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What to do with old cards and letters

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by Katie Clemons

Katie Clemons is a storycatcher and journal crafter. She helps people celebrate their stories with her award-winning writing prompt journals at Gadanke. She also blogs at Making This Home about simple, handmade living from a vintage airplane hangar in Montana.

There is something incredible about the power of handwritten cards and letters.  We love getting them; most of us love sending them. But then what?

My philosophy is this: get rid of all those cards and letters that don’t add to your happiness. Keep the things that matter; repurpose everything else.

Today, I thought I’d share seven tips for what I like to do with all the cards and letters I receive.

For all the cards and letters you want to keep:

1. Scan them and store on your computer.

Christmas letters and typed notes are perfect for scanning and recycling. These letters are often printed at home or from online companies, so the handmade feel isn’t often as significant as a personal note.

If you want to keep them, scan them.  Create folders on your computer, such as “2011 Christmas” or “2011,” for all the letters received during that time, or “Schmidt Family” for all the letters received over the years from that specific family.


Photo by Katie Clemons

2. Tuck them in your scrapbook or journal.

I like combining letters with my stories because they offer different perspectives to life events.

I keep a journal from Gadanke, my shop. All I have to do is hole punch postcards and letters (like the one above from my grandma) and put them in my journal.  I do the same with photographs and ticket stubs. This book holds my wedding cards.

3. Keep them so you can give them back to the writer one day.

A couple of years ago, my grandma got a package in the mail. It was filled with about 24 letters and Christmas cards that she had written to her closest college friend over the years!

Getting those letters back was like receiving a time capsule. It was the first time we got to learn about my dad’s first Christmas.

The keys to doing this are:

  • Be selective about from which people you choose to keep the cards for later. A few dear friends or family members is plenty.
  • Keep everything in a little box or bag at your desk, so you’ll always file away the items you want to include in this packet one day.
  • Be selective about the types of cards and letters you keep. You want to give back a collection of that person’s story, so only hang onto the mail that contributes to that.
  • Print off any emails or keep them in a special folder on your computer to return to that person as well.
  • You might want to be sneaky sometimes. Email and telephone weren’t luxuries my grandma and her old friend could use. Write letters and notes to your chosen people so they might be inclined to do the same.

For all the cards you want to ditch:


Photo by Katie Clemons

1. Repurpose them into tags and gift cards.

All the pretty poems and cute pictures are perfect for repurposing into gift tags. Use them year-round with your gift giving.

I like to cut out the images as I get them — hearts, snowmen, leprechauns.  I punch a hole in my cutout and string a scrap of ribbon or twine in it.  My tags are all in a little envelope with all of my wrapping supplies. Easy!

2. Repurpose them into scrapbook and journal embellishments.

Looking for the perfect quotation or pretty image for your memory keeping? Pieces from cards are perfect and readily available, especially for Christmas and weddings.


Photo by Katie Clemons

3. Repurpose card tops into postcards.

This project is super easy and fun. All you have to do is tear or cut the card in half. Recycle the half with the inside text and names; put a postcard stamp on the side with the pretty picture, and you’ve got your postcard.

Here’s a tutorial.

4. Donate card tops.

A lot of organizations, from Girl Scouts to YMCA and Kiwanis summer camp programs, can use your card tops for their craft projects all year long.  Summer camp season is here, so ask now.

St. Jude’s Ranch for Children , an organization dedicated to helping abused and neglected children, accepts card tops year-round in the United States. They repurpose your card pieces into new cards that are then sold to raise funds for the organization.

Just tear or cut off the top and donate it.

How do you keep the letters that matter, and part with the ones that don’t?

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Comments

  1. I love the postcard idea! Actually, this is how I save money on Christmas cards every year. I keep all the cards from the previous year and then make postcards and resend them. I often print a small picture of our family with a short note on the “clean” side, then stamp and address and send them out! Saves money on postage too!

    • I like this way of keeping Christmas cards. I have been scrapbooking the whole handmade cards people have made and put them in my Christmas pages each year; I have taken a square punch and punched a decorative square from the store bought card we have received from friends and family each year. Ali Edwards did the square punch look a few years ago on her sb pages.

