Towards the sun - What I learnt when I destroyed my old journals

What I learnt when I destroyed my old journals

In Insight and Self Awareness by Elesha Piper6 Comments

Destroying my old journals went beyond decluttering. It was a totally liberating experience, shredding the pain of the past and finding gratitude for the woman I’d become.


I took a deep breath, a sip of red wine and cut open the box. The box that had been taped up for years and trekked around the country, kept in store, trekked around the country some more. The box that held my journals.

I’d recently chosen to tread a more minimalist path, embracing ‘less is best’ in a big way. I’d applied minimalist living principles to pay off almost 15k of credit card debt, I’d decluttered most of my home, and now I’d reached some of my most sentimental items of all; a box of journals from my early 20’s.

Back to the time my emotional life was in complete chaos. On the outside I was fine. On the inside I was a mess. My journals held all the truths and the secrets, scrawled poetry and the dark places I went in my mind then penned onto paper.

I picked one up one journal at random and began to read.

Who was this person? I recalled not being in a great place emotionally at that time of my life, but this? Wow. It was darker than I expected. Things from the past I’d forgotten blazed back. Things I’d rather have left in the past where they belonged with the woman they belonged to.

The woman writing the journals was full of self-doubt. The woman writing the journals was wracked with guilt. This woman writing these journals seemed insecure and so dependent on others for her own happiness. I had to cut this woman some slack, she was still fairly young after all, but…

I was no longer that woman.

So I skimmed just a few more, finished my wine and then began to shred them with vigor – excitement almost. I was ripping through pages of a life that was no longer mine. I was putting to rest that part of my journey and closing the door on one of my deepest emotional winters. Gratitude rushed into my heart and I quietly thanked God for bringing me through.

The lightness I felt was incredible.

What I learnt by letting go

People often ask how I deal with the sentimental stuff as a minimalist.

Before embracing minimalism the thought of destroying my journals seemed unfathomable. So much personal content. So much ‘me’….or so I thought.

How could I possible destroy the pages I’d literally poured my heart and soul upon? I wouldn’t have wanted to read them every day – I mean, this stuff sat taped up in boxes for years – but to let them go seemed almost heartless. Those journals were some of the most personal items I owned.

Along my minimalist journey I’ve learnt that not all the sentimental stuff we hang onto is created equal.

We don’t just look at the things we call sentimental and reflect on happy times. Sentimental can also mean sad times, painful memories, regrets, guilt, and shame. This is the type of sentimental stuff that is no longer serving you positively in your life today.

If you’re hanging onto sentimental stuff that calls you to look back, you want to know that stuff is calling you to glance back with joy, not pain.

Sometimes we need to burn away the past to stand fully inside the person we are today – to encourage who we’re becoming to keep unfurling; embracing the moment but continuing to call ourselves forward.

Living in the past isn’t a fun way to live. I spent so long living in a past I couldn’t change, my journals from that time were a reflection of that mindset. A reflection of the mistakes and guilt I’d beat myself up for time and time again.

I was also relieved that I had a chance to personally destroy these journals before they were ever read by anyone else. If I died suddenly and my family was left to comb through those things, to read those insights, what reminders would they be left with? Or worse still, have my inner thoughts and heartaches pawed through by some stranger?

Sometimes we forget it may be loved ones or strangers one day sorting through everything we own. We need to be mindful of the impact we leave for others. I see many people weighed down by the enormous volume of stuff left to them or for them to sort out after a loved one passes. They are stuck in limbo; not enjoying the stuff, but feeling too guilty to let it go. A sentimental attachment of guilt.

I love to journal and I still do, but I don’t have the need to hold on to everything I write anymore. If it’s no longer serving me, I let it go.

Photo by Emma Macey

About the author

Elesha Piper

Elesha Piper is a Minimalist Lifestyle Coach and founder of Minimise To Maximise. Elesha helps overwhelmed women rise up from the clutter in their lives to live more intentionally with less stuff.

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  1. I applied the ‘spark joy’ method to my own decluttering endeavours. The journals that were the easiest to part with ended up being the ones that were written from a place of confusion and sadness and generally filled with not-so-happy memories.

  2. I got rid of my teenage journals, and never looked back. But more recent things draw me back in. I might forget that insightful thing I realized, I might forget exactly what it was like to be 25 and have this friend and share this experience. I do enjoy reading the gratitude journaling but that’s only a small fraction of it.

    Maybe wine will help. If nothing else, like dissolves like, so wine should dissolve whine 🙂

    1. PS: this post was an inspiration. It’s taking time, but I’m learning it’s ok to let go of the past, and this step really represents that for me. “you don’t owe your past self anything”

  3. Thank you for writing this article. I’ve decluttered and minimised every aspect of my life, and this last part remains – my sentimental attachment to my identity. You have given me a new way to look at how I can work through my journals.

  4. I’m currently sat in a room, decluttering, and came across my box full of old journals from my teenage years. I didn’t know what to do with them. I have been wanting to get rid of them for some time and now after reading this article I am inspired to do so. Thank you.

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