Should I keep my old journals?
July 16, 2016 11:05 AM   Subscribe

I'm considering throwing away several journals from 15-20 years ago. Have you been faced with this choice? If you tossed yours, did you ever regret it? If you kept yours, have you found some value from them?

I'm considering tossing out ten-odd journals I filled in my mid- to late-20s. I'm now in my mid-40s.

Reasons why I want to toss them:
- They are dense, heavy chunks of mass, and I'm tired of dragging them around from closet to closet. The journals range in size from diaries to large spiral-bound drawing pads, and fill a standard moving box. They weigh a ton and I've been hauling them around for decades. The house we own (and from which we do not plan to move in the foreseeable future) has limited storage and I need the space for other things.
- I haven't yet ever had the urge to re-read them. I consider them to be relics from a period of time when I was figuring out who I was; while theoretically that could be interesting to revisit, I am now busy actually being that person, so the value of reviewing one five-year period during this process seems limited.
- And while I'm on that topic, my life got a heck of a lot more interesting in my 30s. Re-immersing myself in my angst over boyfriends, friend drama, and other young-adult topics doesn't seem that appealing any more.
- That said, I don't particularly want anyone else to stumble on them and read them. There's some private stuff in there, in addition to the devoted navel-gazing and all that. I'm not proud of the writing and would never voluntarily show it to anyone.
- I don't know who else would ever want to read them. I don't have children of my own; I have stepkids who I love, but I cannot imagine they'd have the slightest interest in reading these when I'm gone. And I don't think my husband would enjoy reading about my prior relationships.

Reasons to keep them:
- I poured my heart onto those pages. The process helped me and I am grateful to them. They have a talismanic value. They still carry some faint energy even after all these years.
- I have regretted other purges. I get in moods where I jettison stuff, and on occasion I've later needed or missed those things.

My questions for you:
- If you have journals from many years ago, have you chosen to preserve them for posterity, or did you give them back to the universe?
- If you kept them, what value have you derived from them?
- If you decided to toss your journals, how did you do it? (E.g., did you throw them in the trash, shred them, burn them ceremonially, or what?) How do you feel about it now?

Thank you, thoughtful MeFites!
posted by woot to Writing & Language (47 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
I am a hoarder and a writer, but I only ever kept journals sporadically and I only wrote in them when I was very unhappy or angry, so I decided to get rid of mine because they were somewhat embarrassing (to me) and also represented, I felt, an incomplete portrait of who I am. I would have kept them if they felt like they had some useful day-to-day musings, I think, about what my life had been like as a whole, but they were mostly ranty and self-absorbed (which is how a journal is supposed to be for a lot of people!) and I didn't want people to find them and read them somehow. I ripped them up and tossed them in the trash on collection day, but if I'd had a fireplace I think I would have burned them.

I have certainly CERTAINLY regretted throwing things out, but I must admit that I have never missed my journals once. That said, I DO keep all my of date planners -- I keep a paper one -- which seems insane, but sometimes I want to know what I was doing on X date in Y year. If you ever refer back to your journals for something like that, bear that in mind. I also have a lot of scrapbooks with photos and memories from the years my journals covered, as well as some actual hand-written letters, so I didn't feel like I was erasing that part of my life from the narrative.

I think there is something romantic about a journal that makes it seem like you SHOULD keep them and I understand why people do. But even as a sentimental hoarder and a writer, I don't regret tossing mine (in part because I was so bratty in them, in fairness). If you want to get rid of them, you are allowed!
posted by Countess Sandwich at 11:15 AM on July 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I find a lot of value in coming across and reading decades-old journal writing -- passports to a different self I don't have access to otherwise. It gives me a sense of cohesiveness, even as the self whose voice I'm reading seems almost exotic to me now. I imagine reading these pages might mean something different to you in ten or twenty years, when that young adult self is farther away and more difficult to access in the geography of your own emotional life.

But I would not need to keep a stack of hard cover journals from what is basically one era, the era of your twenties. I also like to purge material objects, much as I love to keep a few remnants. If this were my dilemma (and I've faced similar choices) I would either keep one of the journals and toss the rest, or cut out a few entries from each and put them into a new box or binder. No need for each dense navel gazing entry over five years to salvage a taste of that past life.
posted by flourpot at 11:21 AM on July 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

Do you need to keep ALL of them?
You could also scan/photo some particularly great pages.

Toss a few if:
You'd prefer others not see them.
They were helpful/therapeutic, but no longer.

