If you have some extra time at home during lock down, you might have used some of this time to spring clean or de-clutter. Being able to combine some small steps to having less stuff with sharing something with friends is a win-win. I certainly have plenty of friends I am missing meeting up with during the pandemic and some of them are struggling with their own isolation or have helped me get through my anxiety in some way. Clearing out and distributing old postcards to some old friends turned out to be a really positive lock down project.
Despite being an enthusiastic de-clutterer, having down-sized to a small flat, sold everything to go travelling and recently moved house, a cardboard box full of postcards, all sent by friends from their holidays over 40-plus years still remained as clutter / treasure in our small home. There is something about letters and even postcards, perhaps because they are handwritten communication, that makes them special and I had looked at the box every time we moved, thought about discarding its contents and on each occasion gave the collection another chance.
These days we don’t receive many postcards, there are just a couple of friends who hang on to this tradition that I remember as quite a holiday chore back in the day. I would sit in a cafe or at the campsite with a pile of colourful postcards in front of me, trying to think of something new, interesting and appropriate to say about our current destination to our address list. These days a WhatsApp message, text or blog post reaches everyone more reliably but through the 1980s until well into the 21st century we received plenty of postcards from the UK and more exotic locations as friends found their wings and travelled.
We would display our friends postcards for a month or so on the mantelpiece and then pack them away in a box that originally held a couple of bottles of Christmas-gift wine. I rarely looked at them over the years but when I did there was plenty of joy, the years rolled back and I was hearing again memories of friend’s holiday stories they had shared with us. Many of the postcards reflect the varied characters of our friends; some are informative, giving us a detailed itinerary and telling us about the must-do sights in their chosen destination; others are funny and even surreal, bearing little relationship to their actual trip. A few poetic friends sent us pithy and yet evocative word portraits of their destination. Some postcards were written neatly and others arrived on our doormat covered in uneven rows of spidery handwriting that took hours to decipher.
Early in lock down I took the box out of its resting place in the highest cupboard in our low bungalow and began the process of sorting them into piles, one for each of the different senders. I was somewhat surprised how many postcards some friends had sent us over the years; from just one very good and old friend I counted 52 postcards! These were sent from across the world, from Australia and Japan to Iceland and North America.
A Zoom conversation with another friend put the idea into my head of sending these postcards back to their original sender. What better thing to do while none of us can take a holiday or travel than to remind friends of trips they took in the past. I hoped that by sharing these saved postcards I could rekindle some happy memories as well as make space in our limited storage cupboards.
After reading them one last time, the pile of each friend’s postcards were carefully packaged, along with a new postcard from ourselves explaining why we were returning them. I didn’t want anyone to receive their parcel and think we had decided to enigmatically end our friendship with a dramatic return of our correspondence! Or worse, they might assume that we had died and this was a tidying up of affairs.
Up to now, our friends have been thrilled to receive their package of holiday memories. Many were amazed, thinking they knew us so well, that these postcards had survived our many moves and clear outs.
I have just one small pile of nine postcards left that I need to send to one more friend. One reminds me of his family trip to Ireland and I notice another isn’t even addressed, so I think he handed it over in person when he returned! This latter postcard is a photograph of some typical caves in southern Spain, which he thought would be great to live in and save on window cleaning bills! Another is a night scene of Porto in Portugal and I can hear his voice when I read, ‘I have a full glass of port in front of me now and it’s very nice.’
Have we kept any? Of course! In the box were a few postcards that we sent to each other before we were married and a couple of precious ones from our son and daughter-in-law. These hold a few special personal memories, but are not enough to merit using the box, this has been repurposed …
All in all, through the darkness of lock down, this project has been a small particle of joy.