4 Cut-Out Curiosities to Send Your Pen Pal

FOR BLOG (6 of 10)

In theory, snail mail seems like a pretty cheap hobby: as long as you have forty-nine cents for a forever stamp, you should be good to go!


To be fair, all hobbies have their expenses. Some people spend their disposable income on yarn or sports tickets or movie dates or modeling kits–and I happen to enjoy indulging in fancy stationery and craft supplies. All are good, of course, but can add up over time!

My quest as a member of the snail mail lifestyle has been to find the perfect balance between sending my pen pals lovely little gifts while still keeping my expenses in check. Luckily, a little creativity (and penchant for picking up free brochures everywhere) can go a long way.

So, if you’re short on cash and in search of some fun ways to liven up your outgoing mail, here’s a curated selection of my four favorite letter additions: all of them flat and (mostly) free!

FOR BLOG (7 of 10)

#1. Maps

As a baby cartography nerd whose Disney dream date will always be Milo Thatch from Atlantis: The Lost Empire (seriously, how could any Prince Charming compete with a linguist who discovers a sunken city?), I have a particularly strong passion for maps of the vintage variety.

The more “here be dragons,” the better. 

I found these Age of Discovery maps and “scientific” illustrations in a pamphlet I’d picked up from the Wadsworth Athenaeum last fall, and can’t wait to share their weird world-views with others.

FOR BLOG (8 of 10)

#2. Works of Art

As an art historian and museum employee, it’s probably no surprise that I spend lots of time at art galleries–on the clock and off. I also tend to end up with pen pals who share some interest in arts or history or museum-going, so when I visit a new cultural site, they’ll hear all about it! Though I like to support museums however I can, you don’t have to spend money on a postcard to share works of art with your pen pals: a small cut-out from a free exhibition brochure will do the trick too.

FOR BLOG (10 of 10)#3. Old Photos of Old Strangers

Most pen pals end up swapping pictures of themselves at some point–of course you’d like to see who you’re writing to!–but as a vintage ephemera fan, I also enjoy receiving mysterious photographs of people that neither my letter-friend nor I have ever met. I’m very attached to some gorgeously blurry instant-film shots of Arizona that a pen pal found in a thrift store: souvenirs from a vacation long forgotten.

You can find lots of vintage weirdness (for very low prices) in tag sales or secondhand stores: or (with family permission) take a look in your attic for some more personal pieces!

FOR BLOG (9 of 10)

#4. Magazine Mini-Treasures

Even if you don’t receive any paper magazines anymore (sadly, it’s a media form that’s disappearing as quickly as letters themselves!), your local library probably has a whole archive’s worth of free magazines donated by less-crafty people seeking to free up some space. Advertisements, articles, recipes, illustrations: magazines are a treasure trove of potential embellishments for your letters.

But what will they do with all this stuff?

I, of course, would be delighted to receive an envelope packed with little scraps and secrets, but it’s true that lots of maps and magazine clippings can pile up over time. When someone sends me tiny, flat, paper things, I tend to use them in my art journaling, mail art, or scrapbooking, giving them a life of their own.

How do you collect or use the little things your pen pals send you?

11 thoughts on “4 Cut-Out Curiosities to Send Your Pen Pal

  1. Lulu March 18, 2016 / 9:40 am

    As a thirty-ish girl I have experienced the absence of the Internet until my late teen years and I used to exchange lots of snail mail. Curiously, meeting people through the Internet afterward led to some artistic snail mail exchanges including beautiful drawings on the envelopes or inside, collages, photographs…I tthink it’s a very nice hobby and craft!

    • Keely S. (Sarr Trek) March 22, 2016 / 10:10 am

      Haha, that is a delightful collage indeed! I’m sure the post-people loved seeing that go by while it traveled to your friend.

  2. Idle Emma March 19, 2016 / 6:23 pm

    I second that map love xD
    I love sending bits and pieces to pen pals, even if it’s just a small picture or a few tags. I tend to accumulate craft supplies – I might need one or two of something, like a die-cut, to finish making a card but I have to buy a whole pack of them. It would be a shame to let the rest of them sit around going to waste so why not send some along with my letters. There seems to be quite an overlap between snail mail lovers and journal/scrapbook lovers so I can usually be sure they’ll be appreciated 🙂

    • Keely S. (Sarr Trek) March 22, 2016 / 10:12 am

      There really does seem to be quite a consistent overlap between these two groups of crafters! Funnily enough, I’m now only properly starting to get into art journaling/scrapbooking *after* all of my time spent as a snail mailer…:)

      • Idle Emma March 22, 2016 / 11:58 am

        Well even if it takes some time to get there, once you start on one form of paper craft, like when you start to make your own snail mail supplies, trying out other paper crafts is tempting and it just escalates from there xD

  3. elinorlife March 19, 2016 / 6:57 pm

    Another map lover here! I find that even if I don’t have a use for the things, little extras can make a letter even more exciting. I like to send leaflets of places I’ve been to recently, they usually contain photos or info on what I’m writing about 🙂

    • Keely S. (Sarr Trek) March 22, 2016 / 10:12 am

      Always a good idea! I know I brought back wayyyy too many leaflets from my recent trip for that very purpose 😀

  4. Nena March 22, 2016 / 11:53 am

    I love the idea of vintage photographs!! I end up making up a background story to them and that is always fun;)
    I used to exchange Lisa Frank stickers (when it was “the thing”) with my pen pals when I was younger;)

    • Keely S. (Sarr Trek) March 27, 2016 / 8:41 am

      Oh my gosh, Lisa Frank sends me WAYY back! I remember starting my first day of school ever armed with a stash of ridiculously brightly-colored Lisa Frank school supplies 😀

      • Nena March 28, 2016 / 9:11 am

        LOL! Yes! Same here:p

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s