Two little words worth writing often


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My husband, Matt, spent 5 1/2 hours on Saturday working on the grounds of our daughter’s school. He and a robust group of about 15 parents moved an insane amount of mulch, installed bike racks and put in new plantings.

2004-detail-01The next morning, clipped to our mailbox, we found a sweet handwritten thank-you note from our friend Sabrina, who chairs the Grounds Committee for the school. Written on hefty card stock, with an impeccable hand, her note came as a welcome surprise. Who writes thank-you notes anymore? On actual note cards? And hand delivers them to your home? Within 24 hours of the thankable deed?

Matt volunteered his time because, to a certain extent, it’s his job as a parent to pitch in where he can. And the gratification came from knowing he’d made a difference to the school; we feel better about a place when it looks good. So he certainly didn’t expect or need an official thank you from the committee chair. Yet Sabrina’s gesture was so thoughtful and — frankly — uncommon in the age of email that you can bet Matt will sign up to help next time Sabrina asks for it.

Imagine that same scenario at the office. How many people get a handwritten “thank you” for doing the workplace equivalent of five hours of sweaty labor they didn’t have to do?

It’s high time we returned to the art of the handwritten note. Why?

  • It’s affordable. Budgets are strapped at work, so an old-fashioned thank-you note has become a low-cost retention tool for many managers trying to keep morale up. And handwriting a note works like a charm when you’re trying to stand apart, because practically no one does it.
  • It’s timeless. In the ’90s, I worked as an editor for etiquette expert Letitia Baldrige, who was Jackie Kennedy’s social secretary in the White House, and to her way of thinking, writing a thank you note and sending a bouquet of flowers were¬† crucial tools for one’s toolbox, then and now. Handwritten notes are not only gracious and de rigueur but a way of truly connecting with another human being — something she believes is slipping away in modern times.

I’m not sure I agree with her on that last part, but overall, I’d say she’s still completely right.

If you fear you don’t know how to pen a thank-you note, get a book, because concocting a good one does require a tiny bit of skill and effort. I have one called “On a Personal Note” that guides you through writing any kind of note you could possibly need. It’s like having a cheat sheet, since the authors even give you phrasing.

And invest in some decent cards. You can’t whip up a cake if you don’t have flour in the pantry, and you can’t send out a timely note if you don’t have cards. Pick out cards that are “you,” unless “you” is a photo of a kitten hanging from a branch.

Here’s further incentive: I just noticed that if you order cards from the so stylish Red Stamp, they send you free stationery with your order.

No need to send a thank-you note.

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  1. tish jett’s avatar

    Oh yes, oh yes. I have beautiful note paper — lots of it, but I’m afraid I don’t use it as often as I should. I take the easy, lazy way out.

    For all of us there’s nothing like seeing a handwritten note amongst all the other junk in the mailbox.

    Loved this, Alice.
    xoxox

  2. Laurie Duncan Cleary’s avatar

    Receiving a handwritten note from a dear, faraway friend is a gift. Sadly, nowadays, it’s a rare thing for many of us. And email just doesn’t compare. Thanks to Alice, whose distinctively handwritten notes (on homemade cards, no less) I’ve been lucky to receive for a couple of decades now.

  3. andthatremindsme’s avatar

    What I *should* have said but didn’t is that I’ve had a hell of a time keeping up with handwritten notes since my girls were born. People keep giving them cute stuff, and it’s hard for me to even remember which gifts I’ve acknowledged. (Memory loss + Shortness of time = me)