Essentials of Safe Storage
Updated: Jul 17, 2020
Any property that has value to you – works of art, antiques, rare books, and even old family photos or your grandmother’s wedding dress – will last longer when properly stored.
Most people understand that objects and works of art are vulnerable to damage and deterioration. But some people never consider how they store their valuable property. Choosing a potentially risky location, using improper containers or packing materials, or unknowingly storing an object upright that should be stored flat unnecessarily puts your personal property at risk.
The goal of safe storage is to create a protective, controlled environment that slows or mitigates deterioration and ensures the long-term preservation of important personal property or a valuable collection. Don’t underestimate the importance of the storage you choose.
To identify whether you’re taking the right steps to protect and preserve what you own, let’s consider the risks one by one.
Where are you storing important property at home?
Choose a dark, dry, cool and secure location (closet, cabinet or room) with good air circulation that is free of excessive heat or humidity. Try to avoid attics (too hot and dry) and basements (often damp and at risk of floods and mold), and locations close to heat and air conditioning vents. Especially avoid storing objects near or below water sources like bathrooms, kitchens and against walls with plumbing risers within. And if you live in an apartment building, be wary of your upstairs neighbor’s kitchen or bathrooms as well.
Do your storage containers effectively protect objects or works of art?
Beyond physical protection, containers act as microclimates that protect objects from environmental risks like swings in temperature and humidity, light damage and dust. But because they're enclosed spaces, it’s critically important to choose containers made of materials that won’t transfer harmful acids onto objects or emit dangerous chemicals that can get trapped in the container, interact with objects and actually accelerate deterioration.
Purchase archival containers (boxes, trays, cases, albums, portfolios) made of either acid-free paper or polyvinyl chloride-free plastic from reputable suppliers. Avoid using containers purchased from any other source - there’s no guarantee they’re safe. Archival suppliers specialize in durable, quality products that meet current preservation testing standards. You’ll find many options that can hold objects of different shapes, sizes and type.
A general rule of thumb: select containers that are opaque, create sufficient space around the object, and provide appropriate support. Fragile or brittle works, or those with repairs, may require extra consideration. Chose containers that enable you to easily remove objects without causing damage like crimped edges or dinged corners. Consider features like clamshell-style attached lids and drop-down sides for easily sliding out flat, matted items.
Are the materials touching your objects endangering them?
Whatever directly touches the object must also be made of acid free paper or stable plastic. That includes envelopes, sleeves, folders, protectors, bags, tissue papers and batting. Again, purchase from reputable archival suppliers. Avoid common packing materials like zippered plastic food bags, plastic wrap, packing popcorn and bubble wrap.
Learn what materials are best to protect exactly what you’re storing. All objects have different preservation issues. Not sure? Contact me. Archival suppliers also provide detailed product information and recommendations on their websites.
Could your storage method cause damage to individual pieces?
Some works are best stored upright; others are best stored flat, rolled, wrapped in paper or placed in polyester sleeves. Improperly stored works can become permanently damaged. Again, learn the best method to protect your property.
Avoid overfilling storage containers or folding or bending works to fit. When storing framed works, make sure they've been framed with acid free materials. Over time, acidic mats, backing boards and wood frames age faster and can cause severe, irreparable damage to works on paper and canvases.
Some additional words of wisdom:
Never store individual works or storage containers directly on the floor. Always elevate on a shelf or platform in case of flood.
Photograph each work and document its condition so that you can monitor changes or damage over time.
Track your objects with an inventory. Not only will it enable you to find things more easily, but an inventory records descriptive information about your objects and centralizes critical documentation about each.
In short, storage at home is a balance between what you can reasonably control and what’s optimal for your property or collection. You may not be able to replicate the controlled environment of a museum or archives, but responsible choices reduce risk and protect your property. That’s especially critical if you plan to sell specific items or pass them on to the next generation.
If you need guidance to address your storage or create an inventory, I’m here to help. I work with collectors, homeowners and estates. Reach out and I can make help you make the right choices for your property and space. You can always sign up for a free 30-minute consult.
New York City
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