Here’s how all this started: it was time to move my summer clothes on to my shelves and my winter sweaters into the plastic tubs where they live six months of the year.
I looked at my sweaters and all my t-shirts and all my button-down shirts and thought, “You know, I’m really not using 75% of this stuff.” So, I started putting some my clothes in boxes. Boxes to donate and boxes to throw away. I had lots of boxes. Good boxes. In fact, in my basement I had a whole shelf of boxes inside of boxes inside of boxes.
And here’s the thing: I did a really good job.
Suddenly, all the t-shirts that I owned fit on one shelf; only the sweaters that I actually wore this year went into a plastic tub for next year. I threw away socks that I never wore, underwear that was well past their expiration date. Well past. I will spare you the details.
And I looked up from my closet—my manageable and useful closet filled with only clothes I use and love—and looked around my basement (that’s right, I dress in my basement next to my lawnmower) and saw piles of stuff that I just never was going to use. A bike that came with the house that is too big for Erin and too small (and too girly) for me, supplies for applying plaster to my home’s walls, a mosquito net from my time in Thailand. Once my clothes shelves were clean, they stood in high relief against the clutter surrounding them.
I walked upstairs, and saw books that I was never going to read, LPs I never listened to, two file cabinets full of files on which I rarely relied or needed, and in the guest bedroom another five shelves of the detritus of my life: notes passed to me in middle school, postcards I sent my family from Europe, 20 different forms of ID , hundreds of letters written to me while I was at summer camp, while I was at Davidson, while I was in Ghana or Peru or Thailand. Maps. Maps of bicycling routes in Europe. Trains schedules from China. Legal pads filled with notes I took during client meetings and during trials as one of two Public Defenders in Palau.
* * *
I have never had a good memory. People who know me know I have a hard time holding onto even the thread of a conversation, much less remembering a moment earlier that week, last month, last year.
I realized this truth about myself as a teenager and began collecting scraps of paper, notes, ticket stubs, business cards, brochures, photographs in an attempt to create a more reliable record of my life; one that was not contingent upon the tenuous biochemistry of my faulty noggin. In my house I have a fireproof box, filled with pocket-size notebooks containing whole conversations, grocery lists, poems, and ideas for poems. If it’s not written down, it didn’t happen. I think FDR said that.
About this time (by which I mean “about the time I began recognizing just how much stuff was in my house that no longer had any utility”), I was listening to one of my nerdy podcasts when my favorite nerdy podcaster of them all, Merlin Mann, started talking about clutter. On S1E56 of his podcast, Back to Work, he spoke knowingly (and quickly) about the psychological weight of clutter, the burden of our things. He mentioned a book called, It’s All Too Much, by Peter Walsh.
Then, three or four days later, I was staining my deck and listening to Andy Ihnatko on his podcast (also on the mighty 5by5 network, also co-hosted by my internet pal, Dan Benjamin), The Ihnatko Almanac. I listen to a lot of nerdy podcasts. On this particular episode, Andy spoke eloquently and thoughtfully about the importance of conducting what he called “The Big Edit”. Andy describes the process of going through your crib and “touching everything you own.” The idea of editing your stuff immediately appealed to me and provides the right frame for thinking about the work.
If you’re considering attempting your own Big Edit, I recommend you listen to Merlin and Andy’s podcasts and read Peter Walsh’s book before you start.
What these guys—Merlin, Peter, and Andy—will tell you (and what I’m about to tell you) is not the “tips and tricks” of organizing—any joker/charlatan can tell you what kind of plastic tub to buy for your handbags. (This joker will tell you some of the logistics that worked for me later in this essay).
Instead, what these guys will help you understand is that facing your stuff is an intensely emotional experience. Digging through old letters, organizing photographs: these activities will require you to confront your relationship with your parents, with past lovers, with old friends who with the passage of time are no longer friends. During a Big Edit you will confront the reality of the distance now gulfing you and the people you used to love. Whether you have children or not, you will have to confront the ghosts of people you don’t know yet, may never know. Maybe you keep things around because you expect your children to care—one day—about your life.
