If you are a journal-lover, keeper of a gratitude journal, bullet journal or a morning-pages person, then you know that it doesn’t take long to accumulate a lot of notebooks. Whether you keep your thoughts in spiral notebooks or something prettier or fancier, those books stack up over time. If you are consistent with your practice and have been add it a couple of decades, you might even have several boxes of old notebooks. For years, I have been pondering the question of what to do with them. Not to be morbid, but realistically, I think about this in terms of my death—would it bother me to have others read them? Do I want to get rid of them (by burning or shredding) to ensure no one ever reads them? Will I want to read them?
The answer to that question is yes, at least in part. There have been many occasions when I have referred back to old gratitude journals, bullet journals and spiral notebooks for a variety of reasons. I kept a bullet journal when my mother had a very serious illness that helped us both remember things about a time in our lives that went by in a blur. It is nice to have the details captured in concrete way since our memories are fuzzy. I have also revisited journals to help myself remember a particularly vivid dream that was meaningful to me, important words that were spoken to me, and my own ideas or insights that were capture and then forgotten. I can’t say that I have reread every old journal I have from cover to cover, but I have definitely referred back to them, and I know I would feel a loss if they were gone. Still, in this age of minimalism and digital information, what’s the best way to handle a mountain of boxes of handwritten journals that take up quite a bit of space? Here’s my guide:
Gather the Gems
Whether you want to ultimately get rid of the notebooks or if you want to save them forever, it is important to harness the great ideas that are hidden away in those pages. Work through one notebook or journal at a time. Here’s the system to use as you look through your old thoughts.
- For the sake of continuity and understanding, try to organize the books by year and go through them in order.
- Next, decide if you want to highlight, annotate, cut and paste, take notes or rewrite. You may want to do some combination. This is important to consider. The goal is to capture the words that you want to make sure you keep and to maintain them in a useful way. Maybe you want a Book of Insights from Old Journals. Maybe you want to put it all in a word document. Maybe you want to cut and paste bits into a bullet journal of writing ideas.
- Date your entries. You might want to record what you originally wrote and add your comments from today.
In part II of “What Do You Do with Old Journals?” I will share the specific topics and categories that I am scanning for when I reread an old notebook. This is a personal choice though—it depends on the focus of your journaling, and what you consider precious or necessary. Stay tuned to get ideas about what you might look for and how to proceed with gleaning the gems from your old writing and journal entries. In the meantime, please tell me in comments what you do with your old journals. Do you reread or skim? If so, what are you looking for?