What Will Happen to Your Journals When You Die?



image by olivander


Recently, a Kaizen Reader, Sarah Leonard asked on the Kaizen Journaling Facebook Page (which by the way, you should definitely “like” and participate on, cause you know…it needs you), if I ever wonder about what would happen to my journals when I die. She also went on to say that it wasn’t something that worried her when she was a child, but now with a daughter of her own who may read her journals, it does. 

It’s a good question, and a question I suspect all journal keeper ask themselves whether consciously or subconsciously. I’ve indirectly touched on this topic, but let’s get it out in the open. 



1. Worrying May Ruin Your Journaling 

First, a simple answer to a simple question:

Should you worry about what will happen to your journals when you die?


To elaborate on that, you definitely should not worry about what will happen to your journals, or who might read them, because if you worry, then you will automatically start censoring. As soon as you start censoring, you defeat at least a part of the purpose of keeping a journal. That censoring prevents you from being open with yourself. 

Let’s take Sarah as an example in a hypothetical situation. What if she’s having a really bad time with her daughter? Perhaps her daughter’s going through a hard time, and taking it out on Sarah. Sarah vents in her journal about her daughter, so that she can process her feelings, and be calm and understanding when actually talking to her daughter. 

What will happen if Sarah starts worrying that her daughter might read her journal? She’s automatically worry about what to write in it. Perhaps she wouldn’t want to write anything negative about her daughter. Perhaps she wouldn’t want to write intimate things with her husband/partner. 

This is just one example, from one situation. The road to worry is never ending. What if you start worrying your spouse might read your journal? You may not feel comfortable writing about things that might offend them, and considering a spouse forms a major part of a person’s life, it may leave a lot of things left unsaid. That may lead to resentment, and venting you did not do in your journal, may actually come out when you argue with your spouse. 

Stop worrying. Write in your journals whatever you want to write. Your journaling is something you do for  yourself, and it should remain so. 

2. To Destroy or Not to Destroy 

This is going to be a personal decision for each individual. I have considered this question for my journals too. On one hand, I am not comfortable with anyone reading my journals. But on the other hand, I am going to be dead, so you know, it doesn’t matter. 

But my current decision (and this is subject to change at any time) is that I will not destroy my journal.

I have good reasons for this decision. The most important of them is that diaries and journals are a valuable recording of our history in progress. Think about it. My journals will hold an entirely different story than yours. We write different things, we record different things about the world, about individuals. This is history in the making. It may not be important on the grand scale of things, but just think about its human value. 

I personally love old diaries. I buy published diaries that appeal to me, and reading them is like exploring a different time and place, through a very personal connection. 

Our journals have power to add to that history. Just imagine the value they might add to that one future student, trying to piece together history of the 21st century. 

So, I’m against destroying journals. Unless your journals are really going to cause major chaos and harm to the world, I think it’s better to not worry about what happens after you die – because you will be dead, and won’t know any better – and let the journals find their own way into the world. 

3. Leaving a legacy or not 

I don’t have children, so I don’t know at the moment whether I would leave my journals to someone, or just leave them, and let their fate play out by whoever ends up clearing my stuff. 

But I tend to lean towards leaving my journals to someone who might like that sort of thing, or even to an institution like the Mass Observation Archive. It’s something to think about. If you have children, perhaps you may want to leave it to them. But what if you have more than one child, one of whom would be genuinely interested in reading your journals whereas the other one would just dump them. In that event,  is it really the question of being fair, or should you just leave them to the child who would value them?

The answers would be different for each person, for each family. Think about it certainly, but don’t obsess about it. Whenever you find yourself worrying, remember the first point in this post. 

Keeping your journal is what matters. What happens to them after your death is a secondary issue. 


Share your views about this topic in the comments below. Do you know what you want to do with your journals after your death? Are there any particular concerns about it, troubling you?




17 thoughts on “What Will Happen to Your Journals When You Die?

  1. Excellent thought provoking article Dolly, and am really glad that you were inspired to write this by my Facebook comment!

    Interestingly the worry about who would read my journals when I die and what they would think about me as a result, did actually begin before I became a parent.

