Ask Unclutterer: What should I do with old journals?

Reader Kelly submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

When I was a teenager and a young 20-something, I often kept journals – not daily, but more in bursts. I haven’t kept one since I was about 26 or 27, and have no interest in reading these now and keep moving them in a box with me everywhere I go (I’ve had a few moves). I don’t get rid of them because I feel I *may* want to look at them when I’m older (say 20 or 30 years from now), just as I recall my grandparents looking back on their own items with great affection and sentiment. However, I really would never want anyone else (i.e. my spouse or children or other relatives) to read them since they were the angst-filled musings of a young person. I’ve told my husband of my concern about the journals, and to please throw them out if something happens to me, but they still cause me unease!

So, what do you think… keep or dump?

This is a question that I have struggled with myself, but not for the same reasons you are. I don’t care if someone finds them and reads them, but I’m more concerned about the amount of space three decades of journals takes to store. (Trust me, someone would be bored silly reading my third grade journal that is full of daily rantings on how I don’t want to practice the violin. The horror!)

Ultimately, your decision to keep or dump your journals should be based on your answer to the following question:

Why did I write the journals?

Once you figure out why you wrote in the journals, you should easily be able to decide what to do with them in the future. Here are some examples:

  • If you wrote them for therapeutic reasons, as a way to work through problems in your life, then go ahead and burn or shred and recycle them.
  • If you wrote them as messages to your future self, then keep them.
  • If you wrote them as a record that you were alive in that moment, then keep them.
  • If you wrote them to vent your frustrations, then burn or shred and recycle them.

There are hundreds of reasons why you may have kept them, but once you identify why you did, the next step should be clear.

I have written in journals for all but five years of my life because I wanted to keep a record of what life felt like at a specific age. I wanted help to remember who I was and how much I’ve grown. Which means that I have chosen to keep them.

If you choose to burn them, throw yourself a party. Read some of your favorite entries. Then, toss them in the fire and don’t look back. You could throw yourself a lovely party if you shred and recycle them too but it might not be quite as dramatic as tossing them into the flames.

If you choose to keep them, put them on a shelf in a low-traffic area of your home and read them when the mood strikes. Don’t keep them in an inaccessible box like in a museum. Choosing to keep an object means that you’re choosing to have the object be a part of your life.

Thank you, Kelly, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.


This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

71 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: What should I do with old journals?”

  1. posted by chica and jo on

    If it is the text you want to preserve, why not scan the pages in you want to keep and then toss the cluttering journal volumes themselves?

  2. posted by Tabitha (From Single to Married) on

    I say keep them. For Christmas this year, my mother gave each of us kids (we’re all in our 20s-30s) a box full of old letters she and my dad wrote when they were courting. She included stuff from their high school days and early days when they were married. It’s been amazing to sit and read these things and was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. So, even if you don’t have a desire to read them down the road, I’m guessing your children or your family will.

  3. posted by Erin N. on

    I came to suggest scanning them as well. You can keep them in a small space, and password protected as well.

  4. posted by Saisha on

    When I realized I didn’t want my husband or my children to ever read my old journals, I went through and read them one last time. Rather than burning them, I ripped out pages and fed them to the shredder. As each page was ripped to bits I felt more and more free. I don’t regret getting rid of those journals. They weren’t filled with happy memories. They were more a way to vent and work through pain and problems.

  5. posted by Erin Doland on

    Great suggestions about scanning them … which would fall into the “keep” pile. Be sure to back them up so you wouldn’t be devastated if your computer crashed!

  6. posted by Bridget on

    A friend of mine is actually retyping up all of her old journals and scanning a few pages for nostalgia. I look back and am sometimes horrified at what I have written, yet at the same time, that was my life. If you want to relive those memories, do it. If not, just let them go (or scan them and keep them in a locked space).

  7. posted by Stephanie on

    Great post. I will now ponder what I want to do with mine because I wrote out of anger and angst as well! I felt that it was an accurate documentation of my life though and the good comes with the bad… but now I don’t know if I want to hold on to that.

  8. posted by Lose That Girl on

    As an avid genealogist, I think journals can be a wonderful gift to your future generations. I would give just about anything to have a surviving journal from my Grandmother or her mother. Even daily life issues are like gold to a family history buff. Saying that I do have my own journals for certain parts of my life and I would definitely censor them before I let anyone read them. Great article, and a fantastic website. I love it!

