If you do, it’s well worth the effort to make sure these items are taken care of properly. And, whenever I get questions about how best to do it — for art, books, textiles, etc. — I pull out my copy of Saving Stuff. I’ve owned the book since 2008, when it first came out, and it’s a reference I always keep close at hand.
As Deb Lee mentioned before, Saving Stuff encourages you to be selective about what you keep. But once you’ve decided something is a keeper, it teaches you how to make sure you’re taking good care of it.
Saving Stuff was written by Don Williams and Louisa Jaggar. Williams is a senior conservator at the Smithsonian Institution, so I trust his advice. Pair him up with a professional writer like Jaggar, and you’ve got a winning combination.
Jaggar got interested in the subject when she had a flood in her basement, and lost many items she treasured: old scrapbooks, photos, her daughter’s art projects, and more. She shared the story with her friend, Williams, and asked for advice. I loved this bit from The Christian Science Monitor’s interview with Jaggar:
“He helped save the Wright Brothers’ airplane, and he’s helped save Archie Bunker’s chair,” she says. “And I’m sitting there asking, ‘How do you save the macaroni art that my daughter made?'”
So how do you save stuff? Williams begins by explaining about perfect preservation:
The best way to ensure that stuff lasts is to place all your collectibles in an Egyptian tomb and then seal them in — after leaving the prerequisite deadly curse on all who dare enter. Stuff lasts for a really long time in a cursed tomb. Why? No light, no humidity, no contaminants, no bugs, no furry friends, and no people.
But since that’s not what anyone is going to do, he goes on to explain the major risk factors, and then tells us which ones are most relevant to different kinds of stuff we might be saving. The remaining chapters deal with the different forms of items we save: photos, newspapers, linens, old letters, sports memorabilia, etc.
While there’s plenty of detail for the dedicated preservationist, there are also numbered lists of simple rules: seven rules for photographs, eight rules for preserving coins and stamps, 20 rules for preserving textiles, 22 rules for caring for stringed wooden instruments, etc.
And the book sometimes gives you multiple ways to preserve a category of stuff. For example, for vintage books, there’s the “quick ’n’ dirty method,” the “middle road,” and “Pharaoh’s tomb” (the last one being for books you want to preserve forever).
If you have stuff you want to be sure you’re saving properly, this may be a book to buy or to borrow from your library to help you protect the few cherished sentimental items you choose to keep.