What Do You Do with Old Journals?

I’m in serious cleaning mode, as I need to pack up and move to an as yet undetermined location. (Place I’m renting is being sold, and I’m not interested in buying it.)

ANYway, as I decide, yet again, how to downsize, I’m coming across boxes I haven’t opened in more than 5 years.

I bet you aren’t surprised, since you know I’m a writer, that I have, um, a few journals. And these, um, few journals fill, well, a few boxes. I have books all the way back to my teen years (which really is only a few years ago), when I called them diaries.

Anyway, along with my TBR (to-be-read) pile of books that I am giving away because I don’t want to move crates and crates of books, yet again, I’m trying to decide how to treat all these journals.

Used JournalsAm I ever going to read through them? Doubtful.

With no children, nieces, or nephews, I don’t have anyone to pass them down to (if anyone would have been interested anyway).

I doubt I’d keep them if I move into a retirement community or assisted living facility – if either of those milestones comes upon me.

So, I’m seriously asking – if you were me, what would you do with all these journals?

  • (A) Keep ’em a little while longer? (suck it up and move the several boxes)
  • (B) Recycle them? (it’s not like anyone could identify me if they were read)
  • (C) Have a big bonfire and make s’mores over them? (will need referrals to fire pits!)
  • (D) _______________

Thank you in advance for your suggestions!

I wish you a happy Monday and an exceptionally productive week.

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

92 thoughts on “What Do You Do with Old Journals?

  1. Its a very interesting question, one which I have asked myself and the conclusion I came to is, let them go. What is written in them was a part of your journey, therapeutic at the time but of no value going forward, they have done their job which was to help move you from where you were when you wrote them to where you are now. Good luck with uncluttering, its a valuable task to help close one door and open another 🙂

  2. That’s a tough one. I used to keep every letter I was sent. I had a huge box of old letters. After my husband died, I had to move into a smaller home so I threw them away. O

    • That’s an idea I hadn’t considered until I started seeing the replies here. Thank you! That would be quite a task and I don’t feel the entries would be worth all that time. I’d either keep the journals or let them go. I appreciate having this other option to consider for the special tidbits I might find when I look through them!

  3. In my humble opinion, you’re too young to leave the legacy of your journals behind. I can fully appreciate the freedom of purging tangibles that we must care for and carry from one place to the next, but there is an entire population that loves to read about history through old journals. One thing to consider is scanning them all to digital files; put the files on a USB thumb drive and place it – and other treasures – in a safe deposit box at a bank. If your journals contain special memories involving friends and family, consider using those pages as gift wrap for that person or perhaps make a card out of them by copying onto card stock. You may not feel there is anyone (children, nieces, nephews) to pass them along to at this point in your life, but you do not know the future. Good luck with whatever you decide!

  4. Interesting. At first, I felt exactly like ‘My Beach Retreat” about the journals.
    Then, I read the final comment by ‘A Tired Heart’ and she makes a very insightful point too.
    It’s difficult for me to have an opinion about this topic as I don’t save anything. I’m a minimalist when it comes to – Stuff- as the comedian George Carlin used to joke about.
    I had some journals when I was going through a rough period in my life and,oddly, saved them for years. The pages had some stories I could write about today. However, those difficult days are in my past and well-forgotten. I’m glad I didn’t save the journals. But, if I had them I’d keep them. I wouldn’t save them on a USB thumb drive. Why???
    The handwriting on the original paper has my emotions in the script and my passionate energy. You can’t save that on a thumb drive.
    I enjoyed this post. It’s thought provoking and begs dialog. Have a wonderful week …!!!
    Isadora 😎

  5. I would hold on to them. But just a thought, before you scan them digitally, or put them on USB, keep in mind how fast technology changes. I put all my high school poetry on floppy discs (eons ago) and then threw away the paper copies. I’m kicking myself now, because of course, the floppy disc has gone the way of the dinosaur, and I lost all that work. Definitely go through them – there may be some good material in there. Best of luck.

  6. You are young yet. I am 64 and have just recently written my memoirs. I didn’t keep journals as a child or teen but I’m sure they would have been an invaluable aid if I had. Keep them, at least some of them. Someday you may be glad you did.

  7. Even though you don’t have anyone to leave them to (for now), they might be valuable to you as a writer. Go through them and comb them for stories, or essays. If they don’t yield anything useful, then consider recycling them.

  8. Since my shelves are lined with not only old journals but also old essays, research papers, and speeches from high school and college, you can probably guess what I’d recommend. Plus I sat down on the floor next to that bookshelf just over a week ago looking for evidence of what I was thinking at one specific time in my college life. I didn’t find what I wanted but I found that I valued being able to scan through the pages and see the girl I once was. I still have not only the letters my first husband wrote to me before he died — but also all the letters I wrote to him. I know, as one of your commenters so aptly put it, that I won’t take these with me to a nursing home — or in the RV my husband threatens or the beach cottage of my retirement dreams. So this might be the perfect time to do something with them — either go through them and pare down the volumes to the essentials, and scan and save them in some format (although another commenter pointed out how fast technology changes, so electronic files are no guarantee). Or… you could preserve each entry as a blog post. 🙂 Some of mine are far too embarrassing for that!

  9. Hi!

    I think that I would condense them, reduce them as much as possible and take that with you instead of lots of. boxes . Write the most important things that happened and keep that with you. If you want. It’s always Hard for me to get rid of Any reading material. Have a great week!

