Letters and greeting cards

I received this comment from Anne last week…

I’ve been following your blog since September which was when I started to declutter my apartment. It’s a slow process with lots of decisions. I have several boxes of letters and greeting cards from friends and family dating back to 1970′s and I have no idea if I should keep them or not. Have you made a post of what to do with letters and greeting cards?

My reply was…

Hi Anne, letters and greeting cards are a tricky thing for some people. The short answer for me is keep the letters but weed through the greeting cards and only keep what is really significant to you. This is such a good question though that I think I will address it this week in a post so stay tuned.

Then I also received this related comment from Lesley who has been ploughing through the 365 archives…

I have the letter regret too. I had some old letters from a dear friend written about 18 years ago. Totally inconsequential stuff, nothing too deep or anything like that, mostly just written (years before email!) when arranging to next see each other. Very sadly he died this week far too young and I would give anything to be able to read those letters again. Just to be able to hear his humour in them one more time.
I need to go through my momento box at some point and will definitely be scanning stuff in before chucking anything else.

I have written before about how years ago I convinced my husband to throw away letters from a cousin that they had exchanged during their turbulent teenage years. When the cousin died in her early forties he regretted so much having parted with those letters. They would have been a great comfort to him at the time. We have however kept the letters we wrote to one another during our courtship days and from early in our marriage when we were separated at times due to my husbands work. Can’t say I ever pull them out and read them but I wouldn’t get rid of them.

Although it makes sense to scan and store letters digitally and dispose of the originals because they take up space there is just something special about having the originals that puts me off this idea. To have the original paper chosen by the author and their own ink and script is far more personal than to just have a digital copy. That being said if I had several boxes full that were a mix of insignificant scratchings and meaningful correspondence I would be inclined to scan them all but only keep those that I considered important to me.

When it comes to greeting cards I usually display them for about two weeks after the occasion for which they were celebrating. The only ones I keep intact are the ones from our children that usually contain a meaningful message that they have written themselves. Our daughter is particularly adept at writing just the perfect message while Liam is the comedian of the duo. From the other cards I then cut off any parts I can use to make my home made cards and throw the unusable segments into the recycling.

Our collection of meaningful communication would fit in a large shoe box and I consider that to be a small treasure that no amount of desire to minimise my belongings would make me part with.

If anyone out there has any suggestions and opinion on this topic please leave a comment in order to give a more rounded view on this subject.

Today’s declutter item

Liam T-Shirt 11JAN2011

Things I am grateful for today

  1. Getting through the house cleaning quickly.
  2. Not getting too wet on our afternoon walk.
  3. Accidentally finding something useful when looking for something else – on the internet of course by now I ought to know where everything is in my house without having to look.
  4. Tom Yum Goong – I love this Thai hot and sour soup.
  5. My friend Amber – She comes out with some funny stuff at times the rest of the time she is just a really nice person.
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About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. I too have had this problem over the years and can say I regret a few things like this that I threw away. But recently I came up with a solution that we like. For the letters my mother and father exchanged before they married while he was still in the service (during WWII) I created an album along with pictures and things like that. It will preserve the letters and the photos together and gives it all much more meaning. For other important letters and cards I bought a archival box that will keep them safe. We decided to keep only those cards and letters that represented the best of the person they were from. If a card was just signed, we ditched it. After reading through many letters we found that we had some that were not really that interesting–more just a basic reciting of what had been happening but not anything really important. Others were either discussing important life events or were great examples of the persons personality. Those we kept. I know they take some space but I felt they were important enough to keep. It means we have something left of those people who have passed and those who might some day.

    • Hi Deb J,
      I like everything you say here. What a great way to preserve your letters and to choose which ones stay and which ones don’t. Thank you for your input.

  2. I promised a post about last week’s efforts and here it is! http://myzerowaste.com/2011/01/decluttering-zero-waste/ Looking forward to getting stuck in to this weeks too. Great discussion on the letters. I keep a few – ones from my husband when we first met and some from my grandmother – now deceased but I will definitely release some greetings cards – I have them from my 18th, my 21st, on the birth of my daughter etc and all the ones my husband has ever sent me. The thing is he writes such beautiful and meaningful things in them which always make me cry 🙂

    • Hi Mrs Green,
      I read your blog and all the links within, it was great even though you portrayed me as the evil hard task master 👿 (actually I kind of liked that). You added a slightly amusing twist to the post which made it fun to read. So how are those boxes of art work going are they still all in the attic? 😈 I have to say I learned a few things while I was at it and I liked the idea of the Kerchief wrapping and your decluttering book post was very helpful.

