In this article: Learn how to make a memory shadow box with this tutorial. It’s one of my favorite tips for decluttering sentimental items!
Nothing can take the wind out of your decluttering sails quite like sentimental stuff. It can be so.ridiculously.hard. to part with possessions that you are emotionally attached to. You have boxes, totes, and drawers filled with sentimental stuff you don’t know what to do with.
One of the biggest problems with emotional clutter is that by not curating and reducing emotional possessions, you aren’t actually appreciating any of it. You can’t enjoy things that are tucked away in boxes in your basement. You aren’t showing you honor or value it.
Instead of leaving your most treasured possessions residing in the dark confines of drawers and bins, go through the decluttering process and choose your most favorite possessions. Then, put them on display to really appreciate them!
Learn how to make a shadow box for your sentimental treasures with these 7 simple DIY steps!
Tutorial: How to Make a Memory Shadow Box Display
1. Determine your shadow box theme
You have lots of stuff that reminds you of lots of life events. A shadow box is only so big. Creating a theme for your shadow box will help you create a final piece that makes sense visually. Plus, by focusing all the items around a particular topic, it helps conjure up memories of that specific thing when you view it. It makes a deeper emotional impact.
What do you want your shadow box to be about? Chances are you already know what you want to create since you found your way here, but creating shadow boxes can be addicting, so odds are you’ll want to make more than one!
Possible ideas for shadow box themes:
- Child accomplishments- awards, honors, varsity letters, ribbons, tassels or sashes
- Alma Mater- diploma, sports memorabilia, pictures, tickets to events, or schedule
- Pet- paw prints, favorite toys, pictures, collar or tags
- Military honor- flag, medals, letters or postcards home, rank pins, photos, or maps
- Hobby theme- sports, knitting, dance, movies, music, photography, concerts or sporting events
- Baby- first hat, booties, footprints, hospital bracelet, home from hospital outfit, or newborn photos
- Childhood favorites- favorite artwork, creations, toys, or outfits
- Travel- maps, tickets, pictures, postcards, photos, or small souvenirs
- Memorial box- photos of a lost loved one, special items inherited from them, things they loved, or a favorite t-shirt
- Pregnancy Loss- ultrasound photos, special items purchased for baby, song lyrics or quotes, pictures if you planted a memorial tree or flower
- Special Occasions- wedding, graduations, dances, or milestone anniversaries
2. Gather your mementos
The next step in learning how to make a shadow box revolves around going through your sentimental stash and finding the things that most speak to you. Maybe it’s your baby’s first pair of shoes, tickets to the first concert you ever attended, the napkin you wrote your number on the night you met your husband, or the flowers from your grandmother’s funeral.
While you have lots of stuff in your treasure trove of collectibles, this first sweep is just selecting the things that speak the most to you and fit your given theme. Items that vary in size, color, style, or shape will add visual interest to your shadow box display, so keep variety in mind as you are selecting your favorite things.
3. Purchase your shadow box
Now that you have your items selected, you’ll need to determine what size shadow box to purchase. Boxes come in all different sizes, so you’ll want to ensure the one you select is deep enough for your sentimental items. Measure the height, width, and depth of the largest item you plan to include in your shadow box to ensure that it will fit in the box you purchase.
Then, consider where you plan on displaying your completed shadow box. Determine the style and finish of the frame so that it complements the decor of the space.
I purchased the shadow boxes for our minimalist master bedroom remodel at Hobby Lobby. They were normally $70, so I waited for a 50% off sale, because #frugal.
Note: Hobby Lobby had exactly three frames & I needed all of them, but one was damaged. I asked for a discount & the manager sold it at the clearance price, which was 75% off! Mamas, don’t be afraid to ask for a discount on less than ideal store items. Many times they will take something off and this trick can save you lots of cash over time!
If online shopping is your jam- cause you know, toddlers- then Amazon has some ahhmazing options!
4. Determine the background of your shadow box
Some frames come with cool backgrounds that already complement your room’s design. If so, score! But, if the background of your frame leaves something to be desired, consider changing it out for something that speaks to you. Possible backgrounds include wallpaper, burlap, cork, material, a sample of an old blanket or t-shirt, scrapbook paper, or artwork.
When thinking about how to make a shadow box, be mindful that you will be placing a lot of elements on top of the background, so try to select something that isn’t too busy or vibrant. Bold backgrounds will make it difficult to appreciate the items placed on top of them. The whole point of the project is to display those keepsakes, so don’t let the background compete with your treasures.
Once you have determined what you will use for your shadow box background, remove the back panel of the shadow box to access the generic background. Use this as a template. Outline the store background onto your background material and cut accordingly. Adhere your background to the frame’s back panel with glue or other adhesive.
5. Gather your treasures and play with the layout
Now for the fun part of learning how to make a shadow box! Take your items and lay them out in your shadow box. Play around with the items until you find a look you love.
Consider layering items when possible to improve the visual interest. Overlapping items helps tie them together visually by making them appear as one piece versus items floating around in space. The process of determining the final placement of your sentimental items can take some time, but it’s important to play around with the look.
If you think you found an arrangement you like, but aren’t ready to commit, snap a picture with your phone and carry on. I always take pictures of the different arrangements I like when designing a shadow box or gallery wall and then review them to determine which one is my favorite at the end. Something about comparing different final products through pictures helps me clarify which version I like best.
Note: Be sure to snap a picture of your final design! You’ll have to take things out to adhere them permanently to the background, so take a picture to ensure you’ll remember where everything goes!
6. Adhere your items
Once you have settled on a design, remove your items and adhere them one by one to the background. Start with items that will be underneath other items and layer accordingly. This is where having a picture of the final product helps, so you can recreate the shadow box arrangement you liked best.
You can use glue, pins, or tacks to secure your items to the background and each other. I chose pins for my shadow boxes so that I could edit the look over time.
7. Embellish as desired
The last step in learning how to make a shadow box is to add embellishments to complete the look. Consider adding silk flowers, beads, shells, stickers, or other details to round out the look of your shadow box.
Put your new shadow box on display
Now that you have learned how to make a memory shadow box with this tutorial and have carefully curated a collection of some of your favorite sentimental stuff, hang it in a place of prominence and enjoy it every day! Creating a shadow box to display sentimental possessions helps you enjoy your favorite things instead of leaving them to collect dust in the corners of your home.
If you have multiple shadow boxes you’d like to create, consider making an odd amount of shadow boxes for a unique art collection (odd numbers are visually more appealing, according to the rules of design). I created three shadow boxes for over our bed when creating our Minimalist Bedroom Oasis, two for the boys, and one for our wedding. You could also consider a grouping for places traveled or special occasions grouped together.
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Declutter the remains
Finally, now that you have selected your favorite things within a sentimental theme, consider decluttering and parting ways with the stuff that didn’t make the cut. After all, if these were your favorite items, you would have put them in the shadow box, right?
If you’re not ready to completely cut ties with what remains, consider reducing the number of items you’ll keep by using the container principle. Challenge yourself to part ways with a certain amount of what remains- maybe 75%? 50%? Select the low hanging fruit of the remnants and go from there.
Decluttering sentimental items can be the hardest part of the journey to minimalism, so honor progress over perfection and give yourself grace through the process. Little by little, bit by bit, you are crafting the life you desire.