How to Declutter Birthday Cards

Step One: Read the card one last time while thinking nice thoughts about the person who wrote it.

Step Two: Throw it in the trash can.  If the person who wrote it will be coming over soon, place another piece of trash over it so they don’t see that you threw away their card.  (School papers work well for this.)

Now, lest you think I’m completely heartless . . . let me assure you that I don’t do this with cards from my kids or Hubby.  I put those where all mothers do.

In my underwear drawer, of course.

Wait.  Is that just me?

And let me also assure you that I’m only able to do this from experience.  Decluttering experience.

My decluttering experience allows me to visualize what my future will be if I don’t throw them away now.

I see myself looking around for a clear, flat surface to display the birthday cards.

I see myself (three months later), decluttering that surface.  I see myself holding the cards, standing in one spot for 90+ seconds staring into space, wondering what in the world I’m going to do with them now. 

I see myself shoving the cards into a pile of miscellaneous stuff.

I see myself (two weeks later) answering the phone.

I see panic in my eyes.  Someone is on her way over.  I’m not sure who it is . . . but my lip-reading skills tell me it’s something that ends in  “. . . in-law.”

I see myself grabbing a random box and shoving the pile (with the birthday cards now in the middle of the stack) inside.  I see myself depositing that box in the master bedroom.

I see myself (six months later) crying over my messy-again master bedroom, and taking that box to the garage. I grab a Sharpie and label it: “TO BE FILED, 2013”

I see a montage of scenes of our family climbing in and out of our current Suburban, our next Suburban, and the one after that.  The kids are getting older and eventually they are the drivers.

I see myself (forty years later) on my scooter, old and gray (but totally unwrinkled and skinny), digging around for something-or-other in the garage, but never bothering to open the box from 2013.

I see my kids.  And their kids.  All dressed in black.  They open the box and wonder why in the world their crazy mother/grandmother kept every birthday card she ever received.

So there you go.

It feels good to use my skills in the Art of Imagination for good.






  1. 1

    Since my birthday was yesterday…it was very easy to place myself in that scene… Eeeek! Off to throw away card right now 🙂

    • 2

      My bday is today – what a timely post! I will say a little prayer for each person who gave me a card – just before I deposit them in the trash 🙂

  2. 3

    Best post ever. 🙂

  3. 4

    Cards are so hard to toss! I had a similar conversation with myself last time I moved.

    I am scrapbooking cards from my wedding. Or I was for about a month. Now it’s an unfinished project on top of a shelf.

  4. 5

    Just tossed all but 1 of my yesterday birthday cards. Now I should head down the the basement and dig out OLD birthday cards that didn’t get tossed as each year went by. Oops! But starting fresh TODAY! Baby steps!

  5. 6

    I so do this, except I have to make sure the school papers are upside down lest the 5yo freak out… 🙂

  6. 7

    So funny that I’m not the only one who puts birthday cards in their underwear drawer!! LOL!!

  7. 8

    Everything I own that doesn’t have a home ends up in my underwear drawer!

  8. 9

    I take a digital picture of the ‘important’ cards, and can revisit on the computer anytime I want. Then I trash the paper. LOVE this post!

    • 10

      I really like the idea of photographing the cards. I can live with my computer files being a little bit cluttered. ☺

  9. 11

    I actually had this problem with all my kids cards. I felt sooo guilty throwing them away, and personally for me it’s kind of nice that I still have a few of the cards that my mom saved when I was a kid. Anyway, I pinterested around and saw an idea for using a two hole punch and binder rings to make little books of birthday cards. My 2.5 yr LOVES looking through all her cards. It’s a fairly quick and painless project (especially if you order the punch and rings on amazon) and it solves the problem and makes a nice keepsake. Hope this helps someone who can’t get out the guilt feelings 🙂

  10. 12

    I love to scrapbook and journal, and I use old cards by re-fashioning them into embellishments for those things. I remember going through my mother-in-law’s things after she passed away, and there were TWO HUGE GARBAGE BAGS full of cards when we were done. I have to say that it was actually fun to look at the old cards, remembering relatives that had passed away years before. Sorting the cards wasn’t as difficult as sorting the bras. Dear old mom kept every single bra she’d ever owned, I think. She was raised during the depression, and they were taught to save everything. We threw out a large garbage bag stuffed full of bras.

