Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Mail a Paper Thank You Note…

April 21, 2011 | By | Comments (0)


A couple of weeks ago (well before Earth Day) I raised the question on this blog of whether traditional thank you notes are becoming obsolete. A few readers may have noticed my gentle attempt to sway opinion when I suggested: “So maybe it has become wasteful—or, dare I say, impolite?—to cut down another forest so we can mail anachronistic paper thank you notes.”


“Wrong!” you answered (pretty much universally).

Many, many readers wrote to me or posted comments, offering their support for paper thank you notes. The reasons included:

“It’s tradition.”

“It says you made an effort.”

“I love to receive them, so I should send them.”

“I like to pick out pretty matching stamps.”

So…I figured I’d quietly back off my super subtle “let’s abolish paper thank you’s” campaign before anybody noticed I had launched it. Why invite more criticism when I’m still recovering from some of your more outraged “how dare you wear your mother’s mink” comments?

But then, this morning my 8th grader came into the kitchen excited about Earth Day. All her friends are going to wear green or blue! Or brown. Anyway, she started humming the “Mother Earth” song she learned when we lived in Northern California, where they are serious about recycling, and so I decided to give the anti-paper argument another shot.

I have a friend, Bea, whose household generates no garbage. Zero. No food scraps, no broken toys, no old shoes, no pizza boxes, no cast-off couches, nothing. Ever. A year or so ago I wrote a newspaper column about Bea’s life in Mill Valley, California. She has a meat jar she takes to the butcher to avoid paper wrap. She uses a brass gum stimulator with a rubber tip to avoid disposable dental floss. She owns one pair of jeans (this is true—I was in her closet).

When it comes to dealing with all the paper waste that mail creates, Bea’s philosophy is simple: Don’t let it come into your house in the first place. Refuse, so you don’t have to recycle later. She phones catalog companies to ask them to take her off their mailing lists. She saves cardboard boxes and re-addresses them. She mails back videos in their Netflix sleeves.

And when it comes to thank you notes, Bea wrote me recently:

“I think that on some very special occasions they are needed (if meeting the Queen of England, for example, or my grandma who does not have email). But for most occasions, an email will suffice (it’s a step up from texting).”

The exception, Bea wrote, is when someone mails you a paper invitation. “When you receive a paper invitation, you get a return address on the envelope,” she said. Save the envelope. When it’s time for a thank you, write a note (Bea makes her own paper, from recycled pulp, by the way) and send it back in the same envelope.

If you want to know more about Bea’s zero-waste philosophy—and believe me, it’s comprehensive—she has a zero-waste blog that I love to read.

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

Have I persuaded you yet? Or do you still believe paper thank you notes are a non-negotiable sign of civilization? 

(image via RealSimple.com)