What To Do With Cards

by admin on April 11, 2013

What is the proper etiquette for receiving and keeping cards? Whether birthday, Christmas, anniversary cards? My husband finds it really odd that I almost immediately throw away any card I receive. He thinks I should at least “hold on to it” for awhile. But I see no point in that; I am never going to look at it again. Is it improper etiquette to promptly throw away a card/letter when received? Should one hold onto a card for a certain period of time? 0409-13

Cards and letters are little postal gifts, a momentary sharing of good thoughts, wishes and intentions.  Once you receive it, you are free to do with it as you please, just like every other gift received.   I personally save all cards given to me, particularly thank you notes.

{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

Sazerac April 11, 2013 at 6:22 am

Depends on the card/occasion, and your relationship to the recipient.

I keep all the cards my mother sends me because she always writes something personal in them. I know a day will come when they will be part of what I have to remind me of her. Other cards (birthday, etc.) I appreciate and may display for a few days, but eventually dispose/recycle them.

Rather than throw them away outright, a great charity to donate used cards to is the St. Jude’s Ranch for Children (http://www.stjudesranch.org/your-donations-at-work-recycled-card-program/). The kids at the ranch recycle the cards and turn them into new greeting cards, which helps support the ranch.


Rose April 11, 2013 at 6:24 am

I save the truly special ones, such as the gloriously romantic ones my hubby gives me on our anniversary. Also, I feel strange tossing out the holiday cards with photos of my friends or family on them. But in general, cards we receive are displayed on our bulletin board for a week or so, then they’re gone. I think they are meant to be lovely but ephemeral.


Lo April 11, 2013 at 6:44 am

I generally save cards away in a drawer until I find them again, at which point I have to throw them away because I’m a natural clutterer and trying to be good about it. Like your husband, I have a hard time throwing written sentiments away immediately.

The only ones I keep forever would be thank you notes from the children in my family, which I cherish because they’re hand-written and there are so few of them. I don’t blame the kids for bad etiquette if they don’t send them because it’s on the parents to teach them to, but I do post them on my fridge for as long as I have room for them to remind myself what a wonderful polite little cousin I have.


Green123 April 11, 2013 at 6:48 am

Christmas cards get displayed on the mantel until the decorations come down, birthday cards sit there till a couple of days later. But once the celebration is over, the majority of greetings cards get recycled – I have no need for pile of cards that say ‘To Green, Merry Christmas, from Acquaintance’, after all! The exception is cards from my husband and those from close friends which contain a longer note – these are kept in my keepsake box. And we kept all of our wedding cards, of course.

But yes, what to actually DO with them? Don’t just throw pretty cards away – recycle them! Christmas cards can easily be turned into gift tags for next time with scissors, a hole punch and some ribbon. Some cards make nice framed prints, and of course children can use all kinds of cards for collage etc.


Double You April 11, 2013 at 7:03 am

The holiday postcards we receive, we use to make an ever-expanding collage on one of our bathroom walls… I think it’s great to look at all these colourful pictures from all over the world, that people have been kind enough to send to us.

Birthday cards, Christmas cards, birth announcements, etc. we keep in nice cardboard boxes, and every now and then I like to pick out a box and look through it.

My grandmother and aunt used to do the same, and even now, nearly 30 years after they’ve passed away, I still like going through their huge box of postcards, dating from the early 1920s till the 1980s.

But I totally get it that some people are less sentimental about such things, and it’s up to them to do with their cards and letters as they see fit.


The Elf April 11, 2013 at 7:08 am

I display Yule/Christmas cards throughout December, then throw them away when I put the holiday stuff away in January. I keep other cards for a week or so, stuck to the fridge or standing on the coffee table. Then I throw them out. The exception is if the card is particularly funny, pretty, touching, or handmade. Then I put them in my keepsake bin.

For instance, I kept a card that had a picture of a two-peg-legged pirate complaining about getting socks for Christmas. It was from a friend, and it was particularly funny because my husband did give me socks that year! (For the record, I asked for them. I needed good, thick, sweat-wicking hiking socks).