  11. 13

    Love it. i have become a card thrower-transformed from a keep every scrap of notepaper ever handed you. it’s a big step 🙂 also trying to teach my children the value of not keeping every scrap of paper…. some get it, others are more like me. so, when i see the same card 2-3 days in a row… somewhere other than it’s designated card keeping spot, it gets thrown away-and completely covered with something else 🙂 lest the owner recognize the corner and retrieve it . haha

  12. 14

    My recent birthday cards are still sitting around, along with the Christmas cards! Yikes! I do imagine my kids having to throw stuff out, so I’m working on this!

  13. 15

    I keep cards from hubby and kids and if they contain a note of some kind. My mom always writes a little something so I keep those. Everything else goes in the circular file.

  14. 16

    On my 40th birthday, my mother gave me the same home made “Ha Ha You’re So Old” card I had given her when I was 12.

  15. 18

    So many January babies. Happy Birthday everyone! Mine was the 15th, I too tossed them but laid them out and took a picture first. That method works for me (mentally) on several things, it gives me some peace of mind to let more stuff go. My little zip drive thingy takes up alot less space.

  16. 19

    Funniest thing I’ve read today!
    I must share this, however,… I am a card keeper.
    I’ll explain-
    I keep Christmas Cards in a Cute Merry Christmas box…but only until the next year. We have a family Holiday Journal so when the book comes out at Thanksgiving 2013…(it’s kept in the same box) I go through 2012 Christmas cards right then and there–if anyone sent us a card and after 1 year…they are no longer with us. Their card goes in the book. I have my Mom’s last Christmas card, My FIL last Christmas Card.
    it’s not fool proof– there are lots of variables as to what the last card really is. But if it’s in the box–and your dead. Your card goes in the Family Holiday Journal.

    Creepy, I know.
    but true.

    (the up side? …Yes…there is an upside.) I clean out the cards 1 time a year ?!


  17. 20

    I put the cards on the mantel and where they sit until the next card receiving event when I trash all the ones that don’t have a special message.

    I got a paper punch in the shape of a big gift tag, so I use that to punch out pictures from the cards and put them in the wrapping supplies.

    Cards with photos go on the fridge until we can’t see it anymore.

  18. 21

    Thank you! for the permission to throw them out.
    Your little imaginative scenario is really not so far fetched. I’m not in a scooter yet, but I do have bins and piles in my bedroom that I’ve been avoiding.
    You are helping me face the tough decluttering jobs.
    And yes, isn’t that where all us good moms hideaway those precious keepsakes?

  19. 22

    that is great…love it…I do the same thing.

  20. 23

    i like to put them into the recycling – so they’ll be reincarnated into more beautiful birthday cards!

  21. 24
    Melissa Middleswart says:

    Recycle paper, don’t throw it away! I also re-use, recycle, so many of the cards I receive are repurposed to send on to others, later. On my recent birthday, I had to laugh–my sister has given me the same (new, but still the same) card 3 years in a row, it says “when we were young you always reminded me that you were older, now I’m returning the favor”–and she has never remembered doing this. I did tell her last year that it was a repeat, and this year Hallmark had different “art/drawing/colors”, but the sentiment was exactly the same. Something to laugh about as I turn 62. 🙂

  22. 25

    cards are one of the reasons I LOVE my tickler file. I keep a few special cards — only as many as will comfortably fit in a manila folder — in the “January” file for my birthday. That way even if no one were to send me a card, I still get a bunch of cards on my birthday. (My family is NOT exactly known for getting things done on time; we’re all fans of funny belated-birthday cards.) I also keep cards from people who have passed on, so I still “get” a card every year from my granddad, and my old best friend, and my favorite colleague. Come to think of it, I keep a couple Valentine’s and Christmas cards, too.

