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My Love Don’t Cost A Thing: The Valentine’s Day Edit

In love with a day dedicated to love

I love Valentine’s Day. That might be an unpopular opinion for those feeling pressured to buy endless gifts or send copious bouquets of roses, but there’s something sweet about a day dedicated to love. Ancient Roman/Christian history and bloody gangster violence aside, Valentine’s Day and more recently Galentine’s Day serve as reminders that no matter how busy life gets, you can take a day to celebrate the one(s) who makes your heart beat faster or add joy to your day.

I won’t delve into the part where we all talk about how you should appreciate your beloved daily, but will instead dive right into the hearts and flowers and bonbons and other V’Day gifties. They’re fun. They’re silly. They make you smile and allow you to express deep emotion with a card written by someone else. While I tend to recommend extremely personal gifts most of the time, this year I’m going to suggest things that cost nothing or next to nothing. Feel free to splurge every other day of the year, for right now the point is to authentically remind someone they are loved while still safely distanced.

Free Valentine’s Day gift ideas

  • A box of books: For every time you kvetch about how Amazon is ruining the world, try this small antidote. Gather your favorite books and pack them up and send them to your favorite bookworm. Postage is minimal when sending media and you’ll clear out your own space and fill someone else’s with some of your favorite moments.

  • A playlist: It’s entirely possible that you’re too young to remember mixtapes. I am not. There was something heady and romantic and endlessly dreamy about receiving a highly customized soundtrack based on someone else’s feelings for you. Head over to Youtube or Pandora or anyplace you stream music from and create a list of tunes that shows them what they mean to you or reminds them of your shared highlights.
  • Friendship: When a great love of my life and I broke up last year, there was so much residual pain that even seeing texts from him checking in on me felt too painful to bear. Just about a year and a pandemic later, we’re at a place where we can appreciate the things that drew us together in the first place all those years ago. I don’t think you have to be friends with all of your exes, but if having them in your life right now is more pleasant than painful, it might be worthwhile.
  • Nail art: I was in the middle of a stressful email volley on Friday when I stopped to paint teeny hearts on my nails. As I started typing round 942 of the follow-up, I smiled every time I looked at my nails as they flew across the keyboard. It’s also the goofy kind of thing you can do with a friend or twelve while on a catch-up Zoom.
  • A Zen jar: File this one under oddly satisfying, but when I’m incredibly stressed I shake my Zen jar until all the glitter floats everywhere. As the glitter settles, so does my mood; as the water clears, so do my swirling thoughts much of the time. It’s also incredibly easy to make: Take a Mason jar and add a few spoons of glitter. Add a few spoons of glycerin and then fill with water nearly to the top. Glitter jars are often used in mindfulness practices, mine lives near my desk.
  • Plant cuttings:  As any crazy plant lady will tell you, the only thing more exciting than a new plant (or planter) is a leaf cutting from a friend. It allows you to grow something you know you’ll love from the tiniest leaf pieces. It also reminds you of that friend on a daily basis. Incidentally, I name all leaf cuttings after the people who shared them so I’m always saying hi to green friends inspired by real-life friends.
  • A fully present check-in call: Instead of tackling Spelling Bee while on the phone with your parents, pay attention to every single word exchanged. I never thought I’d so desperately miss my late father sharing his shopping list and marveling at the perfect tomatoes he discovered at the farmer’s market.
  • A laugh: Life is way too serious these days. Send someone you love a link to a New Yorker cartoon or that viral video of the COVID-19 vaccine being more valuable than jewelry.
  • A Vinegar Valentine: In case Valentine’s Day still has you in full bah, humbug mode, you can embrace an extremely retro trend. Back in the Victorian era hate mail took a different form with something known as the vinegar valentine which came in the form of commercially printed postcards sent anonymously. The messages were often insulting or downright rude. In an article on the topic Atlas Obscura quotes Cameron C. Nickels who in his book Civil War Humor, wrote that vinegar valentines were sent to “drunks, shrews, bachelors, old maids, dandies, flirts, and penny pinchers, and the like.” And in case you think love ruled all, he said that in 1847, sales were split between the loved up and snarky valentines.