Meet The Atlantic Canada Pen Pal Coordinator Shining A Light on Self Care Around The Globe

“Being able to establish a friendship through letter-writing and snail mail is so powerful.”

Nova Scotian Lindsey Arseneau’s “humble” lifestyle and wellness brand humblebee + co. may have started in a small apartment kitchen but its reach has spread far across the globe in just a few short years. Her projects may have pivoted since then but her slow-living and self care intentions haven’t. These days, Arseneau coordinates pen pals for others in Canada, the United States, India, the United Kingdom, South America, Australia and various countries in Asia. She also blogs biweekly about wellness, self-care and acts of kindness.

Arseneau’s brand humblebee+co. started in February 2017 when she would re-purpose coffee grounds and other natural and locally-sourced ingredients to make lotions and scrubs. Her intention was to make self care more accessible and affordable. Soon, Arseneau opted to include a supplementary snail mail program for her skincare clients and followers in September 2018. Just over a year later, she decided to stop making the skincare products and pivoted to offer just the blog and the Snail Mail program, which she says has been “going strong ever since.”

Creating physical wellness products to sell may have ended in 2019 but her message of wellness, self-care and embracing kindness remains in the other elements of the humblebee+co. brand – the Snail Mail service.

“When I started the snail mail program I added it as a part of the business, thinking it would create a lifestyle brand if anything,” Arseneau says.

“I started sending written letters and notes to customers, friends, family and strangers as an effort to not only brighten someone else’s day, but to help myself get out of the darkness that is depression. I was able to use this as a form of self-care and expression, reaching out to others in hopes of creating a welcoming community.”

Now, humblebee is a lifestyle blog about “wellness, spreading kindness and general good vibes,” as well as a pen pal connection service. She doesn’t sell any products in 2020, and the snail mail program is free and always will be free. She also creates little handwritten cards that she leaves around any towns and cities she visits. These “#beekindcards,” as she calls them, are a simple way of leaving a positive impact on someone with little effort, Arseneau explains.

“I scour Pinterest for inspiring quotes and then write them out on card stock with little doodles and stickers,” she says.

“Then I leave them in random spots in hopes that someone will find it and get a little smile on their face, know they aren’t alone. I also send them to our new snail mail members in case they want to leave a couple in their own town and ask them to tag us so we can see where they end up. It’s been neat seeing someone post about how they found the card and it made their day; such a good feeling.”

Anyone interested in the program can simply sign up to be matched with a pen pal. She then pairs participants with the last member who joined or who ever hasn’t yet been paired up. The wait time is usually minimal, she says.

Personally, I can attest to this as my own time waiting for the Snail Mail program was not more than a couple of weeks – and I requested my pen pal right at the start of the COVID-19 closures. After signing up, Arseneau soon sends participants an email with their new pen pals’ mailing address.

“The idea is that once you have corresponded with your new pen pal at least once (each receiving something), then you can request another pen pal and so on,” Arseneau says.

“I want to make sure that everyone feels safe when giving out their mailing address so by having this has helped with privacy.”

According to her, the feedback she has received since starting this program has been amazing. Members often send her a note along with their About Me cards, expressing how grateful they are that they came across her project. Arseneau believes this is because many adults have a hard time making new friendships and connections.

“This has provided them with a new outlet to create those relationships,” she says.

“It’s a safe-space for a lot of individuals who suffer from mental illnesses as well, as they feel they can still meet new people but within their own comforts. It’s also been a major creative outlet for some members, and it’s sparked that desire to craft and make something again.”

As for herself, the humblebee+co. Snail Mail program has also been a form of self-care. Arseneau says it allows her to slow down, and be a lot more mindful and present.

“I take time to create the envelopes and goodies inside, and I write from the heart,” she says.

“Being able to establish a friendship through letter-writing and snail mail is so powerful and brings us back to simpler concepts.”

In an era where COVID-19 has left many working from home and keeping indoors for months at a time, altering the social experiences of most people all around the world, being able to write to pen pals and send each other parcels from all the places we can’t explore as much as we want to right now can help stem loneliness and wanderlust.

“A lot of people feel lonely too with the social distancing protocols and have expressed that writing to their pen pals makes them feel a little less lonely and feel like they are still a part of a community.”

– Lindsey Arseneau, founder humblebee+co.

“Some people were hesitant to sign up because of issues with postal services, but for the most part I think COVID has given people more time to slow down and write.,” Arseneau says.