    The tickler file basically lets you mail stuff to your future self, and it just magically arrives on the day you need it. IF you remember to check the file. Which is one of the first things on my daily list!

  23. 26

    I really think my in-laws have a hard time understanding why I don’t get my kids 3 or 4 cards for their Birthdays, and I think… well, I think they’re a little nutty for getting all those expensive cards! Spend another 5 bucks on the gift and write that you love them on the nice little tag on the bag! Better yet, no gifts- and just an enjoyable time together… and you can TELL them you love them! You know, with “stuff”… stuff like smiles, hugs, maybe even a smooch or two?!?? ACK I am a total downer, I know… but I don’t get the point of spending big bucks on a piece of paper to have someone else write how much you care about a person…

    Oh my… that was a rant if I’ve ever heard one! 🙂 oops!!

    This is a fantastic post… I love that you show there is life after tossing a birthday card (I have a family member that has kept every card for 31 years!!)

    • 27

      As I read more, I feel like I need to add a little disclaimer to the rant above: Yes, I still have a card from my Grandma, and I still have a beautiful card my mom gave me before she died. I do keep the cards my kids make 🙂 (except the year one daughter made me 6 Mother’s Day cards- I kept 2).

      Maybe I have feelings after all 🙂 lol

  24. 28

    Haha! I keep birthday cards in my underwear drawer, too! But seriously, after my mom passed away, I found practically every birthday card that she had ever received wrapped up beautifully in stacks tied with ribbons. I remember smiling and wondering why she had done that. Now I know. She couldn’t throw them away! I do, now. I love getting them, but they turn into stress later!

  25. 29

    Wow. Just stumbled across your blog (after googling something semi-embarrassing about how to de clutter and avoid being a complete embarrassment when people randomly drop by) and I can’t believe what I’m reading. Your blog is almost a complete mirror image of my own life. Thank you for showing me that I am normal when I go through the same birthday card battle ( and eerily similar imagined future scenario) and I look forward to reading more 🙂

  26. 31
    Jerry Gonzales says:

    Birthday cards, “Step Two: Throw it in the trash can.” Clarification?: Throw it in the recycle bin where it may be given a new life.

  27. 32
    Deborah says:

    I can totally relate to this dilemma! My mother saved not only every card she ever received but also every personal letter, as did her mother before her. (As well as every drawing, piece of schoolwork, random newspaper and magazine clippings for her “idea” file, and, well, anything that she might possibly want to use “someday.”) And so I and my two sisters also struggle with what to throw away and what to keep. Here we are, 7 years after her passing, still going through boxes and boxes of papers! We are in purging mode but it’s still extremely difficult because of the strong emotions. We are trying to encourage each other with our own inherited clutter issues as well. It does help to ask ourselves, “do we really want to put our own kids through this someday?” Your website has been a great help as well as other’s posts. Thank you!

  28. 33

    So true, yet…this post makes me sad! LOL I do keep special ones from special friends, so that I can look back over them later, after they are no longer part of my life, and feel…sad. LOL Okay, she might have a point.

  29. 34

    At 55, I don’t keep any of them…’s just easier….I know my son loves me, my husband loves me….I don’t need a card to clutter my life just to remind me….

  30. 35

    I didn’t read every comment and I am sure somebody mentioned this, but I would donate them to a group that repurposes them. I know of several people and groups locally that will take any cards and will make new cards out of them or Christmas ornaments. I also think there is a group that have handicapped people who make things out of them and sell them for charity.