  9. posted by HMR on

    During my last move, 18 months ago, I came upon my journals. They had been living in a bottom drawer of an infrequently used dresser. Without opening them, I thought long and hard about what benefit these journals were having in my life at that minute or what benefit there might be years from now. I decided none.

    The shredded journals became packing material for my dishes.

    I am absolutely not advocating just getting rid of the journals “just because.” I have kept old copies of my high school newspaper, postcards from trips taken during my 20’s, old checks with my grandfather’s signature, etc. I am saying, find the best way to keep what means the most to you. I always felt a pang of embarrassment when looking at my journals, but I love rifling through a box or two of tangible memories (matchbooks, buttons, old birthday cards…).

  10. posted by DawnMarch on

    Another vote for scanning here. I wouldn’t scan all of them, maybe pick some pages that sort of represent what you were going through at the time and scan those (maybe 1/month?).

  11. posted by Jamie on

    This is definitely a job for ScanSnap! If you have to rip them out of a binding, just use a ruler and utility knife to trip the edge so it’s clean before you feed them through. Scan it and can it. (Recycle-can, that is.)

  12. posted by Kari on

    I had this same issue a year or so ago. I went through them all and tore out a few entries to keep, but most of it was angrily-written or embarrassing and not something I want to remember (other than whatever lesson I had learned from the situation), so I shredded those and felt so much better for it!

  13. posted by Pammyfay on

    If you worry that the journals would fall into others’ hands, it would seem that a password-protected computer file would be the best choice. (Unless you are on your way to becoming a fabulous, bestselling author, in which case your children will want the journals so they can sell them to a publisher! LOL!)

  14. posted by What To Do With Journals - dBlogIt | Dustin Boston on

    […] came to my old journals I wasn’t sure what to do. Do I keep them or trash them? Funny thing, Unclutterer answered my question this morning. Erin says that it comes down to one question: Why did I write the […]

  15. posted by John of Indiana on

    I know where mine are. I know what’s in them, page after page of rage and angst about being dumped, kicked to the kerb, and divorced.
    I think I’ll dig them out and have a little fire this weekend.

  16. posted by Jen on

    Wow, I can’t believe the timing of this post! I have spent a lot of time this past week re-reading and then shredding about 75lbs of old journals from high school and college. I finally got tired of hauling around that much adolescent angst (both literally and metaphorically). While writing them was something I needed to do at the time, keeping them adds nothing to my life now and I’d be mortified if someone ever read them. I’m actually reusing some of the shreds in art projects- they look really pretty and I like the idea of transforming all that negativity into something beautiful and positive.

  17. posted by Lori Paximadis on

    What a timely post. I’ve kept journals on and off my whole life, and most are pretty cringe-worthy. I wouldn’t want anyone else to read them. They remind me mainly of times of stress and indecision and angst and being in a bad place. I don’t really need the reminder, yet I’m reluctant to shred them. Yet I haven’t really looked at them for years. Yet I kinda don’t want to, just in case. I guess I’m still feeling a little conflicted here. But it’s good to know I’m not alone.

  18. posted by timgray on

    If you have kids, burning or getting rid of your journals is a crime. you are destroying your family history. Think of how you would kill to have your grandparents or great grandparents journals.

    Save them, store them carefully and fill them with old photos as well to help give your great-grandchildren a window into the past. Even if there are terrible times or embarrassing things in there. It shows you were human.

    My 17 year old though she was a freak from how she felt in life until she read my great-great-grandmothers journal. She commented on how she went through the SAME things back in the 1800’s and hot it must be normal.

    what an homage to her legacy, even long gone she is still affecting the family and dispensing her wisdom.

  19. posted by Susan on

    Several years ago my husband and I inherited the diaries of his paternal grandmother from 1937 through 1969. She was born in 1885 so these were the diaries of a mature woman and contained no angst at all. I transcribed them manually into the computer (not scanned because the formats changed: 3 years/volume, 5 years/volume, single year volumes and also there were handwriting issues), printed them up and mailed them to members of the family. These diaries were appreciated, especially by her surviving children, and generated much discussion. For some of her grandchildren and great grandchildren, this is the only rememberance they have of her. I keep the originals in a small box (8-1/2 x 8-1/2 x 5-1/2)and the transcriptions on disk. Most of my clutter is of this nature – slides, 8 mm movies, funeral albums, old letters. All family history.