      I do save the postage and address labels from all of the cards each year. I use them as embellishments on my Christmas pages. We can look back years from now and see what the postage stamps looked like AND what the cost of postage was for that year.

  2. Nice idea that I’ll do with the 3-year-old I am training. We have some creative projects we’re about to work on and this will fit in QUITE NICELY.

    Plus it’s being green. (Reuse)

  3. I use the old cards for recipe cards. I either write the recipe on the blank part, or cut out of a magazine and tape it over a written on part. And I like that I can see the birthday, Christmas, or anniversary wishes on the other side.

  4. Love this post! I have boxes of cards and such that I’ve kept and just can’t throw away – I love some of these ideas and will definitely use them!

  5. I could have used reading this post last week. :) I just had a baby so we are getting lots of cards…we are also in the middle of renos and so there is zero room for extra clutter. I used to keep my cards but since I almost never look at them twice I determined that I would ‘read and recycle’. Unfortunately in my haste to be clutter free I also recycled $100 worth of gift cards. Oops!! :( :(
    So thanks for the fresh ideas!!!

  6. Love these ideas! Thanks so much for sharing. I was just noticing how full a box of cards is getting…might be time to go through those.

  7. This is great! Love all the tips! I have been sending my card covers so St. Jude’s, and repurposing cards into gift tags. Your journal idea is awesome. Also, here’s another great tip: put the written part in a photo frame and use it to decorate your home! I received a wonderful letter from someone, so I framed it and it now sits on my office desk.

  8. This is just fantastic. Thank you! Now I don’t have to feel the guilt for just throwing away greeting cards. I love sharing these ideas with others. Will be checking out your page!

  9. I have been thinking in the last few weeks how I need to ruthless with my memory keeping, think about what I want to keep and then file them in an organised and managable way. There is too much shoving at the moment!

    Great post. Thank you so much for sharing!

  10. Thought you might like this idea I’ve used in the past and ALWAYS get compliments on when people come over. It’s a big hit at my house!
    Collage your Christmas cards into place mats! I believe I saw this idea in Real Simple (or something similar) several years ago, and I held onto it for when I had kids! There are pictures on mine on the link and instructions for how I made them and what I’d do differently.
    http://www.thankfullythrifty.com/2011/01/turn-your-christmas-cards-into-place-mats/
    Thanks for all of your great posts!

    • WOW, what a great idea! i just made a family collage for my son to hang on the fridge of our far away family and friends……i LOVE the placemat idea!

  11. We cut up our Christmas cards every year to make gift tags for the following year. It’s a nice way to finish out the season.

  12. avatar
    Jillian says:

    We’ve had a box of special cards sitting in a closet for years. This Christmas I put them all together in a ‘happy book’ full of good memories about our favorite people.

  13. After years of collecting cards that were given to my daughter for holidays and birthdays, I hole punched each one and put them on a large book ring so she could flip them whenever she wants. She loves it! I wrote about it here:
    http://thecreativemama.com/a-ring-of-memories/

  14. I do number three all the time: Repurpose card tops into postcards. I also use card tops to write notes to friends for random moments of encouragement. Thanks for sharing all your other ideas!

  15. I’ve always scanned them and stored them on my computer but I love the journal idea with the hole punch. As long as they are relatively the same size, it would be great to flip through them and remember.

  16. I love these ideas. Thanks for sharing them….I will be repurposing card tops and clipping the cute images to turn into gift tags. Great stuff!

  17. Thank you for all of these ideas. I am quite sentimental and often have dozens of saved cards. For the cards I don’t keep together (some just have to be saved) I have cut up for gift tags or used in crafts with my kids. I also stumbled on another idea to reuse greeting cards. There are many ways to do this but I found this to be the best one. You can make them into gift boxes.
    Here is a link on how to do it.
    http://familycrafts.about.com/od/giftwrap/ss/GreetingCardBox.htm

  18. Great ideas. I like the hole-punched cards in a journal. I’d like to make something like that.

  19. A few yrs ago, my mom gave me a bunch of letters I’d written to her while I was in college. One of my uncles once mailed me a letter I’d written to him when was about 8 yrs old! Both times it was fun.

