We collect all sorts of different things throughout our lives. Some of these items may have quite the story behind them and, as such, possess immense sentimental value and are passed down through generations. Such family heirlooms or other items you have collected that have great sentimental and/or monetary value need to be properly taken care of to last even more generations.
In this article, we will go over the basics of how to store your valuable heirlooms and collectibles.
Climate factors to consider
The microclimate of the space in which you store your antiques is crucial for their longevity. Improper storage conditions can quickly degrade your precious belongings and leave them tarnished, damaged or even destroyed. There are three main climatic factors to consider:
It is vital to avoid letting direct light fall upon your sensitive items as much as possible. This includes sunlight and any other form of UV light, as it can quickly degrade sensitive materials, leading to irreparable damage.
When you just can’t avoid light, regularly rotating your items, or even better, covering them in a specialised fabric, will help preserve your items for much longer. Smaller items are more easily protected from the light, as they can be placed in acid-free boxes. Putting your items in boxes or covering them with fabric also has the added bonus of keeping them dust-free!
Avoid temperature extremes – temps that are too high or too low can damage many items, be they new or old. What is even more important to avoid are significant temperature fluctuations, as such sudden changes can cause immediate damage, like warping, cracking and splitting. Wooden items and furniture are especially vulnerable to big temperature swings.
To avoid such temperature extremes and amplitudes, store your heirlooms and collectibles in places where temps stay relatively stable throughout the year. Such spaces are often the same ones you occupy, so storing antiques where you live might not be best if you prefer less clutter.
As with temperature, the same rule is valid for humidity – avoid extremes. When the air is too dry, items lose their water content and become brittle. Meanwhile, when the relative humidity is too high, you’re inviting mould and mildew to grow and destroy your belongings. The sweet spot is right around the middle – 50% relative humidity. You can measure the moisture content of the air using a hygrometer and then control it using a humidifier and/or dehumidifier.
Spaces in your house, like the basement or attic, might seem like an obvious space to store your antiques, but first, you have to consider how the microclimate there will affect your precious items. If you’re worried that you don’t have a safe place for your heirlooms, it is best to invest in a storage service that offers proper climate control.
Storing photos and paper heirlooms
Direct sunlight can cause the most harm to photographs, be they a century or a year old. If you want to keep the photos on display, then they should be framed with special glass that filters out UV light. If you’re going to store them for a long time, place them flat in boxes with a layer of acid-free paper between them. Avoid storing photos in places where the climatic conditions might deteriorate them quickly.
Important/old documents like birth certificates, deeds for properties and so on should be protected from excessive moisture, heat and light. Never fold or staple them, but rather just keep them inside an envelope made of acid-free paper. Store them lying flat in a file box, never upright.
Storing clothing and fabric items
Clothing and other items made of fabric are also sensitive to moisture and light. They should be stored in a special acid-free box containing muslin stuffing, cedar chips or other suitable stuffings. It’s not recommended to keep antique fabric items hanging, but if you must, use a plastic, padded hanger. If you can, avoid hanging heavier items that could stretch out and tear if you can.
Take care to properly clean clothes and other fabrics you are going to store, if possible. Take them to a dry cleaner who is experienced in handling delicate items. When it comes to very old garments, like your great-great grandmother’s wedding dress, it is best to avoid cleaning them at all, to avoid damaging them in any way.
Jewellery is more durable than photos or fabrics, but you still need to worry about tarnish. Keep your precious trinkets stored in a velvet or satin-lined box for the best protection. You can also wrap them in special tissue paper or keep them in a cloth bag.
When cleaning jewellery, you have to remember that the wear and tarnishing they have accumulated throughout the years makes them more valuable. This degree of tarnishing is what appraisers use to judge how old an item is and whether it has been cleaned properly.
Storing antique items
When it comes to antique items, such as your great-grandfather’s pocket watch, the hundred-year-old rocking chair you bought at a flea market, or the portrait of your great-great aunt, they all require different and specific care. The general rules of light, temperature and humidity should always be adhered to. Still, if you’re worried about exceedingly old and precious items, you should always consult a specialist on how to store your antiques. For items that are not that old or delicate, properly packaging and storing them in a climate-controlled storage facility is more than enough to keep them from cluttering your home while also preserving your family’s heritage or your personal collection.
Whether your family has been passing down heirlooms for generations or you have a collection of antiques, it’s important to know how to store them properly. Whether they tell a story or just look pretty, when properly cared for, some items can last for hundreds of years. If you’re afraid that you don’t have the proper facilities to store such precious items, all you need to do is invest in the right self-storage service.