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How to Declutter Old Journals and Diaries

How to Declutter Old Journals and Diaries

Journals and diaries hold a special place in our hearts. They capture our thoughts, dreams, and memories. However, over time and especially if you have a regular journaling practice, you’ve probably found it’s possible to build up quite a few of these books leading to clutter and storage issues!

If you’re surrounded by stacks of old journals and diaries but feel hesitant to part with them, I hope the ideas I’m sharing in today’s post on how to declutter old journals and diaries might help you decide whether to keep or get rid of them and how to do it!

This is a judgement-free zone so there’s no guilt or shame if you’re not ready or willing to part with your journals and diaries but it’s a common question and stumbling block for many of us. So, I thought I’d share some ideas to help you decide for yourself.

WHY DECLUTTER OLD JOURNALS AND DIARIES?

Before diving into the decluttering process, it might be helpful to understand why you might want to declutter your old journals and diaries.

Decluttering old journals and diaries creates physical space in your home. Less clutter helps us have a clearer mind and to feel calmer and more focused. By keeping and prioritising what matters, we can let go of the past and the stuff that holds us back or gets in our way.

And, if you decide you want to keep some but not all, you can probably store and look after your treasured journals much easier if you have less of them.

All in all, there are some wonderful benefits to regular decluttering.

How to declutter old journals and diaries

A GUIDE TO DECLUTTERING YOUR JOURNALS AND DIARIES

Here are some tips on how to declutter old journals and diaries from your past.

1. Set a Clear Goal

Whenever you’re taking on a new challenge or approach, it’s always helpful to have a clear objective. Decide what you want to achieve by decluttering.

Is it to free up space? To digitise important memories? Free yourself from a difficult past or move on without a reminder of challenges, obstacles, mistakes and regrets?

Having a goal will help you stay focused and motivated, even if decluttering your journals feels tough (emotionally as well as physically).

2. Gather All Your Journals and Diaries

Collect all your journals and diaries in one place. This step helps you see the full scope of your collection and makes the process more manageable.

It’s frustrating to have dealt with your stuff (whatever that may be), decluttered and organised it, only later to discover yet more items which you need to deal with. It’s easier, quicker and more efficient to declutter similar items all in one go.

3. Create a Comfortable Sorting Space

Find a quiet, comfortable space where you can spread out your journals. Ensure you have enough room to work without feeling cramped. Decluttering is always easier when it’s more relaxing and enjoyable.

Reading your journals and sorting them into piles whilst sitting on the floor might work for you, but perhaps laying them all out on your kitchen table might be easier? Do what feels right for you.

4. Sort by Time Period

You could try organising your journals chronologically. This method allows you to see how your writing and experiences have evolved over time. It can also make it easier to identify which periods of your life are most important to you.

5. Decide on Criteria for Keeping or Letting Go

What about establishing some criteria for what to keep and what to discard? You could think about:

  • Significant life events
  • Memories of loved ones
  • Personal growth milestones
  • Entries that bring you joy or inspiration

6. Read and Reflect

Take time to read through your entries. Reflect on the memories and emotions they evoke. Ask yourself if the journal adds value to your life today or if it’s time to let go. Only you can answer this question so don’t feel compelled to declutter a journal if it still speaks to you.

I know when I’ve read my own journals from the past, sometimes they bring up good memories which I’ve enjoyed reminiscing over. Other times they’ve made for difficult reading and it’s actually a relief to be able to say I’ve overcome a challenge and moved on.

How to declutter old journals and diaries

7. Reframe Your Thoughts

We hold onto journals and diaries for many reasons. Maybe we’re fearful that decluttering our journals will somehow eradicate our past, or that we’ll forget important experiences. We worry that we’ll lose a connection to our old feelings and emotions, that we’ll feel sad for and mourn better days or that our journals are a tangible record of memories which we could forget in the mists of time.

One mindset shift that really helped me be a bit more ruthless with decluttering journals was reframing my thoughts around why I journal in the first place.

I journal to clear my mind, to get my complicated thoughts down on paper, to think more freely, to feel less overwhelmed and calmer. I don’t journal to record exactly where I went on a particular day, or what the weather was like.

For me, journaling is a tool for self-care and mental health. Once those thoughts have been written down on paper and I can make sense of and act on them if needed, my journaling has served its purpose.

I now rarely read back over my journals because I like to live more in the present where I can actively do something to support my mind and health.

I know this may not be the case for you, but I’m sharing it as another way to think about your journaling and journals which, in turn, may help you be more comfortable in getting rid of them somewhere down the line!

8. Be Aware of Your Mindset

This might also be a good time to say that decluttering anything is best done when you’re feeling positive and motivated but it’s particularly important when decluttering items that have an emotional or sentimental attachment.

Our journals and diaries can be fun, happy but also sad places so it’s best to be in a mindset that can deal with all these emotions in a positive way!

9. Categorise Your Journals

As you read, categorise your journals into three groups. This can help you quickly create an overview of what to keep and what to get rid of instead of getting caught up in the minute detail of every page.

Try creating three piles for your journals and diaries:

  • Keep – the entries that hold significant value or sentimental importance.
  • Discard – journals that no longer serve a purpose or bring you joy.
  • Undecided – entries you’re unsure about. Revisit this category later when you can come back to it with a fresh mind.

