How to Deal With the Keepsakes You Shouldn’t Save

I like journals, but I’m a selective recorder. Some things are better left in the past.

At the end of my time here, I want my cherished keepsakes to fill a box, not a storage unit.

Doing this means letting go of the keepsakes that have a neutral or negative quality, and it’s not just so mementos can fit in a box of a certain size, but so I can enjoy them now.

It’s not automatically easy, so here is a guide to help you sort through keepsakes that you shouldn’t be keeping:

Neutral Keepsakes

Neutral keepsakes are what I call short-term keepsakes. They are appreciated now, but you don’t need to save them for all time. You certainly wouldn’t need to scrapbook them. These are usually pieces of paper such as greeting cards, a program from an event you went to or a participation certificate—a “thanks for coming” gift that’s not really too important.

The way to know for sure if something is a short-term keepsake is to see how you feel about it as time goes by. If you care about it less and less, you won’t miss it later. Go ahead and recycle it.

Be sure the things you are saving are about you and your family. You don’t need to save the program from a friend’s wedding ceremony just to prove you care about her. That belongs in her keepsake box, not yours.

Negative Keepsakes

Negative keepsakes, the things you save because they feel like part of your life story, but they make you cringe (such as bad photographs and journals about feeeeeeelings) are something you should deal with too.

“I have years worth of diaries or journals that I am not sure what to do with. I don’t want anyone else to read them, and yet some have almost a negative-sentimental value. I still keep a small calendar each year and write what happened each day – helps for medical, family events, things to remember if need be. Any advice as to letting go?” -M


The people who know me well know that I have a terrible memory regarding the past. It’s selective, at best, so I like journals. That being said, I don’t think you need to keep the sort of journals that are used for processing feelings, venting frustration or anger, or would cause excessive embarrassment when found.

Not all journal entries need to be positive, but we all know the difference between persevering through struggle and hardship, which is integral to a story with hope at the end, versus the kind of venting that carries only negative qualities.

I don’t save journals entries that will be discouraging to read, for three reasons:

1. I don’t want to leave it as part of my legacy.
2. After I’ve moved on, I don’t need the baggage.
3. I don’t need to read twelve pages of melancholy to remember what sadness and loneliness feels like.

Writing is a good way to process feelings, but that doesn’t mean you have to save those words for all posterity!

Recently someone made me angry. What I felt like doing was calling other people to tell them about it, “Can you believe she said this to me?” but I kept my mouth shut. I knew later I wouldn’t be able to remember the details, so I thought about writing it down, not just to process my feelings about it, but to keep a record in case it happened again. Then I could point to this time and say, “See? This.” But then I remembered the Bible verse (1 Cor 13:5) that says, “Love keeps no record of wrongs,” and I knew that’s what I was trying to do.

If it would not be a good story to tell, don’t write it down, or use the delete button judiciously.

My best friend received a hate letter when we were in seventh grade, and after reading it, we decided it must be destroyed. A bonfire was our first choice, but we went with our second choice and buried the shredded pieces of it in my parent’s back yard. It was satisfying to get rid of it. That should be the fate of keepsakes that are hurtful and discouraging.

Journals needn’t be a complete historic account. It’s fine to pull pages out of a diary and throw some away or delete entries on a computer. Keep the ones that make you happy to look back on or help you tell your story.

If you think about the books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, it’s easy to see what the first part of her life was like without the full historic record. That’s what I want my journals to resemble: snapshots of days in the life, happy memories, small details, and relationships.

Have you ever burned or discarded negative keepsakes? Let’s talk about it in the comments. How do you deal with keepsakes that aren’t worth keeping?

clear the clutter

About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.

Comments

  1. Yes, I burned a bunch of letters and things an old boyfriend in college had made for me. I burned them in a metal trash can in the house over my summer break. It set off the smoke detector. My dad, who is a very patient man, very calmly asked me if I needed to do that again I should do it outside. I also ran over a bunch of mix tapes another old boyfriend had made me. And I shredded my box of high school notes because I did not want anyone to ever read my The Cure type whinings from the 80s. Burning, shredding, running over have all been cathartic expressions of getting rid of the past for me, I am cracking up reading this… Especially the one with the fire in the trash can. God bless my dad. That man is a saint.

    • Oh, I did almost exactly the same but without the bonfire. During 2008 and 2009 my husband and I lived in another country, and in September 2007 I was on my own and purged a box with mementos from the 90′s.

      It was interesting, I re read everything (every tiny slip of paper) and then I tossed them. The only very good thing I had forgotten about was a thank you note from a girl I defended from bullying… she really looked up me when she wrote it. But I tossed it anyway because we didn’t keep in touch and she even became friends with the mean girls. Also my diaries went that way. Gosh, those were embarrassing contents!

      I still have a box with mementos but I may purge it again another time.

      • I purged mine with a bonfire, too. I was in an abusive relationship in college and than followed that by wild, alcohol-fueled binges. The journals detailing my life during this time were too embarrassing and not worth remembering. The ones detailing my journey to overcoming the past issues were also burned.

        This reminds me that I still have a box filled with mementos downstairs and more things may need to be burned!

    • Your stories are awesome! I need to do some of that stuff.

  2. Last year, I got all my high school and college scrapbooks and albums that had been stashed in my parents’ garage for years, and started going through them. I’ve thrown out literally thousands of pictures and plan to cull it all down even further. Some was negative but mostly, due to the passage of time (a lot of time), it was neutral. Fun memories, but one or two photos are sufficient rather than multiple rolls of film that I shot at the time of the same event.

    I think that a lot of events and objects are very meaningful and sentimental at the time that they happen/are acquired, but become more neutral over time. I’d rather hold onto something for awhile than discard it right away. Who knows until later what will remain a meaningful memory and what will become neutral or even forgotten. I’d rather let time and distance do their job than decide immediately what may or may not be important to me in the future.

