A few weekends ago, while sifting through an old closet, I stumbled upon an old childhood memory box that my mom had kept for me through the years. She had thoughtfully stowed away anything she thought I might want, with the hope that I would appreciate and reflect upon all those precious memories once again.
Since these boxes had been lovingly added to for over 18 years, they were overstuffed with a sea of items I could barely remember. I knew that if I didn’t downsize and streamline this collection now, I’d one day look back at the overflowing box as a source of stress rather than joy.
The main culprit for the crowded boxes were old greeting cards: an assorted collection of birthday cards, party invitations, thank you notes, and graduation cards. Setting aside the other mementos, I pulled all the cards from the boxes and decided to take on organizing the old greetings.
As I sifted through the stacks, I realized that most of the cards had rather generic messages and very little sentiment. In the moment, a card that says “Happy 8th Birthday! You’re another year older!” is lovely, but the truth is, the cards didn’t hold much meaning for me anymore.
Of course, I came across a handful of cards that had the most lovely messages from my family and friends. Those special cards earned a coveted spot in my paper memento filer. The rest of the lot had to go.
After hours of reading, sorting, and organizing, I couldn’t help but think of all the time my mother (and I) would have saved if we had known the few pro organizing tricks I know now, rather than feeling compelled to hang on to everything.
If you want to avoid the hours and hours of sifting through paper that I’ve recently endured, there is a really simple way to process and organize cards every time they come into your home.
Here are 3 simple steps for keeping your received card collection streamlined and organized.
PHASE 1: DISPLAY THEM
When you first receive a birthday, thank you, or greeting card, enjoy it! Put the card on display for a week or two. Post them up on a bulletin board, fridge door, or set them on a fireplace mantel.
Where ever the card is, make sure it’s in a high-traffic area of your home so that you can see it regularly and think, “how sweet!” The goal here is not to just set it down and forget about it, but to enjoy it! Think of the card as a floral arrangement: a decorative reminder of how loved you are.
I highly recommend choosing one location to display your cards. Make sure that the display area has a limited “capacity.” For me, I don’t allow more than about 5 cards to be on display at a time. This will encourage you to rotate cards out of the display phase as new cards come in. This brings us to Phase 2.
PHASE 2: DISCARD THE SWEET, YET GENERIC CARDS
This is the most crucial phase to master. If a card doesn’t have a sentimental message that is unique to your relationship with the “gifter,” recycle, donate, or repurpose them. Yes, you can actually donate used cards that can be reprocessed for kids in need!
The card has already served it’s purpose: telling you that you’re being thought of, wishing you a happy birthday, or thanking you for the gift. Once you have read the note and have enjoyed the thought for a few days or weeks, it’s okay to get rid of it.
If discarding cards after you enjoy them is especially challenging for you, here’s something to consider: What is the maximum number of notes that you could enjoy reading in one sit-down session?
For me, I want a curated card and note collection that I can read in less than four hours. This means that if I take 3 minutes with each card, I can only keep 40 – 80 cards maximum. Obviously, this number can change and is personal to you, but it’s important to consider creating your own card maximum. This will encourage you to keep your collection to a manageable size.
How many cards are you limiting yourself to? Choose now. _____________
PHASE 3: STORE THE SPECIAL ONES
The cards that bring you immense joy when you look at them, remind you of a special relationship, or are from a unique time in your life, deserve a special home. Remember that the more cards that you keep, the less time you’ll have to enjoy the most unique ones through the years. Keep ONLY the cards that will continue to bring you joy or gratitude.
As a special bonus, here are a few of my favorite ideas for categorizing and storing your cards.
a. SORT & LABEL:
- Group your cards by occasion, year, person or sentiment. Label your card categories with post-its or print labels.
- The world is moving towards digital. It’s time your card mementos do too. Take a picture of the inside of your card to capture the note, and discard the paper. This will eliminate the unnecessary clutter in your home, while capturing the sentiment. If you’d like a more professional-looking digital copy, scan it into your computer, and create a special “Card” folder. Make a routine of doing this process after your birthday or holidays. It’s much easier to flip through a digital file than to lug around a big binder or box.
- Store your card collection in a compact and organized system. Here are a few containers that are perfect for organizing cards:
Filer: File your cards into your filing box or filing cabinet. This will allow you to easily add to your collection and retrieve the card quickly from their labeled files.
Binder: Use a photo album or binder to create a book of past cards. This is especially helpful if you’d like to reflect back on your cards the same way you would look at old pictures.
Bin or Box: Use a bin, box or magazine filer to corral your cards in one location. This is a less structured method for organizing your cards but can be just as effective if you’ve already sorted and labeled your card groupings.
Once you get your old card clutter under control, this step-by-step system will surely keep you on top of your paper mementos. Remember that experiences are far more important to collect than things. If you think of receiving a card as an experience, you’ll be able to appreciate it and let go of it equal amounts of grace gratitude.