Do with them what you will.


JC April 11, 2013 at 7:20 am

I save all my cards – I have three shoeboxes in my closet crammed full of birthday and Christmas cards. It’s nice to have them, particularly since some of the senders are no longer alive. I also save them with the envelopes so I can make sure I have the last mailing address of the senders (very few of them communicate via snail mail anymore so it can be hard to keep track of everyone’s address).


Baby April 11, 2013 at 7:37 am

I don’t keep cards, either. Maybe one here or there that was really touching, but mostly they’ll sit on the mantle through the week of my birthday, or the Christmas season, or whatever the occasion. Once it’s over or time to pack up the tree, they go into the trash. But I’m also somewhat of a minimalist, and don’t like the thought of having them clutter up my file cabinet or wherever I would keep them.


susan April 11, 2013 at 7:50 am

Wow, Remind me never to send you a card. I would certainly like to open the card and for a while put them on my end able to enjoy seeing, I actually tape Christmas cards and Pictures to the inside of my front door to enjoy seeing. I actually keep my cards for a year or longer, I have a plastic box, and maybe next time, I still like seeing It for a while. After that I don’t keep them. Buut to throw immediately in the trash is rude.


Shoegal April 11, 2013 at 7:57 am

What runs through my mind about this is that I don’t want to be a hoarder. I keep Christmas cards once received – display them until the season is over – and only keep them if my Mom wants them to create gift tags with – otherwise I throw them out. All other cards . . . out they go.


Margo April 11, 2013 at 8:00 am

I think the only time it would be rude to throw away a card would be where you throw it away before the event it is related to, AND the sender is likely to see that you’ve done so, (for instance, if Betty is going to come to have dinner with you on your birthday, posts a birthday card to you and you throw the card away before the birthday dinner) so in those limited circumstnaces I would agree that ‘hold on to (and display) it for al ittle while is the polite thing to do.

Otherwise, it’s up to you.

I personally tend to put cards up for a short while (for christmas cards, I display them from when they arrive, until 12th night when I take my christmas decorations down, for birthday cards i tend to leave them up for a few days after he birthday, and other cards such as thank yous tend to go up for a week or so.

Letters I keep until I have replied, some I keep longer if I think I may wish to go back to them. I tend to go through the boxes every couple of years and throw out letters which I no longer want to keep

I used to correspond regularly with my grandmother and now she is gone, the letters are a very personal, and very precious reminder of our relationship.


Angeldrac April 11, 2013 at 8:07 am

Really, Miss Jeanne? You save every one? Wow – you must have some good storage space at your home!
I personally, don’t give cards, unless it’s for something really special, like a wedding.
I really, really, really don’t like receiving cards. I hate that feeling of guilt that I should hold onto it, when I really don’t have the space to do so. Nor do I wish to accumulate years and years of sentimental thingies that I’m only going to feel horrible about loosing should the house ever burn down (yes, I am aware I sound like an anxious nutjob, but I assure you that I am quite sane).
My dearest friends know how uneasy receiving a card makes me and so put that money towards a small gift (like chocolate) if they want to wish me happy birthday or something like that.


Mary April 11, 2013 at 8:08 am

I personally feel every card has a “shelf life.” So, I will pin to bulletin board for a week or so, maybe a little longer if it’s an Holiday card. I do put cards in our recycling instead of throwing in trash. Too many cards just hanging around would make me anxious, not a fan of clutter.


WildIrishRose April 11, 2013 at 8:28 am

I don’t usually throw cards away immediately. But that’s more about laziness than etiquette. I do keep certain ones–I’ve kept all the cards I got at baby showers, for instance, and I have a few particularly funny cards I’ve hung on to–but for the most part I recycle them. I have enough clutter in my house!


Bint April 11, 2013 at 8:34 am

There may be no etiquette, but it’s pretty sad that you don’t even keep it for as long as it took someone to buy it, write it and send it to you.


siamesecat 2965 April 11, 2013 at 8:38 am

I honestly don’t think there’s any etiquette involved at all. As long as you aren’t tearing it up, or tossing it in front of the giver, you can do with them what you wish. But there’s not “rule” you have to keep them, or that getting rid of them is wrong or incorrect.