  31. 36

    wow..I’m guess I’m the worse at hoarding cards. I have not thrown away a card for 30 years. I have kept all my cards since my high school graduation. 🙁 They cost so much. I’m glad I buy most of my cards for others at card outlet stores for 50 cents or $1. Since they are just getting thrown away.

    The only cards I throw away are Christmas cards from people whom I haven’t seen in years or don’t remember who they are.

    I guess I have some work ahead of me. I like the idea of taking pictures of the cards. 🙂

  32. 37

    I just throw out old Christmas cards (2013) last weekend. I have trouble getting rid of ones with my friend’s kids pictures on them. I felt bad to toss some of those. The funniest things I tossed were the Christmas letters my friends/families wrote that I never read. I figured I would get to them one day when I had time…lol

  33. 38

    That was such a funny post and I love your pictures, real and imagined.

  34. 39

    Hahaha! In your underwear drawer!!! So true…. You are NOT the only one;) lol

  35. 40

    i keep my hubby and kids cards in my underwear drawer too …. speaking of things in my underwear drawer…. this might be gross ….but i can’t decide if i should get rid of…(this is so embarassing) the positive pregnancy tests from each of my kids…..

    • 41

      I have nine or 10 of those (including the super faint ones where I tested twice and then the babies went Home). And…I know which one is which kid.

      See…the interwebs let us know we’re not alone, no matter how nutty we may think we are! 😉

  36. 42

    I don’t keep the ones from my kids or husband either. They all go in the trash. I made that decision when I found the box of cards from our wedding. It was several years later and I was wondering what was in “that” box. I opened it up and stared at all those cards. What the what what am I going to DO with them. I chucked them in the outside garbage can. Not once have I regretted doing that. Actually, I hadn’t even thought about it until now; probably 20 years later.

  37. 43
    Natasha Celebrin says:

    Most hilarious pics and steps EVER. Laughed out loud 😀

  38. 44

    Very nice! I only received 2 cards this year. It’s less and less every year… I guess that is a good thing. I enjoyed them immensely… I have them on my printer… One is from Frozen and that one will be recycled from my daughter who loves to be crafty and loves frozen. There may be some cutting and gluing involved. The other is from my hubby… I took the magnet off and that one will be tossed out later when I am ready… The magnet is on my freezer which is right next to my office. I’ve been tossing away even my hubbies old cards…were not the same people we were back then.

  39. 45

    I’ve gotten to the point I even have a hard time buying them. Seems likesuch a waste…

  40. 46

    I found the pile of last years cards on my desk last week and moved them to another spot on my desk til I could work out where to put them….Oh yes…the recycling bin…New tradition in my life I think!!!! (Except of course the ones from my kids/hubby or Dad- they will go in my box of special stuff)
    Thankyou XX

  41. 47

    I, too, keep the cards from hubby and kids. The others—those without writing on the cover go to St. Judes. The ones with writing on the cover–I recycle/trash the backs and keep the cute fronts to use as note paper for To Do lists.

  42. 48

    I can’t throw away cards it’s hard to, I feel bad. So what I started to do was add them to scrap books. For an example when I had my baby shower, the pictures were placed in my son’s scrap book, I then made a page with a pocket made our of paper or other scrap book accessories and placed all the cards in there so when he looks back he can see all the cards I got for him. I do this for all cards now. If they are birthday cards the pictures from there birthday and the cards they got that year will go in the scrap book. This is done with all holiday/occasions we get cards for. It’s kind of nice to be able to look at pictures and be able to look at cards we received for those occasions and be able to know who was celebrating it with us. Besides you never know if that card will be the last you get from that person, and it’s nice to have that last memory of them. As far as cards for myself or my husband I put those in photo album books, that way if we ever want to see or read a card again we can just flip through the book and when we’re done back on the book shelf it goes.

  43. 49
    Sara Jones says:

    Yep. I take all mail straight to the back of the house and stand next to the recycling bin. Open, read, think nice thought, drop in bin. I know that the longer I hang onto something the harder it is for me to toss. Also, I had to do this last summer when my father passed away and let me tell you us kids were like, “wtf, dad?”

