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Create a Pandemic Time Capsule

Amber Brandt  |  July 20, 2020

When asked their Twitter followers to list the top words and phrases they hope never to hear again once the pandemic is over, the internet delivered. The responses include:

  • Social distancing
  • New normal
  • Unprecedented
  • Uncertain
  • Toilet paper shortage
  • Essential

Can you relate?

For many of us, the “stay-at-home order” completely upended our routines and required us to “pivot” in large and small ways. And while it’s natural to crave a return to normalcy, you may have discovered some unique and unexpected joys along the way, too.

Over the last couple of months many people have reported spending more time hiking in designated areas, enjoying spontaneous picnics and family movie nights, checking in more often with loved ones, and sharing video calls with friends they rarely make time to see. Many business owners, restaurants and even late-night television hosts have engineered inventive and fun ways to keep the lights on.

Ultimately, it really has been an “unprecedented” slice of history your children are sure to reflect on and ask about as they grow. Little ones really can’t grasp the magnitude of what is unfolding around us, but one day they will. And a great way to answer their questions would be to mark this historic time by creating a time capsule.

According to Seattle author and time-capsule expert Knute Berger, the practice of documenting history through artifacts, texts, and mementos for future civilizations to discover has been around for thousands of years. Berger notes it’s particularly important for normal, everyday citizens to document their experiences because, “Those are the voices you don’t hear from. You hear from the epidemiologists and the historians. It’s hard to get at the personal stories.” By creating a time capsule now, you can record memories and experiences of what it felt like to live through a global pandemic while the feelings are still fresh in your mind.

Berger encourages people to avoid documenting their experience solely with digital files and images, as they may not always be easily accessible in decades to come. Objects, handwritten documents, printed photos, and anything that feels unique to your family’s experience is a great place to start. Choose a plastic container and fill it with things like:

  • Restaurant receipts from curbside pick-up
  • A list of shows you binge-watched or books you read
  • Written down numbers: how many days you stayed at home, the number of stores you visited for toilet paper, how many times you had to substitute ingredients in a recipe because you couldn’t get what you needed
  • Document your personal feelings about this time. Do you worry about the health of your loved ones? When did you laugh the hardest during quarantine? What has been the biggest adjustment? What has become a standard practice you never expected? What have you unexpectedly enjoyed?
  • Prompt your children to talk about the feelings and experiences they’ve had and document those, too
  • A face mask
  • New recipes you tried (Maybe your secret for finally perfecting sourdough bread?)
  • Evidence of games or activities your family specifically enjoyed during this time
  • News stories/headlines
  • Screenshots from Zoom calls or online schooling
  • Hair clippings from a family member’s (or dog’s!) “COVID cut”
  • A homeschool “class photo” of your family

When you seal up your capsule, make sure it’s as airtight as possible. You can use a basic plastic tote with a lid that snaps on securely, or purchase a “real” capsule here or here. Determine when you will reopen and review the contents and write that date or year on top (20 years is a common timeline). Store in a cool, dry place until you’re ready to experience the capsule again together!