General Question

thejournaler's avatar

What should I do with my old journals?

Asked by thejournaler (32points) August 25th, 2015
40 responses
“Great Question” (7points)


I am twenty-eight years old, engaged to be married, and I have a problem. From the time I was a freshman in high school until I was about twenty-two, I kept a journal that I wrote in almost every day. I have over twenty fat spiral-bound notebooks filled with my innermost thoughts from that time, all of which are now in a box in the back of the closet in my childhood bedroom at my parent’s house.

I was looking through them today, and jesus christ, I need to do something about them. Two of the books were filled completely with the sappiest, gloomiest whimperings of a young man who was just dumped by his first serious girlfriend. Those I don’t need to keep around and I disposed of them today. But the rest are a mixed bag. On one hand, I talk about day-to-day happenings that I wouldn’t remember if not for the journals, and I like that I have a window into my own young mind. But on the other hand, I wrote some pretty nasty things about my parents (who of course were ruining my life when I was a teenager) and about early romantic partners (which would hurt my fiancee to read, not because we pretend that we didn’t have other romantic partners before we met, but because there’s a difference between talking about past partners and reading pages and pages of intimate details written at the time you were actually with those partners.)

Basically, I don’t want anyone else reading this stuff, ever, but I’m reluctant to throw it away.

Now I don’t get a lot of alone time. My fiancee is out of town this week, but normally I don’t have time when I can privately go through this stuff. If my fiancee caught me reading them she would want to see them too, which I just don’t want. (And I don’t want to tell her no, you can’t see them. Better for me if she doesn’t know about them at all.)

I’m afraid of what would happen to these journals and who would read them if I suddenly died tomorrow. I’ve considered scanning them and destroying the physical copies, so that everything could fit on a small password-protected usb drive, but that would take far too much time. I also don’t like the idea of having them in such an easy-to-copy and distribute form. I could just get rid of them but then I’d lose that window into my past.

What would you do?

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Silence04's avatar

As someone who got rid of most of their journals earlier in life, i’d urge you to keep them. Or at least a few.

You’d be surprised what thoughts you can unlock later in life by reading those. Or even your future children.

rojo's avatar

I am sorry I have no answer for you but you are not alone. I have rental property and last year a tenant skipped out leaving all kinds of “stuff”. One of the items was a box of journals from teen years to present.
A quick glance showed much of the same angst you probably expressed including the questions we all ask; Why am alive? Where is my life going? I can’t believe my parents are so shallow. How will I ever survive without him/her? and, yes, remembrances of early sexual encounters and insecurities surrounding them.
I felt odd reading them but also gained insight into the person who left them. The last one even had entries from the week prior to her leaving which at least gave me a clue as to why she left but not where or with whom or why she would abandon such obviously important parts of her past. I kept them in the box and put them into the storeroom I have for over a year in case she contacted me about them but she did not.

kritiper's avatar

Burn them. That’s what I did to mine. I kept a couple of the really good ones, but to keep all that other drivel is a waste of space and effort. Besides, who cares but you?

Apparently_Im_The_Grumpy_One's avatar

Kill it. Kill it with fire. Honestly, I have a hard time figuring out some real benefit from keeping some of it. The stuff about previous partners? What purpose does it serve?

Now if it’s something a little less shady.. like what you did that summer (not who).. than it seems like something valuable that you could get a good laugh out of when you’re old.

It really depends on the content of each journal.

Buttonstc's avatar

A safety deposit box at a bank?

This would still allow you access but no one would know it exists unless you told them.

Presumably, sometime before extreme old age or death, you will have reached the decision to dispose of them permanently but this would allow you the time to reach that point if you absolutely can’t bear the thought of permanent destruction just yet.

Eventually you will.

JeSuisRickSpringfield's avatar

Assuming I wanted to (1) keep the information, (2) get rid of the physical copies, and (3) maintain my privacy, I would either scan them or type them up as a long-term project (destroying each journal as I finished converting it). But instead of keeping them on my personal computer, I would upload them somewhere that I only I could access them. There are various options. You could upload the files to some sort of cloud storage platform that only you could access, or even create a blog and set it to “private” (so only you can access it). The blog option would mean that you could type the old entries directly into it without need for a second step, and it would also allow you to continue journaling if you so desired.

