that is where a garment will breakdown. Once stuffed, wrap the whole garment in acid-free paper so no part is exposed. If you store more than one garment in a box, put tissue between them.
- Put a name on it. Once you’ve carefully packaged, don’t drop the ballpoint until you label. Most archival storage boxes have a label area on the end.
- Where to store. Because most folks don’t need ready access to their keepsakes, they often store them in garages or attics, where climate control is the worst. “You have to be very careful about what gets stored there,” Hartman said. The only thing safe is glass, which will stand up to both flood and fire. For other items you want to last, store them in clean, climate-controlled places.
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through marnijameson.com.