06/05/2014 09:00 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

This Gift Lasts Forever and You Can Afford It

Shoebox food is the longest lasting gift I know of. It doesn't expire. It comes in all shapes and sizes--mostly small sizes though, and mostly rectangular. You've given shoebox food before, and you've received it. Sometimes it makes you cry, sometimes it makes you laugh, sometimes it breaks your heart.

Shoebox food is another way of saying 'a handwritten letter.'


I call shoebox food, because it eventually gets stored in a shoebox. It is the artifact that nobody can seem to throw away. If it doesn't get stored in a shoebox, it gets placed in a special drawer, or a box under the bed. A safe place. Nowadays, a handwritten note is so rare and precious that it often sits on the desk and gets read and re-read a dozen times before it eventually gets put in the shoebox, forever and ever. There is something so deeply human and beautiful about seeing another person's handwriting. The curves in it, the shaky aspects and the revisions and the erasures. When someone spends time writing something to you, they have made the biggest sacrifice a person can make in the trenches of this insanely fast paced world--they have sacrificed their time.

Who doesn't feel loved when they receive a personal, sincere, handwritten note? How could you not feel loved when someone basically tells you, "You're so important to me that I took time out of my day to sit down and write this to you... and mail it to you?" Put differently, how could you not feel loved when someone basically says: "I love you"?

During a recent stroll around San Francisco I stumbled into a "vintage shop" -- not a thrift shop, but an expertly curated and quaint shop for old, beautiful, and well-loved things. My eyes were drawn to a wall which had container after container full of old letters -- letters written in the 1950's, the 1920's, the 1980's. Letters between young lovers. Letters from parents to their college-aged kids. Letters from soldiers to their wives and children. From spouse to spouse. From teacher to student.

I sat and flipped through and read old letters for two hours. I even purchased a few that were particularly beautiful. I could have stayed there for a week. I am certain I will go back and read more, before long.


I left that 'vintage shop' more determined than ever to give away pieces of my heart -- to seal them in envelopes, and send them out into the world, to the people that I am grateful for. After flipping through 50 year-old letter after 50-year old letter, the permanent power of the handwritten letter was confirmed. Humans place so much value on objects that reflect the expenditure of time and emotion. If you tell someone that they matter to you, and you send it in the mail, you can sleep soundly knowing that your letter will lift that person up, and eventually it will be placed in a shoebox, where it will stay for decades until some kid finds it in a vintage store long after you've left this good earth.

And when he finds it and reads it, I can tell you from experience that he will learn, just a little bit better, what it means to be human and to love.

Author Matt Richardson is the co-founder of Gramr Gratitude Co. Gramr provides a subscription service for beautiful and original thank-you notes, their goal is to start a movement for gratitude and grateful living -- learn more about their vision of a more grateful world here.

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