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!
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.
#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.
#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!
#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?