  20. Email was at it infancy when my family and I lived in Russia for a span of 18 months in the 90’s. My mom LOVED it and it was her link to people who supported and encouraged her while she was on the mission field. My aunt was one of her main sounding boards, and kept every single letter my mom wrote her. When we returned to the states, she had compiled them all in a binder that she had decorated. As they are on their way back to the mission field (this time to Singapore), she loves remembering all the thoughts, victories and struggles from the first time around :)

    One more thing ..my brother was killed in Iraq 5 years ago . When we went through his things we found all the letters I had send him during boot camp just a couple of years before. I found the ones he sent me within a couple of weeks after he died, and the two sets together are a wonderful blessing that no one can put a price on!

  21. I really love this idea. I’ve kept a lot of cards and notes from over the years and have been trying to think of things that I could do with them.

    A few years ago my mom created a shadowbox for my Dad’s office. The cards/notes/letters were used as a backdrop to the pictures and items from her memory!

  22. Great ideas! I have started reusing old christmas cards to make gift tags for presents. Or if it’s a really cute picture, stick it in a frame for an instant holiday decoration!

  23. I often use old cards for bookmarks. I just chop the pictures into rectangles and round the corners with my scrapbooking corner punch. I have a little pile of them that the kids know they can use. If they lose them or damage them, it doesn’t matter.

  24. Great ideas for old cards. You love the senders so much, it is very hard to part with them!

  25. Wonderful ideas. This has always been one of those “thorn in the flesh” issues for me. I hate to throw away meaningful cards, but I also hate the clutter!

  26. man, i love these ideas. i’ll definitely keep them in mind. i’ve never been a person to keep cards, so i really like the re-purposing ideas. thank!

  27. Your shop is called Gadanke? As a German minor–I love it!!!

  28. I love this idea! So many great ideas here! Thanks for sharing! Angie xo

  29. Great ideas. Our local library recycles them by turning them into bookmarks

  30. Very cool ideas. I had never thought of any of these. I have mounds of cards I’ve kept but also tons that I’ve thrown away now at least I have some ideas on what to do with them.

  31. this is a wonderful wonderful idea! thanks for sharing!

  32. I usually tuck them in my journal so it’s like a documentation for me. It’s too precious to be discarded or donated. Nice tips, Katie.

  33. Outstanding ,Thanks for sharing your fantastic ideas with us keep it up .

  34. Outstanding ,Thanks for sharing such a valuable stuff here.

  35. Hey, these are very original ideas! I love the “repurpose them [the cards] into tags and gifts” one ;) Alison

  36. Wonderful idea, Katie. Thank you! I usually put all the greeting cards and letters into a bag and eventually end up forgetting about it.

  37. Great ideas! I will probably scan a lot of mine because they are filling up boxes and it’s getting out of control. I also like the idea of using ones that are special to me as part of my gallery wall. I’m thinking I might put a couple in a frame so I can see them every day and add more interest to the gallery.

    Thanks!

  38. This is such a good idea and the suggestion about donating to St. Jude’s is wonderful. Talk about upcycling.

  39. Wonderful Idea! There is also a tutorial on Martha Stewart to turn greeting card fronts into christmas ornaments.

  40. haha! wonderful idea! i’m keeping all the thousand letters and cards i have from friends and my husband then boyfriend and students in a small suitcase and some i used on scrapbooking. now this will actually help me save space :) thank you. great post!

  41. Great ideas!! I use cards that I plan to throw away and turn them into bookmarks. Use the scissors with the cute cuts and make pretty edges. Also, I give some to my daughter to cut and glue pictures on paper.
    Enjoyed your post!

  42. hi! I noticed you mentioned Kiwanis sunshine summer camps. I worked at one this summer and we’re actually trying to win a contest for $10,000 through Kraft. I was wondering if you would mind putting it up and getting people to vote for it? We’re also trying to win another contest to rehab the camp–it needs a LOT of TLC
    http://www.avivacommunityfund.org/ideas/acf11691 (this one just started today, you can vote once a day for the next 15 days)

    and this one is done next week! again, vote once a day!
    http://www.kraftpeanutbutter.com/en/contest/gallery/534/

    thank you thank you THANK YOU!!!!

