Shadow Boxes: Making Clutter and Keepsakes Into Art

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Source: via Marilin on Pinterest

More and more, people are learning the lesson of clutter and how it affects us on a daily basis.

As the years go by, we attach more and more meaning to little things we own, and shelves get fuller and fuller as clutter sneaks up. Tackling it means picking the pieces that mean the most to us, and making sure we celebrate them, rather than just keep them.

When trying to confront clutter, there are lots of ways to bring some of those rediscovered, long-lost items the respect and visibility they deserve.

One great way is with shadow boxes, which truly showcases our things. It’s the decor version of “Hey, Look At Me. I’m Special!

Shadow boxes can be use for any number of things — from aesthetic groupings of a similar things, like vases, through to making a keepsake or memory box of years gone past or loves lost.

What are shadow boxes? The most common form is to use a photo-style frame that has a dropped back, with a greater depth so 3-D items can be displayed. Think of those creepy boxes of dried dead butterflies in the museum. That’s exactly what a shadow box is. They’re frequently wall-mountable, but also work on shelves and other flat surfaces.

If you like the idea of shadow boxes and want ideas on arrangements, here’s a few for you:

The Meaningful-Memories Box

What do a ticket stub, a CD, a restaurant receipt, a dried flower, and an empty bottle of wine have in common? Together, they represent an amazing night that cost several hundred dollars and memories to last a lifetime.

Separate, they look like garbage/recycling, and some music to listen to while you clean the house.

Source: via Marit on Pinterest


Grouped together in a shadow box, artfully mounted, these same items could be an amazing keepsake of the night you saw the Rolling Stones the last time they ever came to town, or the night the question was popped, or the last night you spent together with college friends before moving away, or a cruise you took for your parents’ 40th anniversary.

The Retrospective

Many of us eventually come to be defined by the careers we’ve led. One day, memories are all we’ve got. When someone’s served in the military, taught for 20+ years, or had any kind of a job that really defines their character, a shadow box might be a great way to reflect that service.

Consider a larger box with military documents, medals, and mementoes. Or a box of student notes to a retiring teacher, with a few small mounted items from over the years.

Sometimes, it’s just about having meaningful things in one small package like this. When it’s something really powerful, like a retirement gift for a lifelong teacher, you might want a shadow box that can be easily opened so the items can be touched and enjoyed.

Geek Goldmine

Raise your geek card high and put a spotlight on your great collectibles. When I gave a friend a set of 4 mint-condition Empire Strikes Back Burger King glasses from 1979, he didn’t use them for fancy high-balls like I thought he would, he found a shadow box and to protect them but still display them, until that day he can pass them down to his son.


Whether it’s collectible figurines, Dungeons & Dragons characters, model planes, your expensive Mickey Mouse pieces, it’s in a shadow box that you can keep the meaningful pieces of your nerdness all tied-in together and displayed in a fun, interesting way.

Keepsakes of those We’ve Lost

When the Clutter Experts on TV try to teach us about why we have to let go of the chaos, and how it doesn’t keep those we’ve lost alive, they try to remind us that Things are just Things.

But there’s no reason you can’t keep a few reminders when you let go of those things.

When I recently sold an antique Singer sewing machine in a beautiful carved case, the person who bought it didn’t know that, among all the original maintenance equipment, was the original machine-oil tin. When I sold the 4’x3’x20” sewing machine, I kept the one little 2x2x3″ oil tin, because that was the sewing machine my mother sewed my clothes on until the day she died, and it spoke to me.

I don’t need the machine to remember her. Instead, I can make a little shadow box with a swatch of fabric from one of her pieces, a spool of thread, a photo of my mother, and the little oil tin. Instead of taking up half my storeroom, this keepsake takes up a little bit of a shelf. And it means more, in some ways, because I’ve controlled the message and the memory.

Just like you can.

Source: via Vivian on Pinterest


But Wait! There’s More

Of course, just looking pretty together is reason enough to put things into a show box. There are endless ways to use shadow boxes, because they’re really just a see-through container for keeping things you love.

Try thinking inside the shadow box next time you’re wondering where to show some original collectibles, or how to give odds and ends more meaning. They’re not just for creepy dead butterflies anymore.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.