How Not To: The Thank You Note

Growing up I was jealous of fellow friends and classmates who had light-up shoes, Baby-G watches, and fill-in-the-blank thank you cards. My mother did not allow any of these into our household. Real shoes did not contain lightbulbs, proper watches were not digital, and stationery was not to be purchased at Party City. Reminiscing, I am thankful she instilled values of pride, and well, a touch of snobbery, into her children.
(top photo: Stationary via Walton Street Stationary)

Whether it was opening presents on Christmas or opening presents on my birthday, anxiety was always peering over my shoulder. I believe I was one of few children who did not want to receive buckets of presents, as I dreaded the process of writing thank you notes. My mother assumed the role of Maxwell Perkins, critiquing and fine tuning my letters of gratitude. “Never state the amount of money given, any money given is generous.” “There are not enough personal details, include something about your relationship with the recipient.” “It is fabulous you enjoy the gift; however, how are you going to use it?” A real ole’ Maxwell Perkins, I believe she is still waiting on my rendition of The Great Gatsby.

I never appreciated my mother’s critiques until I transferred to a new high school. My parents threw me a birthday party, and I invited 15 girls (out of a class of 100) who I thought had the potential to be my friend. After the party, I spent three or four hours inscribing my pink words of gratitude onto on my crisp, monogrammed stationery. The following week at school one of the girls told me that my thank you note was the nicest she had ever received. However, this was not when my mother’s lessons of manners clicked. No, no, I am a masochist who learns from failure. Thus, it was not until the next year when the most effort I put into my note was licking the stamp, that I learned the importance of a proper thank you note. I believe all my thank you notes that year followed this format:

“Dear ____,

Thank you for the ____. See you at school.



Bland, lazy, and tacky, that years’ thank you notes were today’s Uggs and leggings. The same girl who had complimented me the year before came up to me the next week at school and made a sarcastic comment about how much thought I put into my notes. I felt like I had been given a social swirlie. THEN, my mother’s lessons on thank you notes clicked.

Now, I always write thank you notes. They are an essential requirement to functioning as a respectable adult. I follow my mother’s instructions of date in the upper right hand corner, a proper greeting, gratitude for the present, an explanation of how I will use the gift, and a closing sentence that includes a personal detail.

The process of writing a proper thank you note includes stationery that you are excited to write on, and a pen with colorful ink that you are excited to write with.

I have learned that in the act of writing a thank you note, you are not only thanking the individual for the gift, but by spending the time to write the note you are showing them that they matter to you. Thank you notes are more than written gratitude, they are a symbolic reminder of friendship and love.

Through writing a thank you note you avoid social swirlies, you show friends and family you care about them, and you trick those same individuals into thinking you are a classy, functioning adult. So, go splurge on some stationery and write those thank you notes that are lingering from your christening. It’s never too late for self-improvement.

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  1. I’ve been trying to get better about sending thank you cards myself – it feels so adult and honestly, I LOVE receiving them! Your stationery is so cute 😉

  2. Mail is the best, especially pretty mail 🙂 Totally agree with the “It is fabulous you enjoy the gift; however, how are you going to use it?”- I’m going to use this!

  3. Jessica:

    While a generation before you, you described exactly what I learned from my Mom (your mothers aunt). You we’re spot on with your descrtion!

  4. My mother was also very strict on writing – so grateful today. And, every note I write takes me back to my MS and HS English classes, where we were taught the structure and proper wording. For example, one should never start it off is the words “Thank you….” Rather, one should say something personal or a reflection of the event, etc. So, I was strict with my sons–such painful evenings making them sit and write (at least 5 at a time, if multiples). I know from other relatives how much this was appreciated.

  5. In a world of instant everything, to sit and take out a choice of lovely notes and paper, with the “just right” pen, and spend time being quietly “with” a friend or giving thanks for a kindness is a time of civility and peace in an otherwise hectic world. (As is “needling” time😊)
    Thank you, Jessica!

  6. Love this! I also try to follow the same “recipe” as your mom taught you. Your insight that the gesture is as much a reminder of the person’s importance to you as it is a show of gratitude is so true but I had never thought of it that way before.

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