    • I do the same with greeting cards: keep them for a while in a stack until I either really want them or I don’t care so much about them, but I never decide right away.

    • Karen (Scotland) says:

      I’ve just made the decision to do this. I have an album for every year at uni plus a few holidays taken over those four years – those albums are taking up a lot of space!
      I’m no longer close to many of the people in those albums (no big fights or disputes, just geography, starting a family earlier and, possibly, not so close to start with…)
      I’ve decided to select a few photos to represent each group/friend/event and I’ll probably dispose of the rest.
      Karen
      (Scotland)

      • Wow, Karen. You actually completed albums for every year? I have boxes of pictures (mostly family) that I hope some day to put into an album. Some day.

        • Karen (Scotland) says:

          Not fancy scrapbook albums or anything! Slip-ins or old sticky paged ones. No notes on who is who or where we are or what was happening.
          So, not such a great loss when I get rid of them and not too much regret over the time spent on them 15 years ago!

  3. I went through a divorce a few years back, and have since remarried to a wonderful man. Recently, I stumbled across a big bag I had never gone through. It contained all of the supplies, plans, and samples from when my ex husband and I built a house together. It held a very bad set of memories, not only because it was the house I built with my ex, but that I had put so much effort, work, and care into building a house with a builder from the foundation up. In the end, we ended up having to sell it when the divorce came. I had saved every step from the blue prints, to paint chips, to the tile choice samples. I just took the whole bag, didnt give it another glance, and chucked it into the garbage bin outside. It felt great. I have often fought the urge to drive by my old house, just to see how it looks now. But I have always managed to stay away. I have a wonderful life, marriage, and family now. And that old house, for me, only holds negative memories and broken dreams. Best to leave it all in the past, where it belongs.

    • The homeowner in me wonders if maybe the current owners of that house would have liked to have all that stuff. Of course it makes no sense for you to hold onto it, but there might be some things of interest for them… and if not, they can throw it all away!

      I know it’s too late now. Just sayin’
      Judy W.´s last post…Pretty Much Done… Almost

  4. I really like this post. It echoes of Grace. We tend to believe this lie that we can’t let go of past memories that make us unhappy, past feelings we need to stew over. Sometimes we can look back and see we’ve grown, but you are SO right about the need to shed ourselves of the things that only remind us of negative feelings.

  5. Thought provoking and timely post (again!) – thank you Rachel. I did that with greeting cards – saved all of them for years / decades..finally purged them. And then – just took photos of the ones I wanted to remember. Not for the dusty paper, but the memory. I then just have the photos on the computer – and a laptop or its back-up drive is much easier to grab to head out the door in case of a fire!

    God bless!

    • Karen (Scotland) says:

      I love taking photos of cards. I hung up all my wedding cards on a string. First photo, card closed, second photo, card open. I did it in about 8 batches – close enough to read what was written in each card. Then I recycled the cards.

      8 photos instead of two shoe boxes!

      Karen
      (Scotland)

    • Taking photos is a great idea. I did this with some large finger paintings and some other cumbersome-to-store art projects.

      I never thought about doing it for greeting cards. I only save greeting cards with meaningful, personalized messages from family. But it still adds up over the years. I’ll have to try this.
      Bridget´s last post…Why I Erased My Mother’s Face and What I Learned

  6. I so appreciate when you write posts such as this! They are so motivating to tackle some of the extra stuff in our home, and remember to only keep the things we truly love. Thank you!

  7. I love this post because it provides external validation for my decision last year to purge my old journals. It came down to this: they were in what was going to be our guest bedroom and that horrified me, but I also didn’t want them in my bedroom. I realized 1) I never wanted anyone else to read them, and 2) I never wanted to read them again myself. Your reasons are articulate, I just knew in my gut that it would be painful.

    But I still have probably 12 wedding programs. In a box of wedding programs. Your advice on that point is excellent.

    • Karen (Scotland) says:

      I recently reread all my teen diaries (an old friend had gotten in touch and we couldn’t quite remember why we’d drifted).
      It was an eye-opener. I thought I was a fairly happy teen but, reading the diaries, there was such a lack of confidence and so much anger about things. Yes, it was painful but it reminded me of the paint hat my kids (only 2,4,6 and 7 just now) will feel in the future.

      I plan to keep the diaries until my two girls are teens, reread them again quickly and then I will dispose of them.
      I want to have that first-hand reminder, that refresher course on the anxiety and angst that female teens feel – even the happy fairly well-adjusted ones!

      Karen
      (Scotland)

      • Karen (Scotland) says:

        “pain that”, not “paint hat”.
        :-)

        • My daughter is 11 and I just came across my diaries which sound much like yours! Sure offers some insight into what I felt and thought 30 years ago! Plan to reread and toss soon but kept them until now for the same reasons as you. I think it will make me a whole lot more understanding! Not to mention patient :)

    • This is very interesting. I’ve often thought about my old journals which I don’t want anyone to read. And worry that they will be found and read. Some of what I wrote I do want to keep but a lot of it can be toss. I’ve always thought I could rip out the pages I wanted to keep and toss everything else. This post and discussion helps me see that it’s okay to do that.

      • Yes! I have discussed this with others too and have thought about doing the same thing. I just haven’t gotten the time or courage yet, but seeing this post and these comments help. :)

  8. I have such a hard time letting go of keepsakes–any keepsakes! It’s only in the past year or two that I’ve started liberating greeting cards and the like and it’s been so freeing to let that stuff go! My success with that baby stuff definitely inspires me to move on to the more challenging items–like those journals :)

    Thanks for the encouragement that this is worth doing!
    Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy´s last post…Today’s Women Aren’t Mistaken; They’re Making a New Way

  9. I have certainly gotten rid of journals, and it was such a freeing feeling. If they were mortifying to me, even in a silly way, then I definitely took no pleasure in running across them again. For journals when I was older, I don’t always mind reviewing the more negative things periodically, as I always made an attempt to write about them with hope, and return to them again when God answered prayer or when I had an answer to the problem. It’s helpful to see how God has worked. So I feel that it depends – all “negative” things are not bad. But when it comes to letters from old friends I no longer am on good terms with, etc., there is no need to keep them, except maybe a favorite one to remind you of the good days :).

    • I love your effort to go back and record how God answered your prayers or resolved the situation. What a marvelous way to turn a negative entry into a positive one!

  10. I do not keep many cards at all, but I try to keep my birthday cards until the next time I recieve one from that individual. I’m glad I kept this up because I could have never known that my brother would die at 20. Now I’ll always have the last card he gave me because I wasn’t willing to discard it until I got a new one.
    Stephanie @ Our Marriage Adventure´s last post…Weekend Post on Monday

  11. About a year or so ago I started a ‘memory box’ for things and when it gets full I go through it and toss stuff I’m ready to toss (and make room for more, ha ha). My problem is that I have some cupboards with stacks of memorabilia inside that never had this treatment, so now I need to slate a day to go through all of it!
    Juliette´s last post…Weekend Links

  12. I love this! I have thrown away heaps of old boyfriend letters, photos, cards and mess in the last few years. It feels great! However, I do still have one antique purse full of my favorite notes from high school. One from you I keep and cherish. It is a stick figure and it says ‘Drink a sprite and be happy. Love, Rachel’ You left it on my car and I love it. It looks just like the masthead for your blog. It is totally you and I love that memory. I can’t let some special things like that go! <3, Heather

  13. I think cards and other things can tell a story, too. But when I found my keepsakes were taking too much space (and I’m only 27), I started digitizing them. I had photos scanned, and threw out multiples/redundant and poorly taken photos. I’ll continue by scanning cards (with more than just a signature) and then keeping only very special letters in original hard copy. Artwork and bigger keepsakes that I don’t use but make me feel good to look at, I take a picture of, and then donate/toss. And I am careful to back up my photos on an external hard drive regularly. In a fire, I’d grab my hard drive for sure. I wrote about sorting through emotions while decluttering: http://annaculpwriting.blogspot.com/2010/04/finding-balance-by-losing-clutter.html

  14. I started a “Wedding Invitation Scrapbook” after I realized that I had kept all the programs and invitations from my friends weddings. It is actually one of my favorite scrapbooks b/c I can look back at all the different styles of invitations for the last 10 years. I wait until I get the thank you note and then make one page (two if I was in the wedding or if I am really close with the person) with all the pieces.

    I started scanning birthday cards b/c I am a sentimental hoarder and it makes me feel better if I have a record of the cards. Even if I never look at it again, at least I have a digital copy that I can look back on if I ever want and it doesn’t take up much space.

    I have tons of journals from college at my parent’s house that I have been wondering what to do with. I’m still not sure. I don’t ever really want to read them but I don’t want to throw them away either. This article was really helpful in starting to think about that.
    jL´s last post…First Istagram picture ever! (Taken with Instagram)

    • Sometimes historical societies will take journals to archive. Might be something to check into if you don’t want to keep them; someone else might find them helpful down the line!

  15. My mother was so excited when we bought a house. She has been storing stuff to give to me for 30 years and now she can bring a box every time she comes over! Yay! Not.

    It’s exhausting to think about because I feel like I have Go through all of it at the same time to see what’s the best of the best. So now it sits in the basement. Ugh.

    I have never kept journals and cards go to the trash after being displayed for a week or so. I think this adds to the feelings of being overwhelmed because normally I don’t hang on to much. I also have guilt because she hung on to it so I need to too. Maybe I’ll just mark a day on the calendar a month or so away and just do it when it gets to that date.

  16. Janice Wallace says:

    This article hit home for me for a different reason, I’ve had to go through memorabilia from a good friend and from my parents who passed away. I found releasing paper items through burning was very healing. It seemed disrespectful to me to recycle some things especially photos. My friend and my parents are gone from this world so these special items needed to be freed along with those dear people. Of course dealing with other people’s accumulations has made me more determined to clean up mine. A very good thing. Thanks Rachel, for the tips on how to approach paring down.

    • I was very close to my minister, and was in seminary myself, preparing for ministry, when she died. I had asked her to give me her ministerial library, which she agreed to do, and when her sons packed it up for me they included some journals and papers she had written for a graduate program she never completed. I admit that I read the journals — at least parts of them that interested me — but I agree with you that they didn’t belong here any more, now that she had died. So I built a fire in our fireplace and ritually burned them all, giving thanks that she had been in my life and promising to carry on her work in my own way. It was very cleansing and healing, and I never doubted that I had done the right thing.
      Judy W.´s last post…Pretty Much Done… Almost

  17. My mantra: Keep the love, keep the memory, get rid of the object! I like how you categorize things as neutral, negative, and positive. It’s not that I think we should get rid of ALL keepsakes — but the negative and neutral ones are just not contributing anything, now or later.
    Lori @ In My Kitchen, In My Life´s last post…Pucker Up, Buttercup: Lemon and Berry Pie or Parfaits

  18. Excellent advice! I recently reviewed a journal from a period when I really struggled through my emotions about a tough relationships. Rereading the thoughts and feelings flooded me with negative emotion that was hard to shake. It’s time to let it go!

  19. I have a habit of purging my journals every few years. And, you’re right, some things/emotions are not worth revisiting. I often tear out pages with special quotes or memories and stick them in a box. Occasionally I regret it, but not often enough to change my practice.