Maybe digging through your things will make you wonder whether anyone will ever care about your life, your things. The things you love.
And suddenly I am reminded, specifically and clearly, of a poem I once heard Garrison Keillor read on The Writer’s Almanac by Jim Moore:
We can feel about our things the way Jim Moore feels about his family, about his oak tree. We love these things and people so dearly. So palpably. We fear that if we let go of the pitcher our grandmother left behind, we will be letting go of our grandmother. And we fear that no one knows how to love the way we do. Facing our things, we are forced to confront the very real possibility that no one will ever care for the things in our lives and the events those things represent the way we do. It’s just brutal.
If you’re like me, you done some pretty dumb stuff in the past. A Big Edit will require you to remember past harms you’ve inflicted and passed harms that were inflicted upon you.
All of this is to say that excavating the dark, cluttered pockets of your house means excavating the dark, cluttered spaces of your psyche. I think this is the primary driver of clutter: the fear of addressing the emotions attached to our stuff. We know that if we had a map of our houses and our minds, the cluttered areas in both would be marked: “There Be Dragons.”
A Big Edit doesn’t just dredge the past; it also demands an evaluation of the present and future. It requires the editor to acknowledge the true nature of her life as she currently lives it.
It became very clear to me very quickly that I no longer have international adventures the way I once did and that I do not have the time or inclination to listen to the 250 LPs I own. I thought I was a guy who likes music; turns out, I would rather listen to nerdy podcasts.
During the Big Edit, you will have to confront your own mortality. For me, this happened at my bookshelf. Gazing over the spines of unread books and read books I’d hoped to read again, I began to be able to say to myself, “I’m never going to read that book.”
If I had all the time in the world, maybe. But I do not have all the time world. Not even close.
So, confronting your stuff is hard. There’s a reason it’s called baggage.
The Big Edit is not just morose morbidity. If it were, we’d probably all be better off pursuing self immolation. I have to admit: I really enjoy the process of “touching everything I own” and deciding what needs to happen to it. The Big Edit is an opportunity to acknowledge and appreciate the past, take an inventory (mostly psychological but, yes, also physical) of your present life, and plan for the future you want to inhabit.
More than anything, it’s an opportunity to say, “I’m moving on.” I find “moving on” to be a useful mantra during this process.
In some ways, a Big Edit is a process of allowing the past to weaken in its grip upon you. I kept hundreds of notes and letters from friends, from girlfriends, from girls that I wanted to be my girlfriends, from teachers, from teachers that I wanted to be my girlfriends, from Wendell Berry, and from my granny. Reading over these notes and letters reminded me of how earnestly I approached these relationships, how involved my emotions were. Revisiting those moments, many now over a decade old, I don’t view those emotions as silly or misplaced, but I can recognize—now—their impermanence. The emotions that were so earnest, so important were, after all, fleeting. That’s a lesson worth remembering.
As I told a friend:
One of the best gifts I gained from looking at, literally, every single piece of paper I ever collected, is a sense of levity, lightness, distance from my present-day emotions. Reviewing all of these documents—tokens of deeply held beliefs, deeply felt emotions—gives me faith that today's emotions, whether good or bad (usually, mostly good), will also fade. It's almost liberating. I'm using religious words not unpurposefully.
I think the word I was looking for was "enlightening".
I’m thirty-three now, but I haven’t stopped having emotions; it’s useful to know that one day I’ll be able to enjoy the same distance from present-day events as I now enjoy from the events captured on notes scribbled and passed in between classes at Russell High School.
A Big Edit is primarily a psychological exercise. It is worth investing some time before you begin to get into the right state of mind before you begin because once you find it, the rest of the work is a joy.
* * *
Okay, I want to talk high-level logistics quickly, and then move on to specific problems and how I solve them. There are essentially 4 things that can happen with any piece of your stuff. You can:
- Trash it
- Donate it
- Sell it
- Or keep it.
So, as you go through your things, you’ll want three bins in which to toss things (trash, donations, sales). These should be large bins.
Let’s talk about each of these for a moment.
This ought to be your default mindset. That is, if you’re going to decide to do anything with a thing but trash it, you’ve got to have a reason: because you either love it or use it. Hopefully, both.
It’s called a Big Edit.
Donating something is a useful compromise between trashing an item in keeping it in my house. The story I tell myself when I’m donating an item is that I am helping that item achieve it’s highest in best purpose by allowing someone else to put it to better use then it’s currently serving in my house. One caveat: don’t donate junk. If you don’t have a use for it, or it’s not in good enough condition for you to use it, ask yourself whether it’s likely this item will be purchased. Goodwills and other charities get plenty of junk and borderline junk. They don’t need yours. Just trash it.
Speaking of charities, my church is having a yard sale on June 16. We would be happy to receive your non-junk donations in the days leading up to our rain or shine yard sale. Just contact me for more info. In the alternative, you’re welcome to come and by some of our non-junk stuff on June 16.
Final point: make sure to keep track of your donations and document those donations as charitable gifts. Your future self will thank you for the tax deduction.
After you’ve decided to sell an item, I want you ask yourself a question: “Really?”
Is it really worth your time to list your George Foreman Grill on Craigslist and meet some sketchy sketcherton at a coffee shop for 5 bucks? If the answer is yes, go for it. But, I would encourage you to use your limited time and energy towards finishing the big edit and moving on.
If you are determined to sell something, obviously eBay and Craigslist are resources you want to explore. Consignment shops are an efficient way to sell clothes and jewelry. For electronics, I recommend gazelle.com.
Think long and hard about trying to sell your books. It’s rarely worth the effort. Recent editions of expensive textbooks? Maybe. Check out half.com for going rates of the books. Your dog-eared copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude? Nope. A resource I’ve used in the past is bookmooch.com. This service allows you to list books you are willing to ship (at your expense) to other bookmoochers and you can search for books you want to read and then mooch them for free from other book moochers.
Anything you’re not trashing, donating, or selling, you’re keeping. This is not an organization essay. I’m not going to tell you how to organize the stuff you keep. This is an essay about how to keep less stuff.
A final note on big picture logistics: as you dig through your crap, the litter box of your life, you will invariably find clothes that need to be taken to the dry cleaner, buttons that need to be sewn back onto jackets. You will discover that the cat peed on your mop and that you need a new one. You will need to keep a list of all the things that need getting done sometime later.
I use OmniFocus, but that’s because I’m awesome. If you want to use pencil and paper, that works, too.
My only other advice is to create contexts for the things you need to do. For example, keep all of the errands you need to run in a list called “Errands”. Keep all the things you need to discuss with your spouse in a list titled “Shithead”. Group calls under “Calls” and additional tasks to be performed at your house under “Home”. If this sounds simple and obvious, good for you. It took me twenty-seven years and reading an entire book (Getting Things Done) to figure this out.
* * *
Okay, let’s talk about specific things in your house you might deal with them.
Because this whole bonanza began in my wardrobe, let’s start with clothes. Unlike paper products (which we’ll get to), I don’t have a lot to say about this. If you haven’t worn it in a year, you should really, really consider tossing it. The hardest part for me was figuring out what to do with the approximately fifty-thousand t-shirts I owned. Most of the t-shirts I have (or had), I have for the memories: the vacation I took to Montana, the race I ran in high school. Or, they are gifts to me, amazing gifts, like when Andrew Griswold gave me a navy blue t-shirt that said only “Louis Lamour is the American West”. When we were twenty-one, Andrew and I drove 18 hours straight from Austin, Texas to Albuquerque, New Mexico (with a brief, early-morning detour to Billy the Kid’s grave). We read Lamour’s Silver Canyon to keep each other awake.
I can’t tell you how much joy the t-shirt gave me, and still gives me, because you know what? I kept it. If you love it, if it still has use, keep it. There are other t-shirts, many other t-shirts, that I donated or threw away. For some of them, I took the pictures before they went away.
Now, some of you are reading this and regard taking a picture of a t-shirt as a rather nutty thing to do. Frankly, I can’t believe you’re still reading this essay. I would’ve figured you would’ve stopped a long time ago. For most of you still reading, you are probably nodding your head when you hear me explain that I took a picture of a t-shirt for throwing it away. Most of you will understand, again, just how deeply emotional this process is.
