2020 Time Capsules: A Fun Way to Commemorate a Hard Year

“ Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes

How do you measure? Measure a year?” 

–”Seasons of Love,” by Jonathan Larson, from the Broadway Musical RENT 

2020 has clearly been a year like none other. As this year winds down, I find myself humming “Seasons of Love,” one of my favorite Broadway songs, and asking the question: 

How will I measure this year? 

This year definitely warrants a commemoration that captures the essence of struggling to survive and thrive through the worst global pandemic in a century, all the while also persevering through rising racial and political tensions, a contentious presidential election, and an unprecedented number of natural disasters. 

This year needs a time capsule. 

What exactly IS a time capsule? 

If you’re like me, when I hear the words “time capsule,” I picture a bunch of random artifacts thrown in a shoebox and buried in the backyard, to be dug up by a stranger decades or centuries later. While this certainly can be true, a time capsule could also be preserved in a journal, digital showcase, or a sealed container kept in a closet or garage to be opened by family members much later. 

According to Merriam Webster, a time capsule is: “a container holding historical records or objects representative of current culture that is deposited (as in a cornerstone) for preservation until discovery by some future age.” 

If you google “2020 time capsule,” you’ll see that many news outlets, educational institutions, and moms have already started exploring creative ways to preserve memories of this incredibly challenging year. 

Keep reading, and I’ll share some ideas for how to get started and my personal top ten list of 2020 time capsule items. 

How to Get Started 

First you’ll need to decide if you want to assemble a tangible (traditional) time capsule, or a digital one. 

Traditional time capsules 

If you’re going traditional, you’ll need a durable container that will hold-up well over time (think mason jar or plastic storage bin). Ziplock bags work great for storing artifacts, and you’ll need sharpies for labeling. If you plan to write or type a detailed description of the contents, you’ll also need paper and pencil. 

Digital Time Capsules

Digital time capsules are gaining popularity, and there’s a variety of ways to create them. Getting started can be as simple as uploading files to a Dropbox, Google Drive, or other cloud account. You could also opt to make a powerpoint, Google Slideshow, video, website, or blog. If you have a Gmail account, you have free access to Google Slides or sites that can be easily shared with others. Digital capsules also allow you to easily include memorable memes, Tik Toks, or Youtube videos — things that are hard to do in the traditional form. 

Be sure to: With either method, be sure to include the date you created the capsule as well as the date you wish it to be opened (might be best to display on the outside of the container, or in the name of the digital file). 

What to Include 

Historically, time capsules have included newspaper clippings, photographs, important keepsakes, and trending items for the year. Deciding what to include can take hours, days, or mere seconds. If trying to fit 2020 into a box or blog seems daunting, you may find it helps to limit yourself to a certain number of artifacts (I chose about ten), and to make a detailed list beforehand. Be sure to explain each item you decide to include, and why it’s important (you could do this by writing a letter to your future self or stranger, labeling each artifact, or making a video clip). 

teacher wearing mask and tie dyed shirt
Wearing my 2020 teaching accessories at recess

My Top “Ten” 2020 Time Capsule Items* 

*”Ten” is a very rough estimate **Listed in no particular order 

  1. Face mask and voice amplifier (Also known as my 2020 teaching accessories)
  2. Empty bottle of Purell and Charmin roll  I’d also include a list of the wide range in prices that fluctuated with supply and demand.
  3. Empty can of Truly seltzer 90% of the recyclables in our recycling can at any particular time this year are Truly cans.
  4. Burned down candle We burned through a dozen candles after Hurricane Zeta gifted us with a week of no electricity. I would also add a list of the other three hurricanes and five tropical storms that also hit our state this year.
  5. Zoom call recording (or screenshot) 
  6. Black Lives Matter T-shirt I would also include photographs of the year’s many protests and demonstrations.
  7. Biden AND Trump bumper stickers They were BOTH on the ballot, after all.
  8. Roblox, Among Us, and Tiger King My kids and students ticked away quarantine by playing the first two nearly non-stop, and many of us adults are still shocked by how addicted we got to the last. No idea how I would physically include these, but I need to figure it out.
  9. Recording of the “Corona Clap” by local rapper Dee-1 I would also include the catchy lyrics of this sure-to-be New Orleans classic (watch the video HERE)
  10. Six feet of measuring tape  – to “measure” this year. I would also include a “six feet apart” sign to represent the physical distance we spent socially apart.

graphic representing 6 feet apart

Why you should bother 

Time capsules are the perfect pandemic activity. If you’re assembling a traditional one, you can recruit your family pod (especially bored children over winter break) to help. Challenge your kids to come up with 5 (or more) items to help remember this peculiar year. If you’re making a digital version, you can share files and collaborate with anyone, anywhere — all while remaining safe and distant. 

Whether you’re assembling your capsule with a large community or on your own, have a little celebration once it’s done. After all, the five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes of 2020 are almost over! Have a little dedication ceremony or Zoom party. Pause to reflect on the resiliency, hardship, and unfathomable loss of this year and look forward to new memories to encapsulate. 

What would you include in your 2020 time capsule? Make a list in the comments below! 

Brittney Dayeh
Brittney Dayeh grew up in the Catskills of Upstate New York but considers herself a New Orleanian. She moved to New Orleans in 2006 with her husband, whom she met while teaching English in Japan. She immediately fell in love with the culture, history, and vibe of this city. Brittney teaches third grade social studies at a local public school and lives in Algiers with her husband, who is also a local teacher, and her two children, ages 11 and 7. She has a passion for children’s literature and Louisiana history, dreams about kayaking with manatees, and now loves to run.

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