Saturday, October 10, 2015

The art of sending care packages

Things I love: getting packages in the mail. 

A lovely package from a girlfriend of mine from my time at MIT.

Things I also love: sending packages in the mail.  With many of my friends all over the country (and world), finding little things to squeeze together in a box is a favorite pastime.  I've been regularly sending packages for about ten years at this point, and I've become something of a package expert.  And I'm fairly certain my friends have figured this out about me, but I'm terrible at waiting until Christmas to send gifts, so I usually just operate on the "hey!  happy package day!" model and surprise folks when I have something for them and not otherwise.

Without further ado:

Tips for sending packages
-Glass is heavy and breakable; avoid if possible.  If unavoidable, wrap in bubble wrap, tape, and put in a large plastic bag and seal.
-Wrapping a box in brown paper, either from a grocery bag or from another package, gives you a clean place to write the address and another layer of protection from the elements.
-Remember, if you buy certain post office cardboard boxes, they have already chosen to send it priority, which can cost more.   For others, you can choose the postage.  Keep that in mind when reusing boxes as well, if you have a priority box and don't want it to go priority, you have to wrap it in something else.
-When you pack your box, close the flaps and shake.  You should hear nothing move.  If you do, you need more packaging, whether newspaper or tissue paper.
-Even if I am 99% sure I have the correct address, I usually reach out and ask to confirm, just in case. 

Now for the fun stuff...what do you put in packages?  I tend to think of both what a person would want as well as what would they want but never buy for themselves. 

It's especially fun to do things from where you are, so going local can be really fun.  Here in Minnesota, there is actually a store full of Minnesota products you can buy, but you don't necessarily need that to succeed in finding the best of your local place.  A good place to start is searching "insert place here care package" to identify the local candy/thing that is only in the place you are.  In Minnesota, it's wild rice and Pearson's candy, but there's also a whole range of fruit-based products made here in the state. But then, there's also the option of buying something from a local purveyor.  Sure, you can buy chocolate turtles anywhere.  But chocolate turtles handmade at the St. Paul Candyland, now that's pretty wonderful. 

-fruit syrups
-maple syrup
-specialty vinegar or olive oil
-spice rubs
-salt or salt blends
-homemade or specialty vanilla extract
-homemade brownie, cake, or pancake mix (there's lots of recipes for those online) and pack them in a plastic bag.  Sure, it's less twee than a canning jar, but canning jars are heavy.
-marshmallow fluff or anything else in a plastic jar
-soup cups or meals (especially good for college students)
-random sauces or spices (eg, pumpkin spice with a couple pumpkin spice recipes in the fall, or the right sauce you need for your new favorite at-home Thai recipe)
-dried fruit
-trail mix
-unpopped popcorn
-cocoa for hot cocoa (plus marshmallows!)
-cereal (especially random themed ones)
-fruit snacks (gushers!)

-spray painted plastic animals and/or ceramic things
-coloring books
-anything Lisa Fran
-fancy napkins
-magazines or books (can be anything; maybe an old copy of Sweet Valley High, a vintage cookbook, the newest Vogue..)
-party decorations (lanterns, bunting, birthday candles)

Beauty products
(be careful, though, some people really don't like scented things)
-perfume sampler
-nail polish  (note: do NOT send nail polish remover in the mail, it's flammable)
-eyes hadow
-makeup brushes
-cute compact
-beard oil (ha!  I've never seen a dude with a beard use this, but it makes me smile)

-candles  (be careful, though, some people really don't like scented things)
-cups/mugs/dishes (have to be very carefully packed; thrift stores are my favorite place for this) 
-fun post-its

-scarves or ties (thrift stores are a great source for this, especially if someone is into vintage)
-funny socks

-costume jewelry
-relating to something they love or do (eg, I gave a fossilized coral necklace to a friend that studied corals, or you could give a friend that loves roses a rose pin or cameo)

Places to find things
I tend to keep my eyes open all the time for potential options, and keep a banker's box in my closet filled with all sorts of options to help me fill out packages if I've found one really exceptional thing that I'd like to send.

-World Market (seriously, they're great!  They have such fun candy from around the globe and little sample sizes of things)
-Garage sales/estate sales
-Thrift stores (you never know what you'll find here, whether it's a goofy book or the ugliest ceramic animal you've ever seen or the perfect thing that someone has been looking for)
-Dollar stores
-Target  (especially the front aisle and clearance sections)
-ethnic grocery stores
-farmer's markets
-Boutique-y type stores

Not into sending your own packages?  The internet is great, here are some places to start:

For all of your hipsterish food needs:
Tea:  David's Tea, Teavana, Jane Austen Teas
Beauty: Sephora, Lush
Goofy little things:  CB2

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