      The cards from your husband sound like the ones out daughter sends. She chooses an appropriate card in the store but it is what she writes in it that makes it a keeper.

  3. Over the years, I have culled letters and cards every few years, though I find it hard.
    Basically, I have a handful of friends who I only ‘knew’ through mail and kept all their mail – eg one penfriend I acquired aged 17 and we have only ever met in real life one time though I am 50 now!
    I have to say the advent of Facebook where I have picked up with one or two of those folk again means that next time I approach the task (the letters are currently on another continent), will make it easier to declutter those further.
    I have kept a few items from grannies and so on.
    Regarding cards, I have kept ones relating to significant occasions (ones with an 0 on the end LOL) and leaving cards from jobs etc. but not in any special format, just bundled in envelopes.

    • Hi OBC,
      I personally think that this is one area of sentimental history items that should not full under the title of clutter unless a person just keeps everything whether it has special meaning or not. Culling is a very personal thing when it comes to letters and cards that I would never presume to have the best advice about. I think that it is likely that this kind of “clutter” isn’t taking up a lot of space anyway so why part with anything you don’t feel comfortable about.

  4. I have a rectangular flowerpot/vase thing that I discovered makes a great holder for cards that we get throughout the year. After being displayed for a couple of weeks for birthdays/anniversaries/whatever, I gather them all up and put them in the vase (on a shelf in LR). Once a year I go through and chuck most of them. Recently discovered a huge box of cards in the store room dating from the ’80’s – kept the handmade valentines, the cards with the shaky handwriting of elderly relatives. Threw out the mass market cards. I don’t usually let my husband in on this process, b/c he’d keep everything!! Just like his mom did. I recently noticed his dad is storing all the cards he gets in neatly labeled boxes by year. But why??? I know I wouldn’t look at them all again.

    • Hi Kate,
      I think you have the right idea here. I cull cards as I go after the display period. I do always consult the card owner first but we are all quite selective about what we wish to keep so no hoarding problems there.

  5. As I try to clear the clutter in my house and try to live a more minimalist lifestyle, letters are the one area that is non-negotiable to me. I have letters from when I was a teenager, letters written between my parents and grandparents during the 70’s, letters from my grandfather to my grandmother during WW2…even letters my husband wrote to his then-wife when he was serving in the middle east in the early 90’s. Letters have a historical significance to them that future generations will appreciate- particularly as letter writing is now a dying art. I am much stricter with cards only keeping significant ones that have something written inside….if it’s just signed I throw it out. Someone posted that they bought an archive box for their letters and I think that’s a great idea- mine are just in a plastic box. I do hope people will really think twice before discarding letters! You may also consider asking a local museum if they are collecting letters for their archives…the social historical aspect shouldn’t be ignored for the sake of decluttering.

    • Hi Patricia,
      thank you for your input on this subject, what you had to say was very true and I am sure helpful to others. Decluttering things that can be replaced is one thing but letters are irreplaceable so one must be very selective on how they go about this.
      I don’t believe that you have commented before so I would like to welcome you to 365lessthings.com it is a pleasure to include another voice in our community here. We hope to hear more from you in the future. Thanks again for dropping by.

  6. Monday’s mini-mission: Make your returns. Check!

  7. I’ve done the decluttering of my letter/cards boxes (from 3 down to 1) slowly over the past year. Stuff that I wasn’t ready to get rid of a year ago, gets tossed now without a second thought. Like you, I now only keep cards from my children and husband (and only if there is something meaningful written in there). My mother started the bad habit (as I see it now!) of keeping EVERY card I ever received, from my birth till the day I left home, including Christmas cards for goodness sake! It took me years to get out of the mindset that every scrap of paper is precious. My most precious paper-related possessions are letters and cards she sent me – as she can now no longer write – and letters from my Dad to me (he died last year).

    • Hi Loretta,
      the paper memories you chose to keep must be very precious to you but like you say there is no need to keep every insignificant correspondence you ever received. It is not easy to convince yourself that these kind of habits are OK to break after years of practicing them. Good for you for letting go.
      I am sorry to hear that you lost your dad last year, I am sure you still feel him near and many ways and having his letters to read must be a great comfort to you.

  8. PS I voted for you in the Weblog awards (hard to think of 2 other Aussie blogs though!)

    • I know what you mean.

      • And I meant to tell you: I decided on what to do with the painting. Discussed it with my sister and my best friend and pulled out the painting to show them. My sister LOVES it, and is taking it when she moves interstate!

        • Hooray for you Loretta. Has the artist noticed it missing yet. Please keep us informed if anything happens on that front. I am intrigued to know the whole story if this episode doesn’t turn out to be the end of it.