  43. I love your ideas. I plan to share your blog with my friends.

  44. avatar
    Emily @ I love farm weddings says:

    These are some great ideas! I shared the idea for a card book on my blog today. Thanks For sharing your card organizing ideas!
    Here is the link to my post: http://www.ilovefarmweddings.com/2011/11/09/handmade-organizing-your-wedding-cards/
    Thanks!
    Emily @ I love farm weddings

  45. Love this idea.

  46. avatar
    Beth Hicks says:

    I have another idea .. I take the calendar apart page by page or month by month.. I take one of my check size envelopes apart and place on the picture from the calendar.. you kind of have to turn it sideways to fit it on.. trace it and cut it out.. either glue or tape the envelope to use for writing notes, sending checks etc.. what a great way to use those pages.. I get so many free calendars during Jan I can’t use them all.. use a label on teh front or if you have a blank space just write the address out

  47. avatar
    Kim Alcorn says:

    Love the idea. I’ve been saving my cards for years for this reason. They are so beautiful and I like the idea of the hole punch and putting them in a notebook and I like the postcard idea. I’ve been motivated.

  48. good ideas!!

  49. avatar
    BJ Clark-Larson says:

    I’ve made tags out of cards for years. A hole punch and raffia completes this little craft for me. Some are still hard to part with! …=)

  50. Love this. Just gave you a pin on Pinterest! I’d love for you to link this up in our Pin Party. http://cafescrapper-scrapsoflife.blogspot.com/2012/02/pinterest-favorites-link-up-5.html Have a super weekend! Susie

  51. Love the gift tag idea!

  52. I just love your ideas for cards. You are creative and I am really thankful for the suggestions.

  53. avatar
    Janet Swenson says:

    I love your ideas. I have used the fronts of Christmas cards the following year as tags before. But, I never thought of the postcard idea. Also, I can donate the tops, that is one for sure I will do also. THANKS!

  54. do any one no how to make a jewel boxes out of plastic and cards. you make your design and you cut it out you put piece of plastic onthe side and the card in the middle and then you put hole down the side and bottom and then you lace it up

  55. avatar
    Renee Davis says:

    Enjoyed reading your Blog about reusing and/ or keeping your cards and/or letters. I also have a few ideas you can use them for. I have seen and plan to make ABC books for future grandchildren and other family members. Use the card that starts with the Alphabet Letter . A is for Airplane, B is for Bee, C is for Car, ect. S is for Santa or Sleigh……. I am working on a Christmas Album now (using only Christmas cards).
    Another idea was to put the card in the little plexiglass frames so you can change them out when you feel like. I also have turned them into puzzles by laminatining the card and then cutting it into pieces.
    I hope these are some good ideas for your readers.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas.

  56. I’m going to make a booklet with the wedding cards I saved (the ones I thought were cute/interesting and/or had heartfelt messages from dear family and friends) interspersed with pages from a notebook that ladies from my grandmother’s church filled with words of wisdom and encouragement. I came across this post via Pinterest, and I’m so glad I did.

  57. I love these ideas, thank you so much! I have boxes of correspondence that I just can’t part with but wasn’t sure what to do with it all. This is inspiring, thanks again!

  58. I have saved letters I wrote to my family in a “Round Robin” (letters included from all members circulate thru the family and when you get it you take your old letter out and put a new one in) for almost 30 years. I have made copies of these to put into a book for each of my sons as wedding presents. They tell stories of what was going on in all of our lives all thru the years. When I put the book together, I include school and family pictures of the boys inserted with the letters from that time.

  59. Hi Simple Mom!
    I found your how to link on Pinterest and I would love to re-post your link on my ning network at recycle2art.ning.com. I am in the process of changing my website to a social network site so please excuse the dust. The ning site is only a small sampling of my artists to find out what recycle2art is all about please check out my main site at http://www.recycle2art.com.

