Throwing Out (or Saving?) Diaries & Letters

Parent Q&A

WHY do you save kids' things? Feb 17, 2021 (9 responses below)
What to do with old diaries/journals? Nov 3, 2018 (1 responses below)
  • WHY do you save kids' things?

    (9 replies)

    As our children grow up (late teenagers, both), I find myself wondering WHY we save things. I know HOW to save--there's enough online about that--but I can no longer figure out WHY I'm saving things such as: picture books, art projects, little baby outfits, etc. Do I think my children will want these items? Or would they do better to be passed on while they're still usable and useful? The same goes for things like my wedding dress, or high school yearbooks, or a wedding gift that isn't our style. As time goes on, our garage and cabinets fill with things that we love or used to love--but we don't want our children to have to clean out when they are adults, nor be burdened with should they choose to become parents. 

    Why do you save sentimental things? If you don't, how do you let go? 

    RE: WHY do you save kids' things? ()

    Good question! I save some of these things but get rid of even more. I have enjoyed the looking at the examples of these types of things from my own childhood that my mother saved. I especially liked having some of my now out-of-print picture books to read to my kids. But my mom didn’t save most of my things, and neither do I. It’s more like a tiny sampling as a little window to the past. For toys, I only save the most sentimental and unique and/or the most likely to hold up.  For example, I put away my son’s wooden Thomas trains, and some of my daughter’s American Girl dolls and clothes that my mom sewed for them. Those will be fun for her to look at years from now.  But we just gave away all the Legos, we gave away the playmobil a long time ago, we gave away the wooden blocks, etc.  I save only the most sentimental clothes, very few, mostly handmade.  We save the most books of all those things. Already, my daughter pulls them out to bring to babysitting jobs. I think they are a great connection to their earlier years, and they will be fun to pass on. That said, my kids have generous grandparents, so they had so many hundreds of kids books over the years that we have given away boxes and boxes and piles of them over time and still have several bookshelves of them in our attic.  I try to only save the best or most unusual ones. 

    RE: WHY do you save kids' things? ()

    Great topic. Our daughters are in their early twenties. We are lucky to have a full basement (or unlucky, because it's now full of stuff!) and I've just been thinking about this same question. I think there are only two reasons to save kid things:

    (1) THEY still want the item but don't have room for it in their lives right now.  These are usually not things that the kid created themselves. Classic stories of parents throwing out valuable baseball cards, comic collections, etc.  Key is to keep checking with them as their feelings will change.

    (2) YOU get joy from the item. These are usually things the kid created. Knowing that my daughters will have to throw it out when I'm gone (and that things in our basement by definition do not give me enough joy to have in my sight), I'm thinking I should just take pictures of the artwork, the science projects, the cute gifts they've made for me, etc., and let them all go. Not that I've done this yet, mind you!  But saying it here, thanks to you, might help me take the plunge. 

    I think you're also seeing a third reason -  (3) items the kid might want when they become parents. We have a handmade/antique crib in that category but for clothes/shoes etc., I gave those away to other new parents as soon as my kid grew out of them.  First tried to hold back some of my favorites and then realized there was no point in keeping them. 

    RE: WHY do you save kids' things? ()

    I am so glad you are asking this question. My parents fall under the category of save everything. It was crazy when my kids visited one day and my mom brought out a box of things I made when I was in kindergarten. It was an interesting box to look through, but with my encouragement, it was discarded after that trip down memory lane. And, while it was interesting, it was more horrifying. My kids were not at all interested. Things are just things. I have no problem repurposing gifts given to me when they don't suit. High school yearbooks I keep because sometimes I look stuff up in them--like is that my classmate I see on social media? I still have my wedding dress which I paid to preserve and enjoy looking at every few years. I think that's a big part of the decision--will it give you joy or is it just taking up space. When my kids were little, I really didn't want to keep all that school stuff and clothes. Some heirlooms were kept, a few school art projects. I even framed some so they could go on the wall. But, the rest I took pictures of and happily recycled. The taking pictures part really helped make me feel confident about the recycling part. I had to clean out my grandparents' house when they passed on. You are right to worry about keeping too many things and it being a burden on future generations. Keep the best of the best (and only you can decide what is the best) but as soon as you are bursting at the seams or you can't enjoy your space anymore--it's time to whittle down. My mother said to me once that she wished she had as big of a house as I do. Nonsense. Her house is much bigger. It's just stuffed to the gills with stuff!! :) don't feel guilty. You won't miss those things. My in-laws a few years after I married their son made him clean out all his memorabilia from their house--don't let that happen either. If it's not important enough for him to keep himself, then they should not have to keep it. AND, don't pay for storage for these things--that's money down the drain!

  • I kept a diary/journal from age 10 to my mid 20's and have 2 paper boxes full of them. My question is I am no longer interested in keeping them around. They contain a lot of private musings, some of which cover particularly hard times in my life that I have no desire to revisit. So what do I do with them? I feel like I don't want to throw them in the trash where they could be re-read. Do I burn them? Find a shredding company for them to be shredded? Thanks everyone! :-) 

    [Moderator] Here is a similar question from the archives:

    I recommend, I have used them many times. Please don't burn them, that just sounds dangerous.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Giant box of old love letters - return or recycle?

Jan 2013

With Baby #2 on the way, we're about to embark on a project to clean out our closets and do some major reorganization to make room in our tiny house for the new addition.

15 years ago when I was a freshman at an out-of-state college, a young man ''courted'' me and sent me 5 letters a week. 4 years later we were young and engaged. A month before the wedding he cheated on me and we broke up.

But I saved all the letters all these years, and in fact they're neatly organized in chronological order in a big shoebox. He is still in the area, never married, and we exchange friendly, though brief, emails once or twice a year.

I don't want the letters anymore; I'm happily married and I don't think I'll ever be interested in reading them again. But when I think of the hours upon hours that he spent pouring his heart into these letters, I find it hard to just toss them all. Should I offer to give them back to him? I think he would get a kick out of reading them and suddenly having this huge window into who he was and what he was like 15 years ago. On the other hand, I don't want to offend him and I definitely don't want to stir up old feelings in him (he's bipolar and has had episodes of very unstable behavior).

So... keep 'em, toss 'em, or return 'em? R

TOSS THEM! They do no good as they are, and could have the potential to do harm. You could be in a car accident (God forbid) and then others would go through these. Just get rid of them. anti-sentimentalist

I have to say, even though they represent a lot of effort on his part, you should probably destroy them if you no longer want them. I'm thinking how I would feel if someone offered me my letters back, and I think it would be hurtful, even if it wasn't intended that way. Better to quietly get rid of them and not tell him about it (especially if he's unstable to begin with). I might keep one or two, just to remind you of that time (assuming it's something you want to be reminded of). Sentimental but Practical

toss 'em

Recycle! Oh my God, nobody wants to see the evidence of their young foolish love.

Toss them. You don't know what kind of ''can of worms'' you will be opening by giving them to him. anon

i vote toss 'em. anon

You're carrying a torch for this guy. Use it to burn the letters ASAP. Words are cheap. Actions speak louder. Be careful to totally avoid any further communication with him. Think about your husband and children. Don't waste any more time feeding your ex's ego. Fool me once....

Congratulations on your upcoming second child and making space for him/her! My first questions is: have you asked your ex if he would like the letters back? If you are not comfortable asking or if he is not interested in them, then my suggestion would be to have some kind of ritual letting go of your old love letters - perhaps a gathering of women friends where you burn them. Wishing you all the best... Sarah

I have kept love letters from several of my past relationships, as far back as the 70's. For the most part, they are from people that I continue to love and are still in my life today, however there are several that I kept that are just history.

These are your letters, he gave them to you, you get to decide what happens with them. If they make you smile, and take you back to a different time, I would keep a couple. I would not return them, especially with what you said regarding his mental health. Why stir the pot? Love letters, poems that are meant to be discovered in the future. a romantic

Burn them. -Been There

My sense from reading your post is that you are halfway hoping to start something up with the guy by sending him your letters. DON'T DO IT. Throw them out and forget about him.

Recycle the letters! -

That's pretty shocking that you kept them at all. If I were your spouse I'd be annoyed by this. Maybe you should send them to the girl he cheated on you with, see if they sound like the ones he sent her. Before he cheated on her, too. Ditch them already, have a bonfire!

Toss.  If you keep them, your kids will stumble across them eventually, and they will think:  gee, mom must have really loved this guy because she kept all his letters all these years. Did she want to marry him instead of dad? 

I just came across a ton of letters my friends wrote me about twenty years ago, and like you I needed to clear them out. The letters were like journal entries, and I couldn't bear to just toss them. In the end, one friend was thrilled to receive them, the other not so much. I think it's appropriate to offer to send the letters to your ex and let him decide. His emotional response/possible drama is not your problem. Letter hoarder

My first reaction was TOSS EM! Then I started reading your letter and felt like he should be able to get a gander at them again... then you mentioned he has bipolar behavior and I now suggest TOSS EM! I have some great friends in my life with bipolar disorder and people can be triggered in unexpected ways... or while in the midst of an episode maybe he re-reads letters and gets some ideas.. I don't want to offend any readers who are bipolar... but the irrational/paranoid behaviors my aunt (for instance) is experiencing right now make me want to stay as far away from her as possible... having letters hanging around your ex with deep emotional writing may be setting up an uncomfortable situation. Just toss them. It seems like you already have a sensible relationship with him, so keep it that way. TOSS EM!

I wouldn't. I just reread my old diaries and was shocked at how traumatic the whole experience was even tho most of my memories are happy or fun with of course some heartache thrown in.

But to reread them all is like going back into time, all these feelings and experiences wash over, the joy, the sadness, for weeks, maybe a few months I was completely back in those eras, lingering of course on things that were sad, or that I wished had turned out differently. And reading now I see how I distorted many things, in particular pushed away a man I was in love with and now it is clear to me that I really did push him away and it was my insecurity that caused the break up, so these types of realizations are very painful because somehow one becomes immersed again and almost wants to change the past. It's taken me several months to shake the whole experience.

I really liked that you understand the value that these letters may hold for him. I didn't really understand the comments that many people wrote about you wanting to get back together with him, that's not how I saw your gesture at all, it seemed to me you didn't want them anymore but understood the significance of them and felt maybe you should offer them to him first before throwing them out.

I would probably go with that idea EXCEPT the part of the mental instability - then it became clear that it may really really upset him similar to what I went thru so in this case I would say leave the past in the past, particularly if he has a tendency to obsess about things and it sounds like he does if he wrote you constantly. If you still don't feel ready yet just to toss them, just throw them back in the closet and wait another 10 years.

I also didn't get all the comments about how strange to hold on to old letters - I have all my old letters starting from high school boyfriends, it is part of my history and I think it's interesting. Some people I think are not so sentimental and so think holding on to things means more than it does, just an interest in one's own past. anon

Why deny that you had a life before your marriage? Surely your husband knows that. Every experience we've had, everyone we've loved has brought us to where we are today and made us the people we are today. Why would you want to erase that? Treasure the memories, and the letters. Were you young and foolish? Sure, we all were. We all are. That's what maks us human, and I find the mementos of our grasping hearts poignant and beautiful.

Someone mentioned a concern that your children might find them in the future. I think there would be nothing better, especially for your daughters, than to know that their mother was once young and in love and questioning and made mistakes but learned and grew.

Don't return the letters; that sounds like a bad idea. I suggest that you keep them. They are yours, and they are links to your younger self. The letters are a treasure.

You may not be as sentimental as me (who can't throw away 20-year-old Christmas cards from long-forgotten neighbors) and might want to toss them. If so, that's fine -- but don't do so just because a lot of other people said you should. sentimental feminist

Keep or toss my old diaries?

March 2012

I started keeping a diary when I was 11, and wrote regularly for 20 years. Over the last ten years, that's dropped off quite bit, but I still filled a dozen journals. These are intensely personal and I would never want anyone to read them. I myself hardly ever re-read them - especially the old ones - and I've lugged them around with me through the years. I'm considering throwing them all out, or at least the pre-kids, pre-husband ones, but feel conflicted - will I regret throwing them away? Will I regret keeping them? (I remember reading my mom's personal writings when I was a teen and wish I hadn't). Why not just toss them? They do feel like a kind of weight, and they seem irrelevant to me now, but somehow I can't quite bring myself to definitely toss them. On the other hand, I have boxes of hundreds of pages, thousands of pages, moldering away. Even the thought of going through them all, possibly culling in them in some way, seems daunting.

(btw, I do have an agreement with a friend that if I should meet a tragic and unexpected end, she'll destroy them all.)

I guess I'd like to find out what others in my boat have done, and whether they regretted it or not.

Thanks BPN! anon

Unless your journals have some literary merit, toss 'em. I burned all of mine in the fireplace a couple of years ago and it's been a huge relief. I rarely read them, and when I did I found that they weren't teaching me anything new about myself. The keen insights I thought I had been scribbling simply weren't, and the rest was just a lot of boo-hoo. I would have been mortified if anyone had run across them. So glad I lit the match

Two years ago I burned all of the journals and papers I did not want my kids or husband to read after many years of thinking about what to do with them. I feel a huge weight has been lifted and I am so glad I got rid of them. I no longer worry about what would happen if they were read and I was not around to explain the contents. It's not like there was anything incredibly awful in them, but the thought of someone reading my writing without me being there to provide any insight into my young mind and actions was stressful to me. I don't regret getting rid of them at all, even though I am a very sentimental person who loves words, books, writing, memoirs. lighter

I'm creeping up on 50 now, and I've been keeping diaries since I was in 2nd grade. Still do, even in this electronic age! I, too, have a large box of old journals--they're in a sealed cardboard box in the garage with a misleading label, so snooping family members don't browse them. Personally, I enjoy hauling the box out every decade or so and re-reading things. I was embarrassingly silly as a teenager and had some pretty rough times over the years, but I appreciate that I'm essentially the same person. I also sketch quite a bit, and looking at my old drawings is nice. I wouldn't say I live in the past in any way, but I do like occasionally reflecting on who I was and what I've become. Also, I think it might someday be interesting for a grandkid or even a historian to read these things. You'll probably get a range of opinions on this, and I have to say, it's your call in the end as to what you do. An Archivist

I would keep the diaries. I'm forever forgetting things as I get older and I know someday I'll forget most of the things I've written down. I, too, have kept mine since age 13 and I'm 47 now and still write in a journal. I think it will be a nice thing to have when i'm older and want to reflect back on my life. I also very rarely re-read mine but I'd feel like I was throwing away a part of me if I got rid of them. still writing in my journal

I recently read through a few journals from my teens/early 20's.. and I decided to get rid of them!

I had some tough times as a young adult and it was very difficult and embarrassing to read through these diaries. I decided that I didn't want to risk anyone ever reading them.. However, I don't want to forget this stuff, either. So, I summarized them in an electronic document! Sounds silly, but this was my solution - I outlined the main events and described what I was going through. I saved a few key portions.. but mostly I got rid of them.

I found the process cathartic - I felt like I honored and then let go of a difficult period. not sentimental

Burn them, and love the freedom. anon

Although I can't tell you what is best for you, I can tell you that I have always regretted throwing away my diaries. I had a horrible childhood, and when I was 21 I thought it would be a breakthrough for me to throw them away. A few years later, I realized that there was some good stuff in those books, and I wanted them back. Now that I have a child, I wish I could read some of the lighter stuff to her. I think it would be interesting for her to see what I was like as a teen. Maybe you could photocopy some of the stuff that your kids would appreciate? Don't throw out the whole past

I began keeping a diary from when I was 12. I never threw them out although I'm not sure why I kept them. This turned out to be a good thing. My daughter began her period she was 12. I wanted to do something, to celebrate this important event. So I created a little private coming of age ritual. I drew a bubble bath for the two of us and put a board across the tub for a little table. I served hot cocoa and I had a little bowl filled with raisins, chocolate chips and almonds which I told my daughter were to bless her, so that her life would be sweet, a little nutty, and rich and delicious as chocolate. Then I read to her from my diaries... shared with her my silly, foolish, embarrassing totally adolescent self. And we laughed about them. It was a a way for her to know me better, and was a fun and memorable bonding experience for both of us. When my granddaughter (her daughter) comes of age, we will both share our diaries with her. I's a wonderful way for children to know their parent's and grandparents... not through the washed clean stories our memories make, but from the rare, raw, time-capsul visit with our parent and grandparent, when she was our age. amma

I so very much regret tossing out my journals from my high school years. They would have been very valuable to give me a window to look back through time as I try to make sense of family issues now. And heck, just for the poignant pleasure of re-acquainting myself with that young emerging person I fleetingly was. I later kept copies of letters I'd written and some of those I still have - as a sort of journal. I've only recently looked at some of them (decades later) and am amazed - it's almost like reading another person's diary. We change and evolve hugely through the different stages of life. I am so happy to have these glimmers of my past lives. Keeper of the written word

Hi there, I also had a big box of journals. I considered destroying them, and finally decided I no longer wanted to keep them. I reread some journals, and while I found it helpful to understand some of the more complicated relationships in my life, I didn't find it enjoyable. What I found most helpful about journals was the actual writing of them. It gave me a space to process things and get out my thoughts. I didn't really need to revisit those thoughts. So I burned them in a big bonfire, and I have never regretted it. It was great to get rid of them, and say goodbye to the past. It was a great choice for me. I still journal, but don't reread them. Good luck with your decision. k m

I'm a diarist too. My old volumes take up more space than Encyclopedia Brittanica. I'd never part with them, though. A few years back, my parents died within 18 months of each other and I found myself feeling strangely unsettled and untethered. Reading back through my life helped center me and gave me a much clearer picture of myself both good and bad. Afterwards, I made a lot of positive changes. I tend to weed out ''poison pages'' -- vents and rants -- periodically. (And I make sure they are completely destroyed so others can't be hurt by them.) Otherwise, I'm saving all my journals. If my life is short like my parents' lives were, I want my son to know me through my journals should he have the desire. --Fellow Diarist

HI! I have been in the process of de-cluttering my life. Journals and other personal writings are one of those things that I have struggled to get rid of, even if I don't re-read/want to share them with anyone. So, I've been scanning them into folders that are password protected. Then I toss the paper. I still have them ''just in case'' but I can also simply delete them at any time. lightening the load