Keep a "Clothes Hanger" Journal

Writing just one sentence a day can create a quick memoir of your entire year.

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Distill your day's experiences into a single sentence each day. Call it a "clothes hanger" journal: It provides a framework on which to hang the larger raiments of memory. A few well-chosen words can transport you back to where you were days or years ago. And—if you're persistent—it can show you the shape of your life over time. 

Luann Robins, a 79-year-old grandmother of five who lives in Rhinelander, Wis., has kept such records for most of her life, storing her five-year diaries in a cedar chest at the foot of her bed. "Sometimes they bring back great memories that I might have forgotten," says Robins. Her journals are filled with comments on the weather, odd events, and her children's and grandchildren's news.

Through her minimalist journaling, Robins has kept a clear-eyed account of her history and is working on memoirs for her children to read.