Will I ever go back and look at my t-shirt collection pictures? Probably not. But taking the photographs helped me part with the t-shirts in two ways.
- It provided the reassurance that if I wanted to see the t-shirt and remember the time I bought that t-shirt in Austin Texas, back when I had a music blog with my best friends, if I want to remember that, I’ve got a picture.
- Taking five seconds take a photograph is a small way of honoring a thing.
Think long and hard about donating clothes. Donate only clothes you would buy. As painful as it may be, the t-shirt you spent 2 decades “breaking in” is just ratty. Toss it.
The great thing about getting aggressive with your wardrobe it’s how much space you can reclaim. And, how much nicer it is to dress for work without digging. Your wardrobe contains only the best fitting, best looking options.
We haven’t even talked about the benefits of the Big Edit (other than the psychological benefit that arises from the opportunity to say “moving on”) because I figured the benefits of this project would be self-evident to anyone interested in undertaking the task (or reading this far into this essay). Quickly: the increased efficiency of living in a space where everything has a place and purpose is remarkable. Furthermore, the increased calm from confronting a cleaner visual landscape is real.
For me, the biggest challenge was paper. When I was seventee years old, I began to realize that I was forgetting a lot of my life that was worth remembering. Conversations I had with people I loved, thoughts that appeared novel and delightful, moments heavy with meaning. Entrusted only to my flighty brain and these things–these precious things–were gone.
So, I started collecting paper to help me remember: playbills, ticket stubs, subway maps, receipts, postcards, letters, notes, notebooks, printed e-mails.
My file cabinets—I had 3 of them: two at home and one at the office—were just filled with nostalgia and memories. I had files for things to do in Louisville, files for places I wanted to camp, files for home ideas, poem ideas. Hell, do I need to say more than, “I’m an English major and a lawyer”? I had drafts of old essays, multiple copies of finished essays. An entire file cabinet was full of all of my legal research: foreclosure defense, consumer protection, insurance bad faith, legal negligence, standards for summary judgment, for motions to dismiss. Articles about poor peoples’ right to counsel, about residential mortgage-backed securities, about predatory lending.
I love to write and my friends love to write. I probably have, (or had) four feet of letters from them.
I am not kidding.
There was no way I was just going to throw this all away.
Like taking a photograph of old t-shirts, I needed a way to preserve the paper before I could part with the paper. I needed a scanner. If nothing else, the scanner would allow need to engage in the fiction that one day I will return and revisit these documents, these memories.
Here’s my advice: if you’re going to scan more than two sheets of paper (ever), buy a Fujitsu scanner.
Look, we could do this the easy way or the hard way. I could spend the next 18 paragraphs telling you technical details of the Fujitsu line of scanners, particularly the ScanSnap 1500M; or you could just say to yourself, “Gee, Ben seems like a huge nerd and really, really, (unhealthfully) into this stuff, so I guess he knows what he’s talking about” and go buy one.
The ScanSnap 1500 scans up to fifty pages at a time from the top-loading tray and scans them quickly. It scans both sides. It knows when the back side is blank and doesn’t scan it. The scanner performs optical character recognition. While scanning. It comes with Adobe Acrobat 9. Best of all, the built-in software is bombproof and allows you to automatically save scans to a specific folder and integrates stunningly well with Evernote.
What’s that? “What’s Evernote?” you ask?
Welcome to your future.
Evernote is a service that allows you to throw almost anything you want into the cloud.  But, unlike Dropbox or other cloud-based file storage systems, Evernote has obviously done a lot of thinking about how users want to capture information and, perhaps more importantly, how users want to retrieve information.
Because the benefits of Evernote are not immediately obvious, I want to spend a couple of paragraphs talking about a few things Evernote does. Your eyes will grow wider and your jaw will drop a little further as you reflect on the potential uses for this application ($45/year for the premium version) in your life.
