4 ways (and reasons) to make wedding cards and gifts more heart-filled

Never do the contents of my mailbox look so beautiful as during wedding season.

Brides around the world are packaging up beautiful little invitations with sisters, friends, and occasional future grooms. We’re oohing and awwing at their creations, updating our calendars, and instantly wondering:

“What kind of gift should I give?”

This season, I challenge you to think about wedding gifts differently.

Shortly after Martin and I were married, we moved abroad. All the beautiful wedding gifts we received were boxed up and stashed away in Montana. That was five years ago.

Now we’re back in the US, building a little home in the back of an airplane hangar. I keep thinking: What types of things are we going to need? What will we eat off of? Drink from? Sleep on?

With each wedding invitation we receive in the mail, I get flashbacks to all those not-so-practical wedding gifts we have sitting in boxes. And yes, many of those gifts were things we put on our registry. Back then, with the little department store gift scanner, we thought, “These are the things adults are supposed to have.”

As I dig into the time capsule Martin and I buried five years ago, here are four things I wish I knew about wedding gifts (both as a bride and a gift giver):

Photo by Katie Clemons

1. Cash is good. Crystal vases and picture frames probably aren’t.

Holding the little scanning machine at the department store where you want to register is fun. Unfortunately, all those pretty things you pick out aren’t going to pay the rent. I still remember how weird those crystal picture frames (like the one above) looked in our cramped apartment with the mattress on the floor.

Cash gifts help young newlyweds pay rent. They help stock the cupboards with food.

Jeannine at Small and Chic Home wrote a really interesting post about how the wedding consultants at her department store had her registering for all sorts of things – some of which she had know idea what they were for or why she’d possibly need them.

2. Vintage gifts are awesome.

You have to read this post about an unconventional gift registry by Jane at The Borrowed Abode. She and her fiancé didn’t like how the employees at Macy’s were pushing them to register for all those crystal vases and picture frames.

The couple canceled their registry at the department store and took a different route. They registered at an antiques store!

I have to say that shopping at an antiques store for a gift for Jane has been the coolest wedding experience. You can find beautiful things for a fraction of the price. The items are rich with story and character. They’re eco-friendly. Old doesn’t equal junk. Just look at how beautiful Toma at The Antiques Diva’s home is.

3. Give a wedding card with soul.

Brides keep wedding cards. They’re a sentimental connection to a huge transition in our lives that we get to share with all the people we love.

You and I may strive to live a life without excess stuff. Yet we want to keep the things that celebrate our stories. Wedding cards are one of them.

When my mom handed me the shoebox of wedding cards I’d left in my childhood bedroom, I curled up on the couch and looked through them all. What a nostalgic afternoon! The most treasured cards were the ones with well wishes and sincerity.

Don’t just write your names. Write with passion.

4. Celebrate the love story.

Since writing the post “What to Do With Old Cards and Letters” on Simple Mom last year, a lot of you started asking me what to do with wedding cards. How could we celebrate that day? How could we celebrate the love story between a husband and wife?

Because of YOUR requests, long discussions with my mom (who still keeps all of her wedding cards in the nightstand drawer after 30+ years), and the resurfacing of my own wedding cards, I started searching for an answer that didn’t involve a shoe box in the back of the closet.

This is it:

Photo by Katie Clemons
This wedding scrapbooking journal from Gadanke is specially designed to hold all the cards and mementos of your wedding day and marriage. Prompts help flesh out the stories and dreams of your love story: from the day you two met, to today.

Wedding season, we’re ready and excited for each party and celebration. Just know I’m not shopping in the traditional manner any more.

How else can we make wedding gift and card giving a more powerful (and useful) gesture of love this season?

Katie Clemons

Katie Clemons is a storycatcher and award-winning journal crafter. She helps folks celebrate their life stories and nurture deeper bonds with her beloved mother child journals and introspective diaries at Gadanke.com. She also blogs at Making This Home.

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  1. I agree about cash – both given and received!

