Dear Ms. Cards Etiquette,
There’s an older woman who lives in my building who I often visit with. Her family all lives far away, and her birthday is coming up soon. I’d like to do something for her, but I’m at a loss for ideas. Help, please!
Neighborly in New York
First off Neighborly, I only wish there were more people like you in this world. Seriously. As a general rule, I’d say we could do with less people, but not at the expense of losing the few folks like you out there. Secondly, almost anything you might do for your neighbor would probably be appreciated. (Plenty of people would be relieved to find themselves in such a low-pressure gift giving situation!)
That said, you asked for help and that’s what I’m here for … so here’s three easy ideas for how to brighten up your friend’s birthday:
- Take her out for a meal. Often, older people are not in great need of trinket and gadgets. Especially in smaller apartments, you’re not doing anyone a favor by adding to their clutter. But almost everyone enjoys a nice meal out! Assuming your friend has no dietary restrictions that prevent her from enjoying restaurant meals, ask what her favorite local eatery is (or take her to yours, if you have similar tastes), and treat her to a nice birthday dinner.
- Buy her a certificate for a service or shop she could use. If she’s commented on her favorite shoes needing repair, get a gift certificate to a shoe repair shop. Get a month or two subscription to a cleaning service, to give her a break from housework. Keeping in the anti-clutter spirit, think of things she’s mentioned enjoying (having her hair done, getting a manicure, going for a massage?), or something she’s been needing to do, and buy a gift certificate to help out.
- You mentioned her family is far away, so help her keep in touch with family affairs with a stationery set! A box of all-occasion cards (or a box of multi-occasion cards), a set of nice monogrammed stationery, a roll of stamps and a good pen would surely be much appreciated. One of our sets of mini cards or a box of assorted blank greeting cards would both be a nice choice. In the age of email and text messaging, I always like to nudge people towards practicing old-fashioned paper correspondence, and it’s often the older generation who appreciate it most!