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How to Create a Family Time Capsule

An old tin box, intended to serve as a time capsule, filled with mementos.
Neirfy/Shutterstock

If you’re looking for a fun way to help your family think about the present while also looking towards the future, a time capsule is a really neat family project.

What Is a Time Capsule?

A time capsule is just what it sounds like—a capsule, or container, of some sort that is filled with things that are a sign of the times. People put all sorts of items into these capsules meant to be open by future generations—for music on the formats that are popular at the time, works of art, books, and more.

Some time capsules are buried with the intention of digging them up and going through the contents in a few years, while others are meant to stay sealed for hundreds or thousands of years. Some of them are forgotten to the ages. In the video below, a photographer found an old time capsule in his home and took the time to develop the glass-plate negatives inside. The video is a lovely inspiration for anyone thinking about making a time capsule of their own.

Not all time capsules are forgotten about though. Many celebrations are paired with grand plans for time capsules. In 1939, the people hosting the World’s Fair in New York filled and buried a time capsule that isn’t set to be open for 5,000 years from the date it was interred into the ground. Some schools have kids put items in time capsules to celebrate the change of a decade or century, or the celebration of the school’s anniversary, and schedule opening for a future class to see what it was like in a different time.

Time capsules, before that name became common, were often called century safes. The name seems fitting because people typically set the opening date for a century in the future—though you hardly need to intend to keep yours sealed for that long.

What Do People Put In Time Capsules

There are all sorts of things you can put in a time capsule. What you and your family put in your time capsule is entirely up to you, but you can consider any of the following:

  • Newspaper clippings about what’s going on in the world right now.
  • Artwork (favorite pieces or stuff you’ve all made).
  • Magazine clippings of current fashion, favorite actors, and anything else.
  • Old and current family photos.
  • You can each write a letter to your future self, if you’re all opening it together, or to the future inhabitants of your home, even.
  • Your favorite book, a book you’ve written, or your old journal.
  • Some favorite trinkets like a keychain or figurine.
  • Some of your favorite songs in whatever format you prefer them (from vinyl to an MP3 player).
  • Any kind of handmade items, including crafts.
  • If you’re packing a time capsule for a baby or young child to have them open when they reach adulthood, you might want to put in a favorite piece of baby clothing or a toy they’ve grown out of.
  • Tickets from events you’ve attended.
  • Photos of your favorite people or favorite places to visit.

The ideas of what to put in your family time capsule are endless. You can give it a theme, too, if you want to—the theme could be music and pop culture from the year you buried it, the favorite book of each family member at that time, or an Andy Warhol’esque collection of ephemera from your home.

What to Use as Your Time Capsule

Just as important as what you chose to put in your time capsule is what you put all of that stuff in. Some people keep their time capsules in the home, tucked in a hiding place in the attic or basement. For an indoor-stored time capsule, a plastic photo box will offer plenty of protection (and will be less attractive to mice than cardboard materials).

For outdoor time capsules, you want something that won’t biodegrade when it’s buried in the dirt, and that will protect your contents from water. You’ll want something airtight, and definitely want to add a protective coating to metal containers to protect from rusting. On the more economical side of things, you can use containers like:

  • Old coffee cans (tin or plastic)
  • Glass jars
  • An empty popcorn tin
  • A metal box
  • A metal or plastic lunchbox

The downsides to these oft-used backyard time capsule containers are: they’re fairly small, and you’ll invest a lot of energy in making them really watertight. It takes a whole lot of extra layers of paint and silicone sealing to turn a popcorn tin into something watertight that will last underground for years.

If your family is going all out with the project, though, you might consider something a bit bigger and a bit sturdier than a thin metal container. Using basic PVC plumbing pipe, you can easily make a simple and very watertight capsule. Or, if you’d like something even more spacious, you could buy one of the very sturdy “food vault” type containers intended to keep very determined dogs out of their kibble between meal times like very durable and air-tight Vittles Vault.

No matter how you craft your time capsule, we recommend putting silica packs, a type of desiccant, in the vault to absorb any excess moisture. Even with a tight seal, you wouldn’t want any moisture inside to cause mildewing or molding on your stored items. You can save up the little ones that come with your electronics and other purchases, or just grab a pack of big ones to toss in your time capsule.

Where to Store Your Outdoor Time Capsule

You can bury your time capsule in the ground. You’ll want to do it on your own property where it will remain safe, and it’ll be easier for you to track where it’s buried. Be sure you put it somewhere where it won’t get too much water seeping into the ground around it—bury it under a large tree or under your deck, not in the garden or in a completely open space in the yard.

Here’s one person digging up their childhood time capsule, which includes a great lesson on why you should write down exactly where you buried it!

To make it more creative and interesting, instead of marking where you’ve hidden the time capsule with a stone or some other kind of plot marker, bury it a number of steps in a specific direction from a set area of your home—write a note that states your “treasure” is “hidden 10 paces to the East of the garden statue.” Tuck the note away somewhere secret with the date you plan to open (or want someone else to open) the time capsule.

When to Dig It Up

It’s up to you and the rest of your family when you want to dig up your time capsule. If you bury it when your kids are young, you could choose to dig it up when they graduate from high school or college, when they have kids of their own to share it with, or when they inherit your home in the distant future.

If you’re leaving it for the next family to move into your home, you won’t know if they’ll wait until a set date to dig up your treasures, so just be sure to leave a note with directions on where to find it.


Time capsules are a fun way to preserve memories and look back at the past in a special way. It’s like a family or personal scrapbook that you don’t get to look back through until just the right day.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow is a professional writer with two decades of experience. She has written and edited for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and more. Yvonne is a published poet and short story writer, and she is a life coach. Read Full Bio »

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