    About 5 years before I had any family of my own, a life long family friend lost her mother after a short sudden illness and she and her sister had the difficult task of going through and sorting out the contents of their mother’s house. There they discovered 40 plus years worth of diaries that they didn’t know their mother kept (I find this incredible!) with entries right up to a few days before she died. They eagerly started reading, from the beginning and quickly became very upset with things she had written.They discovered all sorts of things about their mother they knew nothing about – including the fact that she had obviously had an affair which their late father never knew about. It completely changed the way they thought about her (to the point that they couldn’t read to the end – they ended up destroying the remainder of the diaries unread). They actually regretted reading them and said that if they hadn’t they would have had fond memories of their mother but now this had tarnished and changed everything.

    Now this is obviously an extreme example and I don’t have any skeletons in my diaries, as far as I am aware, that would really shock my family but although I note your point that once you are dead it doesn’t matter, I do feel strangely that even though I would be dead, what people thought about me, memories of me would matter. I wouldn’t want people speaking ill of me when I’d died, however strange this may seem and there are things recorded in my diaries that I have never told anyone.

    Shortly after this, I went through a phase of wanting to destroy my diaries before I died but the trouble is, you don’t know when this is going to happen – if I get knocked down by a bus this afternoon, someone could have a field day reading the whole lot! Now I feel I do want to keep them – they are amazing historically – describing using phone boxes, a Walkman cassette player, recording on to cassettes the Top 40 music charts from the radio on a Sunday night – things that people born in the last 20 years won’t relate to etc. etc. I really don’t want to destroy them but yet deep down I still have worries about people reading which makes me in turmoil over what to do.

  2. Sarah, this is exactly my fear too. I destroyed years worth of journals because of my fear of them being read. I still can’t get past that fear. I now keep a visual diary where I paste in photos and other things and just write day to day activities, it is totally none private and I don’t mind who sees it. But I still feel the need to journal and offload my feelings somewhere else. I have started such a journal in a separate book but I still censor what I write, I can’t help. I would love to write freely again but somehow I can’t. Sometimes I write on loose paper and then throw it away if its a real rant but its not the same when I know the writing isn’t permanent. I’ve also tried ranting on the laptop and then putting in a password but, although I love technology for a lot of things, I like to handwrite my journal.

    I know just what you mean about things written in the heat of the moment. At one time I had issues with my brother and sister in law and we didn’t get on, I wrote some things in past journals about them that could well have offended them had they read it. As soon as we got closer and things got good between us I then started worrying incase they ever saw when I had written and that’s when I started destroying my journals. I could have kept them and they may never have read it but I didn’t want to take that risk.

    I think what I may need to do now is just write things in my journal that are not too near to the bone and anything I am really worried about just write it on loose paper and destroy it. I need to journal but can’t cope with the worry. I know just how you feel.

  3. I personally have burned diaries from my early youth. Simply because they made me feel miserable every time I read them. So I chose to destroy them, because there is no need for reminders like that. I have only 1 journal I’ve kept and that’s this last one. I believe it would shock my children to read them once I’m gone, but they are also heartfelt and my true emotions. I don’t censor what I write in them and at this point and time, no I won’t destroy them. Maybe though in 10 years I’d feel different though.

  4. I also think the focus of my diaries / journals has changed.

    When I started (aged 12) my diaries /journals were very simple and quite boring actually; just a factual account of what I did each day. As I’ve got older with more issues and problems they have become much more “personal” with “interesting ” facts in about other people my thoughts, emotions etc.

    When I first started writing the main goal was to keep a record of my life – this may sound sad but at 12 years old I could actually look forward and see myself as old lady unable to get out much and without a lot going on in my life, but with the potential to re-live every day it by reading my journals, this I felt would be fascinating!

    Essentially, this is still my goal it is just that obviously as the years add up you develop more “baggage” etc. to write about and I feel write with more emotion. My focus has always been – I write as a way of recording my life so nothing will be forgotten. I really don’t think I ever will destroy then. Even the entries that are depressing actually help me because then I feel “thank goodness I don’t feel like that now” and they actually help me feel more positive.

  5. How will you record anything sensitive that you don’t want others to see? This is my main worry with journaling. It does help to look back on situations and part of me regrets destroying mine which is something else I need to deal with.

  6. In response to Jill – it is tricky. I do use a bit of a code. I sometimes use doodles or symbols to mean certain things / feelings. Also with regard to mentioning the names of people, I often use just an initial eg “M said ….” Now M could mean a whole number of different people depending in the context / situation / time of the entry and only I would know I meant at that time. Thus anyone reading them would probably tie themselves in knots or jump to totally the wrong conclusion over who did what etc! This could of course be a good or a bad thing!

