The Photographs in Your Attic: 3 Myths

Are you like some members of my family?  Have you stockpiled boxes of photographs thinking that you’ll eventually frame or place in an album?  Oh dear.

Before you add anything more to that collection, let me help you with a few lessons learned from both sides of my family in recent years.

Myth: All your photos can be safely stored in the attic.

Reality: Do you hang out in your attic in the summer?  Nope. Neither should your photographs. Just think about all those old damaged photographs from your Grandmother Tessa’s trunk. It wasn’t just tobacco and coffee staining those up. It was heat, humidity, and mold. While the attic might be the "safest" place -- nobody will accidentally toss them out -- its also generally the warmest place in the house. And the most humid. Climate changes between seasons are enough to leave them a crumbled mess.

Solution: No need to display them. No need for them to be convenient, but temperature control matters.  Just keep them in your main living area or the basement. High shelves, to avoid flooding, are best. 

Myth: The photographs are in plastic so they should be fine.  

Reality:  Is the plastic merely water repellant or is it waterproof?  I’m asking for a friend who had air conditioner ducts leak. . . and a relative of said friend who had a leaky roof ruin boxes of baseball cards and genealogy research. True story. But there’s more. Is the plastic acid-free? (i.e. Are there any chemicals, which might unintentionally harm the photographs?)

Solution:  

  1. Check the details on that plastic storage box before you invest in it.

  2. Periodically check the box for cracks, holes, or faulty seals. (e.g. Have you overpacked it and prevented it from sealing?).

  3. Gauge the weight of the box. If you had to move it, could you? No, really?

Myth: No one goes into that attic but me.

Reality: Ever experience a squirrel invasion?  Or had to fumigate an attic for bugs? Does your cat or dog ever escape up there?  Could you find all their, ahem, droppings, if you had to? Attics get unexpected critters and they don’t all discriminate in what they destroy. But I’m talking about humans too.  

Solution: Check boxes for food and drink stains that could attract critters. If you find any, get a new box.  Bonus points to you if you use acid-free storage boxes.