I personally keep some; I have some select cards from my grandparents, and the very few my dad sent me on his own – since none of them are with us anymore. In college, my mom wrote to me every few days (before email, internet etc.) and I kept a few of those letters, but most I tossed. I also keep certain cards, letters etc. that have some sentimental meaning to me, but the total of all isn’t really all that much.


Practical April 11, 2013 at 8:43 am

I also throw them away if they cannot be used in some sort of crafts project. 🙂 As admin said, They are “a momentary sharing of good thoughts, wishes and intentions.”
You have recieved the good thoughts and stuff, you don’t really need to hold on to the piece of paper attached to it, though I might if it were beautiful and handmade. Then it would be more about the card.


Amber April 11, 2013 at 8:46 am

I usually put cards on display for a week (or for a few weeks, if they’re Christmas cards), then toss them.

My husband saves every card he receives and puts them in a box.

I think this is a personal thing. Save or throw away, the important thing is to appreciate that someone thought of you.


bloo April 11, 2013 at 8:50 am

While generally unsentimental with things like knick-knacks, I save every card and generally party invitations (weddings, graduations and the like). Going through them once a year is like my own little scrapbook of fond memories.

I’m surprised that the LW immediately throws it away but there’s nothing wrong with that.

I display any cards I receive on my fridge, the first thing people see when they walk into the often-used entrance to my house, and then after a couple weeks it goes in my box.


Jenn50 April 11, 2013 at 8:51 am

If I saved every card I was ever given, I’d have a storage issue. I’ve kept a few that were especially moving, and I usually keep cards for a few days. It’s nice to see a reminder that people care about me. I think his issue may be that you don’t appear to appreciate the gesture. For some people, choosing a card and writing a message in it is emotionally laden, and reading it once and then chucking it can make you seem cold in that case. I’d make sure you keep any card HE gives you for awhile, then discreetly toss it. The threshold differs for me, depending on the relationship with the giver. Christmas card from the dental office? Tossed almost immediately. Heartfelt condolence card from a close friend, with a long, handwritten note of support after my mother’s death? I’ll probably hang onto forever.


SweetPea April 11, 2013 at 9:10 am

I’m with the submitter – I rarely, if ever, save any letters unless they make me laugh or have some special meaning to me. Everything else goes directly into the trash after being read. I’ve never had anyone complain (or notice).


k. April 11, 2013 at 9:21 am

A friend recently told me about the wonderful thing that she does with her holiday cards: when the Christmas decorations come down, she bundles that year’s batch of cards together and then wraps her tree lights around them. That way, it keeps her lights from getting tangled up and then she gets the treat of looking through the cards when she puts her decorations up next year. I’m so glad that she shared that with me, I never quite knew what to do with my cards when the holidays are over.


admin April 11, 2013 at 10:58 am

I turn Christmas cards into gift tags using paper punches shaped like a star, tree, and bell.


badkitty April 11, 2013 at 9:32 am

I hold on to them until I’m sure the person giving the card is no longer thinking of it… for mailed items, this is later that day or the next day (after I’ve called to thank them) but for my son or my husband, it’s a bit longer and more complicated. My son has been known to get offended when I throw out a card over a year later, so I just make sure he never sees it (my mother is a hoarder, and when he was little she really worked him over, emotionally, trying to train him up into the mini-hoarder I never was. She would “gift” him broken office items and then cry if he didn’t show the item proper respect or caught him talking about throwing it away, so now he battles hard against that inner fear that throwing away an item means you’re throwing away everyone who ever touched it)


KarenK April 11, 2013 at 9:40 am

I used to save that stuff. Now it gets tossed almost immediately upon receiving it. I’m with the OP. I’ve read it. I don’t need it any more.

I come from a long line of packrats. I’m fighting the tendency.


inNM April 11, 2013 at 9:42 am

In our family, we keep cards. I display them for a few months, then I put them in my card box. I will admit that in my grandmother’s house, we started running out of space to display at keep them (she was 97 years old with 6 children and countless grandchildren and adopted children, so the number of birthday, Easter, Christmas, and other cards added up very quickly.)