    Interestingly even if I look back at a 25 year old entry – I am currently rereading June 1989 just for fun! I can often tell how I was feeling from the presentation/ handwriting etc which is why typing my entries would never work for me,

  7. What type of books do you write and do you keep more than one diary? I have just out of curiosity downloaded a journal app on my tablet that has a password which would make it totally private and worry free. I’ve typed an entry in it but it’s not the same as writing in a book. My hand does ache these days after a lot of writing and I embrace typing for almost everything else but not for journaling.

    Using initials is a good idea.

  8. I keep a traditional “diary” but one with lots of space (and lines) to write on each day. I feel I need the printed date to motivate me to write ( yes even after a routine of 30years! ) as otherwise I would just clump days together and not write every day. I always choose my own diary ( although a family member may buy it for me as a Christmas present.) I love the diaries in Paperchase – not sure if you are in the UK?

    Typing diary entries just does not appeal even though I can touch type at 70+ wpm, and I use computers daily for work & study & read a Kindle! I sometimes have kept an additional holiday journal if I have gone anywhere special and want to record in more detail about each day. I did something similar for my wedding day & stuck stuff in. I also keep a reading journal of every book I’ve read , the date, my rating of it, what I think of it etc. I regret not having proper diaries before the age of 12 ( I have a rubbish one I wrote – incomplete age 8, but I still treasure it!) so one saying May write a memory book about the first 12 years – it is just finding the time to do this!!

  9. Sarah,

    Thanks again for sharing your initial thoughts on Facebook. Great things always come when readers participate :-) I hope you will keep doing that. Look at the discussion that’s started.

    I think the best way to ensure that people don’t talk ill about you after you are dead, is try to ensure that you live the kind of life where you have nothing to be ashamed of.

    I think this is the point that is worth writing about – so look out for that tomorrow 9th of June.

  10. Jill,

    Does it matter, after you are dead, if your brother and sister-in-law gets offended what you wrote in the heat of a moment?

    Journaling this way may actually leave you more suppressed than relaxed, because you think about writing something then don’t. So the thoughts are there, but they don’t get an outlet.

    I am writing another post based on this discussion, which will be posted tomorrow, on 9th of June. It may help with these further questions about hurting people’s feelings.

  11. Beatrice,

    If you use your journals merely as venting tools, then that’s different (in which case, probably you shouldn’t even re-read them). But the focus of journaling we try to do here is about overall journaling.

    That’s why it’s essential that you capture the positive times in your life as well as negative. That’s what makes your journals worth reading, as well as just give you personally a more balanced snapshot of your life.

  12. That’s good that your journals make you feel positive. Another thing they help you see that life is transient. What you think is important to you today, may well not be in 10 years time, and what you are write today, may seem more insignificance then. But that doesn’t lessen its value from today.

  13. If it worries you that much, you can ensure in your will or something – that your journals are destroyed. Or even better, given to someone who you are sure will follow your wish of destroying them. [Though this is extremely tricky, because it may not happen. Virginia Woolf wanted her journals destroyed. Her husband decided they were worth keeping – which I am personally extremely grateful for.]

  14. I agree. I am a big believer in journaling by hand. Typing, for me, does not serve the same purpose at all. It takes a lot away from what journaling is about.

    I keep one personal journal – this includes everything and anything. I do keep some travel journals – though this is becoming increasingly less, and I tend to keep it all in one.

    But I do keep a quote journal, writing journal, and a commonplace book. I also have a dream journal. Though all of these get way less entries than my journal, which gets regular entries.

  15. I have the same attitude to this issue as I do to people who may sneak into my journal now. If what you read hurts your feelings, that’s your issue. I write what I need to and let the chips fall where they may. And really, once I’m dead it matters naught to me.

  16. This is a very important subject. If it wasn’t for people’s diaries over the years, how would we have ever “really” known what was the truth was on so many things.
    That is about as “real” as we can get!
    “If it was important enough for you to write it/ it’s important enough for us to read it.” We are still starved for the nitty-gritty of people’s real thoughts. What a tribute to leave the… real thoughts, and our real feelings…about what took place. Talking about a treasure hunt…and a real… treasure…for whoever gets to find them.
    That is, if they were the utter truth. But, that is half the fun…discerning that.

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