  10. Reread, reread, reread, reread … them … Which is a great way to startle memories out of repose … and look back and wonder how you ever survived … and relish your powerful personal improvement … and look forward to clean new journal pages today. Now, me? I plan to follow this advice. Got me thinking. Thank you.

  11. I’m eagerly awaiting responses as well. I have diaries going back to childhood and recent journals in boxes of their own. I know future generations will not want to read them. My grandchildren barely have time to read a letter. The move to assisted living? Probably sooner than I want to think. Perhaps a bonfire of celebration. BUT recycling? possible but what if an ‘important bit’ got into the wrong hands? O dear what a dilemma. Hope someone has a suggestion! Thanks for blog.

    • Hi Faye, I think we have a lot of great ideas here, I hope you’ve found something that works for you. For me, saving them all for now and getting them into storage. I like the bonfire idea, but would most likely recycle. Think I’ll end up saving some portions of some of them!

  12. Keep them and reread them, so you can learn from old mistakes, remember forgotten dreams, and stay motivated when times are tough. I always keep my old journals. I never throw them out. I have a huge trunk full of things I have researched and written.

  13. I had over 10 years worth of journals that I took to 2 new houses with me. On the third move, I read through some of them while I was packing and realised that while they were a necessary tool at the time, reading back over them was incredibly painful. They were written during some horrible, dark years in depression, and were incredibly therapeutic at the time, but I realised that keeping them and looking back over them would undo a lot of the hard work I’d put into recovering. So, I let them go. I still journal now, sometimes in notebooks, often via blog posts; I don’t think it’s something I’ll ever stop doing! But at the end of the day, only you can decide what’s right for you and your memories!

  14. I just went through this process. As I have moved a few times as well, I keep down sizing. So…. I went through the horrible chore of opening each journal, notebook, old letters, etc. and as I read them asked myself if it made me HAPPY to have this. If it was a memory that made me smile, I kept it, if not, I paper shredded it. Why keep sad memories. As someone else mentioned, sometimes journals / notebooks, etc. are meant to get us through a tough patch and then we move on — same with certain friends, we know when it is time to move on and we don’t look back. GOOD LUCK!

  15. Don’t throw them away. I did that to mine and I felt a bit like I lost myself for a few days. Donate them but don’t destroy them. For any written word deserves a chance to be cherished- or at least made into a hilarious meme

  16. IF…which is a big if, you have the time to reread them and pick the journals that express different thoughts and phases of your life, then you can save those. So many of my journals express similar laments that can be repetitive and dull reading. Thw journals where I am on a trip or am introduced to a new person etc are interesting; these are the ones worth keeping. I am a bit of a hoarder so I have no right to assist you but this is what I would do if I was moving. Glad I’m not!

    • I like your “If” idea and finding those that can best show different phases of life. That’s a nice focus – as opposed to particular happy or want-to-remember stories. Moving isn’t for wimps, that’s for sure! Thanks for the reply. 🙂

  17. Keep them, definitely keep them in some form or another. The journals are your own testament in your own words, at least you’ll know it is your version of your life that you are passing on or leaving.

  18. Good question, you started up a storm of pretty emotional responses. I regularly downsize my library but it’s not easy, but journals I haven’t yet managed to deal with. Most of mine are actually not straight diaries, but from attending coaching -related seminars and spiritual retreats. So I keep thinking they’ll come in handy one day, which is probably doubtful…

  19. Keep them. Everything else sounds like giving up part of our identity. I am sorry but I am not good at giving advice to such a question, as I am a collector of stories and texts…

  20. We talked about this topic when I was teaching my first Preserving Your Family History course at Blinn College earlier this spring. The majority of the students saw value in keeping old diaries even if they seriously doubted family members would ever be interested. The consensus was that in time to come, diaries like yours might be important to a writer or researcher who was interested in learning about how women lived, who and what they cared about, what they valued, etc. It might be worthwhile seeing if local repositories such as local libraries and museums have a guideline for how old materials like this need to be before they would consider it. If sharing your private thoughts concerns you, maybe you could hold onto them in some form for a few years. Who knows? When you are 75, you may wish to write your own life story!!!

  21. I hope you keep them. You never know what the future holds and they may become important to you at that time. I tend to regret the personal things I eliminate.

  22. At lot of good suggestions! My handwritten diaries I gave to a literary Archive which collects my books and manuscripts. So they are kept for my daughter, and I still have a way of looking into them from time to time. Diaries which I still write now i’m doing digitally on my PC, so I don’t have to scan them. By the way, there exists a diary museum in Germany which collects not only diaries from famous people, but especially those of everyday People, as a collective historic Memory (http://tagebucharchiv.de/) – they also have contacts to diary archives in other countries. Good for research!

  23. dont worry, with all my bravado from my previous post, I havent thrown mine away either like I thought I would. No, I have placed them carefully in a box along with momentos of my late mother who for now is ‘taking care’ of them as the last time I reread them they evoked too much heartache for a particular memory which took many years to heal as a family from. This was such a wonderful post with everyones insights and I particulaly liked who wrote that our journals remind us of our younger selves something I had not thought of and it made me realise, there are not too many things which can take you back to a different time, revisit a younger you and remember those thoughts/ideas/conversations which were written down with so much emotion, it makes me smile to think off them, so yes, keep them, store them and occasionally remember them for its in the remembering that we realise just how far we have come…thanks for this post and everyones input, it has made me smile 🙂

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