Back to the Basics: Traditional Mail
Young woman at table writing traditional mail by a teapot and glass, smiling

Traditional Mail used to be the only means of communication before the internet was a thing.

When was the last time you received traditional mail like a handwritten letter in your mailbox? No, not a greeting card or thank-you note, but a real letter, written with a pen or pencil on paper. Remember the excitement you felt? If you’re like most people, you probably stopped everything and took a few minutes to open that envelope and read the words inside. There’s something about letter writing that demonstrates a special connection and communication.

Articles dating back to 2009 and maybe even earlier talk about how letter-writing is a dwindling art. According to “The Guardian,” about 20 percent of UK students have never even received a handwritten letter. Over half of the recipients had never sent one. One expert believes that letter-writing is instrumental to a child’s development. Receiving a letter is a statement of investment in a relationship. Putting your thoughts and ideas on paper is an effort in “civilized human thought.” Letter-writing is a practical application of spelling and grammar, without the ease of emoticons or shortcuts. 

Writing a Traditional Letter

It’s common to start a letter with the phrase, “Dear –,“ but that can feel very stilted and formal in today’s society. You should include some kind of salutation, but it doesn’t have to be traditional. Hi or hello will work just as well when you’re writing an informal letter to a friend. Pretend you’re talking to the person. If you don’t know what to talk about in the body of a letter, here are some ideas:

  • What made you decide to write the letter
  • Something about today that reminds you of the person
  • A memory of the individual
  • A piece of information or wisdom you’ve always wanted to share
  • Something you find difficult to say in person
  • A memory of your childhood that you want your son, granddaughter or mentee to know
  • Stories of college or the military

If you’ve never written letters before, it may seem weird to have a one-sided conversation. Don’t worry, as you get more accustomed to writing on paper instead of the computer, the words will flow. You don’t have to overthink letter-writing. Spend 15 minutes or so writing the letter, and send it off.

Don’t forget to close the letter. You don’t have to use the very formal “sincerely yours.” Choose a casual sign-off, maybe “toodles,” or “see you later.” Again, just pretend the person is there, and you’re saying good-bye. Sign your name. Be creative and use the name the person knows you as. This isn’t a business letter. If you have a lot of space at the bottom of a page, draw a picture or include your favorite quote. Not many people keep linen stationery around. It’s okay if you just have plain white copy paper. Find stickers or stencils and jazz up the page to make it look special.

Why Traditional Mail?

Teaching our children to write casual letters is the introduction to more formal kinds of communication. It’s very difficult to sit down and write a business letter unless you’ve experienced casual letter-writing. Email and letter-writing might be similar, but they have their differences.

A letter isn’t for bad news or to start a fight. Be positive and creative. Many people have forgotten how to communicate in writing, but getting a letter is fun. Make a resolution to write one letter a month to someone you love. You might choose a shut-in who can’t use technology. Your letter isn’t just for the recipient. Your words tell the story of your life. Sharing this story is a way to bring you closer to your family and friends. It also helps you become more articulate about what has shaped you. Let’s bring back the lost art of letter-writing in 2017.