Yearbooks: Worth keeping or clutter?

About once a month, a reader writes to us asking what to do with his or her large stash of yearbooks. Whenever this question comes to me, I’m always at a loss for what kind of advice to give. I have all of my old yearbooks — a spiral bound paper one from elementary school, two paper ones stapled together from middle school, four traditional ones from high school, and two traditional ones from college — and my husband has five of his. They take up a cube on our bookshelf and sit beneath our reference books.

In a way, I think of these books as reference materials. If a person I don’t remember makes a request to connect to me on Facebook or LinkedIn, and the request states that I went to school with the person, I’ll head to my yearbooks hoping that a picture of the person will spark my memory. I also look through the portraits before heading to class reunions, but those are pretty much the only times I look at them.

However, the idea of getting rid of them sort of makes me nauseated. Maybe a part of me is fearful that one day I’ll lose my memory and need them to recreate my past? Maybe I hope that my children will be interested in them and want to better understand who I was when I was their age? Even though I can’t exactly identify why I keep them, I have carved out a place for them in my home.

My advice is that if you want to keep them, then it’s okay to keep them. Store them in a place that is safe (not in a cardboard box in a mildewy basement) and scan any pages that you would be crushed to lose if your home were destroyed by a natural disaster. Remember to backup your hard drive at an off-site location so that you won’t lose your data in an emergency.

If you don’t have any desire to keep them, then scan individual pages you want to keep digitally and recycle the books. You might e-mail your former classmates and see if any of them are interested in the books if you don’t want to toss them straight into the recycling bin. You also could contact your school’s historical society and see if they would want them, or if a current journalism teacher at the school might have use for them.

How have you handled your yearbooks? Do you have additional advice for what to do with yearbooks? Your ideas are welcome in the comments.

72 Comments for “Yearbooks: Worth keeping or clutter?”

  1. posted by Jessica on

    I burned mine. High school wasn’t a happy time for me, and I’m still in touch with the few people I would ever want to talk to again.

    After 14 years, I hadn’t had the urge to look through those yearbooks and they were all musty. Good riddance! I did my (former) wedding album the same night. I only wish I’d done it sooner.

  2. posted by Leslie on

    I have 4 yearbooks from my high school years and I wouldn’t give them up for anything. One of my old high school friends and I got together a few months ago and spent a couple happy hours going through yearbooks and talking about all our memories and what those people are doing now (she’s much better at keeping in touch than I am, so now I’m all caught up!).

    I also had great fun going through yearbooks at the public library of my mom’s hometown finding her yearbooks and those of my grandparents. And I made some copies for my genealogy file. Like the commenter who had so much fun sharing yearbooks with her daughter, I think it’s a great way to connect between generations.

  3. posted by Nana on

    Recently opened a box of books that had been carefully taped and moved for 30 years or so. I found a 1958 yearbook, the day I got information about the 50th reunion of that class at my alma mater. [I'm a tad younger.] So I sent it along to the school…some of those women may not have seen it in many years, and the school can add it to their archive.

  4. posted by Anita on

    My husband and I each kept just one of our yearbooks… But we lost them in a tornado last May 4th (Greensburg, Kansas)
    A tornado is a great way to get rid of clutter, but I wouldn’t recommend it!

  5. posted by OogieM on

    I am curious at the ages of the folks who have gotten rid of their vs the folks who keep them. I would have easily trashed min 15 years ago as junk and clutter.

    I know I didn’t I remember packing them up to save but I can’t find them. We’ve done major house remodeling and I think they are in the batch of stuff that is still being sorted out to come back into the house. I sure hope so!

    All I can say to those who decided to trash them, wait until you are 60 or 70 and I bet you wish you had them back ;-)

  6. posted by arden on

    I would like to get rid of my high school books (from 40 years ago) but the stuff written in them by all my friends is so embarrassing that I wouldn’t want anyone to see it, much less have it in a library or school archive. My daughter gets a kick out of the big poufy hair and pencil skirts. They are huge because I am a boomer, after all.

    I loved and still have my Dad’s yearbooks from the late 30′s which are adorable, very small and have wonderful photos of the girls’ formals. I would pore over them as a kid. He was a BMOC in a very small class and I was one of 750, so maybe the size of them is so appealing.

    I guess I’ll let my daughter get rid of them.

  7. posted by Dasha on

    My fiance and I met in HS – so we are keeping both of our yearbooks in part for the novelty of having two identical ones. Unfortunately, the only time we’ve looked at them since the end of HS was on two occassions when our classmates died.

  8. posted by consumer_q on

    NPR had a newsbit not too long ago on the usefulness of yearbooks in the social networking age: http://www.npr.org/templates/s.....d=90225972

    re: ancestry.com
    Personally, I do not like people submitting information on my behalf (e.g., yearbooks) to the ancestry organizations. The information always ends up at the LDS headquarters where it will be used to baptize me for my ‘own good’. Thanks, but no thanks.

  9. posted by Scotto on

    I was happy to toss them along with a lot of other junk about year after graduating from college. It was part of clean break with my old self and of living in yesterday. A symbolic act, for sure, maybe even overly dramatic, but it did the trick. From the moment they hit the dumpster floor, I felt compelled to create my new life, one lived by my values, with friends of my choosing, and one I would be completely responsible for. It has been great. No regrets.

  10. posted by Jennifer on

    Ask a library in the school’s area if they want them. My library has a genealogy department that collects old yearbooks from schools in the county and surrounding counties. People like to come in and look at them.