  20. posted by Red on

    I made a conscious decision to keep all of mine. I’ve been journaling since grade 4 and the handwriting, doodles, and daily recounts of life are there forever. They sit on the bottom shelf of a bookcase in my bedroom. As of right now, it’s just the bottom shelf – someday I’m sure it will expand to a few more shelves. My journals are there in case I write a memoir of my fabulous life (ha!) or just to have for historical purposes.

    Then again, we collect books in our home. So the journals fit in nicely with the other books displayed proudly in almost every room.

  21. posted by ADM on

    About 10 years ago, I had about 25 journals from college and post-college that were also scrapbooks of clippings, drawings, etc. I was proud to have produced them and also felt like they might have value for future creative projects.

    I moved them around the country several times. I bought an old trunk and put them in there. Lock got stuck… and a year or so later when I finally got someone to bust it open my journals were all moldy and musty, and I’m highly allergic to mold.

    I ended up putting them out on a screen porch and paging through them for a few weeks. Friends suggested burning them, but I ended up burning a page or two as symbol. I thought moldy smoke might spark an asthma attack. The rest went went to the dump.

    Sometimes I still wish I could view them on occasion, but overall it was a relief.

  22. posted by Rue on

    I wish I’d had this post about three years ago when I moved out. I had diaries that dated from about the third grade all the way through high school (though as I got older, my writing became more and more infrequent). I paged through them and debated keeping them, but finally threw them away. Strangely enough, I haven’t had any desire to read them…until I read this post. 😛

    Fortunately I journal online now, and have done so for the last eight years, so no need to worry about physical clutter. 🙂

  23. posted by Tania on

    I must be in the sentiment minority. Mine hit the recycling. Didn’t even hesitate. lol

  24. posted by When I Grow Up Coach / Michelle Ward on

    Can anyone suggest what to do with journals that have abnormally sized pages? I’m looking to scan mine too, & while I’ve cut off the binding & the edges that come with it, I can’t feed the too-small or too-big paper into the scanner. Any ideas would be appreciated!

  25. posted by Roses on

    Lori Paximadis and others – I feel exactly the same. Don’t want to read them, don’t want anyone else to read them, can’t get rid of them, have hauled them around all over the country (they’re heavy – the cheap, hard-cover, speckled black cover type). I guess I need to actually spend some time reading them, since it’s been a long time since I cracked one open. I have pondered scanning them, but what a lot of work.

    I do keep a journal off and on now, as per “The Artist’s Way” (not just for artists), which advises writing 3 morning pages every day – just start writing and fill up 3 pages. It’s a truly amazing process. See “Morning pages” on this page:

    I don’t think of these pages as something I want to keep, so I think I’m going to just get rid of them periodically. We’ll see!

  26. posted by STL Mom on

    I don’t agree that you should keep things just because your children or grandchildren may enjoy them someday. My daughter already says that she wants to keep things to pass down to her kids – and my daughter is only eight years old. Imagine how much stuff she could accumulate before she’s even old enough to have kids!
    Erin’s criteria make sense to me. If your journals make you happy, keep them. If not, burn them.

  27. posted by Sherri (Serene Journey) on

    Journals I would go with scanning them if you can and if you’re really attached to them.

    My husband and I each bought a journal from and it’s GREAT! It has 10 years in one book. The space is limited (4 lines) so if you like to write novels then perhaps not the best option. If you just like having a place to jot down what happened that day or what you’re grateful for etc…this is perfect! If we keep doing this for 50 years we’ll only have 5 books each. A bit more manageable. Have a great weekend all!

  28. posted by Jessie on

    I went through this same issue when I moved last year. I had journals going back to college. I tended to write in them when I was going through bad times – breakups, my parents divorce, hating my job, etc. The journals helped me vent, but I’d be mortified if anyone ever read them.

    Before I moved, I read through the oldest journals, then tore out the pages and shredded them. I kept the most recent journal, which I’ll probably shred down the road. Rereading them helped me identify some patterns in my life. I feel like that is the most valuable long-term benefit those journals could have given me, so they served their purpose.