  44. 50

    I have been writing in a journal all the messages from the cards and saving a couple of the pictures or parts of pictures. For those that have passed on, like my grandma, I cut out her handwriting saying she loves me and I taped it in the book. Birthday cards for my son and me and even baby shower cards from 14 years ago! All going in the book. Tried to have them in order but I keep finding them so they are not in order. Maybe when I have them all (if that is possible), I will put them in order into another book. Doing the same thing with poems I have written over the years on loose pieces of paper, they are being rewritten into a composition book. 🙂

  45. 51

    I buy 50 cent cards at the dollar store. It saves me money, lets somebody know I care about them and they can throw it away without a twinge of regret.

  46. 52

    Haha! I keep telling myself, if my kids will throw this out after I’m dead, I should throw it out now and save them the trouble :D. It helps take care of any guilt I might have from tossing it.

  47. 53

    I have just gotten to were I trash cards. If there’s a nice message written I might snap a picture in a note on the Google Keep app…..

  48. 54

    Remembering a story told at a monthly birthday party at our [law] firm. Seems one of the big partners at the old, stuffy firm we came out of – received a card from his secretary at a party, glanced at it and promptly deposited it in the trash. Even the other partners were shocked, and one proclaimed that he wasn’t sure what the statute of limitations on birthday cards WAS, exactly, but he was pretty sure it was longer than the 5 seconds it took to read the card.

    If a card is extra pretty, I’ll display it for a while, esp if it has a seasonal look to it. I have a BIG bulletin board in my kitchen for this purpose. If it’s really, really, really pretty I might even keep it with my seasonal decorations for decorating next year. Is this bad? It’s a new routine, but so far I like it – I had some great cards from last Christmas that were fun to see again this year.

    As for touching notes inside cards, I like the idea of photographing them. Mine can live on Flickr forever until I decide on a better place to put them.

  49. 55

    Fantastic post, thank you its just what I needed to hear.

  50. 56

    I’m a saver of cards. I did start sorting through my Christmas card collection and throwing them out. However, I haven’t been able to do that yet with the birthday and anniversary cards. I do like many of the ideas I have read here. One idea I read a few years ago was to scan the front and inside of the card then save them on a disc or flash drive. Might give this a try if I still find I can’t part with them.

  51. 57
    Meredith A. says:

    Thank you for this article. I have a stack of cards sitting on my bed right now. They WERE on my bedroom floor. Before that, they were on a shelf in my bedroom. Before that, they were on my bureau. Before that…who cares? I’ve been saving them because I had (once upon a time) a fantasy of saving Christmas cards from my friends and family and putting them all in one big album showing how the people in the pictures changed through the years. But realistically? I can’t even do that with my own pictures, never mind anyone else’s.

    These are birthday and holiday cards to me and my kids from the last few years. And then there’s the huge rubbermaid bin in the basement holding boxes of cards left over from my bridal shower, wedding, then baby shower, and a myriad of other card-giving occasions through the years.

    The Christmas ones can make cute hang tags for gifts…if you’ve got the time to go through them, cut them out, punch a hole, put a string through, tie it, and put them away with the other wrapping items. (Because those are all in one place if you’ve decluttered properly, right?)

    If you don’t have time for any of that baloney, then tossing them probably IS the best thing. I read another article in which a mom ripped her cards open and scanned the front with the message inside, then saved them in electronic format to look back upon one day. Maybe that works for her, but it doesn’t for me.

    Your article helped me realize it IS okay to throw them away. I might save some as memorabilia–the kids’ Grampa and Nunny have passed and I’d like to keep cards with their handwriting…cards they actually touched, you know? But if I pick one or two of each for history/memorabilia/sentiment, I should end up with less than one of the many card boxes FULL that are currently languishing downstais.

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