Here2_4's avatar

Change names and places to protect the guilty, then publish them, as a go to for young adults with questions and desires who believe they are alone. We all do it. We think we are the only one with X problems and concerns, and desires. Use a fake name to publish. After all has been recorded and published, then burn it.

Coloma's avatar

Burn ‘em. That’s what I did about 100 years ago before I got married. I had recorded my sexcapades of the 70’s and didn’t want to take a chance of my husband or god forbid, my kids, finding them some day. You have your memories, grab a can of lighter fluid and some matches and let them go up in smoke in your fireplace or whatever burning implements you have. haha

cazzie's avatar

Send them to me. I’ll look after them. I will read them and I may include them in my own writings… but that will be the price.

gondwanalon's avatar

Personal journals are like old photographs. You keep them always. Your cherish them. Why because they’re a precious record of your personal past. If they make you feel vulnerable, then store them in a fireproof safe or as suggested above, scan them and store them on a secure internet site (destroy the hardcopy).

Strauss's avatar

I agree with @JeSuisRickSpringfield. I would keep them, the safety lockbox sounds like a good idea. This way you can digitize them as an ongoing project, when you do have some alone time. I have many memoirs and journals, but they are not as toxic to my relationships as yours seem to be (a matter of personal preference to be sure!). I have many of my travelogues and memoirs on a cloud-based storage system.

elbanditoroso's avatar

I am with the “burn” crowd.

As long as they exist, as long as YOU know about them and she doesn’t – they will be an issue. Not so much to her, but to you, because you are keeping a secret from your beloved.

I wouldn’t put them in a lock box or trust them to a relative or friend – it’s still the same issue – you have a secret and you are keeping it from her.

Burn them and don’t think about them again.

kritiper's avatar

@elbanditoroso Wow. So well said. GA!

DrasticDreamer's avatar

Watch Mortified Nation and cherish them. Not even kidding. I’m 30 and also have a lot of what I considered to be really embarrassing journal entries. But after watching that show, and thinking about it on a deeper level, I asked myself why they bothered me so badly. Because I’m not that kid anymore. We go through constant evolution throughout our lives, and that time is behind me. But it’s still a valuable bank of information as what life is like for preteens and teens. There can’t be anything embarrassing about it, because every single one of us experiences it. Only some of us are lucky enough to have written the experiences down.

No shame.

anniereborn's avatar

I have a ton of them from age 12–20. I have kept them through 2 marriages. Both husbands knew they existed and neither one cares. My husband doesn’t give a toot about reading them. I guess I am lucky.

ibstubro's avatar

Imagine yourself as an Egyptian, carving hieroglyphics into the walls, instead of writing.

If you secure your journals long enough (a generation), they become history, not sensation

JeSuisRickSpringfield's avatar

@elbanditoroso Burning and forgetting about them doesn’t change the fact that he is still keeping a secret. It just makes the secret irretrievable, which makes the keeping of the secret irrevocable.

Coloma's avatar

@JeSuisRickSpringfield as @thejournaler mentioned, knowing about a partners past relationships is not the same thing as reading, in a blow by blow account ( pun intended ) of their sexual encounters and other intimate thoughts and feelings about all manner of people in your life.
It is not keeping secrets to not share every intimate detail of past relationships with a partner, or share your dislike or anger about others in your life.
infact, it could be said that ones relationships of all kinds are really nobody elses business and one is under no obligation to tell all. That said however, why leave material around that could, potentially, be discovered and cause upset to your family, embarrass yourself or otherwise stir up issues?

Dutchess_III's avatar

Is there anything it the journals that would seriously compromise your relationship with your fiance? I mean, like detailed sexcapades or something? Perhaps you could just go through and delete anything that might be truly harmful to a relationship, or embarrassing to future generations ,but keep the rest. I seriously wouldn’t throw them away.
I also wouldn’t bring them to my fiance’s attention. Just put them someplace safe and forget about it.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Oh, and I wouldn’t consider being sappy over a lost relationship to be embarrassing to anyone but you. I wouldn’t get rid of those.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

It sounds as if you want to keep some of the journals. There isn’t anything wrong with that. What is concerning is why there isn’t a comfort zone for telling the fiancee about them and asking that she not read them. If you provided her the information that you gave us, would you not trust her word?