“A lot of people feel lonely too with the social distancing protocols and have expressed that writing to their pen pals makes them feel a little less lonely and feel like they are still a part of a community.”

She receives many beautiful creations from her own pen pals and often sees what others share.

“I am always blown away by the talent and creativity in this community,” Arseneau says.

“I recently received a handmade metal cuff bracelet and my pen pal learned how to engrave and put ‘bee happy, bee you’ on the bracelet. Talk about special!”

Another of her pen pals has a Youtube channel where she creates “paper goodies.” She has sent Arseneau some pretty inspiring pieces. For Halloween last year, for instance, this pen pal sent Arseneau a box filled with treats. She had even made her own wrapping paper for the chocolate bars.

“Then there are the people who reuse things,” Arseneau recounts.

“One time, I was sent a pocket-letter made out of a WholeFoods paper bag. I am forever in awe of what humblebee snail mailers come up with!”

Arseneau plans to create an area on the website that will spotlight the various elaborate and creative approaches the participants in her Snail Mail program take when decorating envelopes. This part of her website, she says, will also promote any businesses or projects her participants are working on that relate to snail mail – like prints, stickers and stationery.

“I think it will be a good opportunity for some members to get exposure for their stationery shops, and also a great way to showcase the amazing work people put into their mail,” Arseneau says.

The best part is you can have as many pen pals as you like. Even Arseneau herself has 15.

So, how does it work? Well, after signing up on the website, Arseneau sends a Welcome/About Me package to each new member. It contains a card to fill out and mail back with personal info. Some of these members request to continue writing with her specifically and she always say yes.

“A couple of weeks ago my very first pen pal from this program sent me a short novel on feminism and inside had a library card of other snail mailers who have read it,” Arseneau says.

“I thought that was a really neat way to share the book and keep track of where it’s been. I always try to emphasize to members that you don’t have to be crafty or have lots of money to participate. You are more than welcome to send a letter or postcard without all the added goodies, it’s just as special and sentimental, in my opinion.”

You don’t need to have experience writing letters or having pen pals. While Arseneau has a lot of experience – she had her first pen pal when she was in the second grade – that is not necessary for others. You just need a willingness to connect.

“I have always been one to send cards for all occasions, and that started at a young age,” Arseneau says.

“My first pen pal was my Grade 2 teacher when I moved from Arizona to Ontario and the idea that someone I really admired (at the time) took time out of their day to write to me meant a lot. I moved around a lot when I was young so being able to establish or continue a friendship this way was really special to me. All throughout elementary and high-school, my friends and I would write notes and I used to keep them all! I think being able to connect through writing was easier for me to convey my thoughts, ideas and feelings, and it still is!”

For Arseneau, she has always had a passion for creating things. She had to learn in recent years how to still create for herself while living with a chronic illness.

“Snail mail has been a great way for me to feel connected with others, even if I am in bed with a migraine attack,” she says.

“I can always grab a saved letter to re-read and feel comforted by someones words. When I realized how powerful snail mail could be for me I decided to create the program because I wanted to provide that kind of feeling and platform for others.”

One participant in Fort McMurray who signed up during the COVID-19 changes says the pen pal service brings her “so much joy” at this time. Another from Nova Scotia says that, to her, “snail mail is an act of self-care” and that “making so many new friends has kept feelings of isolation at bay.” One participant from India said that it “feels amazing” to have a pen pal from “somewhere (they) don’t know about.” One pen pal from Ottawa says that she is always so hopeful and excited when going out to the mailbox now: “Snail Mail makes me feel loved and special and important and can cheer me up when I’m feeling low.”

I know for a fact that I personally feel this when I check my mail box. The envelopes covered in floral stickers, calligraphy, artful tapes and beautiful colour assortments really spark a joy in the midst of such a mundane task as checking the mail box. For my birthday, a pen pal actually sent me a pouch full of vintage stickers because I had mentioned in my last letter that 1) my birthday was coming up, and that 2) I love stickers, travel, vintage, cats and flowers. She managed to make me feel exceptionally heard in one simple gesture with a small surprise of dozens of stickers that matched all of the interests I had shared with her.

Perhaps one New Brunswick Snail Mailer said it best: “For me it’s a way to connect with people from all different places. There are so many aspects that make it personal – the writing, art, and even just the waiting process. Every time I check my mailbox I hope for something special. It makes me happy, but also helps me to stay patient and apply that patience to my daily life, which is something that really makes a difference in today’s instant digital age.”

All photos courtesy: Lindsey Arseneau