How to Make a Shadow Box

Shadow box and mementos
Photo: Lucas Allen

So you have a bunch of treasured trinkets stuffed in your nightstand drawer or tucked safely in a box in the attic because you're not quite sure what to do with them? (You just know you'll get to them one day.) Don't let your child's footprint or first blue ribbon, or even your own vintage college tee sit in some dark place where nobody can appreciate it. Instead, show off those important mementos in a shadow box.

We know what you're thinking: Crafts can take such a long time and can be so hard to execute properly—plus, you don't have the supplies handy anyway. We're here to squash all of those excuses. You only need a few things to create a shadow box (and no, artistic ability is not one of them).

Just gather a deep frame, a few pieces of pretty scrapbook paper (though that's optional!), and the trinkets you wish to display. If you can't find one in-store, order the frame online. (They come in all colors—white, black, neutral wood, and even bright colors—to suit any décor.) Follow along here and you'll be done in no time. (You can thank us later.)

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Step 1: Gather Your Mementos

Shadow box and mementos
Lucas Allen

The most important thing you can do when creating a shadow box happens before you begin arranging your items. To get the best results, you'll want to come up with a theme—and stick to it. Whether you're focusing on sports achievements, memorable trips, or a new baby, the key to success is consistency. Within your theme, items can differ from one another (for example, it's fine to pair an old passport with photographs from your walk through Paris). But try to avoid putting your child's first report card with those photographs from the Eiffel Tower—instead, pair it with a drawing they made in class that year.

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Step 2: Assemble Your Keepsakes

Shadow box
Lucas Allen

Once you've decided on a theme, gathered the items that fit within those parameters, and narrowed down your choices to the best three to five items (depending on the size of your frame, of course), you're ready for the fun part—actually creating your shadow box. Before gluing anything into place, set out all of your mementos and play around with the layout. Try layering the elements, so the shadow box has more depth and intrigue. Some overlap will also ensure the shadow box doesn't look empty. Once you're satisfied with the scene, use glue, pins, tacks, or even brooches to secure everything to the frame's backing.

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Step 3: Hang Your New Shadow Box

Shadow box and hammer
Lucas Allen

Once your treasured tokens are secure, reassemble the frame or close the glass door on the front. Now, take a quick pause to admire your handiwork—it wasn't so hard, was it? Don't give up now, though. Instead of leaning your shadow box against the wall, find a spot for it right away. All you need is a measuring tape, a pencil, a hammer, a nail, and a level. Use the measuring tape to find the right spot on the wall, mark it with your pencil, and then hammer away. Once your shadow box is hanging on the nail, don't count on your eyes to tell you if it's straight—use the level to ensure it's not tipping to one side or the other.

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Step 4: Turn Your Keepsakes Into Wall Art

Shadow box on wall
Lucas Allen

Thought you were done? We know you probably have tons more stuff just waiting to be displayed. A trio of framed boxes can capture highlights from each family member's life—and makes for an intriguing display in a family room or home office. Luggage labels, maps, and postcards commemorate an overseas trip and remind you to take those vacation days; report cards, badges, and awards intermingle with wooden blocks and varsity numbers to mark childhood memories and inspire creativity. A duo or trio of shadow boxes makes a great DIY Mother's Day or Father's Day gift for parents and grandparents, too.

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