    Some of my friends thought that I was insane to get rid of the journals, and I have the occasional pang of regret. But that is far outweighed by the relief of dumping them.

  29. posted by Kayla on

    I went through this recently, as well. I journaled off and on from third grade through my sophomore year of college (although I was pretty consistent throughout high school). My husband and I started dating when we were 16, so much of my high school journals was about him. Unfortunately, much of it was negative, as I used my journal mainly to work things out and vent frustration. Although I liked having a record of our relationship, I ultimately decided it wasn’t a clear picture of it, since I was less apt to write in the happy times. I tore out a few pages from all my journals that I felt best represented my life at the time that I wrote them and that also make me happy to read. Right now, I just have those pages in a box, but I think I will probably scan them. The rest, I recycled. It felt so good to finally dump all of those journals, knowing that no one will ever read the things I now find embarrassing. It also helped me realize that I don’t have to be ashamed of the somewhat rocky start my husband and I had when we were dating. We were children, then, and now we’re adults. We learned from our mistakes, so I don’t have to keep reliving them.

  30. posted by DJ on

    You could take a middle of the road approach and either scan or rip out the entries that you really want to keep, and burn the rest.

  31. posted by Annette on

    I vote to keep them. My sister got her old journals out when her daughter was the same age as my sister had been when she wrote them. Letting her daughter read them gave the two of them a chance to bond during the angst ridden early teen years. My sister discovered she had been just as concerned with the same problems as my niece was so she could finally sympathize rather than lecture.

  32. posted by Heather on

    I can definitely relate to cringe-worthy journals and the desire to burn or shred them, but I’m with timgray on this one – I’d give anything to have my ancestors’ writings.

    Everything you choose to write about in your journal becomes your legacy to future generations (most don’t intend it to be that when they write it, though), and destroying them takes a bit of who you were away. Without written words, descendants will not remember much if anything about you just three generations down the line. Times of struggle and of joy are part of the human experience and show how your life was unique. If you feel your journal entries are too negative, consider writing a few more entries about how you’ve grown, and the things you’re now thankful for.

    I do understand that this blog is not about genealogy but consider your legacy before burning a journal! Your story is a unique treasure!

  33. posted by gypsy packer on

    Scan the journals and keep them on a password-protected disk and on a second password-protected medium. Your kids and grandkids will love you for it. Upgrade storage as time passes. Include the password in journal bequest.

    Your off-sized journal will have to be cut for scanning, in all probability, and pages resequenced. Sounds like no fun at all.

  34. posted by ellis on

    This is actually an interesting question which can delve deeper into our desires to declutter… I understand the ethos of decluttering is to make space for yourself and for the new… to enjoy the life we hold at the very moment in which we’re holding it. Our days are made from or viewed through yesterdays experiences. We eventually let go of the pain, but can appreciate our journeys in hindsight.

    Yes… we all want things to look nice and be manage-able, but life is made up of more than shiny thoughts and plastic experiences.

    Somebody once said if you can retrace the brush strokes of an artist, or the handwriting of a poet you can feel what they felt as they created. I did scan my journal to pdf, but still kept it… one day, my son will be able to hold it in his hands… feel the silk lining, the tattered pages… the broken bind… the scratched surface of the page… and that may tell him far more about me than the words on the page could ever contain.

  35. posted by Springpeeper on

    Scanning is all very well, but do you really think that your kids and grandkids will be using the same software or hardware that you have used to make these records? For that matter, will the software/hardware of only 5 or 10 years from now still allow you to view these precious documents? Don’t think so…

    The real beauty of the original, paper journals is that ýou can see immediately what you have and they don’t require any technology to read!

  36. posted by Vicki K. on

    Perfect. That question about why you wrote your journal is really key. I used to write only when frustrated or angry and leaving only those thoughts behind for posterity would be a very unbalanced representation of my life.

    Last year I shredded a number of journals. It was a huge relief and it felt like I had released old cares to the four winds…

  37. posted by Michele on

    I’ve been keeping my calendars for about 15 years. I haven’t gotten rid of them for a few reasons. One, they don’t actually take up a lot of space. Two, I do flip through them every once in a while when I’m trying to find something. And three, they’re meaningful to me.