  20. This is timely for me – just last week I sorted through a bunch of “keepsakes” and FINALLY made a scrapbook from our wedding (six years ago). It’s not as pretty as I would’ve originally wanted, but now I’m so happy to have a wedding scrapbook instead of the big box of programs/cards/keepsake things, that I love it.

    I actually thought about your Big Fat Greek Wedding post a lot as I sorted – thinking about whether or not things were truly worth keeping.

    And yep, I have burned a few pictures in my day. Mostly in college. ;)
    Jessica @ Quirky Bookworm´s last post…What I’m Into: the September Edition

  21. A very timely post. I’ve just picked up several boxes of my ‘stuff’ from my sisters house who has been storing it for me for the lady two years. It’s currently sitting packed up in our garage and I know that within the stacks are several boxes of old journals from my teenage years (when I wrote prolificably) and old photographs taken during previous relationdhips.I haven’t had the courage to throw my diaries out/burn them because somehow they felt part of me. As I result I have moved them from house to house unopened. Part of me wants to read them to discover insights into myself as a teenager and another part of me knows they will be utterly cringe-worthy to read. This has given me the inspiration to think about what they are really adding to my life and if the space could be better utilised with things that are current and important to me know.

  22. For my journals of my “deep feeling” years, I kept them for awhile. I then excerpted some entries that related to my early relationship with my husband because then they did tell a story when I scrapbooked them with other things. But for the most part I threw them out since I would be rather mortified if anyone else read them in their entirety. It was a nice balance for me. I am glad I have my feelings from a few key moments without having to review pages and pages of introspection. I have never burned anything as that’s not really my style, but I have definitely shredded things and found it cathartic.

  23. Karen (Scotland) says:

    One bit of advice I would give to mothers is not to “stick” anything down in the memory books just yet.

    I keep my kids’ paper stuff in a large ringbinder. Once a folder gets full, it gets filtered down. Often the dozen precious paintings that I kept from when they were pre-school can be reduced to one (with a few years’ emotional distance).

    The reality of storing multiple memory books often sharpens the senses and allows us to dispose of stuff.

    I plan to keep everything in polypockets in the ringbinder until they are no longer kids (ie they are in charge of their own memory stuff) then I’ll stick things down. Until then, they can be shuffled around a ringbinder until their importance is finalised in my head.

    Karen
    (Scotland)

  24. Over the last few years my aunt has put together 2 books of letters and history and other biographical information, one of her father & mother and their history, and the other of her maternal grandmother (my great-greandma). Honestly, reading through those I have loved the bits that seem the most vulnerable. I loved reading about a “fued” my g-grandma had with her neighbor about the fruit from a peach tree that grew right on their property line. I’m sure my ggma would roll over in her grave to hear me giggle about her (hilarious!) petty thoughts about her neighbor.

    I loved that she kept a detailed journal, and that she didn’t “edit” it for her posterity, and that I can learn more about her and her life, her hopes and fears and arguments and her SELF through these amazing books my aunt put together.

    I don’t think editing your own personal history is a good idea. You have no idea what could be interesting for your grandchildren or great grandchildren. And if you are writing for them, you’re kind of doing it wrong in the first place, right?

    Anyway, I say keep it all when it comes to your own writings about your own life.

    xox
    heidikins´s last post…Thing 3, and by association, Thing 1 and Thing 2

    • I think it comes down to quantity. We have the ability and convenience now to save much more than people used to. Two books from a family history is something I would want, but twenty full photo albums and diaries passed down from every one of my forebears is too much. Condensing past history is not about taking out the juicy stuff, you should still keep the details and stories. You can keep all the journals, but not the certificates given for things like “6 Hours of Volunteer Service.” Then it’s not as burdensome for you or whoever reads it next.

  25. I have just thrown out a WHOLE lot of photos from my childhood & adolesence, and scanned the rest. I realized I needed to cull when I was looking through deciding which ones to scan, and I had a really icky feeling at the end. So I took them all out of the album, and sorted and sorted until I was left with a pile that made me feel good. It took about 4 goes through to get it right. By then I was familiar with the icky feeling, so could look at each photo in the “bad” pile and double check. But it took a bit of practice to be able to identify the “bad” feeling.

    But on the other hand, when my mum passed I found a small collection of cards that I’d given her over the years – each a little piece of love. She kept them to remind herself how much I loved her, when I was far away – and now I’ve kept them, to remind me of how much she loved me. So don’t be too hasty to throw out little gestures of love from people you love :)

    • Kim, I’ve always been a little hesitant to throw away photos from my childhood. It’s a if that’s all I have left, I don’t know. But what you’re saying makes a lot of sense.
      Bridget´s last post…Why I Erased My Mother’s Face and What I Learned

      • I agree – I didn’t do it lightly, and I kept all but the ones that made me feel bad.

        There’s always a chance you’ll feel differently later – you may come to cherish something that was neutral – for example, after a loved one dies.

        However for the things that made me feel bad – if at 20 years later they make me feel bad, well, I can’t imagine that changing a lot in the next 20 years :)

  26. Great reading Rachel (as always).

    I recently found a tonne of journals from 20yrs ago when I traveled solo through Europe and Nth America and then continued into what happened when I returned to Australia and the +ve and -ve events that followed. While some of it was really hurtful, on reflection it made me who I am today.

    Even though some of it might be a little “X” rated (LOL), I doubt I will ever throw them out. They represent MY story and my history. Why would I redact that for fear of offending someone?

    Happy culling!!
    Giovanna´s last post…When Enough probably isn’t….

  27. I have all the letters and cards my mother has written me. She’s 80 years old so there are quite a few. I bought a fancy box at MJ Designs and after I’ve read them I put them there.

    She won’t be with me forever and even if I never look at the letters again I want to keep them because I know that someday they’ll be all I have of her.

