Day 204 Diaries and Journals

Today I received a comment from Hannah asking for help with a decision on what to do with old diaries/journals.

Here is what Hannah wrote…

I have just found a box full of the journals/diaries I have kept over the years! What to do! I don’t think I’ll ever read them again, and I don’t know if I want anyone else reading them either, although if I’m dead, who cares?! I think I actually know the answer for me as much as I don”t want to face it, but would be interested in your thoughts, and those of your readers.

Well Hannah, there are a couple of things you might want to take into account here. These journals are a record of your life. You may think now that you will never want to read them again and maybe you never will who knows. I used to do a bit of genealogy research and I would have loved to have had some old journals from relatives that have passed just to get an insight as to what they were like. So maybe it would be nice to keep them for when you are gone.

The upside to this is that the words are what counts not whether or not you have the original copies. I personally would scan them and save digital copies and throw the originals away. If you are not fond of the idea of someone accessing them at this point in time put a security password on the file. If you have a will keep the password with that.

I am sure some of my other readers will have an opinion on this so I will leave it up to them to comment and provide you with other ideas.

When I read your request I actually fished and old Abundance Journal out of the bin that I had thrown away earlier today. I wasn’t going to bother recording it on my blog but under the circumstances I thought twice about it. This journal only records five things a day I was grateful for back in 1998 and it really wasn’t riveting reading so I don’t think anyone ealse is likely to want to read it. I had no qualms about tossing it in the bin which is where it was returned to immediately after I took the following photo.


This of course is the journal mentioned in today’s post

Abundance Journal

Please follow and like us:
Pin Share

Continue reading with these posts:

  • Mini Mission Monday ~ Memorabilia Mini Mission Monday is about finding ten minutes a day to declutter. To make it easy for you, each Monday I set seven declutter missions, one for each day of the week for you to follow. It […]
  • Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom ~ The Wedding Dress Cindy's Weekly Wisdom In honor of my cousin Jenny's wedding last Friday evening, I have pulled a post from the archives. I wrote this post after polling my friends about what they had […]
  • Family Heirlooms I received the following email from Jeff a week or so ago which is really what inspired me to focus on obligation clutter again this week. It is amazing the desperation we sometimes feel […]
About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. Calico ginger

    Yes, transcribe, or scan and keep. I have nearly four years of weekly letters from my beloved grandmother to my mum when I was a baby and they chart my development and early family life. Boring as to anyone else, but fascinating to me. Best of all, in her letters I hear her voice once again and can recapture the tone of our day-to-day life. SHE would have tossed them without a thought (not a clutterbug at all) but I am so glad my mum kept them.

  2. How ironic that this would come up today. I have a big plastic tub of leather and other journals from over the years and it is on my list of things to start working through. The thing is, I have no children and neither does my brother. Added to that, most of the family is just not interested in things like this. What I have decided to do is slowly leaf through them for entries that are actually interesting and talk about changes or decisions or things that were really highlights. These I will scan into the computer and make into a file. The rest of the pages I will pull out and take to the shredder site. I can’t see carrying them around or having them stored for some stranger or executor to have to deal with. This would probably be different for others. I’m trying to look at everything like this with an eye for who would inherit it and would they want it. I’ve decided that in my case no one wants it. My brother has little to do with us, my mother will probably go before me, and we are leaving everything to a charity who won’t want them.

    • Hi Deb J,
      picking and choosing the more interesting diary entries seems like a great idea to me. It would cut down on the amount of scanning that would need to me done and keep the end result more compact and interesting.

      Hi Calico Ginger,
      those letters are very important and a good example of precious memories. As I have mentioned before I convinced my husband to throw away some old letters years ago and then the person passed away young and it upset my husband not to have the letters to read and remember.

  3. Hi, what a great topic.
    If you are a writer or poet, I encourage you to keep them as a source of raw material. When I was newly married, my then-husband didn’t like it that my journals from age eleven through 27 mentioned other guys. So. . . I destroyed them. . . perhaps 80% of those journals were full of rubbish, but I do mourn the loss of my articulate twelve-year old voice. And I kept writing, filling more notebooks.

    The marriage didn’t last. Years later I mined my journals from age 28 through 38 and was able to write a memoir. My journals will stay with me for years to come.

    Thanks again for such an inspiring blog and project!

    • Hi Lisa Francesca,
      I am glad you approve. There are not a lot of things that I would encourage people to hang on to but words are a little different and can be done without clutter thanks to the digital age.

  4. I’ve been a compulsive journalist for most of my life, and every so often I destroy them after rereading them. They are too full of my working through confusion and angst and rarely have anything of value to leave for my son someday. If I had been the kind of nice-and-fluffy diarist that simply recorded the interesting things of daily life, it would be a different story, but I wasn’t. Borrowed my mom’s heavy-duty shredder and chopped those babies up without a qualm!!!!

    • Hi Meg,
      actually the type of entries you just discribed I think are more important to leave behind that the nice-and-fluffy stuff. I would love to know what mde my grandmother tick not what she did on a day to day basis but the anguish, the joy, the sorrow, the love the reasons why she did what she did and was who she was. These kinds of quirks are more important to me than anything else. They have a long lasting effect for generations to come.