For my lawyer friends out there: consider your legal research. How many times have you said something like this to yourself, a partner, or an associate: “ I know there’s a case on this. A kid got hit by a bicycle. The judge dismissed the case for lack of prosecution even though it appeared the defense was dragging its feet on discovery.”
So, you go to Westlaw, and, like an animal, you type in some Boolean bullshit like:
bicycle /p dismiss! /5 “lack of prosecution”
If you had that case in Evernote (because you scanned it into Evernote effortlessly with your Fujitsu or because you printed a .pdf while you were researching your prior case and saved it to Evernote), here’s what would have happened: When you uploaded that .pdf or .doc into Evernote, the service would automatically (with a premium version) OCR the document. Then, any search you run in Evernote will include the OCRed text of each document. So, if you remember roughly what the case is about, or what attorney was involved, or a bit of language from the case—basically anything, if you remember basically anything about the case—a search of the OCRed text will allow you to narrow your search of your documents down to just a few possibilities.
And, what’s more, Evernote allows you to tag each note with keywords so that your future self can even more easily find the case your past self was smart enough and kind enough to save and catalog. In the example above, this case would be tagged with keywords like “motion to dismiss”, “ lack of prosecution”, [Name of Client], “discovery”.
So, let’s just pretend your boss just ask you to write a response to a motion to dismiss. Sure, you probably want to try and find a previous response to a motion to dismiss that you can plagiarize for some of the applicable standards. But, you are also going to want to consult the cases in you’re Evernote that you have wisely tagged with a “motion to dismiss” tag.
So, data retrieval is awesome in Evernote. But, getting data and Evernote is just as awesome. I’ve already discussed (and will not belabor the point) that using Evernote and a Fujitsu ScanSnap together is basically the closest thing to magic I’ve outside of my dog’s frisbee-catching skills and the civil discovery process (in which powerful defendants give me information I need to help me prove my case against them).
Evernote has a web application, a PC application, a Mac application, and versions for your iOS (iPhone and iPad) or Android mobile device. Your data is never not with you and you always have a way to capture and upload new things. The mobile applications work with your device’s camera, so inside the Evernote application, you can take a picture, tag it, and save it to your Evernote. Think: receipts on a business trip, business cards, menus. Oh, and when you upload a picture to Evernote, the program will read the text in the photograph and will return that photograph in search results asking for text contained in the photograph.
Evernote is not just for scanned content or photographs. Perhaps the easiest way to use Evernote is as a place to preserve and organize web content. Just press a little button the friendly Evernote folks have made for your browser and—boom—new note. I use this for recipes, incredible blog posts, research, or sites that I’ll want to remember in five years. You could use it, along with a tag like “read later” as for a read later list (though for a “read later” list I personally prefer and recommend Instapaper by Marco Arment.
So, I use my scanner and Evernote for things that I want to catalog, tag, and have access to wherever I am. But most of the things that I encountered during my Big Edit were letters and memorabilia that I just wanted to scan and preserve. Those things did not go into Evernote. Instead, I just created a folder on my hard drive called “File Folder” and created subfolders for the different times in my life. Then, as I was sorting through all of my crap, the papers just went in stacks of varying sizes: middle school, high school, Davidson (subfolders for each year and for time abroad), etc. Then, when it came time to scan each of the stacks, I basically just created one big file (or a few big files) under each folder.
Maybe here’s a good place to talk briefly about the importance of not going overboard with your personal taxonomy. You are not Carl Linnaeus. Try to anticipate how often you’ll need the information that you’re scanning or saving and make the detail of your classification system directly proportional to the frequency with which you will be accessing the documents. I don’t expect to travel down Memory Lane but once every 5 or 10 years, so one or two big files that capture my freshman year in college—untagged, unclassified, unindexed—is just fine. Remember, your mantra during your Big Edit should be: “moving on.” Getting bogged down in developing and maintaining a detailed taxonomy of your crap is a great way to never move on.
Return to Sender
As I was sorting through all of my stuff, I came across a number of letters and notes that I just couldn’t bear to toss. Long, touching letters from people who were or remain dear to me. Short, hilarious notes left on my dorm room door.
