The art of the thank-you note

I have been writing thank-you notes pretty much since I knew how to write the alphabet, and in my 28 years I have honed the skill. Thank-you notes are thoughtful and important, but they are kind of a chore to do, and sometimes it can feel a little bit forced, right? “Dear uncle that I never see and definitely don’t speak to, because we’re just not that kind of family, thank you SO mightily for the birthday money!” Rinse and repeat at Christmas time, and that might be your only interaction every year.

So, it can feel a little awkward, but thank-you notes are important. Not only are they gracious, but they also allow that long-distance relative to stop wondering if you received their gift in the first place. Don’t blow it off. One year I didn’t write a thank-you note to my uncle for a birthday check because I was like “meh,” and then he DIED, and even though his death had absolutely nothing to do with me, I had some weird karmic guilt about it anyway.

I have a few more notes to get out from this past Christmas, so I thought I’d share my tips for a good thank-you note that is as painless as possible to write and enjoyable as possible to read.

  1. Keep it short and sweet. You probably don’t have to go over four lines.
  2. Be specific. If your note says “Thank you for the birthday gift,” you may as well not write it, because it just demonstrates that either you forgot what the person got you*, or you’re not putting any care into the note at all. I will always remember when my mom got a thank-you note that said, “Thank you so much for the wedding gift. It was very thoughtful!” She does not suffer that kind of rote gratitude gladly.
  3. If you’re thanking someone for money, let them know how you’re going to use it. For instance, I received checks from a few relatives this year, and told them that it was going to come in very handy when JD starts going to nursing school this month. When I was writing notes after our wedding, I told the people who gave us money that we were able to use it to splurge on treats and gifts during our honeymoon. Obviously, a little bit of dignity and discretion is key here: you want to demonstrate that you’re glad for the money and it’s very useful and welcome, but not act like you were depending on it for your entire livelihood. (Actually, now that I’ve written this, I think there might be other perspectives–anyone want to share?)
  4. If you’re thanking someone for a gift other than money, you can still mention what you like about it or how you’re going to use it. Don’t overthink this–it can be as simple as “I’ve been wanting something new to read, and these Elena Ferrante books seem like just what I needed.” (Even if that’s not entirely true.)
  5. If you’re like me, and barely ever talk to the kinds of people who send checks for your birthday and various holidays, a thank-you note is a great way to update them on the important things in your life. One or two sentences about how you just got a new job or are looking to buy a house or have adopted a couple of ferrets can do the trick nicely.
  6. Finally, the BEST REASON to send a thank-you note in the mail is to casually inform your relatives that although you recently got married, you did not change your name! Put those return address labels to good use and remind everyone what a pesky little feminist you are.

*It’s a good idea to keep a list of who got you what, especially if you have more than, say, five or six thank-yous to write.

A final thought: I write all the thank-you notes in our household. JD did not grow up writing them, and so although it feels like a cliched cop-out for me, the woman of the house, to do all of them (insert long treatise about emotional labor here), it would also be a giant pain for me to try and balance the scales. JD does a lot of things around the house that I do not care or know how to do, and since I can basically write a thank-you note in my sleep, I’m happy to just take on that task indefinitely. (It also helps enormously that his extended family members do not send cards and gifts the way mine do–if they did, I would probably insist that he write his fair share.)

Do I protest too much? Probably. Whatever, it’s all good.

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