How to Store Family Heirlooms & Collectibles

There are many aspects to take into consideration and put into practice when storing collectibles and heirlooms into storage. These practices become exceptionally vital when preserving the quality of collectibles and family heirlooms. We provide some tips and things to keep in mind so you can keep your valuables in good shape and free of damage while using self storage

Things to Consider When Storing Family Heirlooms

The three biggest variables to factor in when storing collectibles, heirlooms, and antiques are light, temperature, and humidity. When not taken into consideration, these three items will have the largest impact on your stored items. Keeping these in check will help guarantee the preservation of your valuable items and help prevent any damage from the elements.

Let’s take a minute and break down what these mean and what you should be focusing on.


The main thing you can do is try and avoid direct light, especially UV/sunlight, from touching your sensitive items as much as possible. The reason is that light can dry many materials out and create irreparable damage over time. It also speeds up naturally occurring chemical reactions. When light cannot be avoided, regularly rotating items and covering them with specialized fabric made to keep light out can reduce the speed of deterioration. And if small enough, place the items inside boxes.

When using self storage for your valuables, you should cover them with at the very least dust covers. And, those important smaller items can be packed into our specially treated boxes to help prevent mildew and protect them from the sun and fluorescent light as you roll open the storage door when you access your storage unit. Both are available for purchase in our rental office at all locations.

Think of your patio or beach umbrella. Those are coated to protect you from harmful UV rays which can damage your skin. The same goes for your valuable wood antiques and other items where sunlight and even fluorescent lighting can cause damage.


Avoiding extreme changes is the most crucial thing when dealing with temperature. Large fluctuations in temperature can cause immediate damage, such as warping and splitting for old furniture and wooden items.

Because the temperature range is so important to minimize, you should select a temperature control storage unit for your valuables. These storage units keep a temperature range between 55-80 degrees year-round, regardless of how hot or cold it is outside.

Again, think of yourself. When it’s too hot you turn on the A/C and wear light clothing; when it’s too cold you crank up the heat and layer your clothing and use blankets. Your collectibles don’t have that luxury, so you need to take temperature into consideration when storing them for long periods of time.


Once again avoiding extremes when storing family heirlooms is ideal. When the air is too dry, items can become brittle. When the air is too wet with high humidity, items can develop mildew. The ideal humidity point is 50% moisture. This can be controlled with humidifiers and dehumidifiers, depending on the natural moisture content of the storage space. A hygrometer, which can be purchased at many hardware stores can help monitor those levels. Using a product like DampRid can also help pull the moisture out of the air.

Again, to help keep the humidity down, choose a temperature control storage unit for your items. Because the units are heated and cooled year-round, the humidity will be closer to what you feel in your home and be more consistent.

That’s right, back to you. When the air is too dry, your skin starts to itch and flake and you end up using tons of extra moisturizer to relieve the symptoms. And, when the air is too humid, your skin can get oily and break out more easily. Think of the coldest winter months when your nostrils stick together as you breathe in from the dry air and you want to scratch the skin right off your arm. Now think of the humid August days where you feel like you can cut the air with a knife it’s so thick and you feel like you’re back in high school with blemish after a blemish.

Read more about common mistakes when using storage.

Here are some other helpful tips for storing your collectibles and family heirlooms:

Avoid Cleaning and General Handling.

This may seem odd, but the more you handle and move antiques and collectibles the more you risk damaging them. The oils in your skin can cause deterioration and speed up chemical reactions. So when it is necessary to handle your priceless items, wear gloves to protect their finishes, and only move them as needed.

The reason to not excessively clean your family heirlooms, collectibles, or antiques while storing is that you may actually decrease the value of those items. Many vintage items are more valuable with their natural patinas (layer of age) on them. When in doubt, if an item needs to be cleaned or has a patina, do some quick research and determine the value of the item first.

If you think about old coins for a moment, a coin dealer can tell pretty quickly if the coin was cleaned just by looking at it with the naked eye or using a magnifying glass. Over time, coins often develop toning that increases their value. By cleaning them to make them “shinier”, you are actually decreasing the value quite substantially. That “dirty” look isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The same idea goes for antiques and collectibles.

When cleaning is necessary, here are a few items to have on hand that will help keep stored family heirlooms clean but will do so safely without causing damage:

  • A soft-bristled brush can remove dust easily.
  • For more pesky dust issues, a can of moisture-free compressed air can do the trick.
    (Note to self when using compressed air, make sure to be at an appropriate distance from the item that needs to be cleaned. Compressed air is under high pressure and could cause damage to fragile items if you stand too close. Also be sure to have a shop vac nearby, as compressed air can really make the dust fly all over the place if the item is covered with it.)
  • Cotton swabs can also be a good call for small tight corners and spaces.
  • If there’s more than just dust that needs to be removed, distilled water should be your first choice. It has had the chemical elements processed out of it so that no residue will be left behind to cause damage.
  • Isopropyl alcohol can remove the hardest dirt with the least amount of concern for preserving the item. Though when using the alcohol, pay attention to the finishes on your items, it can cause dullness and actually remove or damage certain surfaces. If you can, test a small area that is not visible, like inside a drawer or under a tabletop before you clean the entire item.

When packing smaller items, fragile items, and items that naturally decay over time like old photographs, there are ways to limit the damage that may come. Using archival, acid-free, blank paper will assure that the packing material itself does not damage your valuables. DO NOT use printed newspaper, because over longer storage periods the ink may transfer to your items. DO wrap all items individually, as this will ensure no accidental rubbing or chipping will occur when you store them.

Storage Boxes and Bins for Storing Family Heirlooms

When choosing storage bins or boxes, choose air-tight, acid-free options. You will also want to use specially treated boxes that are made specifically for storage, like the ones we have available in our rental offices so that the box itself is not the cause of any damage. Using free boxes that you picked up from the local grocery store is not a good idea. They are made for temporary use, and any residue from what was once inside could cause problems.

DO NOT store items in plastic bags, especially for Organic (paper, cardboard, rag/linen, etc.) materials. By using plastic, it can cause the collection of moisture over time and damage or break down your valuables. When storing collectibles in bins or boxes; make sure to pack like with like and heaviest to lightest. And you can never use too much filler between items in your bins or boxes.


Now you have the tips and techniques on storing collectibles, heirlooms, and antiques. The big question is do you have the room or conditions needed to store those items at home? If the answer is no, that’s where we can help! We have temperature control storage units in a variety of sizes that will provide the ideal setting to store those items for you. Stop into any of our locations and speak with the property manager about your best options. Or if you already know what you need, you can rent a storage unit online any time!

Originally posted 7/7/2016; updated 8/10/2021

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