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