Best way to store paper in non-climate controlled garage
May 23, 2016 4:39 AM   Subscribe

I have a bunch of boxes of books and other paper ephemera to store. I'll store all I can inside the house, but some, surely, will have to go in the garage--good roof, but not climate controlled, and door is drafty. Hot and humid in summer and cold and dry in winter. How to make the best of it?

I'll take the stuff I care most about inside with me, but I can't fit it all.

Items to store include everything from trade paperbacks to glossy printed card stock, to 100+ year old leather bound books.

Currently everything is in cardboard moving boxes piled on the concrete floor, which can't be right.

Airtight plastic tubs with silica gel? Non-airtight tubs? Pack the boxes with anything? I hope to have all the boxes on shelving units.

posted by Admiral Haddock to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
First: weed out everything that's not a priority. Make room for the valuable items in your climate-controlled house.

Everything else you'll want to protect from pests and variations in humidity. If you're thinking long-long term preservation, remove all metal from the papers (staples, paperclips, etc.) and any rubber bands (they'll decompose and stick to paper). Put them in acid-free folders if they're loose papers.

Protection from humidity (mold risk) vs. protection from dry air (brittle, breaking risk) is something you'll have to weigh seasonally. A truly airtight plastic tub sounds like the best solution, especially if you're in an area where insects are plentiful. Roaches and spiders LOVE cardboard. You could also bundle the items in tight, non-clingy plastic wrap to protect from pests, then store in clearly labeled banker's boxes so you're not trapping moisture in. Check in every six months or as the seasons change. Good luck!
posted by witchen at 5:28 AM on May 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Paper attracts insects. Scan as much as you can into the cloud, then get rid of the paper. Donate books to the library.

You can't keep everything. Paper is especially sensitive to decay.

Why do you have so much paper? If it's really important it should be in a place of honor or a place where these things will be used regularly.

Storing paper outdoors is a recipe for disappointment. Even in plastic tubs.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:56 AM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Do you have an attic?
Attic storage is going to work a lot better than garage storage, in my experience. I have a bunch of old financial records in the attic that are doing fine after 10 years. I don't have anything in the garage to compare to, but my sense is that the humidity there fluctuates a lot more, and gets much higher, and would damage any paper of value. It's mainly high humidity you want to avoid for paper storage. Temperature is less critical.
Use cardboard boxes, not plastic. And no plastic sleeves, just paper. Plastic will trap the humidity where cardboard boxes and paper sleeves can breathe.
posted by beagle at 6:06 AM on May 23, 2016

Oh god, NO to plastic of any kind! First of all, critters such as squirrels can chew through bins no problem, so they aren't safe, and second, the plastic wrap idea would not only trap moisture in with your items, but the wrap itself will deteriorate over time, potentially getting sticky or turning into a yellow flaky mess.

Yes to removing all metal such as paperclips, staples etc and rubber bands. Yes to acid-free folders. It may be worth your while to purchase a few acid-free boxes from Gaylord, an archival supply house, to hold all these treasures. They have some odd sizes for your non-standard ephemera and look kinda sharp too. Assuming that you have *some* space in your house, bring in the most fragile and valued items and keep them in your acid free boxes there. There are no guarantees with the fluctuation in temperature that items stored outdoors won't suffer some changes, but you can at least minimize this by keeping things dry and acid-free.

A note on copying things and tossing the originals: this has been done in countless museums and libraries over the years and always results in regret, especially where digital copies were not properly preserved and migrated to new formats over time. I work in an archives where items were microfilmed (badly) and the originals were tossed, leaving only a bad set of microfilms. Always keep the original!
posted by Otter_Handler at 7:05 AM on May 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

If I remember right you have recently moved into this house. If the stuff you have in the garage doesn't fit in the house, I guess my question would be "Do you have a plan for it that doesn't include miraculously having space in the NEXT house?" That is, if you're in the process of obtaining an office, or building more inside shelving or otherwise making space for these things, then yeah put them in plastic tubs with airtight lids (critters can get in but they likely won't unless you are storing birdseed) and work on that inside space. If not, since there's really no way to actually store paper things decently inside a garage, I'd consider either climate controlled storage, attic storage, basement storage, closet storage, or getting rid of things. Anything you really care about needs to go somewhere with low humidity and fairly consistent temperatures.
posted by jessamyn at 7:39 AM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

A relative of ours did this when he downsized into a smaller house. One bay of his 2-car garage was filled with old books, in shelves lining the wall on one side, and jutting out into the other side, like a giant U of books. Most of them got thrown in a dumpster later due to dampness and insects, etc.

For books that he really cared about, he had someone build custom 2-sided book shelves, and used it as a divider in his living room. Upstairs, he had an entire wall with dedicated bookshelves.

Have you paying someone for storage?
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 8:49 AM on May 23, 2016

Google an archival supply company, like Hollingers, to purchase paper/manuscript specific archival containers. They should be able to send you a free catalogue.


Purchase a dehumidifier for the garage. You will need to empty out the water frequently.

Keep your archival items as far away as possible from the most dust, light, heat or insect vulnerable corners of your garage.

As soon as possible, weed through your papers and determine what to keep. Shred the rest. Then consider digitizing your collection, copying/reprinting onto acid free paper, or keep them in the archival boxes but reshelve indoors.
posted by nightrecordings at 8:57 AM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

OK, this is kind of a lateral solution but can you afford to just rent a climate-controlled storage unit for this stuff? It sounds like you're not planning to need to access it often, but you want it to be safe. The garage is obviously not going to be great no matter what you do, though there are some good suggestions here for how to make the best of it. So is getting it out of the house and into a storage unit an option?

If not, I'd be tempted to construct an enclosure for this stuff and add climate control to that. My dad has been building a wine cellar in a closet down in his basement, and that's essentially what he's done. You'd have to start by building an insulated box (maybe enclosed shelving) since you don't have a closet to work with, but climate control units exist for wine cellars and walk-in humidors that manage both temperature and humidity.

In fact, that's where I'd start looking: I'd research DIY wine cellars and walk-in humidors, and see what people are doing in that area. Then I'd look into what the optimal storage conditions for paper are, and I'd try to set up an enclosure that could replicate those conditions. You can get all kinds of climate control units and data loggers and such.

Of course, it would also help to know what time scale you envision having to store this stuff in the garage for. If you're just keeping it there for a year or less you might not have to go to great lengths, but if it's going to be a really long time then you might need to get more extreme or else find somewhere else to store these things.

Also, there's the overarching question of why you feel like you need to keep so much paper around if you're not using it. Is this just financial documents and such where you could just digitize them and set up a secure storage solution for the digital copies, or are we talking about something genuinely important or valuable where the oroginal physical copy is an inseparable part of the value? Could you perhaps just decide to change your mindset a bit and simply pitch most of this stuff, so that you don't have to store it at all?

If we're talking about artwork that your now-grown kids did when they were in elementary school or something like that, you could probably rid yourself of like 95% of it and just keep a few choice pieces in frames or albums, so that rather than 100% of it just occupying space in your garage you can actually display and enjoy the 5% that you choose to keep. I'm having a hard time envisioning a case where it's imperative that large amounts of paper documents be stored long term, and yet it's OK to just keep them in an un-air-conditioned garage.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:30 AM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Make an area climate-controlled. You could construct or buy a big cabinet and put a couple ducts and a fan to circulate air from a climate-controlled area through your cabinet.

Maybe do that to the whole garage.
posted by flimflam at 11:50 AM on May 23, 2016

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