The Despair of Greeting Cards

I have what one may describe as an aversion to cards.  I never know quite what to do with them.

Keeping them around seems to be hording.  Getting rid of them; an impersonal display of disregard for the sender.  But, what is it about these clever little pieces of folded card-stock that makes any sort of dilemma?

Why We Feel Uncomfortable Getting Rid of Them:
Whenever we look at the pile of cards after any “card holiday,” be it Christmas, birthdays, or whatever, there’s a certain sort of discomfort that comes.  We have no real need for these cards anymore, we’ve taken our real gifts out of them, and read and appreciated, as best we could, whatever was written in them.  Now they’re just paper.  But, there’s something that makes us feel uncomfortable about getting rid of them.

Some of us put this inevitable end by putting our cards on display, so everyone can see them, but this is only a delay, a sign of our discomfort.  So, why do we feel compelled to keep them around, shoved together in piles throughout our desk drawers?  One might argue that it’s because they’re so damn expensive.  Thus, we feel compelled to keep them around in an attempt to justify our friends and family having spent $8 on a piece of card stock to hold a $10 gift card.

Yet, there would still seem to be something else keeping us from throwing them out.

It’s clear that we do this because we feel emotionally attached to them.  But what in the world would make someone feel emotionally attached to something that someone picked up at the last moment, something they didn’t even write themselves?  Is it the sarcastic dog?  Or the angry old woman?  Or the jokes about you being too old for fun?

No, I don’t believe that’s it, I think it has a lot more to do with what cards simulate, than what they are.  Cards are purpose built to imitate a very artfully done letter.  And a letter would be a very understandable thing to be sentimental about, especially if it was as clever as that well drawn, sarcastic dog.

But, this just leads us to the question, if we have all these sentimental attachments, why do we awkwardly shove them in a drawer, and wait for the courage to throw them out, rather than keeping them?

Why We Feel Uncomfortable Keeping them:

First of all, they’re just paper, expensive paper, but paper none the less.  One might argue that someone spent time picking it out, but let’s be frank, they aren’t at all personal.  Even the most rigorous card-chooser has done little more than tear through an isle in a drug store and search desperately for something that they think “fits you” best.  But this doesn’t really make much difference between it and something picked at random.  That sarcastic dog exists almost purely for the sake of staring at you, mockingly, reminding you that someone spent almost as much money on him as they did on your actual gift.

However, this isn’t all.  We feel a certain inherent discomfort with things that are imitations of human traits, and cards are just that, they’re an imitation of personal care.  The words are nice, but you know that the person who gave you the card didn’t write them.  These exact words were churned out by thousands in a factory, like bricks, but unlike bricks, who admit to being completely useful and impersonal, these words pretend that they were written just for you.  They even go so far as to come to you in the safety of envelope, to keep prying eyes at bay (and to keep the money in…).  But these words weren’t written for you by the delicate hand of a loving relative, they were written by… well… Does anyone actually know who wrote them?  (I like to imagine a sweatshop in which writers with a particular knack for sarcasm and puns are forced to write clever little quips for 10 hours a day.  Every so often they get bold and write a desperate “Help me, I’m trapped in a forced card-writing camp and I cannot escape.”  “Aha!  That was the most clever card yet” says the Public as we admire the irony of so silly a thought…)

Why We Buy Cards Despite All of This Anxiety:

With all of this considered, why do we buy cards at all?  They’re expensive, impersonal, and generally speaking make us uncomfortable, yet we feel compelled.  One may say that it’s their artistic value that makes us want to keep them around, but why not just write a letter on nice looking paper?  The real reason we buy cards is because they’re clever, but that clever isn’t our’s, its someone else’s.  We’ve outsourced even our most intimate sentiments to those “experts,” the clever writers locked away in some cramped warehouse, who are just “better at explaining than us.”  While this may be true, it doesn’t really change the fact that we’ve removed ourselves from the gift entirely.

Having another man recite a beautiful poem to your lover and then saying “that’s what I would have said if I was clever like him,” doesn’t really seem to cut it.  And neither does giving a card that’s “clever” instead of just giving a letter, even a letter which is written by you.  Yet we, for whatever reason, would rather give someone something impersonal, external, and “objectively” clever, than something personal and kind of stupid.

What’s Better:

Ask yourself, in all seriousness, which is more important and meaningful; a clever remark from a sarcastic dog on a piece of nice card-stock, one of half a million exactly like it, or a half-coherent, misspelled, and almost illegible, letter written by a child with the utmost personal sincerity in marker on construction paper?

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  • So, did you throw out your old cards or not?

    • Summablog

      Yes, I did. But with a wince.

  • There’s also handmade greeting cards made by adults that are amazing. I keep those because I know the sender spent time making them. I do bin commercial bought cards but not before having taken a picture of the sentiment inside so I have a good memento without feeling like a hoarder. Mind you I’m hoarding cardmaking supplies so I’m probably beyond help ! lol