I have a friend who’s an expert thank you note writer. She sends a handwritten thank you for every occasion you can think of and unlike the significantly reduced but ever-present junk mail in our box, they’re always extremely welcome pieces of mail.
It’s not just her sending a note that’s significant, it’s the particular way she goes about the business, which is to say, by default. No matter whether you’ve invited her for tea, or offered counsel, or bestowed a small gift, she sends a note just a day or two later. The predictability is delightful and far from feeling formulaic or insincere, her notes convey the simple gratitude that we all feel when anyone does anything nice for us. The only difference is that she’s taken a moment to put it down on paper. Her notes repay generosity with more generosity which is the very best kind of cycle to find oneself on.
I grew up in a household where sending a thank you note after receiving a gift was a non-negotiable, but the truth is that I’m publishing this as a habit shift post because I’ve gotten rusty. I’ve been lured by the ease of dashing off a quick email. Afraid that by the time I get around to sending a card that too much time will have elapsed, I’ve sometimes sent a quick text and then forgotten to follow up with a more formal thanks of any kind. If I’ve received something in person I’ve sometimes offered sincere thanks in the moment but never followed up afterward to say how much I cared. There have been other cases, I’m sure of it, when something has wended its way to my door and I’ve forgotten to express my thanks altogether. And of course there are reasons a plenty: work and a kid and the general busyness of it all.
To be clear: Sending an email or a writing a text or making a phone call are all lovely things to do—and I’m not saying that I expect anyone to send a handwritten thank you by post—but I am just acknowledging that it can be a lovely thing to do and it’s something that I’m trying my best to do more often. And no, the irony is not lost on me that in the same space where I’m advocating that we try our best to end the scourge of junk mail, I’m suggesting that folks send more mail of another sort. But human connection is important and knowing that we have a support network even more so. There’s something about receiving a physical piece of mail in your box from a dear friend that feels weightier than a text or an email or, certainly, than forgetting altogether.
Toward that end, here’s a few ideas for how to get into the habit. If you have others to add to the list, please do:
Keep cards handy: The biggest obstacle to sending a note can be just having something lovely to write it on within easy reach. This December I made a series of thank you cards to send to folks who I’ve worked with this year, but I’ve also restocked the wooden box where I keep stationery supplies with a few simple cards for easy access. (Tip: For the tiny handwriting folks among us, I suggest investing in cards of a proportionate size. No need to up your anxiety by having a humongous card to fill up with perfect prose.)
Buy a stockpile of stamps: My thank you note champion friend truly exceeds all expectations by keeping a stockpile of vintage stamps tucked away in her own tiny apartment. Her letters come adorned with festive postage totaling the current 47-cent first-class rate and the stamps are nearly as delightful as her words. We can’t all be stamp collectors, but we can stock up on stamps and keep them in an easy to reach spot. (In the US, Forever stamps stay current even if stamp rates change so they’re a good option if you’re not a frequent mailer.)
Centralize your address list: For years I used a teeny tiny leather address book that I bought in Italy while traveling with my sister in college. It was too small to be very practical and very much filled to the brim with out-of-date addresses when I switched it to a Google spreadsheet before our wedding. I try my best to keep the spreadsheet up-to-date so I’m not needing to ask folks for their address before I can put something in the mail. (Bonus: Keeping a shared digital list like this one is especially helpful because it takes the onus off just one person in a household to keep track of the addresses and the thank yous. I keep a separate business list, but everything else goes onto the shared list and James and I both update it regularly.)
Don’t over think it: I know there are plenty of people who feel intimidated by crafting the perfect thank you. I say, don’t over think it. Without getting too prescriptive, I think it’s nice to follow a simple formula of saying thanks, mentioning something specific that you love about the gift you’ve been given or the favor that’s been bestowed upon you, and finish with a note of hope or love or general friendship. It doesn’t have to be award winning, it just has to get down on paper and out to the mailbox.
What about you guys? Any thank you habits to share?
In case you want to apply your letter writing skills to inspire some political action, here are two solid resources to get you started: