Do you keep old journals and why?

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I hear about people who’ve thrown out or ceremonially burned their old journals, and it sounds so freeing. And I feel like I want to do it but I don’t.

Why I want to watch my journals go up in vortices of smoke:
I feel I’m trapped in the past, and whenever I look at my journals I feel better then worse afterwards. I also think maybe sharing my innermost world with a piece of paper is giving me the illusion that I’m connecting with someone in the vague future, rather than me connecting with a fellow human being (which is difficult but suuuper rewarding, based on my one time I went to therapy)
I’ve put so much of myself into these journals, and I feel dependent on them like i can’t deal with things unless I write them down and keep them forever

Why I want to hang on to them:
There are a lot of things I’ve never told anyone and this is the only proof that this internal part of my life even exists
Journals can be useful, because I could look back at my personal development and sort of a reality check – this shitty mood lasted four days, but I could swear it lasted a month!

Now, on to you:
Have you made a decision as to whether to keep or destroy your journals? How did you feel about it?
What do you write in your journal? is it feelings and insights about yourself? Worries? Things you’ve done? Dreams for the future?
Did destroying your old journals have any effect on your ability to connect with others?
If you keep your recent journals so you can check your personal development, how far back do you keep?

Tags: asked December 14, 2014

8 Answers

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I personally keep all of my journals. While I completely agree that burning something of the past can be liberating, I think that there are certain things that should be kept with you so that when you do grow up, you always have a part of you that you can look back on. Maybe show your kids a few pages of when you were going through a hard time so that they feel that they are not alone, or a cheery entry that can make you smile (assuming you have kids of course). Then again, I once had a diary that I reserved for any nasty thoughts about people that I wrote out of pure anger and hatred. And once I was done and had let out all of my comments, I would throw the pages in the fire and watch them and all of my feelings disintegrate. I find that burning negative emotions is more like an act of symbolism rather than just burning it because you don't want anyone to see it (which i suppose could be another reason).
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@cinnamon That's a good point, sharing with my kids (I do plan on having kids) could be helpful for them, and probably for me too somehow. Goes in the "keep" column on my pros/cons list :)
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I love how the two replies so far have been from people who've done completely different things with their journals!

@Puzzeled - Living in the present is something I'm struggling to do, and I think that's why I feel bad after reading my old journals! It's nice to reminisce and it's nice to plan the future, but I do a little too much of that. And as for your suggestion of pictures... that's actually a really good one. I lost my journal from an amazing trip I went on once (of all the journals to lose, it was that one and not the whiny one from grade 8 haha) but it turns out looking at the pictures brings the memories back just like THAT.
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i have about five or six journals that i keep still, ive never thought of burning them. never has it ever enter my thoughts until now.i like keeping them because it helps me see what i used to be, and what ive become good-or bad. i like looking back on memories ive forgotten, dreams i never would have remembered, or times i felt that i couldnt possibly remember to feel. it just has a good feeling on looking back and seeing how you are now...i tend to write down what im feeling, my insecurities, my emotions, and highlights of whatever happened. im afraid my mind will give out and i wont remember anything, so i want my journals to be there for when im old
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I keep a Journal on an off. I only write when I have so much pent up emotion I just have to let it out. I don't like looking back at what I've written because once it's out of me then it's gone. I like to think that maybe one day after I'm gone someone will read it and know my feelings and thoughts. I've never thought about burning them. But if I had a very stressfilled and sad journal I might if I thought it might bring me peace.
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@alexandra "im afraid my mind will give out and i wont remember anything." Me too! That's why I've been hanging on to them for so long. I'm thinking in the future I might go through my recent journals and keep a select few stories, rather than everything.

@Lizy good point. I've sometimes thought of mine like a pensieve (from Harry Potter) if I've had a really full day and am getting overwhelmed.
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Thanks for your input everyone!

So I've made my decision. After starting to type them up (10 000 words between two days - I type fast) I felt rather blah, and this feeling has happened almost every time I've looked back at these journals. I went to bed. A few minutes later I got out of bed, took the ones from 2011-2013 (2011 was when I decided to become a "minimalist" and first entertained the idea of throwing out journals) and threw them in the garbage.

I could still technically undo that, rescue them from under the orange peels, but so far it feels uncertain but good... it doesn't feel like I lost my past by throwing out my journals, and I'd argue that now I have to be more engaged in remembering the past (instead of brushing it off and thinking "I'll look that up in my journal one day", I will actually think back and remember things.) Instead of feeling sad that my journals are gone, I felt kind of sad that I wasn't more present in those moments and spent them dreaming about the future.
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A postscript to this question: I'm currently reading a book called Love's Executioner by Irvin D. Yalom. There's a story in it called "Do Not Go Gentle" that starts out with someone who can't give up love letters he'd received from a woman 30 years ago, even though after he read them he would feel worse not better.

Fascinating book by the way :)