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Save This Seat

Don Williams and Louisa Jaggar tell how to conserve just about anything, in
Don Williams and Louisa Jaggar tell how to conserve just about anything, in "Saving Stuff." (By D. E. Hurlbert)

How should we decide what to keep?

Both museums and people think everything is important. But it isn't equally important. I work in a building designed to preserve objects. But not everyone can care for everything; you have to be selective. Preserving your stuff is more decision-making and will, rather than technology and resources.

What collectibles are most at risk?

Textiles are the most at risk of all materials. Just about anything can make textiles go bad. They need the most attention.

Does furniture need all the polish we rub on it?

Furniture is dead. It doesn't need to be oiled, fed, watered or made supple. So just leave it alone. Keep it clean, dusted and out of the light. You can dust with a lint-free cloth and a few drops of distilled water. If you really feel compelled to do something, give it a coat of paste wax every 20 or 30 years.

What do you think of the large plastic snap-lid containers so popular these days?

Actually, those plastic containers are pretty much okay as long as they are high-quality, like Rubbermaid, Sterilite or Tupperware. Look for polyethylene or polypropylene. . . . They will pretty much keep out bugs, wild moisture swings, floods and biological attacks.

What's the best way to make personal time capsules?

Don't bury them! Put them in a closet-- it's dark and protected, and the things you've collected in your capsule won't disappear into the shroud of the past.

If attics and basements are so bad, where should we store our most irreplaceable stuff?

The things most prized to you should go on a shelf in your bedroom closet. Above the flood level and below scorching heat. It's a very well controlled environment. You won't have large swings in temperature, it's in the dark and you won't stumble over your stuff. You can quickly grab it if you need to.

Are there people who don't save anything?

I haven't met them.

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