Keep a few if:
If you still read them occasionally and derive energy from them.
posted by artdrectr at 11:23 AM on July 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I got rid of all my angsty ones from my 20s and never missed them at all. OMG the amount of pages I wrote filled with angst was unreal. Huge binders worth of pages. I burned all of mine in a bonfire in my parents front yard. It was unbelievably satisfying.

I did keep the ones from my teenage years. I haven't ever gone back and reread them, but those feel more entertaining and like time traveling to look back on so I feel like I might want to look at them again some day.
posted by ilovewinter at 11:31 AM on July 16, 2016

Best answer: I have tossed old journals. I am a sentimental sort, but I felt they had served their purpose (eg the process of writing out my thoughts was what was important). I didn't regret getting rid of them, but I definitely regret that I didn't shred them first. So I guess that's my big piece of advice: if you get rid of them...shred them first unless you're okay with the thought of some random person finding them in the recycling bin and reading them. It has been years and I still occasionally wonder idly if someone ever found and read my journals.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:33 AM on July 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I recently not only tossed all my journals from my teens and 20's but shredded them into a large beautiful pile of squiggled paper. I think what triggered me to do this was I felt they were no longer relevant or accurate as a talisman of my Self. A life event I had always hoped for and had pined away about over and over in my journals had actually happened. In my mind, my life had shifted from a situation where I wanted things to happen to where I had the power to make them happen. I also shifted from thinking that I was unique in all the things I pined about to understanding that others had written the same journals or had the same pinings and thoughts, and the journals really had no value, like historically or whatever.

I have never regretted destroying the journals and in fact felt an instant lightening of being -- I had been afraid for a while that my husband or someone would chance upon them and see that side of me that I felt I had moved on from. YMMV if your motivations for getting rid of them are different.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 11:37 AM on July 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

I keep mine, but mostly for the snippets of fiction here and there, which I do sometimes want to reread. I also kept all of my terrible high school poetry and my wife and I spent a lovely evening in bed cackling over it.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:42 AM on July 16, 2016

Best answer: I recently went through a traumatic divorce. I then went through a purge of my home, and came across many old journals. Reading through them helped me tremendously. I saw old glimmers of who I wanted to be, and how I got to be the me that I am in my late 40's. The angst of my divorce is very different from the angst of my 20s and 30s, but knowing how I got through those years and that I did get through them has been tremendously helpful to me. I am glad I hauled them hither and yon (and if they'd earned frequent flyer miles for all their traveling, they'd be going around the world in first class right now).

They're utterly irreplaceable. Utterly personal. I am glad that I've still got mine.
posted by Capri at 11:44 AM on July 16, 2016 [18 favorites]

I support your decision either way. I've kept mine (but I'm currently 30, so maybe I'm still closer to them than you are to yours, and as time passes I may choose to toss them.) I normally really appreciate a good purge, but to me I've always felt more pain connected to purging them than relief, and so I've decided that I still find value in owning them.
posted by samthemander at 11:47 AM on July 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I had a similar relationship with my journals. After I was done slogging through life as a soggy, weeping mess, I didn't want all my snotty tissues anymore. I threw them away. I never got anything good out of revisiting them and I kind of just had a feeling that nobody else would either. I just threw them away and I felt a lot better. Sometimes I think about the fact that they're sitting in some garbage dump and that thought makes me feel good. Can you try to imagine how you would feel picturing them rotting away in a garbage bag in a dump? If it makes you feel relief, just do it. If it makes you feel concern, or something unpleasant, keep them until you feel like it's something you really want, rather than ambivalence.
posted by bleep at 12:02 PM on July 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

I had a friend who had a similar situation when it came to the artwork of his children, which amassed quite a collection. It wasn't feasible to keep it all, so he kept a handful of the more precious items, and then he scanned the rest of them and kept high quality digital pictures. He found it to be a pretty good solution.
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:04 PM on July 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This is a bit of splitting the baby, but as I am transitioning now to a paperless office and have acquired a high speed double sided scanner, I found it very liberating to be able to throw away similar tomes I had of journals from years ago after scanning.