    I don’t keep them for my daughter’s edification or entertainment, though. After I’m gone, she’s welcome to trash ’em (hopefully recycle them, though!) or keep ’em, as she sees fit. I certainly won’t need them any more!

  38. posted by Empress Juju on

    I shred mine. It started when I had a box of journals filled with unhappy memories, but now I shred them as a matter of course.

    I use my journals for working out my experiences, keeping random lists, etc, and I write much more honestly knowing that the journals will not be found and read later.

  39. posted by Shanna on

    I’ve never kept a journal because I never wanted to remember any more of the angst and disaster than I kept in my head. I wish I remembered even less of it!

    However, I know my mother-in-law has kept hers for a long time. She’s even told my husband that someday she’ll LET him read them… somehow it just seems, well, wrong. I know he doesn’t have any interest, but to her she thinks they’ll explain to him why she was a crappy parent, and let him know about all the angst she lived through (which she created for herself). My only hope is that she never asks either of us to read them with her. It seems to me they’d be better off in the trash!

    Has anyone else noticed a theme here, though? A lot of the people who have left comments are aware that their journals are angst-filled. Wouldn’t reading them just cause you to re-live all that angst? Why wants to re-feel the same angst they felt when they were 10, or 15? If you’ve forgotten it, that’s good for you, and if you’re still re-living it through memories, you don’t need an old journal to remind you.

    I vote for trashing them!

  40. posted by Kayleigh on

    Great post Unclutterer! I will be looking at my stuff a lot differently now — thinking of how choosing to keep something is choosing to keep it a part of your life. A very helpful piece of advice.

  41. posted by Joyful Abode: Domesticity by Trial and Error on

    I had some journals I kept in middle school and high school… very obnoxious teenage ranty stuff, crushes on boys, etc.

    I’m SO GLAD I’m not that person anymore.

    I read them all and then tore out all the pages and threw them away. That was a few years ago and I haven’t regretted it… one ounce. I don’t think I ever will.

  42. posted by TC on

    One more consideration: Not whether you will get something from them, but whether your kids will. We recently ran across some of my old journals from when I was exactly my daughter’s age, and I let her read them. I read over my shoulder about how I hated the girl who sat next to me, and how I didn’t know what to do for my diorama for my Brazil report. I kept thinking, “God, what crap.” But she was ENCHANTED. She finally turned around to me and said, “Mom! I had no idea you ever thought or wrote about this kind of stuff. You were JUST LIKE ME.”

    It would never have occurred to me to keep my journals for that purpose–to show my kid that I, too, was once a kid, and I understand what it’s like–but I wouldn’t have wanted to miss that little moment for anything.

  43. posted by Ruth on

    My ex-boss has an interesting system. She keeps a journal each year. On New Year’s Eve, she reads through her journal of the last year and then burns it and starts a new one on New Year’s Day.

  44. posted by demimonde on

    If you do decide to keep pages from them, you could put those pages into a scrap book or other book that you keep accessible. This would take up less space but would still be artistic and available to read when you want to. (You could even leave comments about how you feel about the entries now, just to give some perspective to your Memory Book.)

    In fact, I think I”m going to go do this now! 🙂

  45. posted by Mike on

    I’ve recently just asked myself the same question. But what about sketchbooks or collage books? I guess the same applies?

  46. posted by Sarah on

    Diaries, even from “normal” people, are immensely helpful to historians. While working on my masters in American History, I lamented the lack of diaries available for my particular topic. I wanted to know how everyday people viewed and interacted with the world and people around them. The most soulful entries often gave the most insight into the culture of the time. The historian does not read to judge the writer, but to glean and distill cultural, social, political, or religious trends. I would vote to keep the diaries, hide them away, and request they be donated to a historical society a specified number of years after you die.

  47. posted by joan on

    too embarrassing to keep! although if we had jane austen’s or abraham lincoln’s embarrassing journals – wouldn’t they be great to read? anne frank’s diary is one that although I love to read, i’d prefer that she survived to throw away evidence of her teenage angst. yet her spirit will be with us forever because she did keep a diary.

    that being said – i dumpstered mine. read them all through one last time and got rid of them. too embarrassing – the world will have to wait for my interviews 🙂

  48. posted by Another Deb on

    I have kept journals off and on for most of my life, beginning with a diary at age 12. Sometimes I bring it to school and read a silly section of it to my students who are that age now.

