In the March 2016 AARP Bulletin, lifestyle expert Marni Jameson offered “20 Tips to Declutter Your Home.” I can go along with her advice on old musical instruments (contact your kid’s old music teacher for suggestions) and clothes (toss, donate or sell). But Ms. Jameson was way off target with her advice for love letters:
“Love Letters – Keep them if they’re yours. But if they’re your parents’, they’re not really yours: They’re part of a romance between your parents, never meant for you. Burn them ceremonially and send the love back into the universe.”
Are you kidding me?!?!!!!!
To go along with her reasoning, because the letters weren’t “meant for” others (whatever that means), we shouldn’t have been able to read Anne Frank’s diary or the letters between John and Abigail Adams. Ken Burns shouldn’t have been able to share the Sullivan Ballou letter:
“If I do not [return], my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, nor that, when my last breath escapes me on the battle-field, it will whisper your name.”
Why You Shouldn’t Destroy Your Family Letters
Family letters — including your parents’ love letters — aren’t the same as old china. Once letters gone, they’re gone forever. If you get rid of the china, you can buy another set that looked like it. But you can’t do that with letters.
Letters give us a unique way of seeing people. We see their strengths, their weaknesses, what makes them happy, what breaks their hearts.
The big burly man who barely said a word is revealed to be a sentimental guy. The woman who had to deal with tragedy her whole life can be seen experiencing some of life’s joys.
Does Ms. Jameson really think that having a bit more space means we should destroy our irreplaceable family history?
In my career as a genealogist and as a librarian, I’ve had the opportunity to process several collections of letters. Reading them, I am reminded of how universal some experiences are — the pain of being separated from those we love, the almost giddy anticipation of seeing them again, the quiet reflections of memories that we carry in our hearts…
There’s a new collection of World War II letters on the website of the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library — nearly 19,000 pages of letters between George Miller and Mabel Poth. Here’s the opening of one of George’s letters:
Does Ms. Jameson mean to say that future generations shouldn’t be able to see how much George loved Mabel?
I don’t see how regaining a little bit of space in our houses is worth more than the family history we would be destroying.
Letters aren’t like china. Once they’re gone, they’re gone forever. Don’t burn your family letters.Letters aren't like china. Once they're gone, they're gone forever. Don't burn your family letters. Click To Tweet
UPDATE: Check out my interview with Denise Levenick, the Family Curator, for her tips on preserving old letters.