Heart-Shaped Box

A care-package checklist for gifting faraway friends.

It could be for friends from camp, friends who moved away, friends or siblings at college, online friends, adults from Chatroulette. (One of those was a joke.) I am always a cheerleader for the care package. For one, it’s the most gifty kind of gift. Like, who is not DELIGHTED by the prospect of a bunch of small fun cute things you get to keep finding at the bottom of a bubble-wrap envelope? Also, if you don’t totally know what your faraway friend has gotten into since you last saw each other, this is a good way to avoid having to find one strong gift. Instead, dazzle them with shiny stickers and neon pencils.

Best of all, a care package shows that you took some time and made an effort. (Or at least I’d like to think I don’t spend 10 minutes laboring over whether to send the smiley heart stickers or the smiley flower stickers for nothing.)

In a close second for best-of-all, while care packages are most personal when it’s a collection of souvenirs from lots of different weird places—estate sales, joke shops, your own homemade stuff —you can find all of the stuff you need with, like, one trip to Target.

I’ve made my own room into a bit of a care-package factory. Like I am a bored mom with a million kids at sleepaway camp. So, based on my own experiences as a bored mom, this is my care-package checklist. Feel free to change to suit your own taste and time allotment.

1. Stickers

2. Band-Aids
Get some cute kitschy Hello Kitty or Sesame Street or whatever ones at a drugstore. Everyone needs Band-Aids! Also, they are like practical stickers! WHO DOESN’T LIKE PRACTICAL STICKERS?

3. Fun socks
WHO DOESN’T LIKE CHEERFUL SOCKS? Happy Socks are the best for this, in my opinion, though in most of the world you have to order online. Target always has fun socks though. Walgreens is more for, like, pantyhose.

4. Candy

5. Nail polish
If your friend likes makeup, I suppose any will do, but I don’t know, in my mind foundation and mascara and stuff are so serious. People usually have their set routines for that basic stuff. Nail polish is pure fun and doesn’t have to match their coloring or whatever.

6. Hair things
Tacky barrettes like the ones you wore when you were little are a win-win—if your friend is the kind to dress like vintage Courtney Love, she’ll be stoked; if she is not, it’ll be a cute, fun nostalgia thing. Also, hair ribbons. Also, DIY’d crowns. Or, materials for her to make her own crown! A plain headband, pipe cleaners, and fake flowers.

7. Friendship bracelets
Whether they’re tacky beads (Spell out funny phrases or their favorite song title! My friend made me one that said CARLOS THE DWARF because of our shared love of Freaks and Geeks)—or good old-fashioned summer-camp thread (tutorials here), these are special. If they don’t end up being worn, they’ll at least end up on a corkboard.

8. Disposable camera
Hair things are all good and well, but a camera will be used to make memories and everything. Digital cameras are pricey (obviously) and film is more personal, and there’s the whole element of surprise, the suspense in waiting for the film to be developed, etc. Disposables are cheap, and the simplest and most stress-free kind of film camera. And your friend shouldn’t have much trouble finding a place to get the film developed, since most drugstores sell disposables.

9. A book you want them to read
I guess print is somewhat sacred nowadays, and so a book/zine/comic will feel extra cozy. Books are always more special when a friend recommended it. I am extremely thankful that Anaheed really wanted me to read Joan Didion and sent me a copy of Slouching Towards Bethlehem, as it was a little life-changing. Zines are great too, because of the homemade feel. Make one yourself or look for ’em on Etsy. Weetzie Bat is such a great book to send—it’s thin and unintimidating (when someone gives you a long book it can feel like a burden) and all the themes about friendship are really uncheesily sweet.

10. Mix CD
Or a mixtape if you have the patience! The mix CD shows, like the care package, real effort—you spent time selecting the songs, ordering them, writing them all out, and making the album art. Music is personal: you can include songs you’ve listened to together, and/or their favorite songs you know they’ll be psyched and surprised to hear, and/or a band you just really want them to listen to. You can also burn them a bunch of albums you think they’d like or that you’ve talked about. But something about all the thought involved in composing the mix is so much more special.

11. Weird pamphlet thing
I don’t know what to call this, but fold a sheet of paper into a mini-zine and just write on each page a small thing you wanna tell them. Something that happened at school, a new TV show you’re obsessed with, lists and doodles and things. So personal and a DELIGHT both to make and to receive. It’s a way fun form of a letter, especially if you don’t like writing but want to include some kind of message in your parcel. (I don’t have an image for this or the mix CD because I’ve given all of mine away! I’m such a philanthropist.)

12. Stationery and postcards
So they can write you back!

13. Decoration
Make the package feel all festive and special by throwing a ton of confetti in there when you’re all done. Tie a ribbon around each individual good inside, even the tiny pack of gum. It all looks so cute together and it’s fun to unwrap lots of ribbons. Half of gift-giving is about presentation anyway! Decorate the box or envelope too. Write things to freak out the mail carrier.