    I like the idea of using pieces of the diaries in scrapbook pages. My favorite scrapbook page is a color copy of a detailed instruction letter to my aunt who was babysitting me for the first time.

    I have preserved the travel journals of some of my adventures as well as my field notebooks from more recent treks. Since getting interested in genealogy, I am using some of my early journal writing to help me piece together some of the stories about slides and pictures I inherited from my grandparents.

    It would really be nice to discover a journal from one of the ancestors I have been researching. In the future, people will be mining the internet for personal writing. Blog-ology will be a whole new kind of detective work, since many writers use screennames for anonymity.

  49. posted by Alison on

    I also mostly wrote in my diaries at the worst of times when I was a teenager and even an early 20-something. On the rare occasion that I happened to read through them I felt worse after reading them than I had before. To me that’s a signal to get rid of them. I did scan some of the entries that I might want to refer back to, however.

    If I want to pass down my history to family I’ll just sit down and write out my autobiography.

  50. posted by OogieM on

    Absolutely keep them. Scanned copies at least, the originals are better.

    What you think is silly, or uninteresting now will be fascinating in a few decades or more. Genealogists and historians love to find old written on the day information about life as it was observed. Look at the popularity of the Midwife Diary published a few years ago and other very personal and historical letters. War of the Roes is one from the Tudor era.

    So I am strongly in the keep them camp, even if the reason you wrote them was for therapy or to vent. Just if that is the case write a forward and put it in the front cover of each one and date it now so future readers, including yourself, will understand why they sound the way they do.

  51. posted by John on

    If you keep the actual physical journals, then your descendents will be able to read them (assuming the human race hasn’t devolved into losing written language). If you scan them… maybe. Scanning is a great way to deal with your bills, tax returns, and other such documents. But be aware that there are considerable technological issues around electronic storage of documents (library science types build whole careers sorting through this).

  52. posted by Erin Doland on

    I just want to chime in and say that assuming your “legacy” and “descendants” will have any interest in your things is NOT a reason to keep something. First of all, you have no guarantees that you will have children or grandchildren or great grandchildren. Accidents, illnesses, and personal choices not to have children are always possibilities. Your DNA can stop with you or your children. Second of all, your offspring may not want your stuff. They would rather have memories with you than with your things. They can keep their own journals of their time with you if they choose to.

    Most importantly, your stuff will not make you live forever. Even if you keep journals that are published or stored on the shelves of the Library of Congress, eventually, a thousand years from now, you will be forgotten. And it is okay to be forgotten by future generations. We’re human, and that is our fate. Make the most of today, and with the people who are alive today, and live a remarkable life now. We get such a short time on this planet — stop feeling guilty about getting rid of an object that you feel is cluttering up your home. If it’s not clutter, than keep it. But, don’t let your “legacy” or “descendants” be what determines if you keep something or toss it.

  53. posted by John on

    I’d eat a bucket of bugs to be able to read the angst-filled musings of my father when he was young. My mother, not so much — I’ve already heard them.

    To me, journals are worth keeping. Stick them in the one box of photos you’re keeping. If you really want to take the plunge, scan them and stash a thumbdrive or CD in the photo box. If they’re just too embarrassing, edit them down or write some recaps for your kids and grandkids to read.

    Just don’t be like my grandmother. She journaled almost every day, down to the grocery prices, almost every meal, and saved thousands of newspaper articles. When she passed, we shopped her 50-year archive around to some history schools to see if we could donate it anywhere. No takers. Thankfully, my whole family could let go and it went to the dump.

  54. posted by Michelle on

    Based on the letter, it seems like Reader Kelly doesn’t really want to keep these journals. In fact, it seems like she’s asking permission to get rid of them.

    In which case, permission granted, Reader Kelly! If they don’t bring you joy now, and you only think you MIGHT want to read them again someday (but you’re not even sure of that), there’s no reason to keep them all.

    If you really do want to preserve something from these times, do as other have suggested and pull out a few pages to keep in a memory box and toss the rest!