Let’s say that she responds with, “It would be too tempting.” If that is the case, then plenty of advice has been offered above. If she says, “Of course I won’t,” is there an underlying doubt that she won’t live up to her word?

Dutchess_III's avatar

I don’t think she even needs to be made aware of them.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@Dutchess_III Interesting. Why not? If they do or will live together, the question is bound to crop up at some point when she runs across them. What’s wrong with being upfront about them?

Mom carted around a big cardboard box of correspondence from her high school, university and marital years. It also included some of her old diaries. When I was growing up, they were stored in the attic. She taught us to respect each other’s privacy. Her words to me were, “I won’t snoop into your private property and I expect the same from you.” I understood that.

When her eyesight and general health started to fail, I asked her if she would like me to read some of it to her. She said, “Yes, but not the letters from your dad. I want them to be destroyed when I die.” We had a blast reading through them. It gave me insight to her life as she talked about the people and what was happening at the time they were written.

When I found the letters addressed to her (and not the family) by Dad, they were set aside. When Mom died last year, I dug them out of the attic and told my siblings about them and her request. It was a bit of a tough decision, but we upheld her request, and I shredded them without opening one envelope.

If someone doesn’t have enough trust for their loved ones to respect their wishes, then the other advice provided above is worth considering.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I still say, get rid of the intimate with other partners bit, and leave the rest and you guys can share that.

The OP doesn’t know what to do. He senses that reading about intimacies with other partners could harm their relationship. However, he seems torn on whether or not to destroy those. If he decides not to, for whatever reason, then she doesn’t even need to know that those journals exist.

Coloma's avatar

I’m an “out with the old, in with the new” type. Personally, I’d have zero interest in re-reading my youthful musings at almost 56 now. Such ancient history, I’d probably just laugh at how ridiculous I sounded. haha
Really, the whole point of journaling is to express yourself and those expressions are for your eyes only IMO.

rojo's avatar

What are the odds that you will become famous for some reason or another?

If there is a fair chance then you may want to ferret them away somewhere for some lucky sod to find in the future. They will drool over them and read into them whatever it takes to justify what you do/did. Historians will celebrate the find and the transliteration will provide work for several undergraduate students or journalism majors.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Let me pose it another way: Why shouldn’t she know about the journals’ existence? If the OP wants to store them in his (or their) home so that he can read back through them alone, prefers that his partner doesn’t touch them, and asks her if she is agreeable to this, where is the harm? Is it not possible for a couple to share information about the existence of a personal artifact and accept to not check out contents unless the owner decides to share it?

This question is about what should he do with them, based upon the details provided. A variety of options have been offered, some with personal stories. My offering is that he should consider communicating with his fiancee about this.

Coloma's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer Well sure, that’s an option too, but…given human curiosity, and the level of emotional maturity of the partner as well as other mitigating factors, such as trust issues, it is still a risk that the partner might cave in and snoop. I think that it should either be keep them private, because they are, or get rid of them. Suppose, hypothetically, that there were trust issues in the relationship, the mistrusting partner would probably have a really hard time not wanting to snoop. I think it’s one thing to tell your spouse you are doing some journaling but another to deliberately say, ” I have these journals from my past, just letting you know, but don’t ever read them.” haha

Kinda sets the stage for some weirdness IMO. Maybe the person is a serial killer journaling about their latest kill or a secret pedophile or something equally creepy or is keeping a diary of their latest affair. Now, if, it is a brand new journal, someone telling their partner they are going to start keeping a travel journal or a self improvement journal or a bike riding journal or whatever, that’s one thing, but I think most people would feel a little weird about their partner keeping journals from their past and single days. The question would arise WHY do you feel the need to relive your past into infinity?

Journaling about your daily bike ride…. ” Today I rode 27 miles in -12 degree weather. It was invigorating and I felt imperious to the cold and wind. A light rain began falling about halfway home and I decided to stop at Starbucks for a Pumpkin Spice latte, hit the spot!.


“7–27-2004 Christy came over about 11 a.m. today with champagne and we made Mimosas, so much for our afternoon plan of going for a hike. After the 3rd Mimosa Christy tore off my shorts and gave me the best blow job of my life, her technique is mind blowing and I thought I might pass out at one point. We then proceeded to screw like bunnies on the living room floor and had carpet burns all over our body. I can’t wait to see her again tomorrow.” lol

elbanditoroso's avatar

@Coloma – are you Christy in real life?

