Old Letters – Keep or Toss?

I’m determined to do something about the boxes and folders filled with letters accumulated over the years. Actually, I have about 40 years of correspondence stashed in various closets and boxes. There are letters from friends I met at 4-H camp years ago, from college roommates, from friends we made in Maryland, Australia and Texas, and of course, letters from family.

First, I’m gathering all the letters and cards into one room to deal with it. Then I’m sorting by the person who sent them. I have an empty file drawer to sort them into folders.


Saved letters (photo by Virginia Allain)

After that, should I read them and then return them to the sender? They might get a kick out of what they wrote so many years ago. In some cases, I am no longer in touch with the person, so guess I should just toss those. Of course, I’ll save my mother’s letters to use with the book we planned about her later years.

She had quite a stash of greeting cards accumulated over the years. At the time of her death, I sorted those and my sisters each took the cards they’d sent Mom home with them. There were birthday cards, anniversary cards, and holidays of all sorts, from Christmas to Easter to Thinking of You. Hopefully, as they looked back through those, it brought back memories of happier times.

In with the cards were  some letters that had been her parents from way back. Those are now safely stored with her genealogy files and family photos.

What do you do with letters? Toss right away? Save?

ink well and pen (821x1024)

Vintage inkwell collected by Cynthia Ross, Gail’s daughter.

Some friends gave me these ideas for dealing with old letters:

  • Ann Hinds – “I just received a package of letters from my cousin. She had saved them all from when we were kids. They were fun to read and I find that I haven’t changed that much. I have the letters from my great grandmother that I will hold on to. Any other correspondence from family, I transcribe on Ancestry.com so if they start looking, they can find it. While it may not mean a lot to me, it is history to those families.”
  • Jacki Garcia – “I know I will never toss my grandmother’s hand-written letter she wrote when she was a young mother to one of her children. Priceless. This is what this internet and computer generation is truly going to miss, the slant of the cursive letter, the faded out pencil marks, the “love” that a real hand-written letter has.”
  • Tracy – “I would just keep the ones that have special meaning and toss the rest. Or, actually, you could scan what you want to keep and toss all of them if you are trying to declutter your house.”
  • Cheryl Paton – “When I was a kid, we saved lots of things. We had scrap books and stamp collections. And then a flood came and all of that stuff became instant garbage. I then became very selective on what I might truly want to save.”
  • Evelyn Saenz – “Listen to what you said about your mother. You are saving hers to help you write about her. Well, that may be true of your children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren. They may want to get to know you through those old letters as well. Keep the letter. Keep them all. Letters should never be thrown away. You might consider putting them in old shoe boxes. Cover the shoe boxes in leftover wrapping paper or wall paper. Tie a ribbon around each box and label the box on the end. Then put them all on the top shelf in a closet or up in the attic. It’s not hoarding. It is preserving your family history.” (caution: an attic or garage is not a safe place for old letters where heat, humidity, and possibly insects could damage them)
  • Susan Kaul – “OH No! Save them. Ever so often I look at my saved letters and stroll down memory lane, it is delightful. Don’t throw away your memories.”
  • Barbara Radisavljevic – “I save. Those letters have a lot of my personal history in them. I am going through them and getting rid of those what no longer mean much to me, but special ones, especially from those who are now passed on, I keep.”

(This was originally posted by Virginia Allain on Bubblews November 8, 2013)


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