Packrat Media: How I got my books, movies, and music under control

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When we undertook the big move, one of the toughest things for us to deal with was our incredible collection of media. My wife and I love to read, listen to music, and watch movies, but years of collecting books, CDs, DVDs and magazines left us with more culture than we could handle. Essentially, most of our rooms were filled with bookshelves, and there were piles of books on almost every flat surface. In fact, many of our paperback books were filed two deep, which meant that we couldn't even get to them without moving several dozen books to a flat surface. Clearly, we needed to do something, or else we were going to end up buried under our favorite reads.

Here's how we cleaned out our mess:

Music

My wife is the big music person in our house, and has a pretty impressive CD collection. Luckily, iTunes, iPods, and mix CDs has made it a lot easier for us to keep our music under control. First off, we decided that there wasn't really isn't that much reason for us to keep all of our mix tapes when we can use iTunes to re-create them with far better sound quality. This cleared out a lot of space and made it possible for us to get rid of our cassette player.

The second step in our music reduction was related to one-hit wonders. Many of our CDs had only one or two songs that we really liked. We were able to download these songs from iTunes and get rid of the CDs. At a buck a pop, this made a lot more sense than keeping all those old CDs, particularly when I was able to sell many of them for three or four dollars each. All tolled, we netted about a hundred bucks.

The CDs that we kept still took up a lot of space, so we've begun putting them into a DJ storage box. Essentially, we take the CDs out of the jewel cases, put them in dustproof sleeves, and put the CD liners and covers into another album. This takes up a lot less space, frees us from the jewel cases (which are always breaking), and actually is better for our CDs.

Videos and DVDs

Just as my wife is a music junkie, I'm a movie junkie. If DVDs were always $10 or more, this wouldn't be a problem, but the discount DVD racks at Wal-Mart and Target have been my Waterloo. After a few years of building up my collection and cruising the sale racks, I found that I had several hundred movies. They took up most of a huge bookcase in my living room. While impressive, this cut way back on my available book space, not to mention my living area.

My solution was easy. First, I took a cold-eyed look at the movies that I had accumulated and got rid of about a hundred of them. Like the CDs, most of these went to the neighborhood music stores, who gave me a lot of money for them. The ones that were left over went to friends and Goodwill.

I put the rest of my movies in DJ cases, where they are snug and safe in their cushioned envelopes. The covers went into a couple of binders, and the DVD cases went to Goodwill.

One bit of advice on using DJ cases: although the CD sleeves can each hold two CDs, you will probably only want to use one CD or DVD per sleeve. If you use both sides of the sleeve, it becomes very difficult to alphabetize your collection. Also, you will probably want to make a list/database of all your CDs or movies. I made a pretty simple one in Microsoft Excel, which has helped with organization.

Books

Both my wife and I are book junkies, so this was one of the hardest parts of the move. However, we were drowning in literature, and a lot of it needed to go. Realizing that our addiction was going to get in the way of our lives, we sucked it up and dug in.

The first step was pretty easy. Basically, we began by getting rid of all the books that we didn't like, but hadn't had time to weed out. These ones went to used book stores or Goodwill, and netted us a little money.

The second step was a little harder, but a lot more fun. We collected all of the books that we liked, but knew that we were never going to read again. After we pulled out a few dozen, we started giving them to friends. This step was a kick, because we got to match up our friends with books, which is a little like playing matchmaker, but a lot less dangerous.

After we cleared out the easy pickings, we made some cuts that were a little more difficult. A lot of our books had stayed around for years because of sentimental value. Some of these we kept, but we also got rid of a lot. For example, I finally cleared out all of the books that I had read for my Political Theory class in Junior year of college. Yes, they were great books and it was a great class, but I had to acknowledge that I was probably never going to reread the Political Writings of St. Thomas Aquinas or the Marx Engels Reader. Besides, if I really, really wanted to buy one of these books, I could easily pick up a copy on half.com or ABE Books. We gave these books to friends or sold them to bookstores. To be honest, it was hard to get our buddies excited about reading St. Thomas Aquinas.

In addition to emptying out a lot of shelves and giving us some breathing room, our book clearance project netted us a few hundred dollars. To keep things clean, we've started checking out more books from the library, and we still make a point of weeding out our bookshelves every month or so. .

Magazines

My wife and I have a little bit of a magazine habit. Well, I have a little bit of a magazine habit, and she's a pretty major addict. Before the big move, we were buried in magazines. Most of them contained an article or two that we liked or a picture that had caught our eye. However, in order to preserve these few gems, we were holding on to dozens of magazines. In fact, my wife had the entire run of Oprah magazines packed away in a couple of milk crates in the basement. I don't want to denigrate the Big O, but when space is a premium, Oprah's gotta go.

Our solution was to go through the magazines and pull out all the articles that had caught our interest. We saved them in files, where we were able to organize them. In addition to clearing up a lot of space (and emptying out a few milk crates!), this solution made it much easier for us to find (and use) the things that caught our interest.

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and co-author of Military Lessons of the Gulf War and A Chronology of the Cold War at Sea.


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