How To: Store Your Things

Safeguard your belongings by putting them in the right place in the right way.

By Bob Vila | Updated Jul 23, 2020 1:35 PM

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Ways To Store Things

An electrical inspector points out that storing clothes in this closet would be a safety code violation.

Where you store depends largely on what you are storing. Clothes will smell musty if stored in a damp basement; antique furniture won’t hold up if subjected to extreme temperature changes or high humidity. It’s important to do your homework up front to provide a safe environment for all of your possessions and furnishings.

A Holistic Approach
A house free of fire hazards is essential for the well being of its occupants and the safekeeping of family possessions. Check your home routinely from top to bottom to insure its overall health. Schedule a professional home inspection with your local fire inspector or fire department. In general, use extreme caution when storing flammable materials and never store household chemicals, paints, turpentine, and the like near a heat source. Check attics for mice because these pests can seriously damage goods and even eat through electrical wiring. Also make sure that smoke detectors are present and in good working order on every floor of the home, including your attic and storage spaces.

Water, in every form, is a huge hazard for safe storage. A leak-free roof is essential when storing in an attic; a properly graded foundation with adequate perimeter drainage is necessary for a dry basement. Even occasional water in the basement can make storage a nightmare. Humidity and condensation can cause serious problems for your home and its contents.

Long-Term Storage
When it comes to long-term storage, out of sight should never mean out of mind. Regular inventory checks are critical to ensure that your possessions are free from damage. Mice, moths, silverfish, temperature extremes, humidity, and water can damage valuables beyond repair. Organization and a master plan for storing and safeguarding are critical for responsible long-term storage: Label all boxes; post a map of your basement or attic in a visible location; maintain a regular schedule for spot checks to protect against infestation or damage.

Books and other precious documents are especially vulnerable to environmental factors like temperature and humidity. Temperatures between 60 and 75 degrees and humidity levels between 50 and 60 percent are ideal. While a large collection of books may fare better in a metal cabinet, bear in mind that moisture can damage contents, and corrode your storage facility as well.

Storing in cardboard boxes is a risk. Silverfish, certain types of roaches, and bookworms are attracted to the starchy materials found in book bindings and can even eat their way through the boxes to get to the books themselves. Silverfish lay one to three eggs a day and can live up to three years, so an undetected infestation can result in significant damage. Preventative measures are essential, because infestations are usually discovered too late. If you must store in boxes, purchase fresh ones from a moving company. Also, inspect used and antique books thoroughly before packing to make sure that they are pest-free. Don’t pack too tightly — books need a degree of ventilation. Whenever possible, store books in a bookcase on a main living floor, and use acid-free boxes and protectors for storing documents and photographs.

On-hand Storage
Keeping items ready and on-hand requires tight organization and accessible storage. Closets, armoires, and out-of-sight landings may be perfect for guest pillows, blankets or wrapping paper. Closets can also be outfitted to maximize storage space and organization. Closet systems offer components sold in sections, which allows for a custom build and fit. In addition to closet organizers, bins on rollers, and slide-out drawers make cupboard storage and under-bed storage a snap.

Plastic tubs make excellent containers for bulk storage like clothing and holiday items. Portable wardrobe bags made of durable vinyl are ideal for hanging clothes in an attic or basement, provided the rafters or joists can bear the weight. A cedar closet is an excellent storage solution for a basement or garage. However, while cedar and mothballs prevent moths, they do not eradicate them once larvae are present. Larvae are attracted to even lightly soiled woolens, so make sure to dry clean or launder your clothing before storing.

Attic Storage
Attics are often reserved for the treasures that represent our link to the past. Whether family silver, valuable paintings, rugs, or handmade quilts are being stored, special care and attention are essential in order to assure safekeeping for generations to come. Antique furniture was crafted when homes lacked the luxury of central heating and cooling systems. As a result, the humidity level in the home was fairly stable—60 percent was typical. Today, in colder climates, humidity levels within the home can drop to as low as 30 percent. Most furniture can withstand subtle changes in humidity and temperature—but drastic changes can weaken glued joints, and cause a variety of ills ranging from cracked or split surfaces, to buckled or warped panels. Make sure that your attic is properly insulated and ventilated.

“I Need It Now”
Storing everyday items may not require as much attention in terms of packaging and protection, but organization is essential in order to save time and reduce clutter. Here convenience becomes a necessity. Store everyday items in the rooms where they are most often used. A bed with a built-in captain’s drawer neatly houses excess clothing; armoires and entertainment centers conceal video tapes and games; drawer organizers and lazy susans make the search for pots, pans, and kitchen tools a breeze. Built-ins like linen closets and food pantries should also top your list when moving into new construction. Adding one or both can fit easily into renovation plans, as well.