Q: I received your wonderful book Magical Housekeeping from my mother for Christmas. I read it cover to cover before the afternoon was out. A lot of the information was simply revelatory for me and I could NOT wait to get home to declutter, bless and reorganize my home…Well, this week I’ve finally finished the decluttering process…But, the one area I don’t recall you discussing that I’d really like your opinion on is journals. I have journals from the last few years of my life. A lot of journals. I’m also a writer, and a helpless pack rat (getting a lot better, but photos and notes and any really personal thing is very hard for me to get rid of) so I always really hesitate to throw away journals. They are all cluttered with past relationships that have gone terribly awry, but I wrote them, so it’s not like they came from an ex, or really have a specific memory associated with them just by looking at the cover. The more I think about it though, the more I’m curious if keeping journals is bad because it recirculates the ideas and beliefs of people I used to be that I’ve very much grown out of. At the same time, keeping them around and looking at them periodically helps me to see how far I’ve actually come. In the end, I’m not sure if it’s beneficial enough to keep or detrimental enough to toss. Please let me know what you think!
A: I’m glad to hear you’ve been enjoying the book! Thank you so much for this excellent question. I’d be more than happy to give you my two cents on journals and whether to keep them or toss them.
First of all, I want to make the disclaimer that everyone is different, and everyone has their own unique relationship with each item they own. So while I can provide general guidelines to help you discover what is clutter and what isn’t, the ultimate deciding factor is always you: does it feel good to hang on to the item, does it feel neutral, or does it feel bad? If it feels bad or neutral, in almost every case, getting rid of it is the way to go.
That being said, I can tell you that my personal practice is to drop old journals like a ton of bricks. Our lifespan, after all, is limited. So while I am a big proponent of journaling as a method of processing emotions and life events, once the processing has been done, taking the time to shred or otherwise dispose of a journal is an important next step in letting go and creating the space for the multitude of wonderful new experiences just waiting to be explored.
In fact, the shredding/recycling of an old journal can be a very a magical act: energetically speaking, it’s like stoking a beautiful bonfire with the brittle old branches that have fallen to the forest floor. (And if you want to get fancy, you can even make a little ritual out of burning the journal pages in a bonfire or in your fireplace at home!)
This doesn’t mean that it can’t be helpful sometimes to review the journal before you dispose of it, perhaps even taking notes on ideas you had or jotting down poems you wrote or quotes you want to keep. Perhaps the journal might even inspire a short story, or you might whittle it down to a piece of creative nonfiction. If any of these practices feel right to you, this might also be another important aspect of the transformative practice of letting go.
One more thing I’d like to address is strong emotional attachments. If, for example, the thought of letting go of a particular journal feels exceptionally difficult to you, or even impossible, this can be an important clue to your emotional unfolding. Rather than painfully wrenching yourself away from it or simply stashing it in the back of your drawer, ask yourself: what is it about this time (i.e. the time when the journal was written) that I feel so attached to? What have I not healed? What else can I look at from this time in my life so that I can experience an even greater feeling of release and expansion? You might like to take some time to explore your answers in a new journal, taking as much time as you need until letting go begins to feel like the right thing to do. (Or, if you choose to hold on to the journal after all, that’s okay too as long as it’s a conscious choice that you make once you’ve bravely looked at, and become intimate with, your emotions surrounding it.)