Specifically, I cut out all the pages, fed and scanned the whole thing, and tossed everything. The memories are there in a 2 megabyte pdf file if I want to look.
posted by Karaage at 12:19 PM on July 16, 2016 [7 favorites]

I'm in a similar spot, and I've decided to throw them away because I will never want to experience that angst and depression of my 20s again, even though reading. They served their purpose. I'm an adult and mostly happy with who I am. I'm just waiting until I can get access to a fire pit because I can't shred hardbound books and I don't want someone to pull my embarrassing writing out of the recycling bin.
posted by matildaben at 12:21 PM on July 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I reread at least select pieces, was totally mortified at all this crap and never wanted anyone ever to see them again and shredded them. It felt enormously liberating, far more so than I expected. It wasn't just getting rid of a giant pile of notebooks, it was also getting rid of parts of my life I didn't want the world to know me by or to stumble across and act like something I wrote in my twenties while trying to sort my problems out was some reason to judge me in the here and now.
posted by Michele in California at 12:24 PM on July 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

I burned a diary when I was 15 and still regret it 17 years later..
posted by Dorothea_in_Rome at 12:25 PM on July 16, 2016 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Your personal history is irreplaceable. No one else knew it or recorded it in the detail you did. People tend to think these days that everything you might want to know is online somewhere and easily recoverable, but it's not.

Often we are hardest on the version of ourselves that we've most recently left behind--they are still recognizably us, but with all the flaws and problems and questionable tastes we've worked so hard to overcome. I think it would be a mistake to destroy records of that time under the influence of that sentiment. Twenty years from now, you will probably be a lot more charmed by the you of your 20s than you are now.

But if they genuinely feel like a burden to you, if the thought of destroying them gives you relief, then it may be worth it.
posted by praemunire at 12:34 PM on July 16, 2016 [5 favorites]

Its better to have it and not want it than want it and not have it. Who knows what you will think about these journals in twenty years?
posted by 4ster at 12:41 PM on July 16, 2016 [5 favorites]

To be fair, my decision to be rid of them was unrelated to the contents. I have respiratory problems and decided to get rid of all musty old papers in my home for health reasons. These were musty old papers. So I reread them one last time and I don't regret getting rid of them and letting go of my past to some degree. But that wasn't the actual reason I destroyed them.
posted by Michele in California at 12:52 PM on July 16, 2016

I was in a very similar situation and got rid of them. No regrets. I also destroyed them--soaked them in water and ripped them apart--which was cathartic too.
posted by trixie119 at 1:01 PM on July 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I found a bunch of journals from high school and recently leafed through them. I had Opinions about almost everything, and it was pretty cool to see how far I've travelled from when I was an angry 18 year old to now.

I ended up throwing most of them away but keeping some of the political stuff and some creative writing around just to remind myself again that people change.

I don't regret destroying the angry angsty writing, though.
posted by chaostician at 1:06 PM on July 16, 2016

Best answer: The thought of anyone chucking their journals makes me want to weep! Send them to me, I'll look after them for you.
posted by intensitymultiply at 1:08 PM on July 16, 2016 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I just cleaned out my journals, some of which dated back to high school and my undergraduate years, and my years post-college when I was living in a new city.

I didn't re-read them for a long time and they were a millstone around my neck, without my realizing it. I live in a small apartment so if I had a large house, my answer might be different, but I say get rid of them. When I did return to the journals, I was cringing most of the time at my immaturity, lack of insight, and small world. It's okay in a way - I was younger and more inexperienced - but it really hit home how much I've changed and how far I've come in constructing a better internal world.

I don't regret writing the journals as I absolutely needed to journal at the time, but I do regret lugging them around for so long.

How I got rid of them: I tore the pages out and shredded them, then recycled the paper bits (along with the paper-based covers). IT FELT SO FREEING.

I *may* regret not being able to review those writings in later years, but I'm taking a calculated risk that it isn't worth it to me to hold on to them.

Note: Ironically, I've started journaling again.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 1:31 PM on July 16, 2016

Best answer: Do you ever plan to have kids? If so, keep them--NOT so your kids can read them (ugh shudder recoil) but so, when you're being driven crazy by their adolescent shenanigans, you can force yourself to revisit your own journals and be plunged back into all of the confusion and misery and angst of that period. We think we remember what it was like, but the main thing I've learned from revisiting my own journals is that I have forgotten quite a bit of how hard it was. And I think anyone's teenage journals would provide really valuable reminders and lessons in empathy once they are going through it from the other side, as the caretaking adult.
posted by mylittlepoppet at 1:43 PM on July 16, 2016 [7 favorites]

