Our lives are marked by major news events — from the Challenger explosion to 9/11 to historic presidential elections — and we often feel transported back in time when we recall them years, or even decades, later. Now we find ourselves in an unprecedented time: a once-in-a-hundred-years pandemic that has the world in its grip and will surely be referenced and studied by future generations.
One way to preserve our memories of this moment in time for posterity is to make a time capsule.
“Time capsules allow us to step back from our complex and often overwhelming present to sketch its essential outlines,” says Nick Yablon, an associate professor of history at the University of Iowa and author of “Remembrance of Things Present: The Invention of the Time Capsule.” “By adopting the perspective of the future recipients, we acquire a kind of distance from the present that allows us to attempt to summarize, or historicize, it.”
Yablon says the increasing interest in physical time capsules may be a reaction to everything in today’s world being digitized. They allow us to “construct a tangible and multi-sensorial history of our present consisting not just of written documents but also material artifacts, photographs, phonograph recordings, etc.”
And those artifacts can serve as a link for future generations, he adds: “We can imagine our recipients being the next ones to touch/hear/see these objects we place in boxes. They can therefore stand as a token of our commitment to posterity.”
Whether you are self-quarantining alone or with kids, other family members or friends, we’ve gathered ideas to create your own time capsules at home. One thing Yablon suggests you include: an explanation of what a time capsule is and how its items came to be collected.
“Almost invariably, time capsule depositors presume their future recipients will share their own historical consciousness, but we cannot make this assumption,” he says. “The physical time capsule might survive, but we cannot assume the survival of the notion of a time capsule.”
Here’s what we’ve selected to help you create a time capsule that marks this once-in-a-lifetime event:
For serious time-capsulers:
Time Capsule Anti-Corrosion Waterproof Stainless Steel Capsule ($39.99; amazon.com)
If you’re serious about your time capsule being preserved for future generations (and maybe even future civilizations) to dig up, this is the kind of storage you need. It’s stainless steel, waterproof, airtight and will keep your treasure safe. At 10.2 inches long, it will hold all sorts of mementos.
For casual time-capsulers:
Oskar Storage Box With Lid ($9.59, originally $11.99; containerstore.com)
If you’re not looking to bury it in the backyard, we think that a time capsule fits nicely in a pretty box on a shelf at home or in a storage unit. Stash your mementos in this handsome box and store it away for one, five or 50 years. Reopen it to reflect on that moment in time when everything seemed to come to a stop.
For young time-capsulers:
Peaceable Kingdom My Time Capsule! A Keepsake for My Future Self ($15.99; amazon.com)
If you need a good prompt to get your kids going on their own 2020 time capsules, we like this handy kit. The metal box comes with two picture frames, six labeling tags, three predesigned letters to be filled in, a letter to write to their future selves, an envelope to hold mementos, a 40-page prompted log book, a sealing sticker and a how-to guide. For children ages 7 and up, it will not only give them something to do that doesn’t involve a screen, but will be much appreciated when they look back at its contents years from now. We especially like that it provides prompts and activities that make the task of creating a time capsule feel more doable.
What should you put inside your time capsule?
Fill it with items that symbolize this time, like a roll of toilet paper (if you can spare one!), an empty bottle of hand sanitizer and a printout of DIY mask-making instructions. Include a list of the movies and TV shows you’ve binge-watched, with a doodle of the “Tiger King.” Print photos of you and your family wearing masks, playing cards, taking a walk and celebrating special occasions together. You can even print screenshots of memes that capture the times. If you have them, add some newspaper or magazine clippings, too. A nice addition is a letter to your future self about what living through this pandemic is really like.
One-Minute Journal ($14.99; papersource.com)
Whether you treat it as its own time capsule or add it to a larger collection of items, this is a great resource for keeping track of your thoughts and feelings during this uncertain time. Take one minute a day (a timer is included) to jot answers to a prompt (describe a romantic or embarrassing moment; draw a map from your home to office), and when you look back on it years from now, you’ll have a snapshot of life during the pandemic.
Time Capsule Journal ($10.29; target.com)
Start your youngsters on a time capsule-making journey with this journal by Katie Clemons that prompts them to record their activities, adventures, doodles and reflections. (Think: “I don’t like to clean the …” or “How to convince my parents I need an awesome …”) It also includes pages to add photos and other materials — like these printable kid-friendly quarantine worksheets.
Anthropologie Home Kit Agar Set of 3 Journals ($16; nordstrom.com)
While they may not be literal time capsules, journals offer insight into what we were thinking about, how we were feeling or what our hopes, fears, worries and desires were at a certain moment in time. Take time to reflect on your reaction to the novel coronavirus pandemic in a journal. You’ll want to save it for future reference and share it one day with your kids or grandkids.
Letters to Me, When I Grow Up: Write Now. Read Later. Treasure Forever ($12.05; amazon.com)
When you think back on significant news events that happened when you were younger, do you wish you had insight now into what you were feeling at the time? This kit contains 12 letters, each beginning with a prompt — such as “A pep talk for my future self…” or “If I become a world leader…” — and encourage kids to write about what’s going on in their heads during this time. The letters come with stickers to seal them up and can be tucked away to open at some future point in time.
Kinsho Sea Mist Photo Journal ($35.95; papersource.com)
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so tell the story of how you spent your time during the covid-19 pandemic with images. This cloth-covered album includes 10 acid-free scrapbook sheets and an expandable pocket to hold keepsakes. Include photos of the people you’re spending time with, the eerily empty streets you see when you’re out for a walk, and the flyers or notices that have been posted around town advising how to socially distance.
HP Sprocket Studio Photo Printer ($149.95; amazon.com)
You’ve decided to make a time capsule, you’ve taken photos and saved favorite memes — and now, you need to print them. This super-handy portable printer is compatible with most devices and uses Bluetooth to print 4-by-6-inch photos that will fit perfectly in any type of time capsule. It comes with 10 sheets of paper, but you’ll want to stock up on more.
GoPro Hero 7 Black ($229, originally $329; gopro.com)
Get your family’s observations about the crisis on video and in still photographs with this nifty little camera that can be mounted on a selfie-stick or helmet. Take it with you on your daily walk, on your once-a-week grocery run, or anywhere else during this time. The camera has built-in Wi-Fi and the GoPro App makes transferring your images a snap. Bonus: You will be able to take this on future family vacations to easily document those adventures, too,
Time capsule interview questions
Up for a video time capsule interview series? Check in daily, weekly or monthly to capture the changing landscape.
Here are some questions to ask:
- What is the date and where are you sheltering in place?
- What is some recent information that you can share about what is happening with the pandemic?
- How do you feel right now?
- What do you think about how it is being handled locally, nationally or internationally?
- Has anyone you know been affected by covid-19? How so?
- What have you had to change about how you fulfill basic needs?
- How has this affected your work or school?
- What is something positive that has come from this experience for you?
- What are you doing to pass the time?
- What do you miss most right now?
- What is the first thing you’d like to do when this is all over?
- What are you most worried about?
- What lessons has this experience taught you?
- What are you thankful for?
- What is something that is helping you cope?
Note: The prices above reflect the retailers’ listed prices at the time of publication.