Can you remember the last time you opened your mailbox and were surprised to find a handwritten envelope addressed to you with a personal note inside?
How did it make you feel? Did your heart leap with excitement, even just a little bit?
I’ve always had a thing for snail mail.
Back in the 90s before I had ever heard of email, and the tiny communication magic box hadn’t been invented yet (it really wasn’t that long ago, y’all — can you imagine life without your phone now?!), I was a hardcore letter-writer. Besides the telephone, that’s all there was (though sometimes I got real fancy and even sent a fax!!).
Of course, my idea of what made for a good letter is quite another matter…
Take for example this delightful excerpt from a letter to one of my childhood besties:
“Hello Eileen!! This pen don’t work too good. I’ll get another one. I will write with green now. It’s my favorite color. It is 9:01pm. I stopped talking to you on the phone about 42 minutes ago. I ate 2 pieces of cake and I drank some punch and then I went on the couch and then I was bored so I decided to write you a letter. I am writing messy but that’s O.K. …. Right now the washing machine is running. I am staring at the Christmas tree because it’s right in front of me….”
But wait, it gets better:
“We are driving…That’s why this is messy. We passed a big truck, a little car and a normal truck. We are passing a green field by the hills There is the big house….Now is gone. We are beside a cornfield. Now we are by a little wheat field. A truck is beside the road. It is black. They are having car troubles. I know because the hood is up and 2 guys are staring in it. I think it will rain. The sky is very dark. It lightninged. It thundered too…”
Definitely missed my true calling as a non-fiction writer! ;)
My intentions were good, but it didn’t register in my 10-year-old brain that in fact no one cared about these mundane facts of life (though these letters were very politely received at the time, I didn’t find this out till later)!
I sent out many letters of this nature, and somehow they ended up in my possession again, because I understandably treasured them more than they did!
And yes, I still have all those zillions of pages of letters in my snail mail tote (sorry, Minimal Mom, I can’t let them go!!). As dreadful as they were, it provides a snapshot into my quirky childhood brain that still cracks me up.
But even though I didn’t get it quite right, my heart was in the right place — I wanted to stay connected to my friends and make an effort to make their day brighter by letting them know I was thinking of them and they were important to me.
Thankfully I have learned over the years how to do that better and I would like to state my case for bringing back the handwritten letter in a digital world that is spinning at a more dizzying pace than ever before.
A Case for the Handwritten Letter
I recently did a poll in The Minimal Mom Members Group asking:
On a scale of 1-10, how do you feel about getting a handwritten letter or card in the mail from a friend or family member?
10 = IT TOTALLY MAKES MY DAY!!!!!!!!!!!
1 = It’s no more exciting than a utility bill
Of the 178 responses:
- 121 people responded IT TOTALLY MAKES MY DAY!!!!!!!!!!!
- 55 were somewhere in the middle
- 2 people didn’t find it anymore exciting than a bill
This is by no means a scientific study, but that means that for less than $1 (or whatever stamps cost where you live) and just a little time and effort, you can significantly brighten the day of approximately 68% of the population, and bring a certain degree of joy to another 31%. Only 1% don’t really care.
That seems like a pretty easy way to bring joy into someone’s life, don’t you think??!
It’s so easy to get sucked into the consumerism mindset that to show we care, we need to spend money and give gifts.
Don’t get me wrong, gifts are great — especially for someone whose love language is gifts!!
But when it really comes down to it, I think what we all really want deep down is to know that we’ve made a difference in someone’s life and that they appreciate us. Often it’s the little things that have the greatest impact.
Reasons we don’t write letters anymore
I also asked the survey participants who aren’t in the habit of sending snail mail to give reasons why they don’t. These include…
- It’s A LOT of work.
- There are so many steps involved.
- I’m not organized enough to have all the supplies, addresses, etc.
- I don’t make the time for it.
- I’m too busy.
- I don’t want to add to someone else’s clutter.
- Texting & emailing are quicker.
- I wish people happy birthday on Facebook instead.
- Postage & cards are expensive.
- I feel the need to write a huge letter that’s long & eloquent.
- I have no letter-writing skills & blank cards are overwhelming.
- I make it too complicated.
- Arthritis in my hands makes it difficult to write.
- I prefer to see people in person.
- I forget.
- It doesn’t excite me to receive them but I feel guilty getting rid of them and don’t want to do that to other people.
These are all are valid points.
But may I be so bold as to say that if we have time to scroll through social media or watch YouTube, and if we can afford to buy ourselves a coffee, we have the time and we have the money — it’s just a matter of making it a priority!
I’m not saying this to create more guilt or add to your list of things you should do. It’s definitely not for everyone and life is kinda nuts for many of us, especially right now.
I just see the potential of what a difference we could make in our world if we could start a snail mail revolution and make the world a little brighter, one person at a time.
If you’re convinced that it’s worth the effort, but not sure how to go about it, here are some ways to get started!
