We make goals and hopes and bucket lists for the future—but have you ever thought about writing a letter to the future?
There’s several different types of letters-to-the-future. You probably can think of time capsules that communities and schools have done. But you can also write letters to yourself, or to a group of people (like your children or grandchildren) for them to open in the future. I could use myself as an example—I’m a new mom, and I’m learning so much. I could write a letter for my kids to open when they become parents, and it would allow them to see where I was at that same stage, and all the little moments that I loved when they were babies.
Why Letters to The Future?
But why should we bother to write a letter to the future? After all, today we can scroll through old social media posts, emails, and even news articles, and see what we were doing, how we all looked, and what was going on in the world. There’s footage of everything. It feels like there’s little sense to write letters to the future, because we’ll already know what was happening in the world. But that’s not quite true. The thing that is missing is the personal insight into how we’re experiencing those events. The thing that is missing is our private fears and hopes.
Writing those things down is a cathartic experience for us, but also neat for posterity. When you read about past world events, even a major war event like Pearl Harbor, we have the opportunity to hear people’s feelings—in their own words. Even now, when you write about the turmoil in the world from your own experience, it lets you save that for the future. Letters to the future also free you to share in a way without judgment—in every moment of history, we’re not sure what’s going to happen, so we’re wary of sharing on social media. But when you write a letter, you can note that your opinion and your world may change, but this is your thoughts in the slice of time you’re writing in.
Whether you want to share your story with posterity, share your day-to-day experiences with your children, or even just see personally how your perspective changes over time, writing a letter to the future is a wonderful thing to do.
Materials That Last
Before we can write a letter to the future though, I wanted to give you some insight into the materials you may want to use.
If you’re only writing to a year or so out, it doesn’t matter what material you use. Any paper or pencil should be fine. I can look back at things I wrote as a little kid—and granted, the crayon colors have faded, but they’re still legible. If you’re not intending your letter to last centuries, or more than 20-30 years, you can use any paper and pen.
However, I would always recommend using paper and ink that is archival. The exact specifications of what makes materials archival vary, but there’s a few integral parts. For paper, you want something that isn’t going to disintegrate with time. The best types of archival papers are acid-free. These have neutral PH, and are often 100% cotton. My Amatruda Angelo Writing Sheets are both 100% cotton and PH neutral, so they’re great for writing a letter to the future. You can also ask for acid-free paper at your local art store.
With ink, you’re looking for something similar. You’re looking for two main things—the ability for it to resist fading, and the ability for it to stay on the page. You want to be sure your ink won’t fade over time—for example, many black inks eventually turn brown. So you want something that has a color-fast property. Inks that have pigment fare well in this regard, since the pigment itself gives the color, so it cannot fade. You also want to choose an ink that will stay on the page—even if you have a pigment-based ink, if it’s water-soluble, and you live in a humid environment, it could easily wash off the page. An archival ink will automatically resist fading and will stay on the page. The Secura pens are great options that you can find on Amazon. Though a pen may not be labeled archival, it may still be—you want to make sure it’s permanent, waterproof, and acid-free.
Letters to Future You
There are three different types of letters to the future. The first is a letter to yourself—what you’re going to say to yourself. A second is a letter to one person that you know well—likely someone in your family. Finally is a letter that is like a time-capsule—maybe you’d write it to a group of people in your family, or to have as a historic document.
When you’re writing to yourself, there’s many different ways to approach it. I like to write letters to five-years, ten-years, many years ahead, to when I think my life may be very different, and it would be cool to reflect on who I am now. In 4th grade, I wrote a letter to my 18-year-old self, and put it in a little capsule for film. It served as a great time capsule—I couldn’t wait to see what my 10-year-old self had said to my 18-year self.
But then I opened the letter, and was totally underwhelmed.