Instead of tossing them (and instead of keeping them), I instituted what I called (to myself) the “Return to Sender” program. It is exactly what it sounds like. Last week, I shipped off probably a foot of old letters to past loves, good friends, best friends, and family.
There will probably always be things that I leave unsaid that should instead be said. (There are a lot of things I leave unsaid because even I know they should be left unsaid.) But, in the letters I wrote to accompany the returned letters, I said a lot of things that had needed saying for a while.
Look, if you’re this far into this essay, you probably are already invested into some of the outcomes that flow from The Big Edit: cleaner house, less hassle trying to find stuff, a kind of calm that arises from this ritual purge. But, add to this the opportunity to renew your gratitude for the people in your life and gain new perspective and even closure on old, perhaps painful, relationships. Combining a Big Edit with a Return to Sender Project became an unexpectedly powerful process of…what? Purification? Healing? Understanding? Thanksgiving?
All of that.
* * *
Okay, so that’s paper. What about all the other stuff in the house? Again, if you want a longer exposition on each room, please read It’s All Too Much by Peter Walsh. It’s great. I just want to run through a few of the things that worked for me when dealing with kitchen utensils, memorabilia, photos, books, movies, and LPs.
Take all the kitchen utensils in your drawer(s). Dump them into a box. Put the box in the corner of the kitchen and as you need something, put it back in the drawer(s). At the end of the month, take the utensils that are still in the box somewhere else (the basement, the trash, the Goodwill). I enjoy cooking so much more now that I’m not digging around eighteen different useless implements to find the spatula.
Memorabilia (and by this I mean tangible objects that hold a memory, not “baseball cards”)
Like hilarious t-shirts, take a picture, throw it out, and move on. Either that, or keep it and display it in a way that honors the thing and the memory, as Peter Walsh would say.
Memorabilia is hard because we feel like if we toss the thing, were tossing the memory and potentially disrespecting the subject of the memory (often grandparents). I find taking a photograph helps by reassuring me that’s some record of the thing has been preserved.
Photos (and an aside about computer backups)
I use ScanMyPhotos.com to make a digital copy of every single one of my hardcopy photographs. When ScanMyPhotos.com returns my photos to me, I’m not throwing them away. I’m not crazy; I’m storing them. Photos are too important to leave only in digital format.
While were talking about photographs and preserving them, I want to talk about developing a vigilant backup system for your computer files. Observant readers will have already noticed that many of the solutions to problems I encountered during my Big Edit involve digitizing memories. It has always been reckless to not have a backup system in place, but in 2012 the backup solutions are so convenient and so accessible to even non-nerds that a failure to backup your data has migrated fro reckless and is now simply inexcusable.
Because one backup is not enough (especially if that backup is also going to be at your house), consider using a program called SuperDuper to create an exact copy of your hard drive on an external disk. Store that external disk at your office or some other off-site location. Every six weeks to two months, use SuperDuper to wipe the external disk and create a new backup of your hard drive.
Regardless of what operating system you use, explore online backup solutions. There are many available. At present I don’t use one, but hear good things about both Mozy and Crash Plan. Online storage has the twin benefits of being convenient and off-site. Whatever backup system you use should include your data going to a place that is not your home. (When thieves break in, they take everything. When fire breaks in, it burns everything.)
Seriously, this is too important not to get right. Don’t be an ass: back up your data.
Media: Books, Movies, and LPs
Books are brutal. Asking me to throw away the book, or donate a book, or sell a book, is like asking me to give away a portion of my brain. Or, a potential portion of my brain in the case of a book I haven’t yet read. I support organ donation. Someday. Not yet.
In college, my favorite day of the semester was the day I went to the bookstore and got all of the books for my classes. I was an English major and even for an English major I took far too many English classes. I bought a lot of books. I enjoyed Book Buying Day so much because the books were so heavy. And, as I carried them across Davidson’s small campus I would look down at the box and think, “In just three months all these books will be in my head and weigh nothing. What’s more, they will be bouncing and jostling around with all of the other books that live up there.”