  55. posted by Nat on

    I haven’t read every single comment yet, but I had to share my experience about reading my mother’s journals. Granted, 70 percent of it was very dry daily log type information, which I have since destroyed, but the pages during my parents’ divorce and right afterward were very enlightening. Those entries explained a lot. I was very glad to have them as a reference.
    I myself have several journals that I may one day edit, but I would still want to keep in some of the angst. All of it is a part of who I am. If my daughter wants to chuck them in a dumpster someday, that’s her business.

  56. posted by goldsmith_ie on

    I have kept journals, in a sporadic fashion, since I was 11 years old. I shredded some of them, which recorded a very unhappy period of my life. It was a liberating move, where uncluttering equalled confirming that this period was past and would not return. I kept all the others. That said, over a period of 32 years (from age 11 to 43) they take up only half a foot of shelf space, attesting to the fact that I was never the most avid journaller.

    However, I can also see the point of shredding journals which, from your adult point of view, are full of banalities that you cannot see the value of any longer. I never wanted to practice the piano, but that emotion was not journal-worthy even to my teenage self. 🙂

  57. posted by Elizabeth on

    Keep the old journals! You may not be interested in reading them but your children and grandchildren will. Those old journals will help them understand what life was like for you at different ages. They will see your struggles and triumphs. They will know that you had similar concerns to their. Keep old journals!


  58. posted by Michele on

    I found that I tend to wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to the past. When looking at old journals, I was dismayed to remember some miseries I’d previously forgotten. I was glad to destroy my old journals and let sleeping dogs lie.

  59. posted by Jill on

    I recently shredded most of my journals, but couldn’t articulate why I felt it was the right thing to do, but Erin summed it up best:

    * If you wrote them for therapeutic reasons, as a way to work through problems in your life, then go ahead and burn them.
    * If you wrote them as messages to your future self, then keep them.
    * If you wrote them as a record that you were alive in that moment, then keep them.
    * If you wrote them to vent your frustrations, then burn them.

    Mine were therapeutic and venting in nature, and so I am comfortable with having destroyed them.

  60. posted by Daree Allen on

    I’ve kept a diary/journal consistently since age 13. That’s 19 years of history. It has help me craft my upcoming book. I didn’t know years ago that my experiences would be able to help people in 2009 and beyond. This is a case where I’m glad I kept them– all of them. No matter what I was going through, good or bad, I’m glad I have them. I can see how far I’ve come and inspire others to keep going, too.

  61. posted by Daree Allen on

    I’ve kept some form of a journal for the past 20 years (I’m 32). My teen and young adult years will form my upcoming book that I am working on. I am grateful that I saved all this information. No matter how good or bad situations were in my life, I can use them for good now. I am remind myself how far God has brought me, and I can inspire others to be better in spite of their shortcomings.

  62. posted by Samir on

    do you have a backyard? can you bury them in a time capsule?

  63. posted by Patrick on

    De-cluttering is a very positive thing in multiple ways. But journals are not clutter, they’re historical records.

    Your journal was just “venting” your way through a problem period? Would no one benefit later from seeing at least some samples of your thoughts as you worked your way through such a period?

    Censor if you will, selectively scan if you must, but a journal (especially hand-written) is a treasure-trove to someone wanting to learn about an ancestor or relative from long ago. Seemingly-superficial comments in journals often give invaluable facts, or even just clues, about family relationships for someone trying to piece together a family history.

    Unfortunately, for many, the value of such references seems not to occur until middle age.

    Before you part with a journal, try to find out something, anything, about a great-grandparent and his or her immediate family. Then re-visit the notion of journals as clutter.

    For something as unique and personal as a journal, I think it’s reasonable to take the position that you can _always_ dispose of it later. Unlike someother physical objects, though, once gone, a journal can never be replaced.

  64. posted by Bigscotty on

    I recently started snapping pics of the writing journals in which I scribble down sketch comedy notes, stories, one-act plays and such. What do I do with them after that?

    1. Snap photos of each page with iPhone.
    2. Synch the photos to iPhoto.
    3. Create an Evernote notebook.
    4. Drag all of the photos into the Evernote notebook.

    For the most part, I’m done at that point. The default file naming keeps the pages in order, but sometimes I’ll renumber them.

    While these aren’t hi-res, they’re good enough for me to go back and review as needed. Evernote does text recognition, but my handwriting isn’t great when I’m in a hurry.

