In an increasingly digital era, it’s fun to get real mail, isn’t? Not bills, junk mail, or magazines you never even subscribed to (why couldn’t it have been a good magazine?), but real, honest-to-goodness, heartfelt mail.

My favorite kind of mail to receive? Thank-you notes.

A family legacy

I blame my mom. She raised me with the assumption that they’re non-negotiable. As a kid, of course, I hated it. But, like many things we loathe in childhood, I now see value in it as normal, as just something you do. (Thanks, Mom.)

This is one of those things that tends to run in families; when I casually polled Facebook friends, it seems like most people who regularly write them grew up in a family that made it a priority.

But not always. I like how my friend Julia says it: “I didn’t grow up doing it. I learned as an adult and I try my hardest to send them for as many things as possible. I like people to know how much I appreciate their kindness/gift/time.”

colored pencils

Sending a thank you card is a simple way to bless someone who’s done something thoughtful for you, and it’s something I want to teach my kids to do, too.

What does etiquette say?

I’m not sure etiquette really matters much anymore, but according to Emily Post, “It’s never wrong to send a thank-you note.”

Grace Bonney sums up the modern etiquette on thank-you cards like this: “Just say thank you. The person receiving the thanks will just be happy to hear it, the mode and message are rarely as important as the simple act of acknowledging someone’s kindness.”

What to write

I once read in a Dear Abby column that the main reason people don’t send thank-you notes isn’t lack of time or motivation. It’s not knowing what to say.

Here’s what I tell my daughter, now that she’s starting to write her own. After the greeting, I have her say thanks for the gift, then say something about it (how does she like it? how has she used it? what’s her favorite part about it?), then finally, something about the person (I love you!, Hope to see you soon!, etc.). Then, she signs it.

That’s it. It might sound elementary, but even an adult can start with this basic format.

My personal goal

I may love thank-you notes, but I’m also a habitual procrastinator. My birthday was a month and half ago and I’ve had thank-you notes on my to-do list every week since then.

I leave them on there because it’s genuinely something I want to do, despite the fact that daily life tends to creep up and push it out of sight, out of mind.

But timeliness is important in showing the person you care. I’ve made it an official goal to write thank you notes within a week of receiving a gift or enjoying an event with someone.

An easy DIY photo thank-you card (perfect for kids)

There’s some gorgeous stationary out there—do a simple search on Etsy and you’ll be served eye candy galore.

But stationary can be pricey, and while you can easily pick up a box of cheap cards, here’s an inexpensive way to create something original.

photo thank you cards

Take a photo of your your child, add a simple thank-you text on the photo, and order prints for a few cents per piece.

Scribble a note of thanks on the back with a permanent felt-tipped marker (won’t imprint through like ball-point or smear), and pop in an envelope. Done!

A few ideas:

  • Use a photo of your family or your child on their birthday, or wearing/playing with/holding a gift they received
  • Use for a free, easy way to put text on photos. Or better yet,
  • Make the whole thing right from your smartphone: snap the photo, edit it with a photo app, upload it to a photo-printing app (your local drugstore might even have this option!) then have it mailed to you.

For fun: check out these eleven amazing thank-you notes from famous people. Audrey Hepburn’s is my favorite on the list.

P.S. – What to do with old cards and letters.