  28. Your posting was so timely. I had pulled out a huge pile of photos (with negatives) that had no meaning for me. Yes, there were some with friends, family, pets … but this large (laundry) basketful of images hadn’t been looked at in 20 plus years. Still, I kept the pile in the basket because I felt guilty about purging them. Having read your article I know I’m right in getting rid of them. They are serving no purpose in my life, no memories that I can’t find elsewhere, and are taking up valuable space. They are leaving this home today – thank you, thank you!!

  29. I m sure you sit on my shoulder!!! Just this week I have been going through our memory boxes… what was once so important to keep just isn’t any more… Keepsakes that once were so vital just aren’t that special anymore and we have been making place for new memories and letting go of some of the things in our boxes that were, at this stage, just stuff… Love all the space we created so easily!!!
    Se7en´s last post…Happy Birthday to the Father Person…

  30. I really like the positive/neutral/negative decision filter for sorting through sentimental stuff. I agree with you about not keeping other people’s wedding memorabilia. For years I kept everything, but realised that my memories of the events don’t rely on a piece of paper I never get out and look at. I even had acceptance letters for events.
    Kim @ Extra Organised´s last post…Refine your standards

  31. Great tips! A few years ago I got up the courage to throw out a ton of my old journals. The only ones I kept were the ones I wrote in while dating my husband. A sentimental friend of mine couldn’t believe it as she has journals from her grandma that she has kept. With blogging these days, I hope my stories that I want to be read by others will be preserved there instead. I have been none to rant in my journals and I want NO one to ever read those! :)
    Ashley Urke | Domestic Fashionista´s last post…Book Page Wreath Tutorial

  32. When I left my abusive ex-bf, I destroyed everything to do with him – well, all but three things. My Doc Martens, a lovely green shirt he bought me and a kangaroo skin pouch he also bought me. I only hold onto these things because they’re useful, practical things.

    The rest of anything to do with him was thrown out. When I left, 3/4 of what was in the kitchen had to stay at his place. That drove me nuts; as I had bought it all, used it all and he hated everything I had introduced into the relationship in that kitchen; yet he wouldn’t let me take any of it. So, to tick him off, I left the Christmas Tree (he hated that time of year and never let me decorate the house or even attended Christmas Day with me at a relative’s house) and I also stole from him… it was a network card (it’s similar to a modem that everyone uses today, but this was around the time the internet was in its infancy and very expensive). He nearly lost his job and I gave the card to my Dad’s workplace to help them along with their technology…

    I have no other things of my ex-bf’s in my house – no photos, nothing – to remind me of him. I’m glad he’s gone. But I keep my journals from that time to remind me what hell he put me through so I never make the same mistake again – ever.
    Mozette´s last post…Monday Monday

  33. Love this post. Took me years to decide to release old high school journals that I would have to say were all negative. Also letters and cards from first husband. We dated for six years, married for eight, often apart, back in the days of just regular mail. Finally, selected a cute card or two to keep related to our dog, went with my BFF – maid of honor at both my weddings- and took all the rest, and burned ‘em in a park (safely). LOVE the analogy to Laura Ingalls Wilder, she didn’t start writing her books until she was in her sixties, it’s been said since she had to ‘see’ for her blind sister at such a young age, she learned to be so descriptive. No electronics to rely on, there.

  34. My mum was cleaning out her place recently, and gave me a box of Stuff she’d found – including my year 12 journals. Of course, mum being mum, read them and was totally horrified at what I was like and what was really going on in my head when I was a 16/17/18 year old. Me? I was more amused by the contents, and laughed at mum’s reaction because, hey – I turned out ok and that’s the main thing. I’ve kept my angsty teen journals, partly so I can remember what it’s like being an angsty teen when my boys get there, and so that I can conclusively reassure them that teenage girls are weird!

  35. This. Yes. Perfect.
    Having recently moved to Dallas from LA and starting to pack up our temporary home to a *hopefully!* permanent home in the ‘burbs this is exactly what I needed to read. I used to think that to be an accurate historian I needed to document and keep everything. I’m drifting from that into adulthood, and this is exactly what I needed to crank up the motivation. Thank you!
    Heather´s last post…Loved and Lost

    • Heather, I can identify with wanting to be an accurate historian… as I read your comment, scores of visuals crossed my mind- things I’m keeping with that intent. Recently in my big simplifying effort, I’ve been wanting to be mindful of reasons I keep stuff so as to avoid keeping so much stuff in the future and have to do another major simplifying effort :) … And reading your comment put one of those pieces together for me… So thanks!

      • I used to want to be a historian too, but then I realized that if I kept everything I wanted, I would never have enough time to go back and review everything.

  36. Now, a few years ago I got a letter from my then 11 year old niece who started off by saying she knew she had e-mail, but sometimes she just needed to write things out. It was a really nice letter, and she and her sisters know that if they write to me, I write back. Her letter was very timely – I was able to write back to her that night to say that if, 100 years ago, e-mail had been around, I would not have had the chance to read (as I had, just that day) letters that my mother had sent me. They were from my then 11 year old grandfather, and they were his first letters home from his boarding school. Then I was able to tell her that the pen I was writing her with had been his fountain pen. So, that was one set of letters that I think was worth saving all those years. (We especially liked the part where he asked his mother to not let his brother play with his slingshot. On the other hand, the letter where he talked about being sick and knowing that if he were at home instead of in the infirmary, he knew his mother would be sitting by him and stroking his head to make feel better, was particularly heartbreaking.)

