Feeling disconnected or in need of a creative outlet? Let the Cricut Joy show you the light.

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Credit: circut.com

2020 has thrown one hurdle after another at us, and it doesn’t exactly look like the challenges we’ve faced this year are going to be solved in the immediate future. Especially as we head into the holidays, many of us are being made more aware than ever that things are going to look different this season. Whether we’re gearing up to host Thanksgiving dinner outdoors, digitally, or with a small fraction of the guests we’d have dined with under any other circumstances, the current climate—travel restrictions included—has given everyone good reason to feel a little (literally and figuratively) distant from loved ones.

The good news? Many of us have managed to get wildly creative when it comes to maintaining our social lives in ways that adhere to safe social distancing guidelines. It started with the digital happy hours, and developed into drive-in movies, virtual museum visits, and friluftsliving. After all, feeling connected to family, friends, and loves ones right now is more important than ever. Science has shown time and again that social relationships, human connection, and emotional support are key to our mental health, health behavior, and physical health. "People who are more socially connected to family, friends, and community are happier, healthier, and live longer than people who are less well connected," says Robert Waldinger, MD, a psychiatrist with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. So yeah, keep those Zoom catch-ups coming.

One means of communication and connection that I’ve always loved is sending cards. Seriously, what’s better than checking the mail and finding a handwritten note from a sibling or lifelong friend? Cards are creative, surprising, and—in a world of constant emails, texts, Slacks, Zoom meetings, Twitter rants, TikToks, and DMs—so meaningful. The issue with sending cards during a global pandemic is, of course, buying them. Cards are meant to be personal, which means finding the just-right one involves serious research, which means rifling through dozens of options, which means touching something that practically everyone else on planet earth has already handled. (Eek, sorry if you hadn’t thought of that one sooner).

The solution came to me several weeks before Mother’s Day when I was doing research on how to make homemade cards for those severely lacking in DIY skills (aka me). Enter the Cricut Joy ($179, amazon.com), the newest and cutest cutting and writing machine from the customization geniuses at Cricut. The brand operates under the slogan “Make a little happiness in minutes,” which pretty much says it.

Credit: Cricut

The Cricut Joy is humble in its appearance (and desktop footprint). It weighs less than 4 pounds and takes up about as much space as a small-sized jewelry box, but you can use it to create, cut, and personalize almost anything, from cardstock and colorful paper to vinyl decals for a water bottle or wine glass, labels for files, birthday banners, and iron-ons for clothes or Converse sneakers (seriously). Setup took less than five minutes—plug it into the wall outlet, and once the machine connects to your computer or smart phone via Bluetooth, you can start scrolling endlessly through Cricut’s Design Space for every occasion (or lack thereof) for days.

And dear god, did I do just that. Within a few hours, my little quarantine hideout was covered in custom-printed cards for Mother’s Day, yes, but also for everyone else I’d been missing since the onset of the pandemic and prior. For the first time, my messy handwriting wasn’t a problem—once you choose a design (or create your own), simply place your cardstock or other material onto an included sticky mat, load it into the machine, and the Joy will do all the cutting out or drawing on for you. Who knew I could become a person who was capable of making customized aprons printed with all my loved ones’ initials or cutting a “She’s Getting Hitched” banner in giant, glossy gold lettering in honor of my BFF’s virtual bachelorette party? I’m being completely honest when I say that my design and DIY skills are so lacking that PowerPoint and those drink-wine-and-paint-a-picture classes are a struggle for me. Who have I become?

Credit: Cricut

And if you thought puzzles were the perfect mindlessly creative and comforting pandemic pastime, wait until you realize the meditative potential of the Cricut Joy. I spent one entire weekend blissfully designing and printing labels for all the mason jars and glass food storage containers in my pantry, and my Container Store-loving heart is still singing. My kitchen looks like it’s out of the Home Edit now—no joke. Needless to say, the Cricut Joy has brought me a tremendous amount of joy this year. But it’s also (I hope) made many of my friends and family members feel equally warm and loved, because opening something handmade during what can be a very isolating time is everything. As is having a creative outlet, a perfectly organized pantry, and a pint-sized sidekick in my quest of finally becoming a crafter.

To Buy: $179; amazon.com

Credit: Cricut