    We often give cash, plus a small board or card game. Those are some of my favorite newlywed memories – playing games with my hubby, and I like to think that other couples will make similar fun memories. It’s rare for people to register for games, but I feel like every family needs at least a few.

    Although, who knows, maybe the games are all in storage in Montana! 🙂

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Awesome post! We have a wedding to go to this coming Saturday and was trying to think of something meaningful. This got some great ideas going.

  3. I love this post and I love your Gadanke shop! I love that vintage antique wedding registry idea!

  4. I agree on the cash, too. We used the cash from our wedding to buy our bed. That was super helpful! Another idea is picking something you know is useful, high-quality, and hopefully on the registry. Our good-quality kitchen knives were some of my favorite wedding gifts. And if something is too expensive, get some friends/family to go in on it together!

    My husband is the best at writing inspiring messages in cards – I usually hand that job to him!

    • Jennifer says:

      I totally agree!! My BIL and SIL were intending to buy a bed with the money from their wedding. Other than my husband and I almost no one gave them money. It was a big disappointment for them. Then again, they put stuff on their registry that they didn’t really need/want and they got some of those!

      I received a great set of knives for my wedding and they are by FAR the most used items that we received. Other favorite gifts: Corelle shatter-proof dishes, folding camp chairs, Corning casserole dishes and a huge stock pot. I also asked for a knock-off version of a Mikasa china set that is dishwasher safe (yay!). They were inexpensive and came in a full set of 12. I asked for 2 sets and got both of them. I use them all the time when I entertain. I know many people who asked for expensive sets and didn’t get even 1 full setting.

      Another great “traditional” gift- Vera Wang towels from Kohls. Normally priced at $20 a piece, they often go on sale. They are amazing quality. I’d give these towels (regardless of color) over any other brand every day of the week. After almost 5 years of constant use (husband and I only own 4 total) and bleaching, they still look brand new.

  5. I agree with cash in a wonderful card with handwritten sentiments. Those were my favorite to receive and give if possible.

    I think though if you can’t afford to give much cash or a big ticket item, giving something that is really meaningful to the couple or handmade is the way to go.

  6. I love this!!! Yes, yes, yes to cash. Just stocking up the pantry was so difficult when we were first married. I like the board game idea too. And I too got scanner happy when we registered. Would do it so differently now. But that is what age and maturity does to us, I guess!
    If you are going the gift route something personal and unique. Someone gave us a handpainted picnic basket (we got engaged in the mountains on a picnic), with picnic dishes, silverware, even goblets, a tablecloth, etc. Then instead of giving it to us wrapped as a gift, they left it in our going away car filled with food for our honeymoon! So creative and we still love it!

  7. Aren’t all the crystal gifts so dumb? And I had NO idea what to do with those as a young bride. Finally just gave them all to my housekeeper when I moved from my last house, after 14 years of them sitting in the cabinet unused.

    You’re right about how filling the pantry is quite an investment when you’re starting out… I”m thinking I’ll take that route for the next wedding to come along. 🙂 Good ideas!

  8. We try to go really practical. For one friend we got her and her husband cleaning supplies in a gift basket. She said she loved it because she didn’t have to go out and get stuff to clean their new apartment.

  9. We were 19 when we got married, and neither of us had lived on our own yet, except in a dorm. People’s registry gifts filled our kitchen and bathroom with all our first plates, silverware, towels, pots, pans, a vacuum….everything. I remember after unpacking into our first apartment, looking around, and realizing practically everything we owned had been a wedding gift. It was so humbling.

  10. Many of my friends are older and already established when they get married. They don’t need things to start a household like young people starting out. For them, I like to give the gift of experiences. Restraint vouchers, theatre tickets etc.

  11. Jennifer says:

    I almost always give a gift for the bridal shower and money for the wedding. I try and make the gift meaningful or practical. You won’t see me buying someone a frame or bread maker unless I know they really want it. For friends who were recently married, I knew that they wanted a honeymoon more than anything else and they couldn’t afford it. Instead of money, we gave them the use of our timeshare for their honeymoon. This was worth way more than we would have given them in cash and will go a long way to make their dream honeymoon come true. Plus, since we already own the timeshare, it didn’t really cost us anything other than the opportunity to use it ourselves.

