Birthday Magic: Fill a Mailbox with Love


Remember when getting the mail used to be fun? Long before junk mail and bills and email spam and all the other delights of adulthood, mail was special.

It meant a birthday card from Grandma with a freshly-ironed five dollar bill, a handwritten letter from a pen pal across the country, or if you were really lucky, a postcard. 

Postcards are special. They are boldly public, with colorful images and messages scrawled for all to see, yet somehow they feel intimate. “I thought about you while I was at the Grand Canyon, and I don’t care if the whole world knows it!” 

I rekindled my love affair with postcards a few years ago, while taking a class on creating handmade postcards. I learned the post office has very few rules on what constitutes a post card — in general, if it meets the size requirements and the address is legible, it can mail. This opens up all kinds of unexpected materials for postcards, from corrugated cardboard to light balsa wood to clear plastic.

At first I sent a few individual post cards here and there, but I wanted some bigger magic. So I decided to send my friend Renee 30 handmade cards for her 30th birthday. Since then, I’ve filled mailboxes with love for all kinds of occasions. It takes effort and time, but there’s a simple joy to it, from the artistic experience of making the cards, to the excitement of dropping them in the mail, to the reward of hearing the recipient’s reaction.

Fill a Mailbox With Love

  • Send A LOT of cards. Mix store-bought with handmade if you can’t make them all yourself.
  • Consider the recipient’s interests and create a theme around its, like postcards of dogs, airplanes, or a collection of images in their favorite color. 
  • Number the cards so you and the recipient can keep track of them.
  • Mail the cards over a period of time so they don’t arrive all at once. It gives the recipient something to look forward to each day and stretches out the fun!

When my husband’s grandfather turned 99 (!), we sent him 99 postcards over the course of a few weeks. They were numbered, so he was able to track which ones had arrived and look forward to the rest. The next time we visited, he had so many stories to tell about how and when they had arrived.

Postcard Puzzle

The next year when Grandpa turned 100 (!!), we’d already done the cool fill-a-mailbox-with-love thing, and we needed to step up our game. So instead of just creating postcards, we designed them so they made a larger image when arranged in order.

Because our image included a collage of even smaller images, figuring it all was out tricky and time-consuming. But Grandpa loved the experience of getting the cards and arranging them on the backboard each day, and the final product looked nice enough to display at his 100th birthday party. Here’s how you can make a postcard puzzle, too.

  • Get a board to display the cards.
    •  You’ll have to do a little math to figure out the size of the board based on the number of cards you’re sending. Because I was sending 100 cards, I used a large (40 x 60 inch) foam poster board. I ordered it online from Office Depot, and even with the $10 delivery fee, it still cost less than purchasing it from a local store.
  •  Draw a grid on the backboard, creating a spot for each postcard.
    • Using a yardstick, measure out a grid of rectangles on the foam board to match the number of postcards you’ll be sending. I am neither an elementary school teacher nor a 1950s carpenter, so I was not in possession of anything resembling a yardstick. I ordered one on and they delivered it with Amazon Prime free shipping.
    • When drawing on the grid lines, you may want to do a first draft in pencil, and then go over it in marker. Even with this method, my lines were not super pretty, so I doodled over them a bit to make the messiness appear intentional.
    • Next, number the spots in each rectangle. I used different styles and colors for the numbers to brighten the whole thing up and distract from aforementioned messy gridlines.
    • Remember, the grid doesn’t have to be perfect — it’s just there to tell the recipient where to put the cards.
  • Design the Postcards
    • photo postcards are 4.25 x 6 inches, slightly too big to fit 100 on the 40 x 60 inch foam board. So when I designed them, I left a .25 blank area on the bottom edge of each card and then cut that area off with a paper cutter. Voila! I had 100 4 x 6 inch postcards, which fit perfectly on the 40 x 60 inch foamcore.
    • About designing the postcards… I’m not going to lie, it’s time consuming and requires some math. But if you give yourself time to enjoy the process, you’ll find it’s a relaxing, creatively-fulfilling experience.

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