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How to pack and store your photos for a move

July 15th, 2013 - 3:49 PM

I’m moving soon. How do I pack and store my photos?

Between scheduling the moving company and packing up the kitchen, you’ve got a lot on your plate. But don’t forget about that shelf in the hallway closet piled high with family photos. You’ve been meaning to organize them, but now there’s just no time. You need to get them to your new home safe and secure. While we recommend keeping your photographs with you during the move, we have some great tips and advice for packing them, and storing them once you get to your new home.

Basic advice for moving and storing photos:

  • Environmental factors like humidity, sunlight and temperature can and do affect photographs. It’s best to store photos where the temperature is consistent at 65°F-70°F with a relative humidity of about 50% (so basements and attics may not be ideal).
  • To avoid damage, use only lignin-free, acid-free, un-buffered paper and PVC-free plastics (such as Polyester, Mylar, Polypropylene, Polyethelyne and Tyvek) for storing photographs.  
  • Avoid placing photos in plastic bags.
  • Never apply an adhesive label to a photo (like a sticky note); the substances in the glue can cause photos to deteriorate.
  • Avoid storing photos with newspaper clippings as the ink could cause damage to the photos.
  • Store negatives in negative storage sheets.
  • Use a pencil to write on the back of your photo, never a pen or maker.
  • Avoid using packing peanuts with your photos. It can get all over the photos and be a pain to get off.

For very detailed information about determining what type of photo storage to use, and about preserving family archives – specifically if you’re dealing with family heirloom photographs, take a look around the National Archives website; you'll find some very helpful information. .

Now, let’s talk about specific ways to pack and store photos

Once you’ve gathered your photos into one place, it’s time to decide how you want to store and pack them. Here are a few options:

  • Acid-Free and Lignin-Free Photo Envelopes
    As I mentioned before, materials containing acid or lignin can cause photos to deteriorate. That means you’ll want to avoid most standard manila envelopes. Instead, opt for something similar to the image below. If you choose to go the envelope route, you can place all of the photo envelopes together in a small moving box to transport them.
  • Photo Storage Boxes
    Photo boxes come in all sizes and colors and are great for long-term storage; just make sure to opt for acid-free cardboard or metal boxes. Many photo storage boxes come equipped with divider index cards to help organize photos, but if they don’t, you can also layer the photos between sheets of acid-free paper. Then, when it comes time to move, these photo boxes can be wrapped in packing paper and placed inside larger moving boxes to be transported in your personal vehicle.


How to store photos in photo storage boxes

[photo credit]

  • Photo Albums
    Photo Albums can be pretty tricky. You’ll find all sorts in gift stores, drug stores, etc., but the experts recommend against many of these – especially if they’re not made from acid-free materials. Make sure to avoid “magnetic” peel-and-stick albums because the glue they’re made with will damage photos over time. Just pay attention to whether the label advertises photo safe “acid-free” and “lignin-free.” Often, your best bet is to purchase photo albums from stores that specialize in photography. When it comes time to move, simply wrap your photo albums in acid-free packing paper and place inside a small box.


The best photo albums for photo storage

[photo credit]

Backup Storage For Your Photos

Once you choose how to pack and store your photos, it’s a great idea to back them up digitally to add a just a little more peace of mind. Here are some options for additional digital photo storage:

  • Use a cloud service (like Dropbox, Windows SkyDrive, Apple’s iCloud)
  • Use an online photo storage website like Flickr or Shutterfly
  • Store them on an External Hard Drive.
  • Store them on a USB Flash Drive
  • Store them on a Memory Card
  • Store them on your computer’s hard drive.

COZI is an iPhone App I use often, and they recently wrote a post on their blog about just this subject that you may find helpful:
3 Fool-Proof Digital Photo Storage Solutions

This article on CNET may be helpful, too:
Comparing the best ways to store your photos online

And this article from Modern Parents Messy Kids is one of my favorites:
Organize your photos like a professional photog


Ready to start packing and storing your photos?

We hope these tips have been helpful for you! Please let us know if you have any questions about how to pack photos or how to store photos – we’re happy to help you! Happy moving!