Ask Alice: Can I Ask My Friends to Retire Our Thank You Note Tradition?

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Emily Billings)

Dear Alice,

I have a lovely group of friends who always do nice things for each other for birthdays. We’ve been friends for five to 10 years now (varies by friend), and with each birthday, the gift recipient sends thank you cards, even though we are all there to give, receive, and thank for the gift in person. My understanding of thank you cards is that they are generally for major events (showers, weddings, etc.), or when the gift giver is not actually present for the gift receiver to directly thank.

After five to 10 years of this, I’m over the constant expectation to send cards after having gushed over the gift in person already. I love sharing love and thanks, but after a while, the messages have gotten repetitive and stale, and the whole tradition feels unnecessary, especially with such a connected, accepting group of friends who have already shared thanks. I want to ditch this expectation, but how can I bring it up without seeming lazy and ungrateful?

Our group includes a woman who is very etiquette-savvy, and I feel like she’s the driving force behind it, but it’s been going on so long that I don’t even know anymore.


Ready to Hang Up the Pen

Dear Ready to Hang Up the Pen,

How lovely that you have this wonderful group of friends to celebrate milestones with!

As for the thank you notes, I wonder if everyone is thinking the same thing you are, but they don’t know how to bring it up either. It’s difficult (practically impossible actually) to police how other people express their gratitude. So here’s how I would handle it: The next time I receive a gift, I would say: “Just so everyone knows, I’m really making an effort to (fill in the blank: save paper/express my thanks in the moment/find little ways to save time/etc.) this year, so I’m going to forgo our thank you note tradition if that’s okay. But I want you to know how much I appreciate your thoughtfulness.” When you use the gift throughout the year, you might snap a photo with a thoughtful text to your friends saying thanks again. And who knows? Perhaps you’ll open the floodgates for everyone to follow suit.

I prefer direct, precise communication as often as possible—it doesn’t leave as much room for misunderstandings. But if you’re nervous to say this to your friends, you might pick one ally and ask them ahead of time how they think the group would react to this suggestion. Another idea: The next time you give a gift, you could try saying, “I know we always send thank you notes, but I heard you when you said how busy you’ve been lately—no need this year for me!”

If all else fails, here’s one last thought on the matter. We receive all to little snail mail these days (especially if you don’t count bills). So if you can’t change your friends’ minds, you could try shifting your own outlook. The notes are getting stale and repetitive? Invest in funny, beautiful, or personalized stationery (or make your own!). Challenge yourself to write a sentence about how you felt when you received the gift, how you’ll use it, or another update on your life. Rather than eliminate the tradition, maybe you can breathe new life into it. Think of these thank yous as one more 55-cent gift you’re sending to your beloved friends during the year.

Do you agree with Alice? Let us know in the comments below.

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Letters have been lightly edited for clarity and length.