I go back to what I said earlier – as long as the journals physically exist, they have the potential to become a problem.

thejournaler's avatar

Thank you for all the great answers.

@Pied_Pfeffer: I’m not going to tell my fiancee about them. If I tell my her I have them but I don’t want her to read them, it may hurt her in that she’ll feel I don’t trust her enough to let her see them, or something along those lines. I don’t see how it could help to mention them but forbid her from reading them.

Most of the focus has been on sexual content, and while there is some in the journals, that’s the easy part for me. That I can get rid of without a second thought. What’s really giving me a hard time is that this little bratty fourteen year old asshole wrote horrible things about just about everyone, but that little asshole was me and he also wrote about some things I would like to remember. Yesterday I opened to a random page and what I read was something like this:

“This morning my parents forced me to use the upstairs bathroom instead of the downstairs bathroom because they claim that I drip water on the floor. No one else uses that shower except me so how do they know it’s me and not the stupid fucking pipes. It shouldn’t be my problem if they’re too cheap to get the pipes fixed. After I showered the shower curtain fell down and I didn’t pick it up. My parents will probably think I knocked it down on purpose but it simply fell down and I just didn’t pick it up. It’s not my problem if they have a cheap fucking shower curtain.”

But a page after that I talk about a Thanksgiving party at my grandmother’s house, and later there’s a detailed account of a mini road trip I took with my dad, filled with details I wouldn’t remember if I hadn’t written it down. (But mixed in with the normal details I call him a stupid fool.)

See? I can’t believe I was ever such a little snotty-nosed brat. But even if most everyone goes through that kind of phase, most of us don’t write it down. I just want to burn the diaries and be like everyone else who grows up and forgets how horrible they were as a teenager. What if I die in a freak accident next week, do I really want some family member to see that and have that in their memory? Definitely not.

So I think I’m going to read through them one by one when I get the time, (Whenever I visit my parents I’ll throw one or two in the car, and since I get home from work about 45 minutes before my fiancee, I’ll use that time to go through a little bit every day) and pick out any pages or passages that I want to keep. Maybe I’ll scan the pages I want to remember, redact out the angsty teenager parts, and the rest can get tossed on the barbecue grill. And I’m going to do it as quickly as possible because while I don’t want to have a secrets from my fiancee, I do think it’s my privilege to be able to get rid of these things from before I even knew her without having to disclose it.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

I still urge you to watch Mortified Nation (it’s on Netflix, if you have it), regardless of whatever choice you decide to make. Other than simply applying to you right now, it’s worth a watch in general.

And maybe one positive to come from the negative things you said about your parents is that you realize now how much you don’t actually feel that way. Teen angst is pretty hilarious when you’re outside of it.

cazzie's avatar

There comes a point in ones life that it is no longer realistic to pretend you have no past.

Coloma's avatar

@Yes, but there also comes a time in life where your past is nothing but ancient history with no bearing on the present moments.

Dutchess_III's avatar

“_ I don’t see how it could help to mention them but forbid her from reading them.“_ Exactly. Get rid of the useless stuff you don’t want her, or anyone to read, and keep the rest. You may have teenagers one day, and checking back on your teenage self from time to time might help!

Hey…thanks for sharing your bratty 14 year old self with us.(And was it you or the fucking pipes??)

JeSuisRickSpringfield's avatar

@Coloma You’ve misunderstood. I was criticizing @elbanditoroso‘s answer by pointing out that burning the journals and never thinking about them again doesn’t change the fact that the OP is keeping secrets, and in fact is just a way of doubling down on the secret keeping. But I think everyone has a right to a few secrets, otherwise I wouldn’t have given specific advice about how the OP could keep his secrets without losing the information altogether. In other words, I agree that there is an important difference between knowing just about past partners and having an intimate knowledge of the details, and I agree that the OP’s current partner doesn’t need to know those details. I even agree with @elbanditoroso that keeping the physical journals could cause future problems. I just don’t think we should lie to ourselves about what constitutes keeping a secret.

Dutchess_III's avatar

So, do we have a decision from the OP?

Coloma's avatar

@Dutchess_III Yes, he explained his decision in his last post a few up. ^

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