  37. Thank you for this post. Paper is one of the more difficult things for me to get rid of. I vacillate between wanting to recycle (put out in the recycling dumpster), re-use (in art/craft projects), or keep. This includes photos, journals, cards, artwork through the years, articles, etc. Things are carefully stored in boxes in my spare room closed – I often dream of having that closet to hold art supplies instead of boxes of paper. Maybe I will ruminate on this article to pare down the collection of what is needed to keep. Today’s post on Miss Minimalist is somewhat relevant to your topic, too.
    sonrie´s last post…summer reprise-savannah.2

  38. I have happily discarded old journals of mine. Most of it was me just working through feelings and there was too much negativity in there. I didn’t enjoy reading back over them and I certainly didn’t want anyone else reading them. I never save birthday cards anymore either. I used to save every.single.letter and card anyone ever sent me (I had boxes and boxes of them!). When I realised I could just recycle them it was very freeing! Now I coach my children in not holding on to too much from school and so on as well. I keep telling them ‘remember, everything you want to keep will be in a box for you to schlep around when you are an adult so choose wisely’. I schlepped around way too many things for far too long before this dawned on me.
    Catherine´s last post…DIY Felt Tablet Sleeve

  39. I love this idea and I get that so many people have done it and it’s very cathartic but honestly it freaks me out – other things I have less problem getting rid of, but old journals?

    Pulling out pages to me is like pulling out pages of a book, the story is no longer complete. And let’s be clear my journals are not intended for anyone else to read. Have you ever had a time where you regretted it afterwards?

    If I do decide that so many people can’t be that wrong, where do I start?

  40. I am not a sentimental person who holds onto things to represent memories. I have a mum and grandmother who hold onto too much ‘stuff’ and I am the opposite! I love a good clear out. Journals, however are something I can’t get my head around. I have been a Christian for 11 years, and so I have a box that holds my prayer journals and general musings and answers to prayers). I would not want anyone to read them as they are personal. However if I die, then I have no control over who reads them! There are too many to go through and pull out the good bits. I pulled my box down just before, and it was interesting to see that years ago I still struggled with the same things I struggle with today. A bit sad, because I would have liked to see some more progress! But good too because I can see that God is always in control. I am tempted to put that box back in the cupboard to think about another day.

    • Your journals should be kept because they are a record for building your faith. You might want to record, maybe in red ink, an appropriate text alongside the answers to prayer. Make a note to yourself to go through them one at a time on a day when you are housebound by snow; or read just one per month. You did not say that you are still writing, but you could start a new journal with more prayers and praises -texts or hymns or songs that inspire you. Not so long ago, a friend of my parents received a journal for Christmas at the time when she knew she was dying. For about three months she wrote every day she was able until she no longer could. Every entry was about how good God is and how blessed she was with her family; and each was no more than a sentence or two. Her husband had her entries published in the church newsletter and sent a copy to my parents. My parents sent me a copy because I had met them (only once) when we took a trip in 1966. This man and my dad had served together on Okinawa and kept in touch until he too died. I will be keeping my copy for inspiration and because it is a great tribute.

  41. Photo albums from elementary school anyone? Can’t bring myself to toss them, but overwhelmed at the thought of sorting through them. So there they sit, taking up precious closet space. Sigh.

  42. Such an interesting post! I have my diaries from my early teenage years, that I would be mortified to have anyone else read. I think I’m going to have to get rid of these before that happens!
    Stephanie´s last post…My shabby chic wedding.

  43. My mother in law made it very clear she wanted my 3rd baby to be a girl (after 2 boys). It turned out to be boy #3. She found out via my blog while on vacation and brought me back a baby gift. Every time I looked at those stupid slippers, it just reminded me of how hurt I was by her expectations and comments. So, I never let my baby wear them and donated them. It was a great decision!

  44. Really mixed feelings about this topic. The journals I wrote in my very early teens, I’d really like to share with my teenage daughter. I’d like her to know that the musings of my mind are similar to hers as a teen. Some of the stuff is downright embarrassing, but I’m very much about transparency with her. I know it will lead to significant conversations. I think the time to share has arrived.

  45. That’s an interesting perspective! I have been doing something similar over the last 5 years but always felt bad about it.
    It felt good and liberating to concentrate on the positive and the present, but at the same time I was wondering whether I was trying to forget the bits of who I am (was in the past??) and that’s cheating somehow.

    You know what, I’m going to go with your attitude :)
    Evs´s last post…August roll and picture. This time life is straightforward! :)

  46. I have been contemplating what to do with my old journals. I definitely don’t want people reading them but I’m not ready to part with them either. This post and the comments afterwards have given me good food for thought.
    Steph´s last post…How I Know Fall is Coming

    • “This post and the comments afterwards have given me good food for thought.” Ditto for me. Thank you, Steph.

  47. What about something like yearbooks? I have 3 huge high school ones that I lug around on every move we make but hate to get rid of them for memory’s sake.

  48. I have a large-ish shoebox-size memory box where I keep cards, etc. But when it gets full, I go through it and toss the less important items :)

  49. I admit, I have over 20 years worth of prayer journals stored away in 2 boxes or more. I would be open to people reading them because as you’ve said Rachel, I mostly don’t use writing as a means of venting. Instead I use a journal regularly to reflect on what I feeling God is saying to me, what I’m learning and what I want to see change in my life and other’s lives. In the last week I got them out and was re-reading some of the entries from about 10 years ago. I wanted to know what I felt God was saying about my future before marriage, before kids. Yet as that was a hard season for me it was difficult reading it and having those memories and emotions brought up again. Maybe there is a time for burning them!

  50. I keep cards from DH in a special drawer for awhile, everything else has a shorter life! I don’t keep journals – to me they fulfill their purpose as I use them, then out they go, too! Usually my journals are me working through problems.
    What I am having trouble with is items that have emotional and monetary value, but I don’t want them, such as my Mother’s jewelry. Sometimes I can let go if I know a responsible way to do so.
    Thank you for your blog! You help keep me on track – I don’t want keeping stuff to be more important than living life!