Books remind me who I was, who I am, and who I want to be. Sitting at my desk in the living room, I can look across the room at my bookshelf and remember that I am a person who loves the outdoors, loves Kentucky, cares deeply about politics, and who shambles toward some semblance of a spiritual life.
Confronting my bookshelf is confronting myself and the reality that I have increasingly less time in my life to read. I have to confront the fact that all those books I aspire to read again will likely go unread. And so many books that I hope to read for the first time will similarly remain unread. This is a minor tragedy to me. But it’s reality.
Now, this doesn’t mean that I tossed all my books—not even close—I still kept a lot of books that I hope to one day read, either for the first time or again. I kept a lot of books that I expect I will give away to someone who says the magic words to me some night at a party. And I kept all of my grandmother’s books. I’m not crazy.
But, what I did do was be real with myself about the time I have available for reading. Five boxes of my precious books are now sitting at my church awaiting our yard sale. By June, there will likely be two or three more. It was hard.
I don’t have a ton of DVDs, so I am not concerned about reducing them to files on my hard drive. But, I do have a friend who has ripped all of his DVDs onto a hard drive and connected that hard drive to his PlayStation. Now, he has immediate access to all of his movies from his Playstation controller. He loves it and it appears to work well for him.
(For people without LPs, please skip to the next section. These are not the droids you are looking for.)
My record collection was perhaps the most obvious disconnect in my house between the reality of my life and the reality of things I owned. Gathered at yard sales over many weekends in my 20s, I’ve got a pretty good collection of some of my favorite music.
Favorite music that I never listen to.
The reality is, I listen to nerdy podcasts, not music. So, I decided to sell my LPs or at least donate them to my church’s yard sale. Before I did that though, I again relied on technology to help me digitize some of my favorite albums.
I used a program called SoundSaver, an application that works on either Mac or Windows machines, and used the Alesis MultiMix 8 USB soundboard  to interface between my record player and my MacBook Air. And, I listened to the records as this rig recorded them on my Tivoli Model One. They sounded great through this little guy.
SoundSaver is a pretty good application. It advertises itself as capable of detecting tract breaks and automatically finding album information like track names. In the best case scenario, the automatic track detection will get you close. You will still need to go into the waveform and manually set each track break. Let me put it this way, you’ll have the opportunity to listen to a lot of the beginnings and ends of songs you own as you place the breaks yourself or ensure that the automatically placed breaks are accurate.
When you’re using automatic track recognition, tell the program the exact number of tracks on the album (don’t use auto), set the “seconds of silence” to “4” and the silence threshold at 1%. These settings gave me the best results, but even on the settings each track will start about half a second after the song actually starts. Which is annoying.
The good news is, once you set the tracks, you can tell SoundSaver the name of the artist and the name of the album and it will automatically (usually) name each of the tracks for you. This saves a lot of typing.
All in all, I’m happy with the app, though more accurate track recognition and the ability to scroll horizontally across the waveform with Apple’s Magic Mouse or Magic Trackpad gestures would be amazing.
After having wrestled with SoundSaver for hours (weekends), please don’t tell me if there is a better product on the market.
I initially started out digitizing my LPs with the goal of getting rid of all my records and my record player. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I had so much fun in the process of listening to and editing many of my favorite albums, I have abandoned my plan of going entirely digital. Instead, I plan on keeping the record player and ten or fifteen of my favorite albums and adding a few to my pared-down collection each year. People who pine for vinyl will understand how this could happen.
* * *
So, I think that’s about it. This was my Big Edit during which I battled dragons, rocked out, got dirty, and got grateful. It was a hell of a good time.
All identifying me as me, except for the Elvis driver’s license I picked up at Graceland in 1996 and used as a joke with bouncers for years. They found it hilarious. Always. Bouncers: unanimously affectionate for Elvis and tolerant of the shenanigans of the underaged. ↩
It’s as though this poem was hand-crafted to be read aloud by Garrison Keillor ↩
For those who remember being seventeen, you’ll remember there are a lot of moments heavy with meaning. ↩
OCR is “optical character recognition” for the non-nerds. The scanner “reads” the words and figures out what they are. ↩