  11. posted by Robert on

    I still have my high school yearbooks from the late 1980s, and I’ve considered scanning them and making them available to my former classmates, who recently held a 20th year reunion (I did not attend).

    College was completely different: We didn’t have a yearbook, and the school had stacks of older yearbooks that they couldn’t even give away. Trivia: Until the early ’80s, the yearbook had been called The Swastika.

  12. posted by Michelle Sparks on

    I never saved any yearbooks and I have never missed them. Those who can’t bear to part with them might consider cutting out pages and photos that are important to them and put them in a scrapbook.

  13. posted by Sue on

    I think it depends on how much school was a part of your life. My older daughter, who had somewhat unremarkable school years & has many personal photos of the friends she still gets together with, opted not to even purchase her yearbooks. On the other hand, my younger daughter, who was President of the NHS, in many clubs, swim team, etc., purchased hers, which had pictures of her activities & groups in many parts of the books. Neither of them has regretted her choice.

  14. posted by Jon on

    Yearbooks are such a fabulous source of history and nostalgia. If you are determined to not keep them any longer I suggest you get the books professionally scanned (no rinky-dink scanning at low resolutions and images that are not squared). e-yearbook.com is one place to consider. Then check around to see if you can donate your books to a local library or historical society.

  15. posted by Julia on

    I had yearbooks from my parents high school, from my own high schools in two different cities and college. It took a few emails but lo and behold, the state historical societies took some, the local libraries with a historical acquisition department took the others. They had collections of them and were pleased to get them. I was relieved, because I did not want to throw away those nicely bound records.

  16. posted by Keri on

    I have some I think I will get rid of from elementary/middle school. Those years were not good years for me; I was bullied and had only a few friends. Why would I want to look at the ugly mugs of those people that bullied and tormented me? My best friend from that time is on my MySpace list, so I can see her now. I couldn’t even guess how many years it’s been since I flipped through them, so clearly they’re not something I want to revisit.

    High school, on the other hand, was great, and things kept getting better as the years went by. The pictures aren’t worth nearly as much as the messages my friends left. I will keep those and probably pop them out at my next reunion (which I look forward to going to).

    I think I already got rid of my one college year book. I was the only one of my friends who graduated and I became a commuter student after my first year, so not only are there no pictures of my friends in there, but there are no pictures of me, because I never went to have my picture taken. Not that it matters; I didn’t go to pick up my last three anyways. Also not good times to remember.

    I’m not going to have any kids anyways, so it’s not like I have someone to pass them down to.

  17. posted by Marie on

    My yearbooks are part of my resume, since I’m a writer and editor. Every other page has an article I wrote (small staff) so I can’t see ever chucking them, even though they aren’t nostalgic.

  18. posted by Sharon on

    I actually scanned some pages in my computer and then used them in making a couple of scrapbooks of the decade. I did a 1960′s decade and a couple scrapbooks for the 1970′s decade. I did a lot of research on the Internet to get the big news stories of the time, the TV shows, books, music, sports events, housing, decor, fashion, hairstyles, fads, cars, etc. And I used photos, ephemera (draft card, etc) stuff of my family from those times and the yearbook scans to put us in the middle of it all. I had hairstyles like that. I wore clothes like that. I had a purse like that. I listened to that music, I went to see that movie, I had that car, etc. My family enjoyed looking through them and the next generation have learned about those decades and see the old fogey family members in them when we were young and their age. It was a lot of work but very enjoyable. They aren’t looking through a photo album and laughing at my funny hairstyle or my stupid looking clothes. This way they see it was in style at the time. It puts us in perspective. But I didn’t tear my yearbooks up to do it. I still have them and I will keep them.

  19. posted by Red on

    Thank you so much for this post! I’m reading through your archived content (because I’m a new reader), and I’m glad you touched on this topic.

    I’ve recently began trying to unclutter my 650-square-foot apartment, and my large stack of yearbooks in the closet have become a source of discord. I have yearbooks from every year of schooling but kindergarten. But I never look at them. I have used them – like you said – as a reference for those rare times that an old friend tries to get in contact. But I think maybe the only useful ones – for the reference purpose – would be the high school yearbooks. Now I think I’ll scan the important pages – that people signed – of those yearbooks and then call up the schools to see if they have use for them. (It really makes me sick to think of the money my parents spent on my yearbooks considering that I feel no emotional attachment to them.)

  20. posted by Joe L-E on

    I actually use my college yearbooks as a monitor stand so that it is at the same level as laptop, which is on a standard stand. It’s nice because it keeps them out of an old box or in a basement, and they also serve a purpose!

  21. posted by Rita Sclavunos on

    I agree with the suggestions to donate the yearbooks to libraries, or to places for genelogical purposes. Another good use for them is as research for costume design or fashion design students. My yearbook from the later 1970′s is very useful for this, especially to young students who only have vague ideas of what people actually wore, how they did their hair and make-up. For design research, the actual images from the period are always better than fantasized fashion illustrations.

  22. posted by abby on

    I say pick at least a few of them and keep them AS IS.

    Digital scans are useful, but not as cool as holding an old yearbook in your hands.

    I found a 1930s yearbook of a relative last year. Digital can NEVER replace flipping page by page of that old yearbook that the relative has had for decades, and whose hands have flipped through the pages, too.

    Even if you don’t want them all, pick a few. One day, you or your grandkids will appreciate having a few of them… in a HARD COPY. Digital can’t touch that.

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