Preserving Family Papers and Vital Documents


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 for any comments, or if you wish to discuss preservation projects.

chemical sensitivities

What Are You Wearing? Tips for Housekeeping Pros Helping Chemically Sensitive Clients

My work as a housekeeper has lead me to some very fulfilling assignments. I’ve assisted hoarders, special needs families, and the chronically ill. However, it is those clients who are allergy and chemically sensitive that are the most challenging to help. I will explain my history with this group and how I successfully assisted my clients with their unique cleaning needs.

One of my first assignments was with a terminally ill cancer patient who wished to remain at home as long as possible. Sara, as I will call her, was battling a rare form of blood cancer for almost ten years. Her small, frail body had withstood the various chemotherapy and radiation treatments, but her immune system could no longer fight natural infective or synthetic agents. If she ventured outside during a day of high allergen count, or if she caught a whiff of bug spray, she would be bedridden for a few days. She feared the common cold or flu would kill her.

My duties were simple: washing dishes, sweeping, moping, wiping down counters, and making the bed. Her requests weren’t extraordinary, but her prerequisites were exact and nonnegotiable.

Sara’s nose was like a hound dog. In spite of her requirements and my adherence to no perfumes, fragrant soaps or shampoos, I was in the penalty box my first day of work. I used a commercial brand “sensitive” laundry detergent that wasn’t fragrance free. I worked in one room while she waited in another, shouting her requests to me. She suggested baking soda for my work clothes, so I complied.

My second day at work was better – I could tell she was genuinely happy to see me, not just because I was cleaning her home, but because my presence would not be an issue.

I do not have a background in chemistry, but I do know through trial and error what products irritate and effect some clients. Here is how I prepare before arriving at a sensitive home.

My food choices change right before an assignment. I avoid strong smelling foods or those with garlic, onion, pickles, etc. I stick with simple salads, fruit, and steamed vegetables.

I prefer Crystal Body Deodorant, the roll-on product, for my underarms. There are no aluminum ingredients or fragrances to this product. It does require several applications daily, especially if going to multiple assignments during the Texas summer.

For haircare, I use J.R. Liggett’s Original Formula Shampoo Bar. I do not apply any hair gel or other sprays. I wear a ball cap to keep my hair out of trouble, or I wear a bandana for my most sensitive patients.

This job is not a beauty contest, so I avoid any makeup, lip gloss, nail polish, or lotions before I head out to an assignment.

I put on my cleaning clothes right before I leave my home. I am fine with using plain baking soda for my work clothes. There are many reasons why homemade laundry detergent doesn’t work, and many online articles explaining why. I wear the same clothes for my assignments, so if they’re not perfectly clean, I’m ok with that.

I do not figure out if my clients are certain they have sensitivities. If my clients say their body reacts negatively to certain scents or chemicals, I believe them. My goal is to provide the best cleaning service possible, reassuring my clients that their interaction with me will be a pleasant experience. It’s the least I can do, because the last thing I want to hear from my clients is, “What are your wearing?!?”.

Please note: I am not compensated by any person or company when I mention a certain product.