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Family heirlooms can bring past generations into the present. In addition, these historical artifacts can serve to connect family members who may have never physically met directly.

Maybe you’re holding onto your family heirlooms for sentimental reasons, or perhaps you feel like you can’t possibly get rid of something that has been passed down through the years, even though you don’t like it, have any place to put it, or have no room to store it. Ask yourself a few questions as you decide what you really should keep.

Am I keeping this purely because it reminds me of someone or because someone asked me to keep it? If another family member just assumed you would want the item or that you should take it, don’t feel guilty about letting it go. However, if you do attach sentimental memories to it, always consider keeping it.

Heirloom preservation

Do I have room to store this safely? If you don’t have room to display the item in your home, or you don’t want to show it to keep it preserved, you should have a safe place to store it properly, like a climate-controlled self-storage unit.  If the only place to store these delicate items is in a basement, make sure to hire a reputable, insured company to have the basement inspected for leaks, cracks, mold, or moisture.  These are silent killers that could wipe away all of your precious heirlooms in an instant so make sure the basement is waterproofed if needed.

Do I know the story behind this family heirloom? Unfortunately, unless the item has an interesting story attached to it, it may be something of which to let go. If you part ways with family heirlooms, first ask other family members if they would like them. Another family member might appreciate it or get more use out of it. However, if the item might be of value, you can try selling it at auction, list it in a consignment shop, or post it for an online auction.

If you’ve chosen to keep the items, knowing the proper way to store them is the first step in preserving these pieces for future generations to enjoy.

Protect all paper documents like birth certificates, marriage licenses, and files of notes from moisture, heat, and light. Don’t ever fold or staple them. And keep them inside an envelope made of Mylar or acid-free paper. Lay them flat in a file box, never upright.

Clothing or fabrics need special care.  All materials are sensitive to moisture and light and need storing in a special preservation box, between layers of tissue, muslin stuffing, mothballs, or cedar chips. If you’re hanging garments, use a plastic, padded hanger. Avoid hanging bulky, heavier items that could stretch out and tear.

Photographs are direct links to the past.   Direct sunlight will cause t harm to pictures, whether they are old or not. Photos for display should be framed with UV protective glass. Place them flat in secure boxes with a layer of acid-free tissue between photos if storing them. Avoid storing images in areas where temperature and humidity changes can wreak havoc on them.

How do you store family jewelry?

Most jewelry items (necklaces, rings, watches, and earrings) can be stored in a soft cloth bag and then placed in a jewelry box if you have the original one it came it you can use that.

Keep jewelry in secure places inside velvet or satin-lined boxes. Silver jewelry should be wrapped in either tissue paper or kept in a cloth bag to reduce tarnishing.

Some of the most long-lasting and valuable heirlooms which families preserve are antiques and furniture. However, before the preservation of antiques, one must understand what makes a piece valuable. Depending on the perspective of each collector, the original state of the antique might be what matters most. Others believe that it is understandable that an antique is not perfect, that it has signs of wear and tear such as craquelure or fading. For some, the current condition might be more critical. In such cases, it is essential to restore an item even if it is no longer original. To decide how to preserve your antiques, assess what is most necessary for you to the look of the piece, its practicality, or its monetary value. Sometimes, it is possible to compromise among these factors.

Certain materials, such as metal and marble, react to chemicals present in the air. This reaction is a concern for outdoor objects such as marble sculptures, iron architectural elements, etc. In addition, chemicals such as formaldehyde and acidic gases from wooden compounds will also harm historical objects.

Other objects are composed of incompatible materials for long-term storage when kept together. For example, wood and leather or wood and paint have built-in deterioration risks. Therefore, monitor these objects for any changes in condition.

Dust is an inherent enemy of furniture. Leave the natural or original finish alone. Instead, use a clean cloth and wipe the dust off regularly. Do not use over-the-counter products or spray as they damage the wood, especially if they contain oil.

Polish your antiques twice a year. Use beeswax or French polishing products that you apply, let dry overnight, and buff the next day.

Regulate the temperature and humidity where you are keeping the furniture. Any drastic changes in temperature or humidity levels will damage the wood. This damage is most likely to happen during transportation, so make sure your antiques are well-protected when moving them from one place to another. As for humidity, a dry environment might cause the wood to crack or split, while too much moisture might make it warp.

Protect antiques from direct sunlight. Prolonged exposure to the sun will fade, dry, or even make the finish crack on your favorite antique. Keep the curtains closed, especially when you are not using the room. Also, rotate your furniture so each side gets the same amount of sun exposure. Inspect your furniture regularly. Look for signs of any damage on your antiques. Water will cause damage, so dry it promptly. Wood worms may take residence in your antique, leaving tiny holes behind. The veneer may lift or crack, a definite sign that your antique needs attention.

If you elect to have your antique restored, select a company with a good reputation. Look around for someone who will transport your furniture with care, considering changes in temperature and humidity. Know upfront this process will be costly and will take time, but it is the only way to proceed if you want to retain your antiques’ value. There are no shortcuts in this case.

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