14. Random stuff
The best parts of care packages are the totally random ones. I sent my friend a flier from my orthodontist where he compares himself to Justin Bieber (concluding that THEY BOTH AGREE THAT A SMILE IS IMPORTANT) and I believe she described it as the “worst and best thing” she’d ever seen. Even McDonald’s toys are funny. Pages from stupid magazines you’ve defaced to change the words around. Care packages are funny! Funny and cute and lighthearted, but with plenty of room to be personal and thoughtful and friendship-nurturing. Now go forth and care, care like you’ve never cared before, care like a celebrity paid to be in a PSA about caring.

Yes, this is a thing that exists.


  • moonchild December 13th, 2011 3:15 PM

    This is amazing for a gift idea for a friend of mine that’s in England for a year!

    I’m so excited to make this and I’m totally going to make a “weird pamphlet thing”!

    Thanks TAVI!

    (: Gwen

  • Naomi Morris December 13th, 2011 3:21 PM

    ermm… i don’t like candy actually.

    i am kidding, don’t kick me out of rookie please!!!

  • PacingAgain December 13th, 2011 3:22 PM

    These are so cool! I’ve been trying to figure out what to make my loverly best friend, and I think that this is it. Once again, thank you Rookie :)

  • doubleshiny December 13th, 2011 3:22 PM

    OMG where is that Spock card from?! I want it!

    I love sending care packages. I usually have one ready to go then if I see a friend say they’re having a bad day I send it straight out.

  • Molly Blues December 13th, 2011 3:27 PM

    omg be my friend!

  • EmmaAmerica December 13th, 2011 3:28 PM

    This is so adorable! I love doing things like these for my friends, I might have to try this, as I am trying to make somewhat meaningful (read, cheap) presents for my friends this year.

  • Maddy December 13th, 2011 3:33 PM

    I sent my friend a care package this summer and I desperately tried to send candy (but they said no food and took it out from her and ate it!!), even hiding it in an envelope claiming to be an “Origami Kit” (the kit-kat shaped bulk gave it away) gosh I think I am too devious sometimes

  • neelybat December 13th, 2011 3:42 PM

    oh. now i have to send you a care package tavi!

  • Jamie December 13th, 2011 3:56 PM

    the justin bieber/ortho flier strikes again!

    i can’t remember where i saw it previously. maybe your house.


  • Limey December 13th, 2011 4:00 PM

    I have a friend that moved away to New York over the summer and I’ve been feeling that facebook just isn’t making the cut! I am definitely going to send her a care package! Thanks!

    Also, Tavi I saw you mentioned Uncle Fun yesterday! As a fellow Chicagoan, I LOVE Uncle Fun and they have the greatest postcards and little knick knack things, so great for a care package!

  • darksideoftherainbow December 13th, 2011 4:11 PM

    such great ideas! i’m going to send on now to my biff that literally lives four blocks away from me hahaha. thanks!!! <3

  • I.ila December 13th, 2011 4:21 PM

    I want that to be my orthodontist!!!!

  • Marguerite December 13th, 2011 4:38 PM

    i LOVE your -Jesus loves you- stickers!

  • MechaMech December 13th, 2011 4:55 PM

    Care packages are the best. I do this when I can’t think of a single item to gift, but most of the times a lot of small things are much better and more exciting to receive. Bonus points if the care package container is also part of the present (i.e. a cool box/tin/basket the giftee can reuse)

  • MissGorgeous December 13th, 2011 5:28 PM

    This is adorable, and it’s the perfect gift for all my faraway friends over the holidays! :D I hate to sound like a dork here, but, um, what is a “zine”? :P

    • Tavi December 13th, 2011 5:31 PM

      We want to post an intro-to-zineing thing soon! But it’s basically a self-published magazine.

      • KinuKinu December 16th, 2011 11:36 PM

        Ive been trying to make zine for like 6months.But my brain lacks creativity( that or its locked in a treasure chest in a cave 5000 miles deep 2500 miles below sea level on a different planet. Yeah, probably that one) Anyways, zine intro would be excellent!

    • Filia-Zissy December 16th, 2011 12:11 PM

      Thanks for asking this question! I was wondering too. I guessed it must have been something like that, but I was not sure.

  • FashionHauties December 13th, 2011 5:33 PM

    I love this. I have tons of best friends that live like YEARS away :( I didn’t know what to buy them without going broke. Great idea! :)

  • isadora December 13th, 2011 5:35 PM

    Now I really want a snail mail friend!

    • Tavi December 13th, 2011 5:35 PM

      We’re trying to figure out a way to set up a Rookie pen pal system!

