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.
WHO DOESN’T LIKE STICKERS?
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.
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!
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.