Once the birthday week is over, or the Christmas tree has come down, do you ever gather up the cards into a pile and wonder: is there anything else I can do with these now?
Of course, most cards can be recycled (though generally not ones with ribbons or glitter) but there’s often a way to reuse them at least once before they end up in the recycling bin. Here are my tips for making the most of your greetings card haul.
Curate your collection
Saving some cards for the future can be lovely: there’s something very special about a thoughtful card in familiar handwriting, sent with love. And cards from special events can be a beautiful snapshot of the important people in our lives at the time.
So there’s no pressure to get rid of everything, but pick out the cards you really want to keep – and make the selection ASAP. The longer we hold on to things, the harder it usually is to weed them out later! (The ‘ownership effect’ comes into play, which describes the way our brains naturally tend to overvalue things we own… just because we own them.)
So rather than tuck them up to sort out later, try to curate as you go. (Read on to the ‘Repurpose’ tips for what to do with the ones you’re not keeping.)
It’s up to you what makes the collection – whether it’s because you love the design or appreciate the words inside – but I think there has to be something quite special to preserve.
Add them to a scrapbook or journal (or hard drive)
Find a method that works for you, whether it’s hole punching cards, arranging them with embellishments, adding your own notes – whatever evokes that cosy sense of holding on to the memories.
It doesn’t even have to be a physical scrapbook. If you love how your cards make you feel, but not the way they fill up boxes of stuff, scan your favourites and save them to your computer. (Don’t forget to back up your files!)
Keep them so you can surprise the writer one day
My godmother once returned a card I’d made for her as a little girl: it was a hand-drawn bee that said “bee happy!” across the top, and I’d completely forgotten about it. She added her message on the back, and sent it to me for a birthday, perhaps 15 years later. It was sweet and surprising, and I still have it now.
If you’d like to keep a few cards as a sort of time capsule for a friend or family member, you’re still aiming to curate the best… don’t hoard every single thing to offload the problem to someone else! This will be a long-term project, so find a safe space where it won’t be in the way. Be as organised as you can (Future-You will be grateful) and set a reminder to come back and check on the contents.
Repurpose what you can
You’ve sorted your old cards, chosen what to keep – now what to do with the rest?
Turn them into gift tags (perfect for Christmas)
Gift tags can be any shape or size: they just need enough space for the recipient’s name, and maybe a punched hole for ribbon on string.
Does the card have a cute motif you can cut out? What about ‘Happy Birthday’ or ‘Merry Christmas’ text? These central bits and pieces also work really nicely for kids’ craft activities.
Cut greetings cards into postcards
Cut neatly down the centre fold (ideally with a ruler and craft knife) and you’ll have the card front on one side with a blank side on the other. Turn it to landscape orientation and draw a line down the centre; write your message on the left and the address on the right.
Make cards into original art pieces
This is great for cards that focus on colour and texture. I made a 2020 ‘rainbow of hope’ out of triangles from old greetings cards, choosing the offcuts which fit the colour I wanted and actually avoiding the main design of the cards.
Check out patchwork quilts for inspiration: made from hundreds of scraps of fabric, they include even the smallest pieces of fabric that could be useful. Then try something similar with card!
And if you’d lovve guidance on putting something together, Wildflower Frames makes kits for creating lovely hexagonal art work from special occasion cards.
Use cards as scrap paper
This only really works for the blank side of the card, but many of my seconds or used cards get stacked into a pile that I can pull from for quick shopping lists or notes-to-self. They’re usually the ideal size.
Recycle the rest
At each repurposing step, any cards (or bits of cards) don’t make the grade can then be recycled.
I’m trying to develop the habit of thinking about the next use of an object right from the beginning – when I buy, design, or create something, I think: how will these be used or recycled once its initial purpose is over? And can I make that more efficient, or easier to do?