CaffeineKatie April 11, 2013 at 9:49 am

When my dad died, we found every card he had ever received carefully saved in his drawer. I toss mine a day or two after I get them. To each his own.


Stacey Frith-Smith April 11, 2013 at 9:54 am

Tangible expressions such as these mean different things to different people. Some people value words of thanks and encouragement, some value gifts, others prefer physical affection, an act of service, or time spent just with them. Because we all have an inclination to give love the way we prefer to receive it, you can usually see what another person values by seeing how they act in showing friendship, love and affection. It also leads to the kinds of differences OP cites above in how cards are handled (or gifts, or doing a favor for someone, or hugs in church, or time spent visiting). Anyway- there’s no wrong way to deal with these questions as long as respect is shown by maintaining courtesy, in my opinion.


shostet April 11, 2013 at 9:56 am

For me, it depends on the card. If it is just a signed card, I’ll likely toss it after reading it. I may keep it a couple of days, but I am not a clutter person, so it will likely be gone soon. If the card is something like a thank you card or more of a handwritten sentiment in a preprinted card, I may hold onto it. I don’t think it is rude in any way to throw it away. Perhaps if it were a handcrafted card that would make a difference to me.


Lisa April 11, 2013 at 9:59 am

I too used to throw away cards and was puzzled why my hubs did not, then my parents passed away, and I was grateful for the few cards from them that I did hold onto, so from that moment forward I keep every card. These are wonderful little mementos from the people you love and that love you.


SentimentalGal April 11, 2013 at 10:18 am

I also save cards and notes. It is like a time line for events and memories of the past, in a box. I may not save every single one, but I am especially glad to have mementos from people who are no longer with us, like my mother.


Wendy B. April 11, 2013 at 10:26 am

I agree with the admin: It depends on the card, who sent it and even the picture for me. I can’t bring myself to throw away cards from my grandparents, or my best friend who passed away a few years (and most of her’s were hand made too). Sometimes I hang onto a card for a while, just in case.


Ashley April 11, 2013 at 10:34 am

Any cards I get get taped to the door of my apartment (The inside, not the outside, that would be weird), and become part of the decorations for whatever holiday/occasion they were sent for. I keep them up for about a month or less depending on when the holiday falls, and then I throw them away.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the sentiment behind them, but I also fully recognize I have an issue with hoarding paper. If I don’t MAKE myself throw it away, it sticks around forever. Seriously, just the other day I found notebooks from high school in subjects that haven’t been remotely relevant to my life since I graduated. And the collection of concert ticket stubs in my purse is starting to get out of hand.

It’s fully up to the individual what gets done with a card they receive. In OP’s case, since your husband feels that they should be kept at least a little while, maybe you could display them neatly on a mantle or shelf or something for a couple weeks, then throw them out?


Anonymous April 11, 2013 at 10:35 am

Pinterest has tons of ideas on saving cards. I personally like the “card wreath” idea, because, from what I can see, it’s just clothespins glued onto a large wooden embroidery hoop, in a circle:


Anyway, I’ve never tried this idea, but I think I might make one for next Christmas.


Anonymous April 11, 2013 at 11:02 am

I like the wreath idea, because you don’t have to cut up or punch holes in the cards in order to display them.


Ellen April 11, 2013 at 11:09 am

As pp’s have pointed out, etiquette only applies where the sender might see or easily find out (without snooping) whether you kept or disposed of a gift. If your DH sees you throw away a card FROM HIM immediately after reading it, yes I can see that it would feel personal, and then the etiquette rule about not discarding a gift in front of the giver, would apply. Otherwise, whether or how long to keep cards is a matter of personal feeling/taste. Probably your DH is more sentimental than you are about such things. Sometimes people can get quite emotional over the different ways people respond to gifts, cards, etc. Is it possible that your DH expresses his feelings through cards and gifts? He may feel that you are rejecting the person (or him) by discarding the cards.
Personally I keep a “clothesline” style display along the kitchen wall, where we clip cards, thank-you notes, and kids’ artwork for a time, and periodically clean it off, either into recycling or a few select pieces into long-term files. I only keep cards long-term if they contain some very special personal message – just “Happy Birthday” or “Merry Christmas” doesn’t cut it.


