organization

Preserving Family Papers and Vital Documents

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A lovely client of mine was very nostalgic – it was very difficult for her to let go of items that she believed were keepsakes. It took gentle coaxing to help her distinguish what was valuable and what was ready for donation, recycling, or disposing.

She was a bibliophile, but only of cookbooks. Hundreds of cookbooks, placed horizontally or vertically, caused some of the shelves to sag under the weight. The books had not been read in years, and moths had taken advantage of the dark, cool environment.

There were boxes of legal documents, personal letters, postcards, and stamp collections, some many decades old. Stored in shoe boxes, the materials were slowly disintegrating.

My primary focus was to separate, examine, and preserve the most important paperwork. Here is my preservation protocol.

  1. I found the coolest room in the home and cleaned the area as quickly as possible.
  2. I moved as many documents as I could to that location, placing the boxes about a foot off the ground to avoid damage from water leaks.
  3. I kept the area out of direct sunlight
  4. I made sure the temperature remained at 70 degrees.
  5. The humidity in the room was kept relatively low with good air circulation, using a dehumidifier during the hottest Texas days.

Once the documents were secured, I began sifting through the boxes. Many boxes had no labels and were disorganized. I separated and temporarily placed legal documents, personal letters, and other paperwork in sturdy boxes lined with acid-free paper.

Loose, vintage photos were placed in low PVC photo refill pages. Proper documentation and organization would be done later, with photos mounted on high quality paper.  All other loose photos were placed in tight fitting boxes that were customized to the photo’s size.

I did not encounter any important books that had odors. If I did, I would use MicroChamber paper to remove mold or mildew.

There were several newspaper articles the owner wished to preserve. I photocopied the articles and placed those chronologically in a labeled photo album. I placed the originals in acid-free, lignin-free paper, and labeled a tight-fitting box, “Newspaper clippings – photocopies in ABC photo Album”.

This is only a summary of what was done with the important paperwork. My protocol for the books and stamp collections will be discussed in the near future.

As always, please contact me at AbilityHousehold@gmail.com for any comments, or if you wish to discuss preservation projects.