    Sometimes I have notes about something I’m writing strung across two or three notebooks. Now I don’t have to carry them around.

    In short, it’s not a perfect solution, but I now have access to 20+ journals as long as I have an internet or 3G signal.

    Here’s a public notebook for an example:

    Another Example

    And Yet Another Example

  65. posted by Kelly on

    I am the Kelly who wrote the note to Unclutterer, and I am thrilled to get Erin’s feedback as well as so many reader comments! (I was traveling for a bit and just logged into my google reader to see my note was published a couple weeks ago.)

    It’s so interesting that this question generated so many opinions and thoughts – the very ones I have been struggling with as I debate this topic in my mind.

    I am going to take some time to make the decision, but I think I will be letting go of the journals. I like the idea of preserving some pages and passages and drawings for myself and any future generations, but I also am loathe to crack the spines and read these books of my youth! However, I think the idea of having some edited pieces of my own history is a good one.

    Asking myself why I wrote these is the most helpful piece (thanks Erin!) My journals really were mostly written in moments of anger and frustration, and as someone above mentioned, this would present a really unbalanced picture of my life as a kid. I was not a daily journaler mixing the good with the bad! The journals make it look like it was ALL bad.

    Anyways, very cool that so many other unclutterers are devoted to the clean out, but unsure about this type of sentimental object. Thanks everyone!

  66. posted by Julia on

    If your journals were written during an interesting time period, the Library of Congress may be interested in having them for research use. Check with them.

  67. posted by Mom25dogs on

    I’m also into genealogy and love whatever bits and pieces of real life I have of my ancestors. I’ve got a place to keep them, so I keep them. I try to keep it in boxes and organized somewhat. I have a staircase attic and so it’s easy to store things there and I keep my attic in good order. My Grandma’s old collection of recipes in a shoebox, a box of poems that she clipped from the newspaper, my Grandpa’s little spiral notebooks that he was never without and into which he put all his farm and work related items (the hours he worked, how much he sold the cow for, how much hay he made, etc), hand drawn quilt patterns, etc. I kept journals a lot up until I got into scrapbooking and blogging. My blog is like a combination of a journal and scrapbook of everything that interests me. I try to print that out which creates big ole notebooks so I might just copy into a Word document and then save on a disk. It’s just that as technology changes, you may lose the ability to read that disc. My blog includes a recipe I tried, some genealogy, a Bible study I did, some house decorating ideas, etc. I’m a prolific writer. It’s just all on my blog now. My old journals, I went through and tore out some stuff but I’ve kept them and maybe (or maybe not) someone will be interested. I can understand if you don’t have room to store things like that or if your journals are too gut wrenching. But, nows the time to start new journals and you can write memories in them from now. And you are mature enough to know what to include and what to exclude.

  68. posted by handwritten journals « catwrangler on

    […] I just found this post with a large amount of journal burners.  It is on a site about uncluttering so the ones that do […]

  69. posted by Jill on

    Personally, I have destroyed every one of my journals. (I do regret throwing away my journal that my mom and I would write together each night when I was little…. (I would tell her what to write and she would write it) besides, my grandma gave me the actual journal…it was so pretty. 🙁

  70. posted by Gail Burlakoff on

    I keep my journals with the good and the not-so-good because they record a time in my life. One of the reasons I keep them is that I grew up in a time before computers–and my family was scattered geographically. Grandparents and parents and, eventually, the kids, wrote letters. My dad wrote a “family letter” every Sunday, starting in his college years and continuing until his death, with a carbon copy (!) for each member of the family (Panama, Hawaii, Missouri, Virginia, California, Indiana). 50 years! I treasure what I have of that correspondence!

  71. posted by CoffeeMom on

    I am currently decluttering via Marie Kondo, and I am at the “sentimental items” phase. I kept journals from high school through about 20 years of marriage, but in reading posts here, I realize they were written for therapeutic reasons and were often unhappy rants during difficult times. It helped me at the time, but they definitely don’t bring me joy now, and in skimming through a few, I realize I wouldn’t want anyone else to read them. It’s been a relief to dump them and put those times behind me. As for leaving something for my children and grandchildren, the kids have recently given me blank books, with guided questions,to write down memories for them and the grandchildren. I much prefer this way of preserving and sharing my past.

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