Tips for Preserving Your Physical Materials

Kaitlyn Jarnagin

February 28, 2024

Even if you preserve your digital materials on, there’s still something undeniably special about physical archives. Whether it’s a collection of family photographs, historical documents, or cherished memorabilia, these tangible pieces of history hold unique significance and should not be discarded. However, ensuring their longevity requires proper care and preservation techniques. By following a few simple tips, you can safeguard your physical materials and pass them on to future generations in the best condition possible.

Handling and Preparing Your Materials

It’s crucial to understand how to handle and prepare your materials properly before you even decide where and how to store them. These simple precautions can make a world of difference in preserving your materials.

  1. Wash your hands: Always wash your hands before handling materials to avoid transferring oils, dirt, or other contaminants. This simple step can prevent potential damage to your photographs and documents. Make sure your hands are completely dry before handing your materials.
  2. Wear gloves for photos: When dealing with photographs, consider wearing cotton gloves to prevent fingerprints or oils from affecting the image. However, for documents, gloves are unnecessary and may even impede your ability to handle them delicately. If you do not have gloves, try to only handle the edges of your photographs.
  3. Remove fasteners: Paperclips, staples, rubber bands, and other fasteners can rust or deteriorate and cause irreversible damage over time. Take the time to remove these fasteners from your materials before storing them.
  4. Consider disassembling photo albums: While photo albums hold sentimental value, they are often made of acidic paper that can degrade your photos over time. Consider digitizing album pages or transferring photos to acid-free containers to mitigate long-term damage. It’s best to remove the photos from the album, but if you cannot do so safely, try laying acid-free paper between the pages to help preserve the images.

Enclosures and Storage

Once your materials are prepared for storage, the next step is to choose suitable enclosures and storage solutions.

  1. Use protective sleeves: For slides or fragile photographs or documents, opt for plastic or acid-free paper sleeves to shield them from further deterioration. Look for polypropylene or polyethylene sleeves to minimize the risk of off-gassing. If you’re unsure where to find these types of sleeves, check out your local hobby, comic book, or scrapbook store.
  2. Opt for sturdy, acid free boxes: Look for acid-free boxes to store your materials. If these are not in your budget, a sturdy cardboard box will suffice. Avoid using tape to close the box, as the tape can off-gas or stick to your materials.
  3. Organize your materials: Store items in appropriately sized folders, sleeves, or envelopes to prevent shifting or folding and damage. Vertical storage is preferable to flat if you’re using folders, and avoid overfilling or underfilling containers.
  4. Label folders and boxes: Clearly label folders and boxes with essential metadata like dates and contents. This simple step will facilitate organization and accessibility for future generations.

Choosing the Right Storage Environment

One of the most important factors in keeping your materials as pristine as possible is the environment in which they are stored. Choosing the best possible environment can go a long way to making sure your materials do not deteriorate.

  1. Climate Control: Opt for a cool, dark, and dry location that doesn’t have a lot of temperature or humidity fluctuations. Ideally, maintain conditions below 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 60% humidity to prevent deterioration. Avoid storing materials in less than 15% humidity, as they can become brittle.
  2. Avoid attics, basements, and garages: Steer clear of attics, basements, and garages, which are prone to temperature fluctuations and moisture. Instead, opt for a stable environment away from food, pets, and pests.
  3. Display Copies: While displaying original items can be tempting, consider making copies to preserve the originals. Exposure to light and air can accelerate degradation, so protect delicate items whenever possible.

Preserving a physical archive can seem overwhelming, but choosing the right environment and storage containers can go a long way. By following these tips, you can ensure that your cherished materials withstand the test of time, enriching the lives of future generations with their stories and memories.