How to make it happen!
It’s true, sending mail definitely takes more effort than sending a text or email (or whatever the kids do these days…I can’t keep up), and it can be difficult to know what to say if you’re not used to the “formality” of handwriting a letter or note.
So let’s take away at least some of the barriers….
Set yourself up for success!
Make it easier by gathering all your supplies now. Keep them in the same place so they’re ready to go!
This can include:
- Cards — They don’t have to be expensive or fancy, thrift stores are often overloaded with greeting cards. Just pick out a few favorites whenever you come across them.
- Paper — Also doesn’t have to be fancy. Even just plain lined paper will do.
- Pens — Colorful pens are delightful, but of course, optional!
- Stickers — Optional for sure, but sometimes they’re just fun!
- Address book — I may be a bit old-fashioned, but I still keep track of everyone’s addresses in a real book. Whenever I come across a new address or someone has moved, I add it right away, so I never have to go searching for the right one. But of course, any kind of system will work as long as you’re consistent at keeping it updated.
Keep it simple
Letter-writing has a different purpose today than it did in the past. While it used to be one of the only ways to keep each other up-to-date with the events of our lives, most of our friends and family get to experience our lives now in real time, regardless of how far apart we live.
So it might seem like there’s not much to say, since there really aren’t many updates they don’t already know by the time we sit down to write.
Don’t worry about following proper letter-writing etiquette or adding extra fluff. Just get to the point.
It can be as simple as letting them know…
- You’re thinking about them.
- Something specific that you appreciate about them.
- That you’re thankful that they are in your life.
- That you’re praying for them.
- Something to encourage them in a difficult time.
- How happy you were to run into them at the grocery store the other day because you haven’t seen each other in like 3 months because of the quarantining situation :)
I know, sometimes the simplest things are the most difficult to write. With so many ways to communicate quickly, we can easily stay in touch without ever actually saying the things that matter the most.
I recently sent a simple card to a new friend to let her know that I really enjoyed our visits and thanked her for being a bright light in this chaotic world. That’s it.
She texted me that I had made her cry (in a good way!). And it’s still on her fridge. Worth the effort? You bet!
Make it FUN (and even a bit silly)!!
While I do still send regular cards, I also like to be a bit goofy (okay, a lot). Life is just too short to be serious all the time.
If you’re looking to jazz it up a bit with your snail mail, here are a few unique ideas to make it fun!
Now I realize I’m a bit of a nerd and keeping a collection of fun words from magazines and junk mail is not a normal-person hobby (and not very minimalism-friendly), but you don’t have to stockpile them for this to work!
Just grab a magazine or newspaper and chop out a few words that stand out as inspiration, glue them on a piece of paper, and write your letter around that. If you have too much time on your hands, you can make the entire letter from the scraps, but it’s more realistic to choose a few key words and write in the words in between!
Chop It Up
If your recipient has a good sense of humor, write your letter and then chop it into strips! So in order to read your message they have to do a bit of detective work. If you want to be really mean, write on both sides (sorry, Bonnie!!)
I sent this to a cousin a few weeks ago and got this in reply on my front door….
What could be more fun than a jigsaw puzzle with a message! So simple and so fun! Puzzles abound at thrift stores, so just pick one up for a buck or two, put it together, flip it over and write your message! You can mail these at a bit of an extra cost, but it’s a fun way to surprise friends and family that live nearby, even if you see them often :)
Make Your Own Puzzle
Take the puzzle idea but draw your own on a large Bristol board or even just a plain sheet of paper! Write your message, chop it into puzzle pieces and divide them into several envelopes. Send them a few days apart to keep the recipient in suspense as they wait for the whole message to arrive!
(If you want to know the story behind this one, Dawn talks about it in this video — she had NO idea it was me!! ;)
If drawing your own puzzle pieces seems intimidating, print out this puzzle on a regular sheet of paper, write your message on the other side and cut it out along the lines :)
You can also just chop it into triangles or random shapes like this:
Let’s spread the love!
You don’t need me to tell you that things are kinda crazy right now. People are battling loneliness, isolation, depression… There’s just so much hard stuff and uncertainty.
In her book “Choosing Gratitude,” Nance Leigh DeMoss says, “Spoken words of praise and thanks have power to dissipate that spirit of heaviness that sometimes weighs us down and clings to us like a wet blanket. And they have power to do the same for others.”
I suspect written words of praise and thanks have the power to do the same.
So whether you’re in a good place, or even if you’re struggling right now, I want to encourage you to think of just one person you could reach out to with a surprise in the mail. And then do it! At very least you could brighten their day, or it could do so much more.
I bet that not only will you make someone else’s day, but you’ll find a little more joy in your own heart too :)
Will you share your snail mail stories with us? We’d love to hear them!
Jacquie is a Virtual Assistant and a professional pianist who has a keen interest in nutrition, fitness and simple living (and sending snail mail, of course ;)
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