Our Love-Hate Relationship with Greeting Cards

In this age of electronic greetings, it’s delightful to get an honest-to-goodness card in the mail.  Someone went to the trouble to buy the card, sign it, address it, stamp it, and mail it.  That person must really like you!

Getting a birthday or anniversary or congratulations or thank you card, with a personal message in it – and in your friend or relative’s familiar handwriting – feels great.  But then what?

I often come across piles of greeting cards at my clients’ homes.  They honestly don’t know what to do with them.  Should they be saved?  Can they be thrown away?  Again and again, I hear, “After all the trouble somebody went to send it, is it bad of me to just recycle it?”

There’s a line of greeting cards created by my colleague Jill Yesko, CPO, and at the bottom of each card is the statement “This card is good for one week – then you have my permission to toss it!”  I think most people who send you a card do not expect you to keep it forever.

After a holiday or special occasion, I display my cards for two or three weeks, then take them down and toss most of them.   It’s festive to have them on display – and ultimately delightful to reclaim the space and remove the visual clutter.

Here are some guidelines to help you decide what to do with those cards.

Holiday Cards

Holiday cards are, I believe, the most transient of greetings.  Many other people are getting the same card that you are, and you can be fairly certain that you will get another card from these same people next year.  Do not hesitate to recycle these at the same time that you take down your holiday decorations.

Exceptions would be:

(a) Photo cards — but only if the people in the photos are very close to you.  Write on the back of the card what year you received it, then put it where you keep your photos.

(b) Holiday letters — again, only if the people who sent them are close to you, and if you think you may want to read them again.   Save these with your Memorabilia – more about that later.  I suggest putting a year on these as well.

Anniversary Cards

If the card is from your loved one — the person with whom you share this anniversary — then it will depend on that other person.  Is he/she the type of person who will be deeply offended if you recycle it?  Is there a special handwritten note in the card?  If both those answers are “no”, then toss it.

If the card is from someone else, then toss it.

Birthday, Thank You, or Congratulations Cards

If the person wrote a very special note in the card – something that makes you smile every time you read it – then save it with your Memorabilia.  Otherwise, toss it.

Sympathy Cards

When my mother passed away in February, I saved every sympathy card I received.  I treasured each personal message.  Missives that reach us when we are at our most vulnerable take on a special significance.   At some point in the future, I may decide to throw them away.   How you react in a similar situation will depend on you.

Special Situations

As with any set of rules, there are exceptions.   In the last few years of my mother’s life, I saved every birthday and anniversary card that she sent us, knowing that someday soon, it would be the last one we ever got from her.  (The winner was my husband’s February birthday this year.)  I also have saved most cards from my daughter, now 15, since I like to look back and see her childish handwriting and her funny thoughts.

How to Store Memorabilia

Whatever cards you decide to save, you should keep them all together.  I recommend purchasing an archival box for storing your Memorabilia.  That would include not just cards, but any special documents (such as certificates), nice notes or letters, postcards.  You can even store things in it that aren’t flat – that’s the advantage of a box over a folder.   For example, your autograph book from junior high school, or medals and ribbons you have been awarded.

The Bottom Line

It’s all about keeping what is important to you, and recycling or tossing the rest.  Don’t keep anything out of guilt.  Keep it because it’s something you can’t bear to part with.

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