Should You Throw Away Old Love Letters?

Recently, Em sang the praises of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, the New York Times bestseller by Japanese decluttering goddess, Marie Kondo. I didn’t think Em’s house could be any tidier, but after adopting the KonMari Method of domestic organization, it’s even more annoyingly impressive! So now I’m reading it, hoping some of this joy for tidying will rub off on me.

Em outlined how KonMari can be applied to help one recover from a breakup. After all, here’s what Kondo says about sentimental objects leftover from an old relationship:

lifechangingmagicoftidyingupcoverTruly precious memories will never vanish even if you discard the objects associated with them. When you think about your future, is it worth keeping mementos of things that you would otherwise forget? We live in the present. No matter how wonderful things used to be, we cannot live in the past. The joy and excitement we feel here and now are more important. So, once again, the way to decide what to keep is to pick up each item and ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?”


Let all those letters you received years ago from a girlfriend or boyfriend go. The purpose of a letter is fulfilled the moment it is received. By now, the person who wrote it has long forgotten what he or she wrote and even the letter’s very existence. As for accessories you received as gifts, keep them only if they bring you prue joy. If you are keeping them because you can’t forget a former boyfriend, it’s better to discard or donate them. Hanging onto them makes it more likely that you will miss opportunities for new relationships.

Now, I’ve been truly inspired by some of Kono’s radical decluttering tactics: start with clothes first (they’re the easiest), fold most things in a single layer in your drawer, screw flow and consolidate your storage in one place, don’t have extras of anything… But just as I find her suggestion of storing your books in a closet a bit heartless (especially when the aesthetic effect of a full, well organized bookshelf can be pleasing to the eye and soul), I’m not sure I’m down with burning the letters from your first love, even if you keep them around only to look them once fifty years from now.

Kondo writes, “The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past.” But who we were in the past informs who we are now. And sometimes it’s good to remind ourselves what we were like then — young, idealistic, wide-eyed — especially if we’ve grown a little cynical, bored or narrow-minded with age, not only when it comes to love and lust, but with life itself.  What do you think?

Should old love letters be discarded?
Let us know in the comments below. 


  1. Ha–simply discussing the idea of actual love “letters” totally outs us as oldies. I’d bet that very few people under 35 have love letters, but more likely just email exchanges. My wife and I have been such poor email backer-uppers that I don’t think either of us even has any emails from our single days.

    Anyway, I’m a much bigger fan of being in this moment, focusing on that. I used to be less so. I used to keep more love letters or pics from the old days, when I was less content, in not-as-great relationships. It doesn’t strike me as productive or healthy–especially if you’re looking at them with any sort of wistfulness.

    I don’t meditate as much as I’d like to, but I do buy into the fact that living in the present moment is what actually sparks more joy–and for sure, having less stuff lying around or cluttering up the closets, too. It’s liberating.

    I asked my wife just now if she’d be bummed if I was going back reading old love letters, and she said she would be, especially if there was with any sort of nostalgic bent. I feel the same. If someone’s feeling bored or cynical, I think that’s much better addressed by finding some passion in the here and now rather than rifling through the past trying to locate a younger, more engaged self. It’s a seductive idea, but has the opposite of its intended effect.

    Side note: I’m not down with getting rid of bookshelves at all–the books as a monolithic item, that is. We could probably stand to cull some individual books, and I should definitely have fewer on the nightstand, but keeping them in the closet seems crazy to me. Maybe that’s a Japanese cultural thing.

  2. If the objective is less clutter, why not just take a pic with your phone and file it somewhere or email it to yourself? If the idea of destroying the actual letter is too distressful to you, that probably means you’re clinging to much to the past.

    What kind of letter are we talking about, anyway? If my boyfriend had some innocent letters from his high school girlfriend, that’s one thing, but what about if they were letters that were kind of saucy? What if they were racy emails he printed out, or pics on his laptop? Where do you draw the line? What is he keeping them for, exactly? That would seem more than a little inconsiderate to me.

    1. I’ve lost so many email accounts and hard drives along the way that I think taking a pic with my phone would be tantamount to throwing it away. Which I guess might be the point for some people: It’s a baby step toward decluttering, sort of a way to trick yourself into it.

      That said, I wonder if this problem is more of a generational thing: Most younger people probably have one email address for life, and everything they send or receive is electronic, and everything is saved, whether they realize it or not. Actually, if you’ve sent or received a dirty or love letter, even if you try to delete it, it probably still exists somewhere out there in the ether… nothing electronic is ever truly deleted, right?

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