    • Sometimes those sentimental items with monetary value are appreciated further down the line as heirlooms — even if they’re sold. They could also increase in value. If they don’t take up too much space, they might be worth hanging on to.
      Bridget´s last post…Why I Erased My Mother’s Face and What I Learned

      • I had this same issue with jewlery given to me that had belonged to my husband’s grandmother. It was gold and I never wear gold. I passed it on to my sister who passed it on to her mother-in-law who LOVES them and wears them all the time. I am so glad I did, not I don’t feel guilty about not wearing them and someone else is getting enjoyment.

  51. Great entry!
    I love this: “You don’t need to save the program from a friend’s wedding ceremony just to prove you care about her. That belongs in her keepsake box, not yours.”

    • I love this too!! I’ve purged journals too. I was also motivated to purge Christmas photo cards after reading a favorite blog of mine. The blogger said sort of the same thing. Basically, those Christmas photo cards are someone elses memories to save…Enjoy them during Christmas and then toss them. Love it!

  52. I struggle with this. My grandmothers have shown me the 2 extreme ends of the spectrum: keeping almost nothing from the past, and keeping almost everything from the past. ‘

    I think my grandfather has it about right: he has a memory box that is a pretty good size (it’s a small military traincase), but not overwhelmingly big. It includes pictures from his childhood in the Dust Bowl, to his WWII mementos, to newspaper clippings of moments in history (man on the moon; 9/11) to letters from my grandmother, to handmade presents from his kids and grandkids. He only keeps the things that are really special. He once told me when I was a teenager that he was going to put something I had given him in his Memory Box, so I knew it must really have meant a lot to him. That’s what I want to leave behind one day – enough for my kids/grandkids to know me but not enough to overwhelm them.
    Kristin´s last post…5 Crazy Weeks

  53. Thank you for writing about this! I have always struggled with journals. I like the idea of writing my thoughts down but usually end up ripping all the pages out at some point and starting over. I have always felt guilty about this for some reason, like my experiences or feelings at that time weren’t valid. But I think really the reason is just that I need to be able to move forward in my life, and those pages were preventing me from doing so. I appreciate hearing a different perspective on it, and I will think of this next time I feel the need to rid myself of things from the past.

  54. Although I agree with the idea of throwing out negative momentos, and possibly trashing less-than-virtuous entries, I have to say that from my own experience, keeping journals that record emotional roller coasters often give me a good kick to reality – not the hateful rants, because those can only bring you down, but entries about lost loves etc., which are usefully quite mournful, allow me to think more critically now…about how I can try to react next time, and how perhaps I wasn’t thinking the most clearly that day, two years ago, etc. No point in keeping nasty reminders, but slightly melancholic but noteworthy stories allows you to re-experience a moment years ago, and reflect on how you might do better next time. And sometimes reading the rantings of your freshman year is just plain fun :)

  55. I did this in university. I was reading my journals from middle school and high school and realized I would be mortified if I was to die and people read my journals. I think I’ll go through my sentiments boxes, which used to be just one shoebox. Thanks for the push!

  56. This was a great post! I have a very large box of these sorts of keepsakes from before I was married that I have been toting from apartment to apartment and shoving in the closet because I “don’t know what to do with them” and I don’t necessarily want to share. This post has encouraged me to look through the box and simply throw out the baggage I’ve been carrying. Also love the reference to 1Cor regarding writing down or telling people about how others wronged you. Thanks!

  57. Journals are toughest for me. I’ve binned one old diary, and I think some old ones are still at my parents’ (hopefully they haven’t read them – if they ever bring it up, I’ll throw them away).

    I still have all the songs I wrote as a teen and the ‘novels’ I started. Can’t quite bring myself to ditch those yet.
    eemusings´s last post…On sunk costs and cutting your losses – a beginner poker player reflects

  58. I do want to read my journals again. I’m amazed at how my perspective has changed over the years. However, I did purge them of the pages I would never want anyone to read. Fortunately I often wrote somewhat cryptically, in a way that only I would know exactly what it was I was referring to.

    Haha, I even wrote a couple of entries in Spanish, having taken many years of Spanish at school. I wasn’t trying to be cryptic then, just practicing my Spanish. Now I have no idea what it says!

    My in-laws have been married for more than fifty years. They’ve kept every card they gave to each other. A few years back they started selecting cards from their collection and re-giving them to each other.
    Bridget´s last post…Why I Erased My Mother’s Face and What I Learned

    • “A few years back they started selecting cards from their collection and re-giving them to each other.”—a VERY CUTE IDEA!! :)

  59. Was actually just cleaning my closet today, and I came across my old journal too. I kept it aside again hoping I would have time to re-read them later. And the old cards that I got before, I’m actually planning to re-use the designs for this holiday season.

  60. Back in 1994, I was feeling lonely and having a pity party (2 VERY small children, dinky apartment, winter, etc.) and I found my yearbooks, I glanced through them and then tossed them in the big apartment dumpster. I have never looked back. Those were not terrible years, but as with most things, hindsight is 20/20 and I would have done things differently. We have moved many times since then and I NEVER regret having one less thing to move and not having the visual reminder of my immaturity and self centeredness.

  61. Thank you so much for this post. I am very sentimental, and as silly as this sounds sometimes I just need someone to tell me that it is O.K. to recycle things. Last summer I went through a major purge and it was incredibly freeing. It has transformed my world, but I find that I do need to continue to fight against my natural tendency to save everything. I love what you said about not needing to save something just to prove that you care about someone. I need to read that often!

    I am really intruiged by the idea of negative keepsakes. I have had this nagging desire to get rid of old journals, but felt guilty doing so. Thanks for the encouragement!
    Anne´s last post…Content

  62. I have a box of wedding invitations, engagement party invitations and such that I held on to because they were my close friends. Until you said that, that is something that should be in their keepake boxes, I always felt I should hold on to them. Thanks for the awakening!

