My love of handwritten letters (2024)

My love of handwritten letters (1)

In the 90s and early 00s, I was a stationery-obsessed child. I loved it all. The pens, pencils, notebooks, stickers, paints…all of it made me immeasurably happy. It comes as no surprise, then, that I also loved giving and receiving handwritten letters. In fact, any form of handwritten correspondence.

I can safely say that I have kept most of the letters, cards, invitations and notes that I have received in my life. As a child, I wanted to treasure all of these things. To me, it was a token of the relationships I had. Something tangible to store away for safekeeping. This means that I have collected boxes upon boxes of stuff, things that I'm only recently getting around to sticking in scrapbooks as part of a large artistic project. I'm loving every minute of it. Here are some of my finds.

My love of handwritten letters (2)

A couple of years ago, I was having a small declutter of the loft in my mother's house. There, I found bags full of old birthday cards since I turned 1. I also found heaps of Christmas cards, even the ones that had been given to me in primary school that simply said "To Leah, from so and so". I was so surprised to find these, as I hadn't even realised I'd kept them. It had just become habitual: on each birthday and Christmas we store the cards in the loft and never get them out again. We could've recycled them, or thrown them away, but we didn't. Even though these cards often don't say anything truly personal in them, they are some of the most interesting. They tell you who was in your life at any given time, sometimes a necessary reminder. Time passes and we forget. It's nice to look back at years gone by and think about those who we no longer see anymore.

More recently, I was looking through some of my memory boxes and I found a bunch of handwritten letters that were sent to me as a child by my American pen pal. She and I had met at Walt Disney World when I was 8 – I approached her in the hotel pool and we spent the rest of our holiday playing together. For some time, we posted letters that soared across the Atlantic Ocean in to each other's homes. We're still in contact on social media even though we've drifted apart, and once in a blue moon we catch up by instant message. I thank our parents for allowing us to have this friendship, I imagine it wasn't cheap for them to buy the necessary stamps. These are some of my favourite letters to look back on, I cannot believe how far they travelled to be in my hands.

I discovered a small stack of letters my partner wrote for me at the start of our relationship. He had the brilliant idea of writing letters that I could read when I needed to hear his words, as I was going through a tough time. “Open me when you miss me”, one of the envelopes reads. These letters are some of the most thoughtful presents I have ever received. I cherish them.

I also found a note that had been discreetly passed between me and a friend during our English lessons in secondary school. In the note, we were talking about the people we had crushes on, and it makes me laugh whenever I read it. As someone who's in their mid- to late-twenties, it is endlessly fascinating to look back on what was so important to me as a teenager. Evidently, it was boys. Though I wish I could shake the shoulders of my younger self and tell her not to bother, I can’t be mad at her. She was simply expressing what she felt at the time.

I found colourful birthday party invitations from my friends. They all tell me what happened at these parties, and when. Sometimes they spark memories of who was at these parties, and any funny or memorable incidents that happened. They bring back so many heartwarming thoughts just by existing in my scrapbook. It also makes me realise that it has been years since I received a physical party invitation, I’m not even sure when the last one was.

I re-discovered some more recent letters that were sent by a friend during the pandemic. At the time, they were one of my best friends. It is sad to say that we are no longer friends, and we are no longer in contact. I've been grieving the loss of our friendship for the past year, and it has been a rocky journey. Re-reading these letters made me laugh, but it also made me sad. Similarly, letters from an estranged family member who is no longer alive. It is an odd experience to read them back. I’m glad I have them, though.

My love of handwritten letters (3)

Other delightful discoveries I made include:

  • A piece of paper with a stamp on one side and a sticker on the other, given to me by a friend when I visited her house around the age of 7.

  • A flower-shaped piece of paper with the word 'ohana written on it (the Hawaiian term that means family and kinship, also a reference to the Disney film Lilo and Stitch), given to me when I was 13 by a friend from school who was moving away to Cornwall.

  • Various notes from my mother, she used to hide these in my lunchbox so I would have a little surprise at school.

  • Notes written on kitchen roll posted through my letter box, from the other children I used to play outside with near a flat we used to live in.

  • Notes, letters and cards from friends I made online but never met in real life.

  • Opening night cards from when I was in an amateur musical production, given to me by cast mates and company members.

  • Handmade letters and cards from my childhood best friend.

To some, this could appear excessive. It may seem like unnecessary hoarding, clutter and ‘stuff’, things that don't matter. However, I disagree. A handwritten correspondence captures a moment in time. It captures someone's age, someone's handwriting. Sometimes, it tells you an exact moment in time if they chose to date the letter. It offers a snapshot of what was most important to them at that time in their lives. It shows that someone cares about you enough to spend time writing to you. A photograph is a static, unmoving thing, a letter has some semblance of life in it. Instead of being presented with the memory, your brain has to work for it. The words bounce and form their own images. They evoke memories long forgotten. They evoke a feeling, a thought. They can make you laugh, or cry. You cannot help but think about your younger self opening it for the first time, with your younger hands, reading it with your younger eyes and younger mind.

This isn't going to be an article resenting how our communication has been technified. I will, however, say that no instant message will ever compare to the feeling of seeing that a letter has arrived in the mail. Amongst the junk mail and boring bills, it stands out like a diamond. Gleaming and glistening on the door mat. It's a feeling that many of us probably haven't felt for years, aside from receiving the odd birthday or Christmas card in the post. In the pandemic, I somewhat successfully tried to introduce handwritten letters back into my life. I wrote to a number of friends and did exactly what my young self would've done – covered the entire letter in little drawings and colourful stickers. It's true that it would be much easier if I just messaged them online. In today's world, you can contact someone at the drop of the hat if you just resort to text messages and Instagram DMs. But, handwritten correspondence is called snail mail for a reason, it's meant to be slow. There's nothing quite like the excitement of waiting for a response, checking the post every day just in case a beautiful envelope is sitting there for you.

My love of handwritten letters (4)

I will keep my handwritten letters for the rest of my life. I stash them away in my scrapbooks or memory boxes, and I will always bring them with me wherever I go. The majority of the correspondence I have are from people I'm no longer in contact with. Old friends and family friends, people who are no longer alive, people who I drifted apart from, people who I moved away from or who moved away from me and I never saw again. Most of these people will never know this, they’ve long since left my life, or I left theirs. I don't hold any resentment, though. Those people and those relationships were important to me, once upon a time. I must remember that. People come and go, as do the seasons. I've made peace with it. But, whatever it is they wanted to say to me in their notes all those years ago, I will hold dear to my heart.

My love of handwritten letters (5)

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My love of handwritten letters (2024)
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