Sarah April 11, 2013 at 11:24 am

Also on Pinterest I’ve found ideas to bind cards from certain occasions into small books, which is something I’ll be doing with my cards soon. It makes a great keepsake and conversation piece and cuts down on the storage use.


Kim April 11, 2013 at 11:37 am

I keep them for about a week – for the time of the holiday, then they are recycled. I have a thing against cards – they kill trees and people hoard them. Kind of scary.


PHW April 11, 2013 at 11:50 am

Like most of the posters here, what I do with the card depends on the person who sent it, as well as the event it is for. At Christmastime, I will display all the cards. Once Christmas is over, I typically go through and may keep some of the nicer cards for scrapbooking. I also make sure to tear address labels from the envelopes to note who I got Christmas cards from for the next year. Birthday cards, etc. are typically thrown out after the date. That being said, I do keep handmade pieces, any cards with longform handwritten notes and form letters. I also typically keep things from family. I cherish the cards with handwritten notes from grandparents who have long since passed away and signed cards from my Dad who I lost a couple years ago.


Calli Arcale April 11, 2013 at 11:52 am

There is no etiquette rule about keeping cards; it’s entirely up to you. I keep ones that have particular sentimental value, and discard the rest after a few days. Christmas cards stay for the duration of the holiday. Birthday cards may or may not stick around; it depends on the content and who it’s from. I still have all of my graduation and wedding cards, though, as those are events of a lifetime. 😉


AS April 11, 2013 at 12:13 pm

I agree with admin that cards and postal letters are gifts, and you are free to do with them what you want. But would you throw away a gift that someone gave you, even if it is just a wall piece or something? If not, why would you do that to a card.

I keep all the cards I have received from people, especially the personal ones that people have taken the pains to choose for me because it says something about our relationship. I sometimes dig out old cards that my high school friends had given, and smile. If I am in touch with them (which I am with a lot of them, thanks to social media), I share my find, and we often get a laugh.

One of my fondest memories is when I found some Birthday cards that my mother had sent me, a few weeks after she suddenly passed away. I’ll never receive another card from her again. It was wonderful to see her hand writing, and I felt that she was right there around me. You sometimes never know what tomorrow holds. Don’t disregard the cards, letters and small things that people give you.

DH and I treasure cards so much that we even made a scrapbook to keep all the wedding cards we got from people in addition to the photographs and the guestbook. People who sent/gave us a card for our wedding, especially the elderly people like grandparents will leave this world over the years, but the cards will always remind us of the time they took to choose one especially for us, and (in most cases) write something nice and personal.

If you think keeping all the cards you receive is cluttering the place, why don’t you display them for a few days before throwing them? People have taken the pains to send you something. Why do you want to discard them immediately?


Lo April 11, 2013 at 12:28 pm


I’m with you there. Paper is my biggest weakness because it’s so easy to rationalize keeping every sketch, flyer, letter, business card, etc. and it doesn’t take up much space on it’s own and it’s easily shoved away somewhere (or in my case when I was younger and living at home, stacked up in piles on the floor) In fact the day up until the day I moved out you could find ten years worth of accumulated ticket stubs and old homework assignments lurking in every corner. Now when my purse gets too cluttered with month-old receipts and shoved-in flyers and paycheck stubs I queue up an episode of Hoarders on Netflix and that provides me with a much needed kick in the rear to get rid of that stuff. If it weren’t for that show I doubt my floors would be visible 😛


Lisa Marie April 11, 2013 at 1:07 pm

I have a nicely decorated “memory” box. A card has to be extra special to make it into this box and I go thru it once in a great while. I have my childrens’ baby shower cards (they are in their 20’s now) and some nice birthday cards etc from my friends and parents, some of whom are now gone. It is a pleasure to read their kind words and feel their love once again.