  9. I have a fairly simple system for dealing with greeting cards. If the card is just signed, I display it for a week or two and then toss it. If the card has something sentimental or funny written in it by the giver, I keep it. I feel if the person took the time to write something extra it’s worth keeping.

    • Hi Marnie,
      the surprising part is how many cards we receive that seem to be sent through obligation and have no real sentiment to them. I must admit I am guilty of doing that myself especially to people who never bother to send me a card. I should probably scratch them off my card list and do the environment a favour.

  10. Years ago, at a local historical society ‘library’ facility, while researching my family tree, I came across a hand written letter, from a Great Great (Great?) Grandmother (mid 1800’s). It was kept under special care, along with hundreds of other letters, by the local genealogy society (I had to wear white gloves to even access the binder book it was stored in, and then each letter was covered in some sort of plastic sheeting, and had also been microfiched, and I was being ‘watched’ the entire time by one of the librarians!!!!). What a treat to see that letter; to see her handwriting and read her story about traveling from the east, across the plains, to west (Colorado) in a covered wagon.

    If any of you have amazing letters/notes, which are of historical relevance, maybe donate the original to a local historical society. If it is feasible and appropriate, share your family/friends history with others in this way. If the letter is REALLY old, make sure you find out how safe/unsafe it is to photocopy the item. The letter I read, I could make a copy from the microfiche, but not from the original (something about the bright light hurting the old ink????).

    OH, the part about the personal letters/cards, for years I kept stuff like that (pertaining to just my life). Eventually I thinned out the assortment, kept a few here and there, then basically just tossed all of it (this process was over MANY years!). Do I have any regrets? No, the past is the past. What is done is done. However, at almost 50 years old, maybe my outlook is different. I couldn’t toss those things out when I was in my 20′s/30′s/early 40′s. Now I don’t even save any. It is fun to read and display for a few days, but then life goes on and it just becomes clutter, so it gets tossed or recycled appropriately.

    • Hi Annabelle,
      thank you so much for your input on this subject. We look back at history and think thank goodness someone saved these letters and then look at our own and think there is nothing special about them but our history is interesting too. I talk to my kids about learning to type on a type writer (oh how much easier it is to type an A on a computer keyboard) and they think it is amusing. You see it can also be the things we think are trivial the interest people who didn’t grow up on our era. The world is changing at a rapid pace these days and things are vastly different after only ten years.
      I like the idea of donating to a historical society because they will be able to preserve thing better than us. Just let the extended family know where they can access them if they are interested.

      • Oh, do I ever remember those old typewriters. I learned to type on a huge black heavy metal typewriter as the teacher intoned. “a s a space. Girls keep your eyes on the book, not on your hands!” My hands are tiny and the keys were so difficult to push downward, especially the ones using your pinky. Oh the memories that brings back. Now I type on a really small light Apple keyboard that requires the lightest touch. Am I that old?!!!!! :_)

        • Hi Di,
          we can be old together. Oh how I remember those typing lessons but boy am I glad now that I did them because I have keyboard skills that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I still make loads of mistakes but that is the beauty of a screen and a printer rather than a a ribbon, mistakes are easy to fix. God now I remember those correction sheets that we used to use before they invented liquid paper. Wow I am old. 😆

          • Colleen, I’ve been meaning to ask you how you get those emoticons to print on your comments. I can only get the smiley face by typing a colon and a closing parenthesis. Yours even have animation. So cool!!!!

  11. Gah, there must be something wrong with me, for once I don’t have this particular decluttering problem!! Annabelle expressed it for me with her comment – the past is the past, what’s done is done. (Yet clothing is another matter – I am keeping the dress my mother wore when she was married (not an actual wedding gown) because it’s from another era and someone might be interested in it someday and it’s not replaceable and it’s just cool to have. Even though my parents divorced years ago.)

    • Hi Jo,
      congratulations you have found a declutter item you don’t need to deal with. The dress sounds interesting you should take a photo and share it with us. Maybe we could have a “I’m never getting rid of this show and tell”. Actually I like that idea.

  12. After reading more comments, I think I’m ready to get a little more tough with myself! Even though I keep a year’s worth of cards, then sort/toss . . . I can’t explain why I don’t just toss them straightaway. Thanks to everyone for inspiration to change my process.

    • Hi Kate,
      good for you. My post articles are really only the tip of the iceberg it is all the extra information that flows in underneath in the comments that gives the full picture. I am glad you read them and got something out of them. Good luck with you new resolution to weed out the communication clutter before it gets out of hand.