  • MissKnowItAll December 13th, 2011 5:38 PM

    I bought a bunch of Arthur DVDs for $5 and sent those in a care package too

    • Tavi December 13th, 2011 5:54 PM

      omg best

      • MissKnowItAll January 1st, 2012 3:47 PM

        For the socks, instead of plain socks, buy fuzzy socks or toe socks just to mix it up.

  • Carnivalegirl December 13th, 2011 5:43 PM

    This is a lovely thing to do. When I was in boarding school, many moons ago, we use to do this over the holidays like Summer and Easter etc with shoeboxes. We would make a shoebox of stuff for one another filled with stuff from over your holiday. Like a sort of 3d diary of sorts. Postcards, beer mats, maps with locations of where you had gone. The disposable camera was filled with photos that the other person would develop to see what adventure you had had. Lots of great ideas. I still have all that were made for me.

  • Anna F. December 13th, 2011 5:48 PM

    ANOTHER IDEA! Send a digital camera, but take a few pictures beforehand of stuff on your hand, so she gets a surprise when she develops the pictures. Just don’t do anything weird or dirty that will make whoever is developing the pictures think she’s a serial killer.

  • emilyelizabeth December 13th, 2011 6:10 PM

    i love sending (and recieving) care packages! great list, Tavi!

  • Narnie December 13th, 2011 6:17 PM

    This is wonderful. I have an amazing friend who lives in Minnesota (I’m from Melbourne, Australia) and I’m totally going to send a care package to her!

  • Bren December 13th, 2011 6:24 PM

    Ha. The dentist.
    This is so sweet.

  • Maddy December 13th, 2011 6:33 PM

    Pen pal system!!! Please do!

  • Aleks-with-a-K December 13th, 2011 6:35 PM

    My best friend and I have been talking about exchanging care packages for AGES! The last one I sent her was back in… uh… October, and it involved a container of Oreo cookie icing. I think that’s a suitable substitute for candy, yeah?

    I’m totally trying out these ideas on my next care package though!

  • MADZ. December 13th, 2011 6:55 PM

    I think Rookie pen pals is a BRILLIANT idea. I swear there are no kids in my neighborhood or school that appreciate the same bizarro stuff I do, plus snail mail pen pals are so much more retro and meaningful than online ones. Is it bad that I’m planning care packages instead of studying for finals tomorrow?

  • Thepunkrocker December 13th, 2011 7:06 PM

    I kinda want a pen-pal. I live in oak park. I can’t wait for the “rookie pen pal”

    • Thepunkrocker December 13th, 2011 7:08 PM

      I just realized I posted that. Sorry. That was my little train of thought. *Awkward*

  • Chimdi December 13th, 2011 7:25 PM

    I totally agree with the pen pal idea! It sounds great! You should use a questionnaire to match up people!

    Ex: Do you like Gilmore Girls?
    Do prefer reading classic novels, new stuff, or both?
    Have you ever seen a Gus Van Sant film?

    stuff like that…

  • emile December 13th, 2011 7:33 PM

    oh gosh, love this. i have a friend in europe who has sent me some of the most wonderful care packages, filled with all the good things you describe: confetti, mix cds, postcards, buttons, folded paper stars. we used to send each other handmade postcards about our future adventures, little stories tucked here and there like the shared diary in the film memento mori. those stories are especially dear to me, as we haven’t had many chances to visit over the past few years.

    my favorite things from her? sock monkeys, and photo albums of those sock monkeys engaged in daily life: on a boat in italy, baking cupcakes, learning piano.
    in exchange, i’ve made her mix cds with custom cases & art, handmade paper dolls (so. much. FUN) and little books filled with sketches and poetry and idle observations about the strange little world i sometimes live in.

    care packages, they are the best.

  • Tavi December 13th, 2011 7:39 PM

    damn i just realized this week on rookie is totally LOOK AT ALL MY STUFF week

    • Thepunkrocker December 14th, 2011 11:59 PM

      That could be a thing! LOOK AT ALL MY STUFF week or SHOW AND TELL week.

  • Chloe Elizabeth December 13th, 2011 7:39 PM

    Rookie pen pals sound AMAZING! I always wish there were Rookie girls in my little town to chat with.

  • December 13th, 2011 8:14 PM

    I like the red drawing of the lady with hearts (<3) on her face.

  • puffytoad December 13th, 2011 8:49 PM

    Hmm, thin books aren’t so unintimidating. How do they stuff a whole story into such a small space? Suspicious!!!

  • Microbyte1 December 13th, 2011 10:17 PM

    i feel like making one to each of my friends for christmas :)

  • marimba_girl December 13th, 2011 10:56 PM

    Great ideas, my friends in college will totally be getting these as part of their christmas gift. I miss them so much! My one friend and i have been sending a handwritten story back and forth. Whoever gets the story has to continue it for a paragraph or so. Its a fun way to keep in touch and is a lot more personal than an email. And you end up with a crazy ass story to boot :)

  • cherrycola27 December 13th, 2011 11:23 PM

    This is great!
    I’m going to have to go out and make some far away friends to send some care to!

