Yearbooks Worth keeping or clutter – Unclutterer

About once a month, a reader writes to us asking what to do with his or her large stash of yearbooks. Whenever this question comes to me, I’m always at a loss for what kind of advice to give. I have all of my old yearbooks — a spiral bound paper one from elementary school, two paper ones stapled together from middle school, four traditional ones from high school, and two traditional ones from college — and my husband has five of his. They take up a cube on our bookshelf and sit beneath our reference books.

In a way, I think of these books as reference materials. If a person I don’t remember makes a request to connect to me on Facebook or LinkedIn, and the request states that I went to school with the person, I’ll head to my yearbooks hoping that a picture of the person will spark my memory.

I also look through the portraits before heading to class reunions, but those are pretty much the only times I look at them.

However, the idea of getting rid of them sort of makes me nauseated. Maybe a part of me is fearful that one day I’ll lose my memory and need them to recreate my past? Maybe I hope that my children will be interested in them and want to better understand who I was when I was their age? Even though I can’t exactly identify why I keep them, I have carved out a place for them in my home.

My advice is that if you want to keep them, then it’s okay to keep them. Store them in a place that is safe (not in a cardboard box in a mildewy basement) and scan any pages that you would be crushed to lose if your home were destroyed by a natural disaster. Remember to backup your hard drive at an off-site location so that you won’t lose your data in an emergency.

If you don’t have any desire to keep them, then scan individual pages you want to keep digitally and recycle the books. You might e-mail your former classmates and see if any of them are interested in the books if you don’t want to toss them straight into the recycling bin. You also could contact your school’s historical society and see if they would want them, or if a current journalism teacher at the school might have use for them.

Such a timely post of me – I am a part of a multi-family yard sale this coming weekend and in cleaning my house, sorting my clutter and possessions over the last couple weeks, I came across a stack of old year books. Like Erin, I had elementary books (2), middle school books (2), high school (5), and college (8 – more on why this many later). First, I went to private school from 4th – 12th grade so all 9 of my books from that time were hard bound and included K-12. I found I had no need for the 4th – 7th grade years but didn’t want to do away with my class or some other pictures from the 70+ pages, so I cut out what I wanted and placed these pages/pictures into my neatly prepared “school days” scrapbook and recycled the rest of the book. I have the 8-12th grade books in a proper container stored in my attic. Now – why I had 8 college books…my husband and I met in college so we each had 4 books from our time there. I was a year ahead of him in school so we each had 1 book the other didn’t have. When it came to those, I contacted the alumni association at my alma mater and asked if the school would like to have 3 yearbooks from certain years (89-91) since they were duplicates in our house and to me were unnecessary clutter. To my delight, I returned those books to my college and in return they sent me a couple of school items some I could use (I kept), others I couldn’t (I discarded or donated) – again though since I had stated the my husband and I were both alums they sent duplicates of these items – I remember 4 luggage tags and 2 scarves and there were 2 other things I don’t remember (guess now you know what I kept!). I shared 2 tags and 1 scarf with a friend who is also an alum of the school.

Anyway – about the yearbooks – I did not feel one bit of guilt in cutting up and tossing the 4 books I “destroyed” (as one friend put it) but I did keep momentos from those books. One day I might do the same to the 8th-10th grade years, but the 11th and 12th grade years will be mine, in tact, forever because even though I hated high school, those 2 years were the most fun of that time in my life.

I actually scanned some pages in my computer and then used them in making a couple of scrapbooks of the decade. I did a 1960’s decade and a couple scrapbooks for the 1970’s decade. I did a lot of research on the Internet to get the big news stories of the time, the TV shows, books, music, sports events, housing, decor, fashion, hairstyles, fads, cars, etc. And I used photos, ephemera (draft card, etc) stuff of my family from those times and the yearbook scans to put us in the middle of it all. I had hairstyles like that. I wore clothes like that. I had a purse like that. I listened to that music, I went to see that movie, I had that car, etc. My family enjoyed looking through them and the next generation have learned about those decades and see the old fogey family members in them when we were young and their age. It was a lot of work but very enjoyable. They aren’t looking through a photo album and laughing at my funny hairstyle or my stupid looking clothes. This way they see it was in style at the time. It puts us in perspective. But I didn’t tear my yearbooks up to do it. I still have them and I will keep them.