Also, I once lent my angstiest adolescent journal to my cousin when she was going through some rough bullying at school and felt certain none of us could understand what she was experiencing. My own decade-old record of similar suffering cleared up that misconception for her very quickly. She has since thanked me for sharing the diary, and told me it comforted her to know someone had gone through something similarly tough and turned out quite happy indeed. So, you never know when old diaries might come in handy.
posted by mylittlepoppet at 1:46 PM on July 16, 2016 [6 favorites]

I put mine in a big pile, along with some photos of old boyfriends and had a nice bonfire. It was so cathartic and 10 years later do not regret it at all. ymmv
posted by waving at 1:49 PM on July 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: We always wish to jettison the embarrassing people who we once were. We like to pretend that who we are now is unrelated to those earlier trial versions. The truth is otherwise but will you regret not knowing it? That depends on who you become in the future. If you've basically stopped growing already, burn them.
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:55 PM on July 16, 2016 [4 favorites]

Tossed them years ago for the same reasons you're thinking of doing it, never regretted it for a moment.

I now keep a much less personal "line a day" journal, which would not be humiliating if someone else read it (other than how tedious my life is).
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:02 PM on July 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Either you can get rid of them now, or time will eventually get rid of them for you.
posted by a strong female character at 2:04 PM on July 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

My journals are now 50 years old (written starting at age 15 or so). I've thrown away a lot of stuff in those fifty years, but I'm glad I kept them.
posted by HuronBob at 2:21 PM on July 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I still have my journals. I have re read them many times. But you know what? The lessons that I learned from writing them are so much a part of me, that I am going to finally throw them out. I will have a ceremony thanking my self for doing the work and then surrender them to the universe. Thanks for the inspiration.
posted by SyraCarol at 2:32 PM on July 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would never throw out my journals, and would mourn them if they were destroyed in a fire or something. Every time I revisit them I am newly astonished by how differently I understood myself and the world back then, and they provide an invaluable perspective on my present self. On the other hand, historical perspective is important to me and I actually reread them; if you never read them and don't think you ever will, I guess you might as well chuck them. But remember, once they're gone, they're gone!
posted by languagehat at 2:58 PM on July 16, 2016 [4 favorites]

Dedicate a decent chunk of a day when nothing is going on to have a good read and send them off?

My journals have always been sketchbook/writing combos and whenever i've felt the urge to start chucking stuff out late at night (aka the purge) i use that momentum to kind of junk most of these books. Feels so good. Sometimes i'll cut out some more interesting ideas/drawings and stick em in a box thats got old photos and ticket stubs, that kinda stuff. To someone else it might look like a scrap book exploded in there, but to me its all memory.

dunno, i dont plan on being buried with this stuff (like someones asking?) so i guess one day i'll feel hella frisky and dump the entire thing (ha after i force my possible future spawn to sit through a nostalgia session with me) .. like i dont really miss written stuff that much, but i do miss some photographs i've lost/thrown out.
posted by speakeasy at 3:23 PM on July 16, 2016

Best answer: Another option before tossing is to conduct a reflective review of your journals. Read/skim/cherry-pick each one and write a reflective entry about what was going on during that journal's or multiple journals' time. This act of reflecting on your previous entries can really embed the lessons learned since then and you will have a record of the important things each one contains.
posted by Thella at 3:43 PM on July 16, 2016

I keep mine, and have referred to them several times over the years to remind myself of how much I have changed, how far I have come, where I have been and how I coped with various things. I would not throw them out.
posted by biscotti at 3:49 PM on July 16, 2016

The very question fills me with horror, as someone who has kept a daily journal since I was 13, and who finds fairly frequent occasion to refer back to them for one reason or another, and who has been half-assedly transcribing the hand-written ones for about a year and a half now (to make them easier to search), as I find the time.

I remember events I have otherwise forgotten, both good and bad; I get explanations for things I was confused about at the time; I get reassurance that I've made progress, that I'm smarter, a better writer, living a happier life, viewing the world differently, etc.; I get to revisit people I'm no longer in touch with (in particular, the chance to access more idealistic versions of my now Fox-poisoned parents has been nice).

I know I have deceased relatives who kept journals which were discarded. I suppose it's possible that they wouldn't have wanted me to read them, but if the journals were still around, they'd be the only sort of access I would have to their thoughts and feelings about things, and would have value along those lines. Even if it was just mundane stuff like "planted green beans. Hot today," as I'm told one of them mostly was, green beans and weather reports are still something, and there's no substitute for the information in the journals now that they're gone, however tedious, overwrought, embarrassing, or incomprehensible it might have been.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 6:06 PM on July 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

I toss journals with no regrets, but I do have a small box of letters that acts as a mini life in review. I might keep select entries if I didn't have the letters.
posted by momus_window at 9:31 PM on July 16, 2016

Best answer: About 10 years ago, I read mine from age 11 or 12 through mid- to late-20s. My conclusion was that there was a genuine-ness to my younger teen-aged self that I'd somehow lost in "growing up" and getting married in my 20s.