The letter said, “I’m in 4th grade, my hair is down to my waist, I like skiing, I want to study bones.” Very weird letter to write. And everything I said in that letter, were things I would already know as an 18-year-old. I’ve always loved skiing. I could look at pictures and see my hair was at my waist. I had not quite remembered the bones part, but I had wanted to be a paleontologist. That’s an example of a way not to write your letter—don’t provide information that your future yourself will easily remember or obviously know. Instead, you want to talk about your mindset and day-to-day experiences.
Something to consider is what your daily routine is like. What do you most look forward to each week? Even if it’s something very mundane and boring now, it may be interesting in 10, 15, or 30 years.
A few questions to consider as you write your letter: where do you see yourself at the age you’re writing to? What have you dreamed of, what are your goals you hope you’ve reached by then? Are there certain things you really hope for yourself or your family? Putting some of those in is a great way for your future self to get a sense of what you’ve accomplished—but also to see how your mindset has changed. I have some old Pinterest boards from 10 years ago of things I wanted to achieve. I look now, and some of them I have achieved—but some of them aren’t relevant to me anymore, and that’s perfectly fine. Over time, our goals change.
When writing to yourself, you have the benefit of knowing who you are. Though you will change over the years, your audience at the core remains the same. There’s something about you that you had when you’re a child, and that you will have for your whole life. The opportunity with that is that you can go in depth, what your feelings are, what your fears are, what your dreams are. You can then see how those change over time. This type of letter, you can be flexible about what you want to say to yourself, but I recommend sharing details that are unique to your experience while still easily forgotten.
I also think it’s nice to write about our fears as well. If we look at a time in our life when there’s a challenge we’re going through, when we write about it and live out the experience it one page, it allows you to reflect on it in the future. You see what you’ve gone through, and means that there is a time past this point, past this struggle you are in.
When you close the letter to yourself, make sure that you’re clear about who the letter is to, the date it should be opened, and then put some parameters around it if you don’t want people to open it other than yourself. Granted, we don’t want to think something might befall you, but you don’t know what’s going to happen. Maybe the letter will get lost and someone will find it in 50 years—do you want someone to open it then, or not? Put the date, name, and parameters around it of when it should be opened or not.
When I was 17, I wrote a letter to myself at 25, and I made so many assumptions about what a 25-year-old was—I had this idea that 25-year-old were full functioning adults that were full in their careers and had everything figured out. I was in a career at 25, and had some things figured out, but I didn’t feel like the adult I expected to be at 25. I felt much more like the 17-year-old. Looking back now in my mid-30’s, I think, yeah, 17 and 25 are much more similar than 25 and 35. Granted, that will be different for different people, but I do recommend, when you write to yourself, to not make too many assumptions about who you’re going to be, or put pressure on yourself to achieve certain goals.
Think about it more from the perspective of this current state. What are your thoughts? What are your goals? What is behind the goals—what do you want to feel and achieve in your life? When we relive memories, the brain goes back and rewrites it—so it’s hard to know exactly what the experience was like. When we think about our teenage years, it changes every time we revisit it. If we write a letter to ourself, that won’t be rewritten. That will let you get into your mindset, and what your experience was truly like.
Letters to A Future Individual
The second type of letter is one to someone you care about. Tin these letters, you likely aren’t writing mainly to share about your goals and dream, but rather to preserve your experience and share your love across the decades. This is something I’m doing—creating letters to share with my husband when he turns 60. It’s a secret project I’ve been doing, and a way to show a testament to our love throughout the years.
There are so many fun things you can do when you’re writing letters to the future to someone you love. It doesn’t have to just be in the letter—I will write on recipes we’ve used, and write in the letter to go to that page in the cookbook. It’s also a way to recreate the experience that we had—for instance, if we cook a special sauce, and I write about it in the letter, and include the recipe, then when they open the letter, we can make that sauce again and relive the experience.
