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What Do You Do with a Box of Old Diaries?
The question has been plaguing me recently.
I’m in the middle of purging my attic of old keepsakes and personal treasures, and it’s been surprisingly easy to dump some supposedly important things I’ve held onto for years. Old textbooks? Straight into the recycling bin. My wedding dress? Donated to Goodwill. My collection of pristinely tagged and stored Beanie Babies? It turns out they’re not going to make me millions at auction, and I’ve given them to a local children’s hospital.
But that bin of old journals … I just don’t know what to do with them. I kept a diary from age 7 to age 24 — perhaps not so coincidentally, the latter was around the time I got married — and wrote an entry every few days. It’s a lot of books. I don’t know if being an avid reader and writer has anything to do with it, but I have such an attachment to words and stories that I find it very difficult to dispose of them. The problem is, the story found in these diaries is my story.
In the event of my sudden death, I don’t want my family to read the unedited version of my life. Like most people’s stories, there are parts of mine that were messy and sometimes traumatic, and I recorded all my immediate reactions to these events. In the intervening years I’ve had a lot of time to reflect and otherwise resolve a lot of those thoughts. Some are still evolving. A lot of what’s been recorded is incomplete, and yet these journals will outlive me and perhaps one day stand in as the only version of my voice. Unless I get rid of them now.
It pains me to think that one day my children (or even future generations) may read through my diaries and conclude that the person in those entries is the same person I am decades later, or perhaps the real version of me. Or for them to discover events they have questions about but can no longer get clarification on from me directly. (Not that I have any truly major skeletons in the closet, but you can’t predict when something might strike someone else as significant.) This is what I know for sure: I don’t want anyone reading my old diaries. They were written for me.
Yet, how can I just throw them away? I can buy back the Beanie Babies or even have a replica of my wedding dress made, but my diaries are the one thing that can never be recovered once they are lost. I’ve been enjoying re-reading them — both a cringey and sentimental exercise — in my dusty attic these past few weeks. It’s been incredibly interesting to revisit my childhood thoughts, relive occasions both mundane and momentous, and compare past versions of my relationships with friends and family with how we are today. Maybe I’d like to do this every few years — or maybe I’ll never do it again.
Are my diaries really worth keeping around? I still have no answer to this question, despite sourcing a variety of opinions. The less nostalgic of my family and friends (and perhaps the ones who never kept a diary themselves) are quick to say, “Throw them away if you don’t want anyone else reading them.” Others (perhaps those with light hoarding tendencies) are horrified that I’d even consider getting rid of them. I’ve thought about putting a note into the box of journals to request that whoever finds them dispose of them without reading them. But of course there’s no guarantee that my wishes will be respected.
What would you do?