  • ourlordmorrissey December 13th, 2011 11:31 PM

    literally in love with this article. i am so cheap i have been making little care packages made out of my younger godsister’s my little pony toys she doesen’t use anymore ^___^

  • mangachic December 14th, 2011 7:11 AM

    The Rookie pen pal sounds great!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And the zine intro

  • flowerpunk December 14th, 2011 9:35 AM

    This is an amazing idea. In October I went to an international session of what’s known as the European Youth Parliament, which basically brings together teens from all around Europe, and I met two amazing girls- the one was from Belgium and the other from Spain. I got their addresses and I was actually thinking of sending them just letters, but this is WAY better!!

  • Sezweh December 14th, 2011 10:21 AM

    I’ve been writing to pen pals since I was 17 (i’m now almost 25). I adore the fact that Rookie is encouraging this kind of carepackage activity.

    Is it childish to still be really, really into this kind of thing at my age?

    I’m an Australian girl but I live in Germany now, and I would be first in line to send German carepackages to anyone who would be interested. I think Rookie pen pals is such a wonderful idea.

  • Izzy December 14th, 2011 12:21 PM

    oh, pen pals would be wonderful!
    would it be like letters in the post?

  • ruby December 14th, 2011 12:29 PM

    I love the ideas in this post, and the pamphlets(:
    i’ve bought tamagotchis for my friends this year (even though i am 16) because i have an aversion to growing up, and now i totally want to make them into care packages with pez dispensers etc!

  • ollyfrancis December 15th, 2011 9:53 AM

    Thank you.. Just thank you!


  • opal_dolphin December 15th, 2011 3:30 PM

    Thankyou! This has really inspired me! Im going to decorate the actual boxes with photos and images that relate to the people I’m giving the care package to :)

  • Bohemiette December 15th, 2011 8:06 PM

    I love journals. Moleskine, plain pages-so writing and drawing is possible. Mine serves as a scrapbook/journal/part of my life story. I gave one to my best friend who was feeling Plath-y and was going on a single sojourn to Canada for a week over the summer, and its like having a connection to the other person.

    Like sisterhood of the traveling pants, but you don’t have to worry about wearing it! – unless you want some amazing Lady Gaga outfit!

  • Filia-Zissy December 16th, 2011 12:10 PM

    Does anyone has an idea what I could give an infantile 19-year-old boy as a present? We have kinda Secret Santa game at school. We drawed lots and I have no idea.
    I loved the idea of making a care-packadge for him, but I think he won’t be happy with hello kitty things. I thought of some nice toys and a bit of candy.
    Has anyone some better ideas?
    Please reply here or visit my blog…


  • KinuKinu December 16th, 2011 11:31 PM

    Love this!!! penpals PLEASE!!! i want to send and get a CARE-PACKAGE!!!

  • rebecca December 17th, 2011 1:04 AM

    i’ve started making a couple of these already and a really fun thing to do is to use an article of clothing as the lining of the gift box. sheer and lace things look especially pretty!

  • Izze_kiel December 18th, 2011 10:41 PM

    Reading this makes me want to make one right now. And I will.

  • back2thepast December 19th, 2011 12:00 AM

    OH MY PEN PALS!!! that would be the coolest thing ever. p.s. where can i buy ‘Jesus loves you’ stickers??

    • Tavi December 19th, 2011 12:04 AM

      i got them at a teacher supplies store! but i see jesus-themed stickers a lot..even at like walgreens

  • oriana December 19th, 2011 10:19 PM

    You and I are on the same page! I made my dear friend a care package a few months ago when she moved from Vancouver to Ontario for college even though I haven’t seen her in over two years. Since (like you said) I wasn’t sure what kinds of things she is interested in, I made her a mixtape, a little mini zine, and I also gave her some tea, stationary & dried flowers :)

  • karastarr32 December 20th, 2011 5:38 PM

    OMG- thanks Rookie for giving me a cheap Christmas present idea!! I’m moving to England in a few days and leaving the class I’ve been with since 1st grade- perfect idea to send them all kitschy stuff and photos of when we were little…..

  • MissKnowItAll January 1st, 2012 3:45 PM

    OMG I have a serious girl crush on all you rookies!!
    I live in New York but I’m always starved for creativity and inspiration.Thank You Rookie for feeding my brain.

  • whodatgal April 28th, 2012 8:57 AM

    OH oH oH oh what’s up with the ‘Rookie pen-pal’ thing? I live in London and feel *totally* disconnected from all you cool people. THAT would be so amazingly awesome.

    P.S Tavi, I think I died when I saw your heart shaped box of barettes. SDHGJHDGJKXAH What is up with London and cool stuff?!?!??!