As a result - in my early 40s - I explored what it was I liked - and wanted to restore - about my younger self. It felt at times as uncomfortable as my first adolescence, except I had a lot more confidence in myself in knowing I survived it the first time.

I'm feeling grown up again, but as a better and more genuine version of myself.

I plan to keep my journals as long as possible and to look at them again should I feel I've lost my way again.
posted by rw at 10:03 PM on July 16, 2016 [5 favorites]

I regret tossing my childhood journals but the journals of my 20s I would not miss at all. I'm in my late 30s.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:24 AM on July 17, 2016

Response by poster: Wow, such wonderful responses. There is no right or wrong answer here, of course, as our relationship to our writing is so deeply personal and idiosyncratic. I flagged comments that captured different feelings and solutions that could help others with this same question, but I want to thank everyone for sharing their experiences and ideas.

You made me realize a crucial thing: I haven't actually re-read my journals, and I need to do this before I decide what to do with them. Isn't that funny? I was treating them like a stack of old newspapers that had nothing to offer me, when in truth I don't actually know what's in them. Even though I wrote them!

So here is what I am going to do: First, I am going to set aside a few hours to re-read them. Then I am going to see how I feel. Once I have Felt all the Feels, I will decide what to do with them.

You have helped me in two important ways:

You reminded me that because journals are so intimately personal that I need to make this an emotional as well as intellectual decision-making process. I have to Feel the Feels. I have to look at these journals and confront what's in there, warts and all. Not to do that would be to pretend that my past isn't part of my present self.

And you showed me that there are options. It's not an all-or-nothing decision: I can keep some volumes, tear out chunks to preserve, scan them, summarize them for myself, or even send them to a caring and non-judgemental new home. (That answer made me smile, intensitymultiply -- thank you.)

I have a feeling I will end up destroying them, but it will be a respectful process (sending the Viking king down the river on a burning barge) rather than an expedient one (tossing a soda can out the window). And, most importantly, it will be an informed process.

I didn't have that vision when I asked this question, and now I do, and it feels right for me. Funny how it's often not the outcome of a process that matters but rather how we feel while we perform it.

I am so glad I asked for your help, and so grateful to you for responding. Thank you.
posted by woot at 5:34 AM on July 17, 2016 [13 favorites]

In ten years, you will be horrified, thrilled, and fascinated by who you used to be. But not yet - they're not ripe yet. Let them incubate a while longer.
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:09 AM on July 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I still have mine. It's a miracle that they even survived. I haven't yet read all of them, and I don't suppose I'll get to any particular set any time soon. Some years ago I dug up a couple of them. What I found there was gold. The terrible writing aside, I got a look at who I was some thirty years earlier, when I was transitioning from military to civilian life. These journals spanned 1963 to 1977, an interesting time in my life.

I recognize that much of what I wrote was self-indulgent nonsense. However, in spite of myself, I managed to sketch the times in which I lived, with details about the person I was (at that time). The value was twofold: I went back to the journals because I needed certain facts about military issues--my memory was literally less than helpful in that regard--but as a bonus I managed to put down a decent sketch of who I was as I passed from the last years of my teens into my mid-twenties. When I went back to read these particular journals I got a fresh view of the kid who lived through some interesting times, who, it turns out, wasn't as big of an asshole I remembered him to be.

In addition to the journals, I have daybooks, notebooks that cover several years of homelessness, odd jobs, which also peek into dark corners that I don't visit much any longer. I can't imagine going through these just for the yucks. But in reading my military and post military writings, I discovered some discrepancies in the journals and my memory of certain events. Reading back cleared up a few gaps in my reality. It's a bit discomfiting to discover that something you remember turns out to have happened to someone else. Anyhow, as poor as the writing was, it turns out to be a great mnemonic aid. I can read between some of the lines as see stuff I wouldn't think about unless prodded.

My writing has slowed down considerably in the past few years, so I don't suppose I'll be doing much journal mining in the future. But tossing out the journals seems like a bad idea, even though I can't think of a practical use for them. I have no illusions about these journals. They are nobody's history but my own. Memories are a version of reality. Reality is negotiable. When I finally die my reality will linger until somebody throws all my stuff into the landfill, and when my family members know me only as the odd old photo in someone's picture album, I will finally be done.

