Collectible Storage Guide: Family Pictures

A smile, an event, a memory frozen in time -- family pictures are treasured and often handed down. The problem is, they can also take up lots of space, or don’t do well in your home that’s sweltering hot in the summer.

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Photos are delicate and often irreplaceable, so taking care to store them properly is essential. Here are collectible storage guide tips for your precious family pictures. 

Prepare the Photos

If you are the keeper of old family photos, enlist the help of the older members of the family to identify who is in the photos. Arrange a series of meetings where you invite the family members to take a walk down memory lane. 

Every photo tells a story, and having a record of who is in the photo and what the occasion was is a great way to preserve family memories. It’s also a great way to connect the younger and older generations. 

Depending on the age of the family members, it’s an opportunity to provide living history lessons. Use archival file cards and/or audio recordings to capture the information and the stories. 

Consider the Climate

Pictures are ink printed on paper. They are susceptible to climate conditions, such as too much or too little humidity. Too much humidity encourages mold or mildew growth. Too little, and the paper could become brittle. 

The ideal conditions are somewhere between 15% to 65% relative humidity, so a damp basement may not be the best choice. Direct sunlight will fade photographs, but so does fluorescent and UV light. Photos do best in dim lighting. 

And don’t forget about the temperature. Extreme temperature changes or anything over 75°F will damage the photos, so that could rule out both the garage and the attic. 

A self-storage unit that is climate controlled could be your best option to protect your family photos. For more, see: 3 Reasons You Might Need a Climate-Controlled Storage Unit

Storage Tips

Whether you decide to keep the photos in your home or in a self-storage unit, you will need to know how to properly store them. 

And some not-so-good news: All those self-stick photo albums with plastic pages may have been doing more harm than good to the photos. Over time, the adhesive can damage the paper. Your best choices are archival photo albums or boxes.


  • Handle your photos and negatives by the corners, with clean, non-lotioned hands.
  • Keep your photos out of areas prone to insects and rodents, who may chew on the paper.
  • Keep your photos away from damp areas or elevated from direct contact on a damp floor. Consider using shelves, pallets or wire racks.
  • Use storage boxes that fit the size of your photos, so they do not bend. 
  • Use storage materials that are free of acid or lignin, or dyes and recycled materials (that rules out the shoeboxes). All of these can damage the photographs. 
  • Use an index card to describe who is in the photo or what the event is about. Writing directly on the back of the photo can damage it, and the ink can bleed through.
  • Consider keeping acetate negatives in a cold storage facility to preserve them.
  • Label the boxes to identify contents easily.


  • Overpack the photos since they could bend or stick together. It’s better to use more boxes than cramming them into one box. Underfilling allows the photos to slide around and can lead to damage.
  • Fasten photos together with rubber bands or paper clips.
  • Attach photos with tape or glue, and do not use non-archival paper.
  • Store photos in envelopes or non-archival boxes such as shoe boxes. 
  • Stack photos if they could be subject to high humidity since they could stick together. 
  • Write on the back of photos because the ink could bleed through and damage the photo.
  • Use plastic bags as the material can damage photo paper and encourage moisture and mildew to grow.

Choosing a Self-Storage Unit

If you do decide to go with self-storage to store your family pictures, there are a few things to consider:

  • Does the facility offer climate-controlled storage? As mentioned earlier, climate can impact the preservation of photos.
  • What size units are available? Usually a smaller unit is all that’s needed for just photos. Keep in mind, though, that the smallest unit may not be climate controlled, so you may need to decide between space and climate. For more, see: Guide to Choosing the Right Self-Storage Unit Size
  • What is security like? You want to be sure your family memories are not stolen. For more, see: How to Safely Use a Self-Storage Unit

Photos are passports to the past, and with a few safety precautions (and a self-storage unit), you can preserve those precious memories for years to come.