  12. I’ve put together a collection of basic tools and a toolbox to store them for my younger brother who is getting married in a month. For someone with an already established home, they probably already have tools. But for the young couple just starting, a hammer and nails to put pictures on the wall or a screwdriver set to put together furniture is a great practical gift. We were one of those young couples just setting up a home and the full toolbox we received is probably one of the most used items we still currently own.

    • My mother also collaborated with my mother in law on a recipe book with all my and my husbands favorite recipes in it. Fantastic gift! I’ve added to it over the years. It still makes me smile every time I open it.

  13. I love the card journal. My dh and I have kept all the cards and letters we have written to each other over the last 20 years. We often go back and look at them through different stages of our lives. With 5 chidlren, and several military deployments, we cherish those looks back at life.

  14. This was such a practical post so fitting for the season! Great ideas, and I have to agree with many others that we (I) try to go the very practical route when it comes to wedding gifts. But I love your ideas for meaningful AND practical. I so wish we could have an almost ‘delayed wedding registry’… Until we fully appreciated what we really needed/wanted – beyond the initial newlywed notions.

  15. LOVE this post! 🙂 I recently was going through a bunch of memorabilia from my grandparents and was so excited to find their original wedding cards – from the 1950’s. It was a treasure to sit down and read all the sweet sentiments from their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends. Fast forward sixty years and knowing how their life turned out it just added so much. Thanks for sharing this. 🙂

  16. I married at 20. That was 17 years ago. The only gift that I am still using are the remaining Rubbermaid containers that I received at my shower and my everyday dishes. My grandfather gave me a cedar chest by Lane, painted with pansies. I was too young to understand that it’s not really my taste. I wish I could get rid of it.

  17. I totally agree! We got so many “nice” things for our wedding that just take up so much space and don’t get used. For some close friends and family wedding this summer, I’ve offered to make my gift helping out with some aspect of the wedding, like designing the invitations. I think it’s much nicer and more useful than a crystal vase!

  18. I love Paper Coterie memory keeper boxes for wedding gifts. They are perfect for storing cards and other mementos.

    Handmade gifts (like a wood shelf and a quilt) are my favorite wedding gifts.

  19. What a great idea! I’d love to pull mine out of the storage box and do this.

  20. We weren’t living together before we married, so apart from some student housewares we were starting from scratch. I will be sad when we have to replace the toaster, not because it was a special item, but because it was a gift from my scouts group and they had an engraved plaque put on it, so it brings back memories of them as we moved away after we married. Other than that I continue to bless the people who bought the good pans for us! A lot of the things we have discarded in the last 7 years were the decorative things, particularly the ones we didn’t register for, as our tastes and lifestyle have changed so much with having kids and moving around.
    I try to give a practical everyday item that will be used and appreciated or a voucher for a department store that also does food so the couple can choose to spend it on housewares, clothes or food, whether that be a pantry shop or a ‘datenight’ meal and wine.
    My friends registry’s have definitely changed as we have gotten past the ‘straight from college’ bracket. some included fun stuff, including video games, some have been very creative and asked for skills – moving house helpers, personal artwork, photos of the wedding and so on.

  21. The best gift we got for our wedding was a $100 gift card to the grocery store. We were barely 20, in college, and only one of us worked. It was SUCH a blessing! Now it’s what we always give to newlyweds.

  22. I recovered my mom’s 50 yr. old cookbook and gave it to my niece for her wedding. She is an English teacher and LOVED it! It is truly a vintage gift, dripped stains and all.

  23. I tossed all my wedding cards. Who needs cards? My mom fished them out of the trash and made us Christmas ornaments with them. I really like those ornaments. Moms are smart.

  24. Oh, I love your ideas. Thanks for sharing this one. I would definitely use your vintage gift ideas for my sister wedding this summer. Now, it is the time to search for vintage gift for them.