  60. Hi Simple Mom
    I especially like the gift tag idea, as it really is as limitless as the number of gifts I give!
    I wanted to share with you a post on my blog which highlights how I used gift cards to make meaningful home decor – wedding cards to framed art, and birthday cards to decoupage furniture. Let me know what you think.

  61. One year I took some of the cards that my mother had given me and used them in an Advent Calendar. I made a large Christmas tree out of heavy poster board and then made Christmas ornaments as the “windows”…when she opened one she found the front of or one of the sayings from the cards that she had given me over the years. She loved it. So much so I have made her two more using both Christmas as well as birthday cards!

  62. I’ve never thought about scanning my saved cards to the computer but what a great idea! I also love the journal and re-gifting letters to the sender. Now I have some fabulous idea for gift giving occasions.

  63. I am loving these ideas! I can’t wait to try this myself. I am such a sap for old letters.

  64. I remove card fronts and glue them to the outside of plain brown or solid colored paper gift bags. No need to buy fancy patterned (read: expensive) gift bags when I can make my own with dollar store bags and recycled cards.

  65. avatar
    Craftychick says:

    A friend told me that I couldn’t cut up used cards and reuse them to make new cards due to copyright infringements is this true, as they keep going on about recycling I would have thought this would have been welcomed

    • You couldn’t use them for commercial use. That would certainly be copyright infringement. Ask an attorney to address your questions, though. They often come speak to guilds about this sort of thing. (A copyright attorney recently did a free presentation in my quilting guild, and it was very useful for all.)

  66. You can also make these cards into nice little boxes, with just just a few folds (like oragami) and a little cutting with sissors. There are a few places on the web that will tell you how, like at Care2 or EHow or even at a Martha Stewart site. Also, I use them for hanging homemade earrings from, just cut out a nice scene, embelish the edges with decorative sissors and/or glitter glue, etc, and punch a couple of holes with a pin and hang a pair of earrings to give away on this piece. Put it into one of the boxes you made and there you have a gift and a gift box. Sure makes life simple and green!!

  67. The ideas you’ve shared here are fantastic !I can’t wait try it out..Thanks for this great sharing!!

  68. avatar
    Christina M says:

    My favorite idea for Christmas cards and letters came from a blog somewhere…I wish I could remember who and where to give credit! But anyways, this family keeps all the cards and letters in a basket or box nearby all year long. Every day, or as often as possible, they pull out one card and pray for that family. Love that. :)

  69. When I lost my dear husband I received dozens of Sympathy cards from the various circles of people we know. Asside from the printed thoughts, almost all had personal notes added. I couldn’t bear to part with any of the cards, postcards or letters. One item was a thick bifolded Mass Card on a wooden foundation covered in leather. I cut that in half and used it for the covers of my Sympathy Book of cards. I punched holes in each item and used metal circles from the stationery store to hold everything together. Its very special to me and I go thru it from time to time. I’m so glad I did this. ***ALSO, to be sure I had the latest address for each person, I cut the name sticker or handwritten address on the envelopes and taped it on the inside of the card for safe-keeping. Then I added them, if necessary, to my address book. That way I could safely dispose of all the envelopes.*** (I’d rather have had my husband than the book, but we don’t always get a choice in life).

  70. I always throw my cards away – and always feel guilty about it. I love love LOVE all of your ideas for re-purposing them. Very cute! :)

  71. What a fabulous idea! I have so many saved up cards that I need to organize better. I shared your brilliance with my readers HERE: http://seektobemerry.blogspot.com/2013/01/crafty-little-things.html Thanks so much!

  72. This is great! I have piles and piles of cards that have accumulated for something like twenty years, and I had no idea what to do with them before I looked at your site!

    Just a note, in case no one else mentioned it above: the link for card-top giving for St. Jude’s Ranch has changed to this: http://www.stjudesranch.org/shop/recycled-card-program/

    Thanks again!

  73. These are really great ideas — I have boxes of old cards and letters that need to be organized! I like the idea of creating little books of cards and letters — that way, they are in one place, and are preserved.

  74. I have been searching out some of your stories and i can state that this one pretty nicely stuff. I have enjoyed your post, which nicely written on interesting story. Thanks for sharing such a great stuff with us. I hope more to come.

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