  63. Thank you for your thought provoking post. I think I will let go of more. After my mom died I discovered a box of letters she got from a guy stationed in Italy during WWII. They were really interesting. I am glad she saved them. Also some of her keepsakes, like a wooden gavel with rainbow colored ribbons on it seemed so treasured. I wish I had asked her about them before she unexpectedly died. We did go thru old cards while she was still alive. We tossed most of them, but I noticed a pattern, all of the cards she had saved from me were funny cards, not sentimental. She had some really beautiful cards from her mother. Some over 100 years old.

  64. I wonder about myself why I keep negative keepsakes.
    I was once broken-hearted and I still can’t let go of the bad memories I kept in my treasure box. I always think that it’s always part of my life and if I let go of those things, I couldn’t reflect about my past which makes me a better person now.
    Maris King´s last post…Advantages of Timber Bifold Windows & Doors in Home Restoration Projects

  65. This is my favorite post that I have read today! So true about letting some things go. I do tend to keep some things longer than necessary and you are right that some things are not worth holding on to!
    Raquel´s last post…Organizing for Health

  66. Wow! Thanks for writing this and giving me permission to shred a lot of angsty blather from 15 years ago! Love your positive/negative/neutral thing.

  67. I have followed your site for years, and don’t think I have ever commented. But I felt I needed to voice my opinion a little on this matter. I agree with the subject of this post, however, I think there is a small piece missing.

    If you do not record negative experiences in your life and how you handle them and overcome them, you are doing a great dis-service to your family and future posterity. Only documenting the positive times of your life tells a scewed view of your real life.

    Most families deal with depression, divorce, discouragement, learning disorders, addictions, etc and other kinds of problems. The chances of your children struggling with some of the same issues you do are large, and it is important to document the struggles and mistakes you make in life so they understand that, 1) they are human like everyone else, and 2)they can know there is hope. If you got through it they can too.

    This does not only apply to large struggles like I previously mentioned, but also things like just getting through a discouraging day and finding hope in the small things. How comparing yourself to others really doesn’t get you anywhere, and how you overcame that.

    This is something I feel is important…it is really like recording your family history, in a way. Letting your future posterity know the real you. We all have baggage…and we can all learn from it. Even if it is over again.

    • I agree you should write about hard things that aren’t positive, that’s why I mentioned the difference between writing about struggles and hardships compared to venting and complaining. It’s all about attitude. Writing about working through hardships can encourage somebody. Complaining with a negative attitude is discouraging.

  68. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this very timely post. I’ve been agonizing about editing my entirely-too-comprehensive hoard of mementos and journals, and this is exactly the encouragement I needed. I especially appreciate your advice about being sure that “the things you are saving are about you and your family.” I have so many paper keepsakes of other people’s special events. Time to get rid of those.

    Thank you for the inspiration!

  69. My grandmother wrote short diary entries in “Books of Remembrance” back in the 1920′s. My mom and aunt did not find them until she had passed away. I’m not sure if my grandma ever expected anyone else to read them, but we did. They are full of little snippets and tidbits of a simple, but hard life. I’m glad she kept them, but they were small enough to fit into a shoebox, and she had very little else.

  70. Sally Brooks says:

    I have been an introspective person from a very young age and started keeping a journal at around age 8 as a way to cope with occasional bouts of dark times. I went through a really rough period in my 20′s with a failed marriage and I relied on my journals to vent. I must have had 10 thick books of the most depressing stuff you could ever read!! I am now happily married with 3 older kids and as I aged, my entire personality became more positive. At some point I decided to get rid of the journals in fear of someone reading them and violating my privacy. I was worried what they would think of me? I don’t know. I grieved the loss of those writings. I have always felt I lost a part of myself. Reading your entry made me realize I made the right decision. They were meant to be thrown away. What would I have been saving them for? The negativity in those books was palpable! Horrible, miserable pain. Intense grief and no need to read and dredge that up. You are right. I don’t need 10 books to remind me of that time or to remember what that felt like! I need to pat myself on the back for throwing them away. Good riddance to bad times. And as for the person who said it is not being true to your “life story” to throw away the old and focus on the sunnier times, believe me, I know and everybody in my life knows that I went through hard times during that period! Ha! Thanks again for writing about something that struck such a helpful chord in my life.

  71. so timely!!! i was just going though old high school and college things yesterday. at the end of paring it all down, i still had a full rubbermaid bin and was frustrated at the amount of memories. i hadn’t thought of getting rid of the negative stuff. why am i keeping that??? great post!

  72. I have in the past bit the bullet and ripped up an unflattering photo of myself. Knowing I will no longer have a record of that time period and event. But ridding myself of an unpleasant image that made me unhappy every time I saw it.

    Great tips. Thanks!!
    Donna´s last post…Look What Connie, Tanya and Lubna Made

  73. Very, very wise advice. I don’t want all that I’ve written down in my journals to be my legacy. But I also don’t want to paint everything pink because that wouldn’t be authentic. I think it’s okay for those who read my story to know there was pain that I dealt with, but they don’t need to necessarily know the details of the pain. Sometimes I wish those who’d gone before me had given me a more realistic idea of the hardships that they faced – and that I would face. There is a difference between journaling a memoir and journaling a processing session. I definitely need to burn some pages of my processing sessions.
    Anne´s last post…The Truth is, I Believed a Lie: The Story of When I Found Out That God Gives Me More Than I Can Handle

  74. As always, you have wonderful tips. I look forward to using them as I try to unleash the past. Thanks!
    Kary´s last post…Up to my eyeballs . . .in transition

  75. Yearbooks — if you no longer want them, please donate your old yearbooks to the library, high school, historical society in that town. These institutions are always some missing yearbooks.