What should you do with your journals? I dunno. It's your past. You probably won't miss them if you burn them. But mine have served me better than providing me with an entertaining glimpse into the past. My last twenty-five years would have taken a much different arc if I hadn't opened the journals of my time in Vietnam.
posted by mule98J at 11:13 AM on July 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


Ah. Well, see, this is what I get for hitting send before I read the last comment.

Good luck.
posted by mule98J at 11:16 AM on July 17, 2016

Best answer: When I was a teenager, I wrote some very dark and desperate things that I did not want anyone to ever mistakenly pick up (like my parents), and believe that I actually meant any of it. I burned them in the woodstove of my family's home when I looked at them in the horror of what I had actually written. It felt good to have expressed those things, and then let them go. It was symbolic. I didn't need to re-read them at that time.

When I experienced the trauma of suddenly and unexpectedly losing my husband when I was 32, I wrote prolifically and therapeutically. There wasn't the teenage angst - there were profound realizations and growth being expressed. I still have not thrown them away... but I have re-read them a few times - more often in the first few years afterwards. I found that if I still *felt* so strongly and painfully about the things I wrote, or recalled what else was going on at the time that I wrote them, that I still hadn't dealt with all of the emotions. I was still experiencing them. I wanted to keep those journals to remind me of what I needed to work on, and work through... and then, when I could finally go back and re-read them *without* becoming that same person with those same heartbreaking feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and grief... I knew that I was finally on the mend and moving on in life. I still hold on to them, however. They carry so much of my previous burden and weight - that I do not have to hold it within me. I may, one day, re-read them again - and decide that it is time to let them go... and I may choose to burn them also... but I may keep them for memoirs or other fodder for stories... you just never know...
posted by itsflyable at 11:28 AM on July 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ahhhh! In the digital age, I'm so glad I kept my embarrassing, terrible diaries!! :)

Unlike anything I put online, they're truly a secret.

Unlike anything I type, they're physical, material and unchangeable.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 5:50 AM on July 18, 2016

I burned mine. I read through some of it, and it was mostly stuff that I would be embarrassed if anyone else read them, so into the bonfire they went. Along with memories of a failed marriage. It felt great, and I don't regret it.
posted by poppunkcat at 12:11 PM on July 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am a near-hoarder. I saw the word "shredding" mentioned and actually can't read the other answers now. This isn't me being performative or whimsical, btw. I can't even.

OK, I've re-read your question an balanced out. If you honestly, deeply believe that the journals hold no value for you; that the content, reminders or "lessons" therein are all things which you've mostly internalised or don't need then you should probably chuck the lot and maybe keep one as a symbolic memento. On the other hand, if you've ever thrown or lost artefacts of your past through circumstance before and deeply regretted it, then you probably shouldn't dispose of these. Well, maybe some, but know that whichever you get rid of will always be the "wrong" ones.

You will always be able to (eventually) rediscover that book you loved as a kid. You will never find that particular thing you thought/sought to express as a young adult again.
posted by comealongpole at 6:02 PM on July 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I, as a life-long diarist, first read this question, I thought, "huh, I guess that's a good point, why don't I just toss my journals after I write in them, since I never look back at them? The mere thought of looking through them makes me cringe!" (What value could generic teenage angst possibly bring to me today?)

... But I looked through one of my journals today and I have to say, I am so glad I have kept my journals. Time passes so quickly and so slowly, that to see my thoughts and scribbles on a given day, to have a slice of my mindset at the time, and to see that I have grown, and that I am continuing to develop into a more mature/able/enlightened/what-have-you person... it is helpful to have that in a physical book. I keep and have kept a private blog as a diary for the days I don't feel like putting pen to paper, but it isn't the same. The browsable format and the physicality of the entries (the handwriting, the pen, the little ticket stubs I occasionally include) makes the journal a unique and separate entity from my blog, even if sometimes the subjects discussed overlap. When I read my journals, I actually recall very vividly the instances I am referring to, and the recall is distinct from, say, recounting something in therapy or revisiting a place from my childhood.

... that was just a long-winded way of saying that I initially thought I could do without my journals, but after reviewing my own journals... I am sure glad I didn't get rid of them or lose them!
posted by gemutlichkeit at 10:58 PM on July 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

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