By Matthew DeMello
Being raised Catholic, I’ve understood from an early age that a simple existence, using as little as possible – space, food, resources in general – is morally and spiritually blessed, even if a little unrealistic. That belief has only been reinforced by living in the most populated US city later into my adult life. In reflecting on the transition from my younger Catholic childhood to later Atheistic man, a thought recently occurred to me on the sin of gluttony.
A music hoarding backing up a collection. Photo courtesy of Dennis Brekke.
Consumption, Inside and Out
Catholics especially tend of think of gluttony by its old name, “consumption” – a mode of thinking that undoubtedly plays a part in the politically incorrect cultural stigma often referred to as ‘fat shaming.’ Outside of condoning the shaming of anyone for any reason, an aversion to excess at least makes sense. Presently, we are surrounded by constant reminders of the impending need to live within our means and how much, especially for the wealthiest nation on earth, we fall so stupendously short of that almost cosmic demand.
Among these reminders is a whole slew of reality shows like Hoarders on A&E. Perhaps to feel better about our unquenchable consumption as a people, Americans take a special voyeuristic pleasure in looking down on those of us who have a diminished ability to manage personal possessions. As a recovering torrent pirate, I can relate to the problematic behavior displayed on these shows, even though modern technology affords me the luxury of walking freely about my living space without ever bumping into a stack of CDs or vinyl records.
As a paid writer, I’d also like to think I have a good idea of the pitfalls of pursuing anything creative and how that often takes the form of filling one’s insides or outsides with far more than they need in order to satisfy something called “the muses.”
So let’s just say if my iTunes account were a duplex apartment outside of Atlanta and the songs therein were beanie babies, TLC producers would have had me locked in the loony bin years ago. Plain numbers can’t do justice to the jungle of duplicated songs I have yet to delete. I’d even venture to guess — and with no sense of accomplishment or self satisfaction — that I certainly have more songs than Theresa from Hoarders has handbags, shoes, or expired food items.
Yet unlike Theresa, no one will ever confront me about my ‘problem’ because, well, getting around to listening to these songs won’t destroy the lining of my intestines (though perhaps my eardrums). Nor should it cost my retirement account, thanks to the ever-decreasing value of recorded music.
The Difference, if Any
All of which makes me wonder how much the size of one’s living space plays into both public and academic perceptions of hoarding? Also, to what degree are these behaviors justified or overlooked depending on the life goals and occupation of the suspected hoarder? Her other preoccupations aside, would Theresa’s appetite for dresses be all that strange if she was a 24-year-old Brand Manager for Gucci? Or better – would we consider Theresa’s problems so insurmountable, say, if her husband had Mitt Romney’s retirement fund, mansion, or social status?
Michael Gause of the Mental Health Association of San Francisco assures me, that yes, even the rich can suffer from compulsive hoarding. His organization works with the San Francisco Taskforce on Compulsive Hoarding to provides assistance for struggling individuals across the social strata of the Bay area.
“We’ve definitely worked with folks here – and that’s what’s scary – who actually own [multiple] spaces that get filled up and people actually rent another space,” says Gause of the more affluent hoarders to whom his organization provides support. Though he also explains that research does articulate, on the global level, that hoarding is undeniably more prevalent in the so-called first world than the one developing.
So it’s only that much easier as a hoarder to hide behind privilege and accumulated wealth, or worse, play victim about it. Stuff at the end of the day is just that – stuff; but how seldom do music lovers ever contemplate our ever-constant need for more?
A deep clean of both my terabyte hard drives is long overdue, and just about every month I conspire with my roommates to weed through the various copies we’ve traded of OK Computer or Exile on Main St. (in .mp3, .mp4, .aiff, .wav, and .aic formats – not to mention vinyl where applicable) for the utmost quality. Keeping in mind lessons learned from Hoarders, I’ve been pondering over a more minimalist approach to these questions, one that touches on a few other issues I’ve had with how music can be consumed. The following bullet points are a little like New Year’s Resolutions but it helps that it functions on another one of my favorite music tropes in that…
1. If there was ever a moral imperative to routinely list your 100 favorite albums beyond your own enjoyment, it might as well be to dwindle your music collection to just that number.
Sure, it’s the kind of thing you did in your notebook in high school and what serious music publications do all the time, except now in your twenties these lists have a point. After all, for the endless stream of great music in the world, you’re never ever ever going to just scratch the surface of listening to all of it.
Even when you score that hard drive full of every last torrent file from every last neighbor on your dorm room floor, you are only ever going to get through 45 percent of it through the course of your life, and that’s if you really try. At the root of any musical hoarding is the belief that it’s somehow more satisfying to have as much music as possible at your disposal than to actively pursue a meaningful relationship with any of it.
Don’t take the phrase “pursue a meaningful relationship with” lightly. The whole point of emotional investment in something as consuming yet intangible as music is that we find songs and records that will continue to resonate with us long after our first listening; perhaps even more so than first time we heard them. That means commitment, that means time, that means withdrawing from the ever present “now” of pop radio and magazine covers for that blissful, non-linear, me-time of inner exploration, nostalgia, or both.
2. Write out a list of your desert island 120 favorite records off the top of your head, then revisit that list nonchalantly on five different occasions in the future.
It doesn’t matter if it’s five times in the next day, the next week, month, or year. Just don’t think about it, and whenever you do, make sure you have nothing else better to do. Though on each occasion, leave a distinct mark next to any in the list you’d still stand to listen to right at that moment, each time in a different way – either by underlining, starring, etc.
Let me emphasize that the order shouldn’t matter (though that’s half the fun of any list) but more that you have enough to…
3. Count your markings and dwindle the list down to your favorite 100.
I hesitate to call this a strict mathematical process. The point is you should be actively always leaving out 20, or counting 20 that – at that particular moment – don’t have as much or more personal value as the rest.
Let me also emphasize that any perceived objective artistic significance, popular or elitist taste, is better off left at the door before making this list. All due respect to John Donne, what is 21st Century life but not your own protected desert island for executing desert island lists?
4. There’s your new permanent music collection.
I’m not necessarily advocating never purchasing another new record ever again. It’s important to be open to the new, and that doesn’t mean ignoring the old.
What I’m saying is, if my situation sounds anything like yours, limiting one’s collection to bare-bones favorites might be a great way to start anew. I can tell you from personal experience that nothing encourages musical exploration more than losing a great portion of your library. The trick is not to let old ways of voracious collecting overwhelm the desire to actually listen to what you’ve accumulated. Only after the purge is it all that easier to decide what’s worth keeping from then onward, if anything.