Aug. 18 2010 10:38 AM

How purging might save me from collector-nerd exile

All else can go, but keep Neil Young.

Purging possessions is one of my favorite activities. I don’t own much—mostly clothes, books, music and movies—but if it’s not getting use, it has to go. The process rejuvenates me and serves as a reminder that I don’t really need any of this stuff.

In any case, it keeps my apartment from turning into a nest of long-forgotten music paraphernalia. Whenever I think I’m going to miss a White Stripes promotional poster from seven years ago, I conduct a little experiment by throwing it away. And guess what? Out of sight, out of mind. Plus, that band is overrated, anyway.

The tendency of collectors is to sit on these things and hope that they’ll actually be worth something someday, but I don’t have that kind of patience. And, honestly, that behavior is borderline obsessive; I don’t want to end up on a future episode of Hoarders.

One of the best things about purchasing physical media (as opposed to digital) is that, miraculously, it still holds some value. But for those of us without the disposable income to purchase new listening and viewing material, trading things is a great way to stay afloat.

Books, in particular, are relatively easy to part with, because repeat use is far more unlikely than the other items. Unless they need to be used for reference, or I truly think I’ll reread something (which has rarely, if ever, happened), chances are they’re gone within three months of completion.

Meanwhile, it’s doubtful that anyone would describe me as “fashionable,” and there’s a good reason for that. I hate shopping for clothes. My only reason for having more than one of something is so I don’t have to do laundry as often. This means any of it is fair game for disposal at any time.

DVDs are a bit tougher to let go, but between Netflix and cable TV, I have more films in my immediate reach than I can ever conceivably watch in one lifetime. I’ve pared my collection down to the six major Sergio Leone movies, the Alejandro Jodorowsky box set, seasons 1 through 4 of Mr. Show and about six or seven other discs that I plan to hock in the near future for meager returns.

That brings us to music. Up until last year, I always bought CDs because they took up such little space. But now that I’m not crammed into a decrepit two-bedroom apartment with three other college-aged men, I finally have room to indulge in a long-dormant vinyl fetish.

This means a good portion of the CDs must go. I find myself trading in many of the “classics”— titles I like but ones common enough to hear daily on any classic-rock radio station. Examples: Bowie, Stones, The Who.

I’ve traded almost any hip-hop album that hasn’t been mastered since the mid-’90s, because they sound like they were recorded off a Radio Shack boombox with the volume about three notches too low.

I’ve traded indie rock that I liked for about five minutes between 2003 and 2005.

I’ve traded nearly all of my soul, jazz, roots reggae and dub albums, because those are best listened to in my living room. On vinyl.

I’ve exchanged nearly every metal CD except Slayer’s Reign in Blood and Sleep’s Dopesmoker.

I’ve even given away discs that I used to love, just to get them out of my sight. In fact, I’m willing to get rid of just about anything at this point.

Given the option, I think there’s only about a dozen albums I couldn’t fathom my life without—The Sound’s Jeopardy and From the Lion’s Mouth, every album Neil Young made between Everybody Knows This is Nowhere and Zuma, Thin Lizzy’s Bad Reputation, Big Star’s #1 Record and Radio City and Double Nickels on the Dime by Minutemen.

Everything else is extraneous.

But if I know my personal habits well enough, I’m sure if you ask me in a few years, that list will have changed entirely.

I’m not sure if that’s as healthy as I may have thought.

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