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Thank-you notes: A few words of gratitude to a gift-giver go a long way

February 24, 2019

There are two things I’m convinced I’ll go to hell for: tossing recycling in the trash and not writing thank-you notes.

When it comes to the latter, a grateful recipient of an experience, gift card or bauble will be able to express gratitude with ease if taught young and equipped with the tools necessary to convey those sentiments.

Thank-you notes can feel like a chore at times, especially after a birthday or holiday when multiple gifts are received. Having a stash of favorite notecards and stamps at the ready makes getting those notes out that much easier.

One of my annual New Year’s resolutions is to stock up on supplies and to edit my contact list after receiving correspondence over the holidays. Save envelopes with return addresses to cross-reference with your electronic or paper address book, making updates after moves, divorces, etc.

The key to introducing young children to letter writing — and reminding the older ones — is to make it fun and to help them understand why expressing gratitude is an important gesture, not an obligation.

To keep young ones (and young at heart) engaged, have them participate in the selection of their own stationery. There are very affordable options, such as American Stationery, both online and in catalog, where children pick out a design and color that reflects their personality. Locally, you can order personalized stationery at Marcy Street Card Shop (follow the business when it moves to Canyon Road soon). Or pop into a drug store and pick out a greeting card.

If households have a designated drawer or cubby to go to for their stationery supplies, it is that much easier to put pen to paper. For the littles, have them dictate what to write and decorate with stickers or drawings. Make an adventure out of going to the post office or your mail box to send the letter.

For those who prefer the paperless route, or have a handicap or chicken-scratch penmanship, consider subscribing to an online service, such as the charming animations of Jacquie Lawson, or send off a stylish emailed card with free service Paperless Post.

Online printing service and stationer Bond lets you write and mail paper handwritten notes on customizable stationery from your smartphone or computer. For the ultimate luxury cheat, you can pay Bond to have your own penmanship digitized by their handwriting robots, which will pen a thank-you note in your own hand, so to speak.

Business clients use Bond’s mail-marketing platform for sending personalized, handwritten notes. I view this as a tad lazy and sneaky, but it’s better than not sending a word.

Alternatively, you can type out a note to print and enclose in your card if you are trying to fit in extra details or have difficulty writing.

When is it appropriate to text versus putting pen to paper? It depends on the age group of the recipient and the nature of the gift. If the recipient is eligible for Social Security, put pen to paper or at the minimum make a telephone call (and leave voicemail if you get it).

I always recommend sending a paper note, but if they are Gen X and younger, expectations are looser. If they are good friends, you will know what is acceptable and what is not. If the gift was expensive, required significant preparation or was deeply meaningful, put those sentiments on paper. The act of sitting down and handwriting uses a different part of the brain and taps into deeper emotion than a quick stroke on the keyboard.

Of course, all wedding and shower gifts must be acknowledged with a handwritten note. The specific gift needs mention — none of this lazy and dismissive, “It was great to see you. Thanks for the present.”

Which leads me to remind readers about content, either on paper or on the screen. Perhaps many people are put off by writing thank-you notes because they are unaware of how brief it really is. A proper thank-you note is only four sentences long: three related to the gesture and details of the gift and one unrelated. More is perfectly acceptable, but surely four is enticing and manageable bait.

Highlight what you enjoy about the gift or experience. If you are thanking a giver for cash or a gift card, describe what you have used it for or intend to use it for.

Of course, if you don’t make note of what you’ve received at the time, you’ll be at a loss for words. Keep a running notebook of gifts given and received, or jot a note on your smartphone. If necessary, it is perfectly acceptable to reach out and ask. Preface a call, text or email by saying you are doing a little detective work. You don’t want to be presumptuous and assume so-and-so gave you a present, but you can say you have some unassigned pressies you’d like to properly acknowledge.

Join me next time, when I answer your questions and conundrums about specific thank-you note mishaps. Until then, may you have much to be grateful for and find just the right words to express your sentiments.

Bizia Greene is an etiquette expert and owns the Etiquette School of Santa Fe. Send your comments and conundrums to hello@etiquettesantafe.com or 988-2070.