There’s this book called The Life Changing Method of Tidying Up, written by Japanese professional organizer Marie Kondo. You might have seen lines from it repurposed as cutesy Instagram or Pinterest memes, or, if you’re like me, you might have heard it mentioned on a podcast. It is all about the freedom brought about by decluttering your life, which begins in a practical sense with objects (clothes, books, knicknacks) but can also apply more broadly to any aspect of your life.
What it all boils down to is the idea of joy, and questioning yourself in a truly open and honest way about whether the things you’re holding on to are a net positive in your life. The most famous portion of the book is the one about how, when one is clearing out one’s closet, one is supposed to touch each garment and ask oneself whether this bad holiday sweater or this old Ramones t-shirt a source of joy; if the answer is “no” or even hesitation, it should be thrown out or donated. It’s a bit… cutthroat, but it is also remarkably freeing. It’s good to have a straightforward way of determining what should stay and what should go, and it affords you the opportunity to rebuild and reorganize.
The fact is we don’t often hang on to the objects themselves, but the feelings and memories associated with them. This is more or less the impulse that makes people into the kind of hoarders you watch in trashy reality shows to feel like you’re more in control of your own life. What you’re really doing is piling up skeletons in an increasingly unwieldy closet. Your life becomes a mausoleum.
Earlier this year I applied Marie Kondo’s approach to another hugely important aspect of my life: my digital music library. At the start of the year I experienced a computer crash, which afforded me the opportunity to rebuild my collection and get rid of a lot of stuff that’s doing nothing but gather cobwebs in some dusty forgotten folder on an external hard drive. I went through the whole list, artist-by-artist, album-by-album, asking myself whether each item brought me joy, putting the ones that do into iTunes. After a few hours I found I’d easily deleted a couple thousand songs. It wasn’t even a painstaking process; I found that if you’re really honest with yourself, it’s simple. Even enjoyable.
By the end of the process, I had gotten rid of:
- About a dozen EPs of terrible indie bands who contacted me on Twitter asking for reviews.
- Approximately 40 live Pearl Jam albums, containing nearly identical versions of the same songs.
- Along those lines: one and a half Eddie Vedder solo albums.
- Half of Grouper’s The Man Who Died in His Boat. The bad half.
- The six or seven Red Hot Chilli Peppers songs I was still holding on to for some goddamn reason.
- Everything from the year 2005 that contains a glockenspiel.
- Most everything that I downloaded because it was on the Metacritic top albums list of 2008.
- Roughly half of The Roots’s discography.
- Entire albums by Pennywise and Millencollin that I was only keeping out of nostalgia but are actually REALLY BAD.
- That online-only Smashing Pumpkins album. In fact, a whole bunch of random Smashing Pumpkins stuff.
- Most of the avant-garde stuff that purports to be real cool and cerebral but actually sounds like a person mumbling semi-rhythmically while someone takes a hacksaw to a washing machine.
- So like, those early Animal Collective albums.
- EVERYTHING BY THROBBING GRISTLE.
- The Neil Young Greatest Hits album I’ve been trying to make myself like for about 5 years now. It’s just not going to happen.
- Most of the Odd Future stuff that seemed really great in 2012. (not Frank Ocean though. I like Frank Ocean a lot.)
- A bunch of Pavement outtakes that just sound like a bunch of stoned 20 year olds fucking around in a studio.
- Five spoken-word albums by Jello Biafra.
- A lot of disposable Japanese hardcore except for G.I.S.M’s “Endless Blockades for the Pussyfooter”.
- Everything produced by Danger Mouse.
- Everything labeled “Extended Mix”.
- Everything by U2 that isn’t Achtung Baby or “In a Little While”.
- All the Ramones demos that sound almost exactly the same as the final album tracks.
- Most of my friends’ demos. Does this mean yours too? I will never tell you. (Probably.)
- Most of my own demos, including several half-baked attempts at covering Outkast’s “Hey Ya”.
Feels pretty good.
As for my physical music collection, it’s sitting pretty in my shelf. I’ve got a lot of old albums sitting around that I’m happy to use as a form of decoration. Maybe I should try the Marie Kondo thing on those, but seeing as how I don’t interact with my physical music library nearly as much as I do my digital library, it seems like a non-issue.
Shit. Am I making excuses for my hoarding? It might be time for a purge.