Why I cleared out 95% of my entire record collection

I blogged about this a few years ago on my old blogspot.com website, but hey I feel like sharing today – and in the years since that blog post was written, I think it’s important to follow up.

Flash back the spring of 2009.  Vicki and I are living in a two-family house in Pine Hills; Vicki’s parents live on the first floor while we take the second floor for ourselves.  Vicki’s mother passed away in 2005; and without Vicki’s mother around, her father’s hoarding and junk collecting – now unchecked – went rampant.

He could go to yard sales and take anything that was free; in his mind, he thought those things were fixable and sellable.  He would save old newspapers, rationalizing that there were articles in them that he might like to read someday, even if he didn’t have time today.

True story.  It’s a Saturday morning and I’m leaving the house to take care of some errands.  As I close my outside door and head down the porch steps to my car, I hear – rather faintly –

“Chuck? Chuck?”

I know that voice.  It’s my father-in-law.  And something’s wrong.

I enter the first-floor apartment.  He’s on the floor, his walking cane on the other end of the room, just out of reach.  Apparently he slipped on something and fell down – most likely he slipped on an old newspaper or a magazine. I have no idea how long he’s been on the floor.  A minute?  I only hope it was that short a time.  I helped him up, then since Vicki was still asleep, I called her aunt Roz to come down from Saratoga and help me determine what could be done.

Between the three of us – well, two of us with Pop fighting us every step of the way – we determined that there was just too much junk in the house.  It was a fire hazard, it was an environmental hazard, and as we could see from that moment, it was a health hazard.

So Roz and I went through his living room and, with the tacit understanding that we would look through things before indiscriminately throwing them out, we filled up huge contractor bags full of garbage, we packed grocery bags full of old newspapers, and we boxed up crate after crate of old cassette tapes and 8-tracks.

He was a bit upset about the procedure at first, but before long he was thanking us for our efforts. That, and the fact that he could now see his living room floor – and walk safely upon it – was a big plus.

But later that afternoon, I realized something. I had tons of junk around my house as well. How could I, in good conscience, tell someone to clean up their junk when I had not done so myself?

And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? [Matthew 7:3]

So what did this mean?

Essentially, I had to practice what I preached.

And that meant I needed to get rid of stuff as well. Mind you, this is months before I ever joined the TU blog crew; I didn’t even know Naomi Seldin had written a column about Simpler Living.  I just had to force myself to do what I was asking others to accomplish.

And I went through my stuff with a critical eye.  Old books that I hadn’t read in years; if they weren’t autographed or weren’t part of something important in my life, they were headed to the Albany Public Library. Videotapes that I had laying around for ages were, unless they held family memories, they were going on their way to DVD, and from there to a digital format for quick storage.

But it also meant that I had to finally decide what to do with the record collection.

Mind you, I have been collecting 45’s, LP’s, 78’s and whatnot since I was a kid; from the day my sainted Grandma Betty brought home a box of dusty 45’s that were once sitting under the table at a flea market. That eventually led to a massive and burgeoning record collection, a ten-year stint with Goldmine magazine, interviews with everyone from James Brown to “Weird Al” Yankovic, and the authorship of two record collector’s guides. Definitely worth marking on anyone’s life list.

So in March 2009, I began Chuck Miller’s Great Record Purge.

That day, two big boxes of records were delivered to my local Goodwill. And I’ve resolved that since then, anything regarding my record collection must be done in such a way so that my entire remaining collection should fit in a single shelving unit. No excuses.

If the record in question contained a song or songs that I would want to hear on my iPod, or to be burned onto a CD, I took a minute and transferred the recording to a digital format.  About four or five years ago, I had my Technics SL-1200MK2 turntable modded so that, in addition to records that spin at 45 and 33 1/3 RPM, this bad boy can play 78’s at the proper speed (and I can attach one of two different tonearm headshells, in case I’m transferring a regular 78 or a “hill-and-dale” Edison Diamond Disc). I hooked the turntable up to an amplifier, and in turn routed the amplifier to the back of my supercomputer. Voila!

So if the song does not exist on CD or on iTunes, and if it’s a song that I will play in my car stereo to drive everyone else nuts, then it gets transferred over. Then the record gets put in the box with the other records I can’t keep any more, and off to Goodwill it goes.

Now you’re thinking to yourself, “Come on, Chuck, you’ve been collecting for years, you must have one of those rare records that are worth lots of money!”

Actually, I did have one or two of those. I had Nirvana’s first 45, “Love Buzz” (only 1,000 copies ever pressed). I also had George Enesco’s Bach Symphonies and Paritas on the Continental label, of which maybe 100 copies were pressed. Those were sold off long ago. I also have some autographed albums – James Brown, Grandmaster Flash, Manhattan Transfer – those ain’t getting sold. They were framed and are currently on display in my living room.

A lot of records were bought and sold as part of articles I worked on for Goldmine or for other publications. Some do have emotional attachments, others need to find new homes.  I sold a bunch of vinyl on eBay, but after a while it became a personal hassle – you’ve got people who gripe about condition (you swore to me it was near-mint, I heard a tiny crackle on side 2, I want my money back you ripoff artist!), plus you gotta buy shipping materials, you gotta schlep it over to the post office, you gotta deal with PayPal, the whole 23 yards. If the record’s going to cost me more to get rid of it than it would listing it on eBay, then it’s not worth the trouble to me.

And for all intents and purposes, three-quarters of the vinyl I had in the house were common records.  And, as a person who worked in the music collectible hobby for a decade, I knew that the quality of a song did not necessarily equate its collectible value.  And therefore, out the door the vinyl went.

I essentially resigned myself to this mantra – it’s gotta go. And if I expected my father-in-law to get rid of all his junk, then I had to do the same.

So for the next two years, I made steady and regular pilgrimages to both the Goodwill store on the corner of Fuller Road and Central Avenue; and to the Salvation Army on Clinton Avenue.  Drop it off, say goodbye.  I did this with the understanding that whatever money Goodwill or Salvos made on the sale of these records would, in turn, get channeled towards those charitable organizations’ programs.  That’s more important to me at this point in my life.

As of today, I have reached my goal of “pare-down” in terms of my record collection.  My entire album and 12-inch vinyl collection can fit in three 12×12 Huck Finn wooden shelving units.  My 45’s fit comfortably in a packing box.  This is a long way from having 6,000 45’s and 2,500 LP’s.

A long long way.

And with it – I’ve cleared out a part of my past that I don’t need in my future.