  25. After 21 years, I finally retrieved our wedding cards from my hope chest to read through them… Only to find they no longer held special meaning. We had kept them wanting to hold onto the love we felt surrounding us that day. I didn’t need to read the cards to know how people felt. I pulled out three that had special meaning and tossed the rest.
    My advice now is save the dollars you would spend on a fancy card, and save the new couple the clutter of a card. Go with a small gift tag that will be easy for them to part with, and then take the time toSPEAK to the bride and groom. If the wedding day is too busy, call them up after the honeymoon and share your warm wishes. It will help with the post-wedding letdown, too.

  26. I always give money since I figure that the couple has more choice in what to spend it on, especially now that they’re venturing into more responsibilities. In the past though, I’ve written in calligraphy some love poems, particularly by Khalil Gibran, about couples and then made a handmade card to go along with it.

  27. I like to give homemade pancake mix in a nice container with the directions for how to make the pancakes and how to refill the mix when it’s gone taped to the side.

    We got married 8 years ago and were practical about our registry. No china or crystal for me. I have to admit that it was really disappointing when people got us things similar to what we registered for, but not the exact thing. Like the pots and pans we were given. They were a much lower quality and the non-stick surface started flaking after a few years and we’ve already had to replace them. So if you are going to go the registry route, please get them what they requested and don’t just use it to get ideas!

    • I have to agree with Jen. If I’m getting a gift, I shop off the couple’s registry, because I know they have chosen things that they (hopefully) will use and love in their home. My mom likes to look at the registry and then get a different version of what the couple has registered for – either cheaper or just plain different, and she always tells them why she thought her choice was better. Oh geez. I can’t imagine how frustrating that could be for a couple.

      I think that if you know the couple extremely well you can buy something that is not on the registry, but so many friends of mine have ended up with tons of well-meaning “unique” gifts that don’t work for them at all, even though the gift-givers thought they were being clever with their non-registry choices.

      Cash is always good.

  28. Emily S says:

    My sweetie and I have been married for 2 1/2 weeks (woohoo!) and are so thankful for cash that has allowed us to purchase a much needed bed (or buy food or pay rent, and the many other tangible needs). Also, we have enjoyed purposeful gifts from our registry and even a few that weren’t on it.

    We received the linen tablecloth and napkins we registered for from family friends that I lived with for a year. The mom of the family shared the sentiment, “Thinking of the wonderful meals we shared at our table and the memories you’ll make at yours.” The gift is great, the sentiment, connection, and memory are better. Also, we received a beautiful hand-painted serving tray that was not on our registry, with the wisdom, “Marriage is about serving. Serve one another well and have the grace to be served.” We love it!

  29. Mitchie says:

    Cash can be tough for those of us who are cash strapped – a small amount of cash seems cheap, but a special gift purchased with the same amount of money can seem so much nicer. I frame the wedding invitation. Some brides forget to keep an invitation for themselves, and it makes a really nice gift.

  30. I still remember how weird those crystal picture frames (like the one above) looked in our cramped apartment with the mattress on the floor.

  31. The best present I ever got was a box filled with everyday kitchen items. Spatulas, timer, spoons, large lifting forks etc. That was 36 years ago and I still have some things I still use today. Great ideas.

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  34. Beautiful! Love these ideas!

  35. I’d been looking for advice online for what to write in wedding cards for a high school friend. And After I finished writing things in it, I started questioning if I was even “suppose to” or “allowed to” write anything in the card as if it were a yearbook card. I think that if it were anybody else besides the very appreciative friend of mine reading it, the things I wrote would seem pretty lame. Because I wanted to include the weather forecast for their wedding in the card so that they wouldn’t forget it many years later when they revisit their wedding cards. and I did look up the forecast, which luckily is sunny tomorrow, on the day of their wedding. After reading your article, though, I felt better about taking this direction and I do feel like I am involved in helping them remember their special day as they look back on these things. we’re all still in our early twenties, and this friend of mine had been together with her fiancee for 6 years now. sometimes it’s hard to predict life for people, but I do hope that my wedding card can still be read together in the future in a positive way by my friend and her husband. That was my goal for writing about certain things in the wedding card I am giving to them. Thanks for the bold advice!

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