We humans are generally a pretty darn curious bunch.
If you are a really curious type, that can work in your favor.
Having that urge to know what is behind a door, around a corner, underneath a pile of junk, etc, can lead you to treasure.
It can also mess with your head....
One of the things I discovered early in my pickin' career was that there is a fine line between "research"and "obsession".
When you are dealing with situations like sorting/digging through estates of deceased persons, it is sometimes tempting to take some time to read personal letters, diaries, etc.
Frankly, sometimes that is actually something I'd recommend doing. This is how fantastic "true story" movies get made, books are written, mysteries are solved (and created), etc.
But, there is a fine line between "research"/"due diligence" and "obsession".
Someones innermost fears, confessions, desires, etc, are quite likely things that person did not intend to ever reveal to another soul. the opposite may well be true in the minority of cases.
Perhaps the individual wanted the world to know certain things, but could only reveal them after their passing. Many times this is owing to living a lifetime with some piece of knowledge they could not speak of when they were alive. Those pieces of information, say, something like having been witness to/participants in some horrific war crime, murder, theft, etc may have created a burden that built up emotional scarring in their shadowy corridors of their mind.
Usually, however, the letters, diaries, documents, etc of most people are pretty "blase." Videotapes, home movies, audio recordings etc are similar, but require some sort of additional effort beyond manipulating paper.
The day to day lives of those who lived through other eras can be interesting, and reading their writings really can open a window in the fabric of time allowing you to see what it was like living in World War 2 England, the "dirty thirties", a life of hard rock miner, a musician, etc...a peak into the past. Sometimes the past is not that far past....could be a last week, allowing you to walk a block in the deceased person's shoes.
Thing is, you can VERY easily get WAY too involved in a person's life. Reading bare, raw emotions written as words on a page by another can put you right into that person's head, and your mind becomes intimately involved. You may even learn things you really did not want to know.
It can be like watching a movie that suddenly has a scene that is imprinted on your mind, and there is no way to erase it. A particular clip in John Water's cult classic "Pink Flamingos" left one of those images branded in the folds of my memory....And no, it isn't the one where Divine eats dog crap, either. I am not really a John Water's fan...it was one of those "arty" movies you get dragged to see by friends, some with good intentions, trying to expand your intellectual horizons. Or, they may just want to enjoy the thrill of shocking the shit out of you....no pun intended!
If you do find assorted documents that have some historical value, or maybe the blockbuster "true story" movie or book/biography that is potentially the find of the decade...well, ok, fine, read away. Figure out what you need to keep using the info on the pages, and go from there. It is surprising the "regular everyday items that can suddenly be very important in the telling of a story, confirmation of an event, etc.
Who knows....you know that that old $15 fountain pen, which you packed up yesterday.... the one you found in the junk drawer in the kitchen? A little reading reveals that it was used for the signing of a historic document.
AND one of the signer's included was John F Kennedy, AND the pen was given to him by Marilyn Monroe.
AND you have documentation in your hot little hands that tells of how it was accidently left behind in a cab, which was being driven by the deceased when he was working as a taxi driver.
AND he picked up a man who turned out to be a disguised JFK. The candid photo with the letter, JFK autograph on the period dollar bill really adds credibility. Only further reading tells you of the fingerprint work on the pen stashed in a baggie had been done some years later by a policeman buddy, and the 3 different prints have been proven to be those of Marilyn Monroe, JFK and the deceased!
AND more reading reveals that those very documents are hidden in a secret compartment.... of the very desk you are sitting at!
$$$$$ KA-CHING! $$$$$
Yes, doing a bit of that sort of visual/mental digging, reading, and research can pay off. Maybe it won't be a score like the fantasy situation above, but it the writings could result in a lead to other treasure. Perhaps you find out that the deceased went to a baseball game with an uncle as a child, and describes how Joe Demagio autographed the 4th page of the child's scribbler.
Oddly enough, the description of the type of scribbler matches the stack of tattered old notebooks you just put in the recycling pile. Some of that sort of "life" writings can be as good as a pirate's treasure map!
BUT, if you find the writings consist of the usual day to day existance of an average person, with the usual ups and downs, tragedies and triumphs, you might want to just dispose of the items, maybe saving the stamped envelopes for collector purposes, the "certificate of achievement" due to it'd related collectible in whatever field, (etc) and get rid of the rest.
Getting all wrapped up in other people's lives whom you do not know may give you insight into them, their actions, their possessions, and their former earthly surroundings, but it can also make a mess of your own psyche. Re-living tragedies (which is what people tend to write about far more often than triumphs) which occurred in someone elses life, consumed via intimate ways such as reading diaries, trigger serious symptoms of depression, anxiety, etc in some people.
A thick skin for such things is something you will need to develop if you get really hands on, and digging through physical remnants of someones lifetime. It can also be disturbing, and you do sometimes need to take a step back and say "whoa." Sometimes you need to take a break, or a long walk to clear your head.
I can assure you that the VAST majority of you out there really do not want to read a highly descriptive, multi-page manifesto of someone's sexual fantasies involving the local Lion's Club president and the local zoo's resident sea lion....
It can also be a heck of a time waster. Say you are going through an estate that you HAVE to have cleared out of a house within a week. You find a shoebox of love letters, evidence of a torrid extramarital affair the deceased had...and your reading of the 400 plus pages of back-and-forth lust and drama takes over your entire day.
* POOF *
You realize that your take-out pizza is now cold, your beer or soda (or both) are warm, the sun has set...8 hours have disappeared. To top off the loss of work time, you absorbed/experienced someone else's stress, heartbreak, anxiety, desire, confusion, etc...piling it up in your mind....and none of it even belongs to you.
Hopefully you can let it go...but odds are that many items you handle in the estate will trigger something you read to flash into your mind.
AND now you have one less day to do what YOU need to do. Break away from it....because a plumber and his male accountant lover's escapades is really not what you need to focus on. AND when you find the wife's box of love letters to her BDSM lesbian dominatrix with the school lunch counter job, toss them out in the shred/recycle pile, too.
Make good use of your time. Bad use of your time involves reading a woman's diary about the daily beatings she received at the hands of her drug addicted husband, who had been sexually abused by the Parish priest....yes, she really thought she could "fix" him....yes it is tragic, but just toss that diary aside.
Those parties involved have been dead and gone for 60 years. That time you spend reading really could be spent finding some really cool, really valuable stuff. If the writings have some relevance to some criminal case, reveals potential living victims, etc, well, then you have a moral call to make, as you may have important evidence that may need to come to light.
There are lots of great stories out there, and those out of the ordinary that need to be told should be told.
The majority of stories out there should be just laid to permanent rest with the deceased.