Letters. Remember those?
No, not emails. Not texts. Letters. Written by hand. On paper. Mailed via snail mail. With a stamp. They’ve gone the way of print-edition newspapers and flip phones. We’re sending 4.3 billion fewer letters and cards than we did in 2001, reports the U.S. Postal Service, a 61-percent drop from the days when email and text weren’t the main lines of communication.
It’s caused a cultural change. Fifteen percent of Americans say they haven’t written a note to someone in more than five years, another survey reported. And 33 percent say they haven’t gotten a handwritten note in more than a year. But while we’ve stopped writing letters, we still want to get them.
A Gallup poll found 94 percent of Americans love-love-love getting a letter or card in the mail. And get this: 87 percent of millennials, digital animals who laugh at old people who don’t text, value handwritten notes more than alternative (read: digital) forms of communication. Yes, digital natives would rather get a letter than a text, which is surprising AF. Analog letter-writing FTW.
The reason words written on paper are more appealing? They’re more heartfelt. A handwritten letter is like a gift – an artisan communique. You can hold it in your hand and feel the paper. You can keep it forever, that is unless you succumb to the Swedish death-cleaning trend when you get old.
Writing letters proves you were on this earth. Emails archived in the cloud just don’t have the romance of a bundle of letters. And do you really want the only record of your existence to be the stuff that comes up on a Google search?
One more reason to write letters: It’s good for you. A Kent State professor found that writing letters about something that’s important to you will make you happier and more satisfied. So it’s time to revive the lost art of letter-writing. Millennials have brought back vinyl, liberalism and brunch, so why not letters and thank-you notes? Here’s the lowdown.
When Should I Send a Handwritten Thank-You Note?
Any time you get a gift and the person who gave it to you was not there to be thanked in person. Here are the guidelines by occasion, from none other than Emily Post:
- Shower gifts: Send a note even if the gift-giver was at the shower and you thanked them in person. Yes, it’s the opposite of what we just told you, but like English grammar, there are exceptions to all the rules.
- Wedding gifts: Send a note within three months of receiving the gift. Even if the giver was at the wedding, send them a note. Yes, we are breaking the rule again.
- Cards with personally written messages for any occasion: Send a thank-you note. If they send you a card with just a signature, you’re off the hook.
- Gifts received when you’re sick: Send a note as soon as you feel well enough.
- Condolence notes or gifts: Send a thank-you note to everyone who sends flowers, a personal note or a donation. Since you are grieving, it’s OK if a friend or relative writes the notes for you.
- Graduation gifts: Send a note within three weeks of getting a gift. The graduate must write the note. No notes from parents, even if it was a kindergarten graduation. Teach your kids manners, people.
- Someone did something nice for you: Your neighbor got your mail while you were on vacation, a friend babysat your dog on short notice, a co-worker brought your laptop to you when you were home sick. While a verbal thank you is plenty, a written thank you will knock ’em dead. There is never a wrong time to send a thank-you note. Except maybe to the boss who fired the co-worker you hate.
- After a job interview: Yes, career experts still recommend sending a handwritten thank you to the person who interviewed you. You have student loans to pay, so do everything necessary to get that job.
When Should I Send A Letter?
Any time. There is never a bad time to write a letter. Here are tips for writing these notes.
- Get good stationery: Letters are now keepsakes, so don’t dare write one on a sheet of typing paper. Invest in high-quality stuff. Primo brands include Smythson of Bond Street, so British they spell Smythson with a Y instead of an I; Sugar Paper, which carries a line of letterpress cards and note sets; or Original Crown Mill, which makes a line of boffo paper for writing letters. Etsy is full of small studios selling gorgeous handmade cards and paper, too.
- Get a good pen: Don’t use the crappy pen your dentist gives out for free. You don’t have to spend a fortune. Just get a good ballpoint pen that puts ink on the paper evenly. Gel pens are super-nice to write with.
- Practice on a spare sheet of paper: Don’t laugh. If you aren’t in the habit of writing notes, and most of us aren’t, you forget how to write and form a thought at the same time. Jot down a rough draft on crappy paper, then grab the good paper and get going. And for God’s sake, write neatly. Illegible scribble defeats the point of writing the note.
- Be creative: Add a paper photo. Write a poem. Do a sketch. Turn your letter into a work of art. Who wouldn’t want to get a letter like that?
- Write like you talk: Skip formalities. No “Dearest Friend” greeting. Pretend the person is sitting across a table from you, and write what you would say to them. Simple, heartfelt words are the most powerful. The exception to this rule: When writing a thank-you note for a job interview, be formal AF.
So, get to writing letters and thank-you notes. Your friends and family will love getting them. You’ll feel happier. And you’ll help the USPS stay in business. Right now, Amazon Prime is the only thing between them and obsolescence.