In these kinds of letters, I try not to share too much about the information that they might already know. My son had been stung by a bee in his eye earlier this summer—and now anytime his eye hurts when he gets something in it, he talks about it being a bee. That might be something we may easily forget when we’re 60. We have videos of his first steps, but those little moments are precious things we may forget.
Just like a letter to yourself, you want to include how you feel. If you share about your hopes and dreams, you can do it from the perspective of where you think you may both may be, or acknowledging what you’ve already achieved. I might share about how I always dreamed of having a family, and now we have a house, and our son, and it’s beautiful. As I write letters in 2020, it makes me feel gratitude for everything we have, and it’s also a way to celebrate where this union is going. At 60, we’ll remember this house we lived in, and see that we lived our dream.
A fun thing is also to include a secret—something that you hadn’t told them in that time, but that you share with them when they open the letter years later. Maybe a little white lie, or a little inside joke.
Letters to A Future Group
The third type of letter is one that is more for posterity. Maybe it’s a letter you write to your family, or your community, or even just strangers in the future if you want to remember a particular experience of a certain time.
For writing letters in the future, you want to put some of the caveats around the letter when you address it—who is too, when is it to be opened, and any terms of when it shouldn’t be opened, if it should be destroyed in certain circumstances. Jackie Kennedy decided that some of her private taped interview wouldn’t be released until after she died, that way she could speak more openly and share her experience and belief without fear of judgment. I haven’t listened to those recordings, but I like the idea that you give yourself freedom to share your experience if you send a letter that’s out far enough.
When you’re sharing your experience in time capsule letters, you want to include enough information for them to reference the time that you lived, but not include information that they will already know through reading old newspapers or documentaries. For example, if there was a major event, like a 2020 election, they will already know the outcome of it. But they don’t know what you feel. They don’t know what your hope or fears are for the future and the world. Being able to share that in a letter can be a wonderful way to create a document for the future, that will give this time more richness.
With that, if you’re writing to the future, just like Jackie Kennedy, you don’t have to be afraid of saying the wrong thing, or knowing what the direction everything will go. You can simply share what you’re feeling at this present time, and how you’re growing.
Again, it can be important to include mundane things—talk about your daily routine. Even just something like transportation—the pandemic has shaped how we travel, and even the cars we drive may be different from what people drive in 10 or 15 years. Details we find boring today, may be very interesting to everyone in the future.
Sharing some about your challenges can also be helpful. I mentioned sharing your fears and hopes for the world—but sharing about your own experience is important as well. What do you find particularly challenging? For instance, for me right now, with a toddler and the amount of work I have and riding out a pandemic far away from family support—there’s a lot I’m carrying on a day-to-day basis. I wouldn’t write a letter to complain—but sharing what’s that like will be interesting for my grandkids and society in the future. One person’s firsthand account in an unpolished way can be a beautiful document.
With these “time capsule” letters, it can be easy to give it a downer tone, since many major life and historic events can be upsetting topics. Think about those—but also think about things you’re excited for, and fun events. Maybe the Olympics is going on, or your favorite team won their sporting event. Share some of those triumphs as well.
Let’s recap—first, think of the group you’re writing to. Know your audience; is it yourself, a specific individual, or a group of people in your family or community? Second, remember that your materials are important, so get acid-free paper and archival pens. Next, don’t forget to put parameters around your letter—write out who it is to, the date it should be opened, and any reasons you may want the letter destroyed. Finally, share your day-to-day experiences, share your hopes and challenges, and do so in an authentic way.
Just like anything, practice makes perfect. Keep on writing letters to your future self—write one for the 1-year mark, the 5-year mark, or the 10-year mark. If you continue to do that, over time you’ll have more letters to open. The anticipation of opening those letters can be something exciting to look forward too.
Are you writing letters to the future? Let me know below how it goes! You can also reach out to me on Instagram at KathrynHastings&Co, and join our community of letter-lovers. And if you’re enjoying these posts, please be sure to share them with your friends.
Signing off with one of my most common closings: