Why I shredded my journals

by Starla J. King on September 25, 2014

(well, most of them, anyway).

Pile of old journalsAh yes, the journal.  That place to privately vent, question, dream, ponder, whine, weep, consider, ache, shout, give up, re-boot, rejoice, repent, relive and relieve. It’s not pretty.

So why do so many of us journal-keepers struggle with whether to keep old journals or not?  Why on earth would we want to dig back into all that?

Well, there’s nostalgia.

And that memoir we’re going to write (or already are writing).

Plus the future generations who might get a kick (or biography) out of our musings many moons from now.

And the chance to see how much, thank heavens, we’ve grown over the years.

Plus the poems we wrote, the essays we poured out, the vignettes of a life well-lived, and the parts of the past well-loved.

But I still shredded my old journals. 

I used to flip through them from time to time, steeling myself for the raw cascade of feelings that, honestly, made me a little queasy to re-read, then when I couldn’t take any more, putting them back in the closet (oh the irony) and calling my sister to confirm that she still remembers our pact to burn the each others’ journals in the event that one of us is incapacitated or leaves this earth first.  Forget Medical Directives; it’s the JOURNALS we worry about!

So what changed?  

I did. 

I changed from the kid, then young adult, who re-read her journals as a replay of what was, to the person who just wants to live today then let go, live today then let go, live today then let go (yeah, it’s a constant practice).

And I realized that, for me, memoir is as much about the essence of memory told from my viewpoint of today as it is about my exact quotes, or the exact color of the (mismatched) socks I wore while playing in our farm’s front-yard stream by the Willow tree.

And I decided that I don’t need to re-read my past feelings because the knowledge I gained from writing those things out is already part of me — now, today, still.

So I shredded my journals.

But not without copying all my poems from them first...and thanking the journals for every moment of attention they had given me…and making a meaningful little ceremony out of it all… and wondering how soon I would regret my decision.

I’ve never regretted it.

In fact, today a more recent batch of journals gets released, gently, gratefully, into the shredder.   (I’d prefer a little fire and the symbolic release of the burn, the smoke, and the embers, but it’s raining and I’m ready.  Thus, the shredder).

However, let me be clear: I am not telling you to burn, shred, or otherwise make your journals go *poof.*  Maybe you’ll want to, maybe you won’t, and that’s a very personal decision only you can make.   In the meantime, perhaps these self-reflective questions will help:

Why did you write the journals back then (i.e., processing, documenting, etc.)? Does that value still carry forward to today?

What is their impact on you when you read them now?  Is that an impact you want to continue to experience?

What are your plans for the journals in the future?

What are you afraid of if you keep them?  What are you afraid of if you don’t keep them?

What do you need to give yourself permission to do or not do with them?

Or maybe you can just ignore all the questions and call my sister to see about that journal pact.

For more discussion about writing-related questions, join my FREE Q&A Conference call on Oct 1 from 3-4 pm ET. Submit your questions, register, and get more information here.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Elizabeth September 25, 2014 at 1:43 pm

I used to have quite the collection of journals. I was always scared what would happen with them, should something happen to me. I also wondered what would happen to me – if something happened to them. Then one day someone spoke of how letting them go could be a release. I went through them, saving what seemed in some way important to save, and the rest got trashed. I threw them in a big garbage bag, took them out to the curb on trash night, turned around – walked back to the house – and never looked back. I guess it was time. I never once regretted it. Thanks for sharing your tale. I did not realize I wasn’t alone in how I felt about my journals.


Starla J. King September 26, 2014 at 8:32 am

Elizabeth, you say so well what the inner conflict feels like. I, too, have found a sense of release (that continues thru the years!) from letting go of that old stuff.

Re: whether or not we have company in how we feel about our journals? I have heard many similar sentiments, so absolutely you are NOT alone.

To capturing the words, and letting them go if necessary.


Liz January 27, 2018 at 4:25 pm

Im deciding to write a jornal. Ive always had troble about this. It could be a few days or weeks mabye two months and i have to rip and get rid of everything. Im deciding to write a whole journal without ripping it and to keep going till i have five journals or something.This post gave me the idea of letting them go later on.


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