  5. Some interesting responses, some surprising ones too – I think I have been trying so hard not to be too sentimental that I forgot that some things are worth keeping and was thinking I should definitely chuck them if I was serious about reducing clutter. (The size of the box was offputting too!) Like Meg I have been a “compulsive journalist” and a lot of it is angsty too! Not necessarily good reading. In fact, I’m pretty sure a few years ago I destroyed the journals from my teenage years as they were just too depressing! I’ll have to have a look in that box – as soon as I saw the pile of journals I shut the lid.
    So I think I like Debs idea, IF I ever find the time to go through them I’ll just scan the interesting stuff, and shred the rest. For now, they’ll stay in the box.
    Thanks Colleen!

  6. Colleen, I just read your post. Its a fair point. I’ll keep some more readable angsty stuff…if there is any!

  7. This has been a good discussion. I have my grandmother’s journals of her trips to visit my aunt. It’s mostly stuff like ‘we got up, we ate breakfast, we drove to the store’ but I think I’ll go throuhg them to glean any details people might think are interesting. They’re all in the hope chest which frankly I just can’t face yet.

  8. I recently had the same issue. I kept a diary back in the 80s when I worked in Africa for several years, in the oil exploration business. I recently came across my old diary in a box in the garage. Bin it, or keep it? I binned it. I figured if I hadn’t felt the need to look at it in the past 20 years, I was not likely to get the urge to look at it in the next 20.

    • Hi Tony,
      I binned the one I had too for the same reason.

      Hi Cindy,
      Everything is questionable. Nor can you get a balanced picture of someones life from the versions other people will give you either so you may never have a chance to get the full picture unless you have a little of each. That is only useful if one is interested in knowing in the first place.

      Hi Loretta,
      I imagine your journals would come in very useful when your daughter reaches her teen years. She can read how you went through the same experiences and you can refresh your mind on what that was like so you can be of the most help to her. This is where these journals realize their ture value.

  9. I think journals and photos are both questionable about keeping. We rarely look at either more than a week after the event, or at least not at my house.

    The reason I am commenting has to do with both, and the false picture of our lives they can present. If a journal is (often) full of angst, confusion and dispair, a photo album is almost exclusively filled with parties and vacations. Neither is the true measure of your life.

    • gosh cindy, this is such a smart thought, I got the shivers for a second.

      I just wanted to say that I love looking at pictures from my parents, when they were young. I also enjoy old letters (grandparents) and diaries, and that not just for the (interesting, because german) historic aspect. I wouldnt read a journal from a person who is still close to me, but I wouldnt mind reading dead peoples journals. I kept mine, and I plan to keep them until the end. Someone might enjoy reading them after I am gone. I like the idea that there is also some sort of Zeitgeist to detect…
      its like books. words are always worth keeping.

  10. Hi
    First time commenter, but everyday reader! I had a discussion about this with a friend recently who had her mother’s journals, in the journals the mother had talked about how she felt about my friend’s second daughter. The first daughter (first grandchild) was the favoured one and some of the comments regarding the second child were certainly less than favourable while praising up the first child. This has understandably left my friend with a lot of bitterness and hurt which could have been avoided if the journals had been destroyed by her mother. I would just be careful about the information that is left for others to read. Which reminds me, I should go through mine and see what is there ………..just in case there is anything I’d prefer others not to read if I’m no longer here.

    • Hi Judy,
      thank you for leaving your first comment. What you had to say was very helpful you should chime in more often we could all learn from you. I suppose these journals could be just as distructive as they could be helpful which is a very sobering thought. Yours certainly is a good argument not to save them.

  11. This is something I keep coming back to, as I’ve pretty much decluttered every other area of my life! I’m really glad I kept my diaries from when I was a teenager, even though it makes for uncomfortable, not to mention cringeworthy reading 🙂 It will definitely help me when my daughter hits her teen years – only 3 years from now.

  12. hi col i have a diary from my great grandmother written in 1936 .it has made me think of her as not the hard person i thought she was but alonely sad person who cared a lot about others .and while she says about being tired and not well at times she lived for another 20 years after she wrote this diary.

    • Hi Barb,
      this is exactly my point. Although Judy’s comment showed the flip side to this I still think that these journals can be an interesting view into someones life and personality. Although you can learn from others about what someone did in their life you can only learn from the person involved as to why they did it. The trick is not to take to heart any direct reference to you or other loved ones but just to analyse where the writer is coming from. They also have had certain life experiences foisted upon them by others that have moulded the way they experience life. You will have to let me read this diary the next time I come to visit.

  13. About a year ago I started dealing with my old journals. I had boxes full of them, and they were just too much.

    I tend to “think on paper”, so many of my journals were just rehashing of one issue or another, until I came to a decision about it.

    If the journal was mainly that kind of thing, I shredded/recycled it.

    I went through a very nasty divorce several years ago, and there was a lot of anger, harsh comments, and even some swearing in those journals. I wouldn’t have wanted anybody else to read those, so those got shredded too.

    I am keeping a box or two of the journals that contain milestones–getting remarried, arrival of grandchildren, etc.

    Those will be nice to read again some time.

  14. I burned all of mine…without even reading through them. I’m glad I did…not because of the content, but I just didn’t need them anymore.