      • I enjoy reading all the comments. Sometimes I just grab a cup of tea, sit at my computer, and catch up on a few days’ posts and comments. It’s like a girls’ decluttering circle (kind of like a quilting circle). I love all the great ideas I get from reading everyone’s stories and insights.

        • Hi Di,
          you are so right about this. Everyone who comments is assisting us all in our decluttering efforts. I often get post ideas from comments and emails I receive from my readers. Thanks everyone for making my blog special for me and for you! 😛

  13. I like to put my cards (mainly) on a magnetic noticeboard (so no pesky pin holoes). I take them down when I have new cards (incl post cards) to put up. And everything I take off it goes into a shoe box for the year. I’ve only been doing this a year or two, but I think over time I will review each shoebox, cull further, and condense. At the moment, it’s a nice place to keep all those things you don’t want to throw out -and it’s front and centre in my bedroom, so I’m always looking at these things when I walk in.

    • Hi Snosie,
      thank you for joining us here at 365lessthings it is good to add your voice to our community.
      I like the idea of your magnet board because those pesky holes can ruin a card quick smart. I have Venetian blinds in my house and they are great for hanging cards on. I was glad to hear you intend to review the shoe box over time because it could get pretty crowded in there after a few years. It was fairly unanimous that one needs to be careful this type of personal communication “clutter” as there is recorded history involved that is a shame to destroy. So do what works for you and be careful when you do cull further.

  14. I’ve kept tons of cards, letters, etc. over the years. I finally got to a “THAT’S IT!!!” point and tossed a lot of them. Old Christmas cards that I had no want to keep, but b/c my mom had always kept them, I did too….they are LONG gone. One thing I did do…..I found something called a “SMASH” book. It’s kinda like a scrapbook, only smaller. The gist is that it’s similar to a junk drawer (only on paper)….anything goes (they have a YouTube video of the book…love it!). Anywho…..I have taken paper items that I didn’t want to toss, but were piling up and put them in there. A handwritten card from hubby’s dad’s mom (now passed) went in there. It’s on it’s own page with a little note from me at the bottom of minor details (name & her dates)….it’s now highlighted as special instead of in a pile of less important momentos (the rest of the notes/letters were tossed). I have done that with other important things like my niece’s graduation announcement and pics. We now have a reminder of her and how special she was to us….especially hubby. 🙂

    • Grace from Brazil

      Smash books?! I have never heard of them. (I live overseas). I have a small selection of family letters and pictures that my mother is getting rid of and they are in a ziploc bag. This is something to think about. I definitely don’t want a scrapbook, since the size of a smash book is so much more practical. I will certainly try to scan a lot of them but there are some that I might set up in a smash book. Thanks!

  15. Love you daily blog – just new to it and enjoy reading every post – it will certainly help me with my clutter problem… but a quick one re the collection of cards, letters etc. one collects over the years. Naturally I need to hang on to special ones written to me be my children and grandchildren on special occasions like birthday and Mothers’ Day – but after my dear Mum died and we found so many of her collected cards,letters etc. over the years – we found what we think was a nice way – which was to have what we called ” A Sacrifical Burn” we as a family on a nice day in a suitable, sentimental garden belonging to a family member slowly each added one card or letter to the fire. It certainly was a comfort feeling to all of us and we still remember it well. The time is coming closer when I will have to have one of my own – as I press on with my decluttering program. Thanks for informative reading.

    • Hi Betty and welcome to 365 Less Things. What a unique and lovely way to deal with decluttering personal communication items belonging to a past loved one. Thank you for sharing Betty.

  16. Hi Colleen, I’m very late to the card/letter party 🙂 I have several large Ziploc bags in my hope chest, with cards & letters from friends & family. Each bag is labeled with a senders name. I only save items where the sender actually wrote a personal message, not any “obligation cards.” I feel a little sad to know that certain baggies will never receive another contribution… But I am glad to have the letters that I have from those people… I also keep old calendars in there, so we have a record of when we did things (my memory is tricky)… And since I have never considered decluttering my hope chest, these items aren’t “in my way”.

    • Hi Peggy, I keep most of the cards my children send me because they nearly always put personal messages and they put thought in to what card they buy for me. My daughter writes a blend of humorous/lovely messages while my son sticks to the humorous messages leaving me to read between the line. Both get the message across that they love me just the way I am and that is a beautiful thing. I haven’t looked for some time but I think I might have the odd old calendar in my memory box as well. At least I would definitely have the pages of the months when my children were born. Never feel you should declutter items like this. They are very special and there are a lot more impersonal stuff that can head out the door to make up for the little bit of space these items take up.


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