Along with the devastation that Hurricane Harvey wreaked on my family, friends and countless others in Houston*, there was another sad consequence that haunted me: what about all those precious memories that were lost? Houses were chest-deep in water, with floating pieces of furniture, particularly credenzas and dressers, that must have been filled with countless possessions, many of them photos, treasures or family heirlooms.
That thought has troubled me for weeks, as I don’t know how I could manage, knowing that my wedding videos, my son’s first masterpiece or historic family photos were lost forever. This tragedy and the many that followed shortly after – Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and the two earthquakes in Mexico – have prompted me to share strategies to safeguard your memories in the event of a natural disaster, fire or flood.
Step One: Collect
If you’re like most of the people I organize, you probably have your family treasures in various places around your home: a living room cabinet, a hall closet, the guest bedroom or the garage. Pull everything that is of value to you and bring it all to a central location. To make it easier, you can do this by category or by family member – perhaps start with your childhood memorabilia, then move on to that of your spouse and children; heirlooms from family members; artwork; home movies; photos.
Step Two: Cull
This part of preserving your memories can be the hardest. You can’t keep everything. And in the event of a fire, earthquake or flood, you can’t take it all with you, either. So with a goal to decrease the collection, pick the best, save the dearest and move on.
Some advice to help you: just because your dear Aunt Tilly gave you that lace tablecloth doesn’t mean you have to hold on to it – the thought and love has already been given; you can take a picture of it, pass it on to someone else in your family or donate it so someone else can enjoy it. Just because you have saved every piece of artwork your child has ever created doesn’t mean you now must save it all. Just because you have every photo from your college sorority parties (most are blurry and you can’t even recall people’s names), doesn’t mean you need to keep them.
Step Three: Contain
Once you have pared down your collection to a manageable size, it’s time to think about how you are going to contain it. The best storage containers for valuables are weathertight totes which will keep out moisture, bugs and dirt. For objects like figurines or candlesticks, the Weathertight Totes work well. If you are saving files and documents, the Portable File Box or File Box are good options.
For linens or clothes (like your child’s baptismal gown), photos or other precious documents, archival storage boxes are best. These boxes are acid- and lignin-free and will protect your treasures from dust, dirt and light.
If you have a large amount of photos, the Legacy Box Collection is the top-rated solution recommended by photo organizers.
Step Four: Digitize!
While the above solutions will protect and contain your valuables, the single best way to save anything in perpetuity is to digitize it. Scan your photos, slides and negatives; digitize your 8mm reels, home movies on VHS and MiniDV tapes; take pictures of your memorabilia and upload your memories. The recommendation is to save your documents, photos and movies in three locations: your computer, an external hard drive and in the cloud (like Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, etc.) And if your computer has an online backup (such as Carbonite, Crashplan or Backblaze), your data is even more secure.
For everything else, there are a number of vendors who can help you scan, convert and digitize your photos, negatives, slides and home movies. Feel free to reach out to me for recommendations. I’d also love to help you organize and protect your memories! I’m passionate about safeguarding the past, so we can enjoy it in the present and share it in the future.
Now . . . what precious treasures are you going to preserve today? Please leave a comment and let me know!
* If you would like to help the victims in Houston, this New York Times article lists local and national organizations that are accepting donations and making a difference in a variety of ways. Thank you for your support.