On Saturday afternoon, music fans across this land will walk home from Record Store Day — an annual Viking pillage celebrating mom-and-pop record shops — with armfuls of vinyl and a question: Where to pile the plunder?
It’s a typical conundrum for those of us who still collect recorded music on the physical plane. Our curiosity will always be vaster than our shelf space. To collect records is to be always getting rid of them, too.
Hoping to ameliorate this difficult transaction, I decided to crack “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying-Up,” the runaway best-seller by Japanese author Marie Kondo intended to help pack rats declutter their living-spaces and their lives. “When you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past in order, too,” Kondo writes, asserting that the junk we amass in our homes is a physical manifestation of our attachments to yesterday and our fears of tomorrow.
Kondo appears to be an imaginative thinker. She says she once tried to help her clients by using a form of “zoological fortune-telling.” She believes that the socks in our dresser drawers should never be balled-up because they deserve to rest comfortably. I can dig it.
And while the book is primarily targeted at those with overstuffed closets, the author’s method for what to keep and what to ditch is universal: Hold it in your hands and ask yourself if it “sparks joy.” Surely, this criteria should resonate with anyone drawn to the mysterious, tactile pleasure of record collecting.
So on Friday — Record Store Day Eve — I got to it. I removed all of my records from their shelves and followed Kondo’s instructions as closely as possible. I had awoken early in the morning so I could work free of distractions. “Ideally, you should not even be listening to music,” Kondo writes, meaning that I wouldn’t be able to drop a needle on a Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “B-2 Unit” to confirm it was a keeper.
To help get the sparks sparking, Kondo says that dormant objects that have been gathering dust on our shelves should be gently stroked or tapped, as if waking them up. “We can stimulate our belongings by physically moving them, exposing them to fresh air and making them conscious,” she writes. I tapped the AC/DC albums hard and the Sade albums delicately.
Then I picked each record up, one by one, and tried to feel the joy. I was surprised by the sparks that flew. My Bob Dylan stockpile, which I had assembled mostly out of feelings of duty, sparked joy across the board. One Zapp album sparked joy, another did not. “Psychocandy” by the Jesus and Mary Chain sparkled no joy whatsoever. Later, “Psychocandy.”
Within 90 minutes, I’d shrunk my collection from 1,007 records to 965. That might sound like no big whoop, but I should mention that I sliced my entire collection in half before moving into a new apartment last year. That endeavor was mildly excruciating. This was painless.
I remembered an essay that the philosopher Walter Benjamin had once written about book collecting and looked it up online. “Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector’s passion borders on the chaos of memories,” Benjamin wrote. “You have heard of people whom the loss of their books has turned them to invalids, or of those who in order to acquire them became criminals. These are the very areas in which any order is a balancing act of extreme precariousness.”
I took that Ryuichi Sakamoto album and John Coltrane’s “Crescent” out of the pile and placed them back on the shelf.