10. Digitise Important Entries

For journals you decide to keep but want to reduce physical clutter, could you consider digitising them? Use a scanner or take photos of important pages. Store these digital files securely on your computer or cloud storage.

11. Create a Summary Journal

If you have multiple journals covering similar periods, create a summary journal. Try condensing key memories and reflections into one book. Or, you could remove important pages from different journals and create a memory book, like a scrap book, of your favourites or the most meaningful.

How to declutter old journals and diaries

12. Use Space to Decide

When people are struggling to declutter, want to keep everything and can’t make decisions on what to keep or what to get rid of, I always suggest they decide what storage they’re allocating to that particular item and then only keep what fits in that storage space.

This approach removes the responsibility of decision-making from you and your emotions and instead relies on the physical limits of whatever drawer, container or shelf you’re using instead. It becomes more of a practical decision rather than an emotional one.

This is why using a memory box is a great way of keeping and storing precious sentimental items.

13. Dispose of Discarded Journals Thoughtfully

For journals you decide not to keep, ensure they’re disposed of securely and thoughtfully. Shred or burn pages with sensitive information to protect your privacy. Recycle the remaining paper to be environmentally friendly.

14. Store Your Keepsakes Safely

For the journals you choose to keep, store them in a safe, organised way. They’re obviously important to you which is why you’re keeping them so protect and look after them in storage. Use waterproof and acid-free storage boxes to protect them from damage. Label and date each journal so you can identify them easily later on.

15. Reflect on the Decluttering Process

After you’ve finished decluttering, take a moment to reflect on the process. How do you feel? What have you learned about yourself? This reflection can provide closure and help you appreciate the value of your remaining journals and why you’re keeping them.

TIPS FOR MAINTAINING A CLUTTER-FREE JOURNAL COLLECTION

Here are some quick tips for keeping your journals and diaries without just building up clutter.

1. Set Limits: Decide how many journals you want to keep at any given time. This limit will encourage you to review and declutter regularly.

2. Digitise New Entries: Consider keeping a digital journal to reduce future physical clutter.

3. Review Annually: Set aside time each year to review your collection and let go of entries that no longer serve you.

4. Be Selective: Write with intention and purpose. Focus on capturing meaningful moments and reflections rather than just a general waffle about the weather or what you ate for dinner!

How to declutter old journals and diaries

EMOTIONAL ASPECTS OF DECLUTTERING JOURNALS

Decluttering journals can be an emotional journey! Here are some tips to manage the emotional aspects:

1. Give Yourself Time: Don’t rush the process. Take breaks if needed. Get a friend to help. Do a little bit of decluttering and do it often. Decluttering gets easier with practice and confidence.

2. Acknowledge Your Feelings: Allow yourself to feel the emotions that arise. Decluttering is about accepting ourselves and our lives, the good and the bad. It’s about knowing what supports us and having the things around us that do that, instead of things which make us feel bad about ourselves. Always keep in mind what you want to achieve by decluttering and get to the root of why this will change things for you in a positive way.

3. Celebrate Your Progress: Acknowledge your efforts and the progress you’ve made in decluttering. Every little bit of clutter you clear from your home is also one more bit of clutter that you potentially remove from your schedule, To Do list and your mind.

CONCLUSION

I get it. I’ve held onto journals and diaries for years. These, and old family photographs, have remained in my cupboards for years after I successfully decluttered the rest of my home. So, if I got stuck, I’m not surprised if you might do too!

Remember though, the goal is not to erase your past but to curate it in a way that brings you joy and clarity. Embrace the process and enjoy the feeling of lightness that comes with a well-organised and meaningful journal collection – but one that doesn’t just serve to add to your clutter and stuff.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and whether you keep your old journals or do you discard them? How do you come to that decision either way? What does journaling mean to you, and what does getting rid of those journals also mean? Leave a comment below if you’d like to share your ideas!

Laura

Sunday 16th of June 2024

Some years back, I realized that I never went back into my paper journals to reread them. They were simply a place to vent. Once I had released the emotion, the journal had served its purpose. So I threw them all out (no recycling - I didn't want anyone to read what I had written!). I've never regretted it. My journals were simply a much-needed way to declutter my psyche, and have been since I was a child. There was nothing in them I need to keep. So for once, decluttering was easy!

Nowadays I keep an electronic journal, which is clutter-free, and easy to search if I ever want to check on something like the date of a particular event. But mostly, once the calendar ticks over to January 1, I start a journal for the new year in Word, and never look at the old one again.

Respectfully, I'm not sure that a journal needs to be meaningful. If you find it soothing to capture your daily routine, including what you ate for dinner, then why not? Or maybe recording your dinner will make you aware that you need to get out more, to have something more worth writing about. The thing I love about journalling is that my journal will never, ever judge me, no matter what I write.

Thank you for this article, Antonia. As always, you make excellent points, and provide a thoughtful strategy for decluttering challenging items in our home.

Balance Through Simplicity

Tuesday 18th of June 2024

Hi Laura, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. You make a really important point. Whatever we write about and the style and layout we choose, the most important aspect about our journals is that they should be a non-judgemental space. Thank you for adding that!