Ashley April 11, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Other people mentioned donating cards. I didn’t know that was a thing that happened, I’ll have to look into that when Christmas rolls around.


Kimstu April 11, 2013 at 1:23 pm

@susan: “Buut to throw immediately in the trash is rude.”

No, it isn’t. It would be rude to TELL the sender that you threw away their card right after reading it, or to throw it away in their presence, unless you know that the sender happens to see eye to eye with you about the desirability of throwing cards away immediately.

But it’s none of the sender’s business what you do PRIVATELY with their card after you’ve finished reading it, or how long you wait before doing it. In fact, it would be rude for the sender to express any expectations about whether or how or when you will save or dispose of the card. Once they’ve sent it to you, it’s yours, and what you do with your own stuff in the privacy of your own home is up to you.


Sarah April 11, 2013 at 1:23 pm

I save mine, especially if there’s something substantial written inside – I love coming across a card from my sister or my aunt a few years later and reminding myself what we were writing to each other at the time.
Also, as a grad student who does a lot of archival research, there’s something interesting about all this – so much of the work I do with recreating the life of an artist or a person living in the past involves going through collections of personal papers in archives. I’ve also been in lots of archives that focus on collecting ephemera, including things like postcards and greeting cards, and I know a lot of people who study these types of images. You can learn so much about people from these little things! I guess what I’m saying is that I’m always glad when I find out the subject of my research was a hoarder!


FrequentGuest April 11, 2013 at 1:30 pm

I also feel badly about tossing personal notes/cards and especially Christmas cards with family photos and/or newsletters. My solution: I scan them into electronic format before disposal. They all fit quite nicely in a single folder on my PC and I can sort them by sender, occasion, etc. and view whenever I need a pick-me-up.


Library Diva April 11, 2013 at 1:32 pm

I fail to see how this is an etiquette issue at all. This reminds me a bit of the letter Miss Manners once received about what spoon is the correct one to use when you’re eating ice cream straight from the container alone in your home. Also a bit of the one where someone asked if it was bad manners to bring a cloth tote from Store X to Store Y. As a near-compulsive saver of cards, letters, and notes (I have years and years of even simple ones like “Thanks for looking after the cats while we’re gone. Don’t forget to bring in the papers! We love you, Mom and Dad.”) it seems a little odd to me that it goes straight from the mailbox to the trash with just a quick look at the signature, but I don’t think there’s anything rude about it.


Daisy April 11, 2013 at 2:01 pm

In my circle we’ve agreed to give only those cards which come from the dollar store. That being said, I keep every card I receive from anyone who is important to me. The day may come when those cards are all I have to remind me of happier times and brighter days.


StephM April 11, 2013 at 2:32 pm

I’m currently keeping every card I receive from my parents and grandmothers, but one of these days I’m going to toss the ones without a personal note. I’m keeping them in an envelope that one of the cards came in; I’ll probably start tossing cards once the envelope is too full!

I just like having their handwriting around. It makes me smile.


Allie April 11, 2013 at 2:41 pm

I don’t think this is an etiquette issue so much as a question of how sentimental you are and how much storage space you have. I guess it depends on the occasion too. Birthdays and Christmas perhaps aren’t quite as special as a big anniversary (25th/50th) or the birth of a baby. Also depends on the giver. Perhaps you don’t keep all the cards from girlfriends or acquaintances, but keep everything from your mom or grandma. I still have some birthday and Christmas cards from my dad, who is now deceased, so they mean a lot to me. I promptly recycled all the cards I received on the birth of my baby, who is now 4 months old. I kinda regret not keeping them now but at the time I thought ‘should I recycle these now or hold on to them for a while and then recycle them.’ My policy was once I wrote the thank you, I recycled the card. Now if I run across any I know I better write a thank you to that person (I think they’re all done now). I did keep a few that were extra pretty or special for some reason. For example, one friend gave me a professionally handmade card which is beautiful. I will keep that one. However, I don’t think it is in any way ungrateful or thoughtless to recycle the cards. They are just things. It is the people and the thoughts they represent that are important.


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