Day 30: Decluttering – How Long Should You Keep A Journal?

3,000 things gone, only 7,000 to go

I was in my third year of a Liberal Arts degree when one of my professors stressed the utmost importance of keeping a journal.

If he only knew how badly I’d misuse mine.

Incredulously, I thought the following worthy of committing to paper:

“Yesterday was hard but it is brilliant that I pumped out my anthology and tackled all that grammar.”

“I’m going to bite the bullet and read Kierkegaard.”

“Density, density, density.” ??? (and no, I hadn’t just misspelled destiny)

“Oh God, remind me not to eat meat.”

“I want to groan forever.” (on getting passed over for a summer job)

“Despite what I tell myself, things are going well.”

Couldn’t have been going that well.

I found this journal in a box of personal items wedged between my high school diploma and every resume I’d ever written.

I also kept term papers, university transcripts, 14 good starts at novels, audio tapes of my radio days, letters of recommendation and notes of thanks, and one love letter from grade 10.

It’s no wonder this heart and flower covered box made me nervous.  My whole life as a young adult was in there.  And I don’t know anyone nearing 40 who looks back at 20 and thinks – wasn’t I clever!

Fortunately, I prepared to sort it with a little research on getting rid of sentimental items.  Clearly I needed some help deciding what’s really worth keeping.

I found some sound advice in this article posted on  The article references the advice of professional organizer LeAnn Peterman:

“Questions you should ask are: do I or someone else have a relationship to the item? Is it useful? Do you or someone else need it? And do you have a place for it?” Peterman said. “Does owning it create good feelings or not?”

Does owning it create good feelings or not?  That’s half the box gone.  The angst driven poetry of my early twenties (An Ode To Pain) was not only bad but depressing. Ditto for the infamous journal and the 20+ resumes that included things like my brief stint at “The Muffin Hut” and “Babysitting.”

Is it useful?  The University transcripts may save some time if I decide to take any courses in the future.  Some of the good novel starts have potential as material for better starts. Term papers with titles like “Why do States Extend Diplomatic Immunity?” and “Emerson’s Self Reliance: Necessary Evil?” are not likely to come in handy down any road I travel.

Do you have a place for it?  I transferred the writing archives, letters of reference, thank you letters and university transcripts to an accordian file in my office.

I plan to revisit it next year when my idea of what’s important changes once again.

But I realized something sifting through these keepsakes.  The relevancy of an item changes as quickly as we change – and that in itself could be an argument for not memorializing our every moment.

Oh, and love letters from 16 year old boys are meant to be read by 16 year old girls:

Lots and lots and lots and lots of love,



P.S. Send a picture

P.S.S. I love you

What I tossed today: 65 kid’s books, one journal and 34+ pieces of paper (former keepsakes)


9 thoughts on “Day 30: Decluttering – How Long Should You Keep A Journal?

  1. Oh my. I have about a dozen journals that I kept in my young adult years and to tell the truth I’m afraid to open them. And I nearly spit my food onto the computer screen when I read the bit about the poem “An Ode to Pain”, because I have boxes and boxes of similarly titled “works”.

    It all makes me wonder. Is growing up just inherently awful or is it something about our crazy society that makes us all so incredibly unhappy in our youth.

    • “Is growing up just inherently awful or is it something about our crazy society that makes us all so incredibly unhappy in our youth.”
      If you figure out the answer to that one, please let me know. I’m so glad I’m not the only one…

  2. I feel your pain! I have multiple boxes of graduate school papers, course work, and research sitting in my basement. They’ll probably stay there awhile as I can’t bear to part with all those years of work…. I’m sure I would cringe to look at some of my earlier work. At the other end of the spectrum, boy #1 is happily separating the Grade 5 projects he wants to keep from all the paper that will go to recycling. Don’t ask about boy #2!

  3. Oh the angst of the young adult years…so poignant…I must have kept all my university stuff for 35 years…so glad you kept some of your brilliant writing…love the criterion,”does owning it create good feelings or not”… this will certainly help me in my decluttering!

  4. I can’t manage to toss my old journals (though we’re talking college years). My memory is so bad that despite the myriad of meaningless crap in them they remind me of things I had actually forgotten about. I’ve thought of retyping them, but that’ll take years…

    My notebook of bad poetry is another story however.

  5. I love your blog! Great job de-cluttering! But about journals… When de-cluttering I like to ask myself if someone will want what I’m trying to hang onto when I die. (It sounds morbid, but think about it — what do you really own that anyone is going to want when you’re gone? It’s discourteous to leave a big mess behind, IMO.) Anyway, the point is that I have tossed all of my old journals and I refuse to start a new one because I don’t want anyone to read it when I’m dead. And you called it when you said no one looks back on the things they did in their 20s and thinks they were oh-so-clever. Cringe-worthy, more like. The poetry! Egad.

    • “When de-cluttering I like to ask myself if someone will want what I’m trying to hang onto when I die.”
      That’s fantastic. It’s made me re-think some of the things I’ve kept. So glad I recycled the journal now – I certainly don’t want anyone to read it when I die or, worse yet, when I’m alive!

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