Throwing out your CDs and DVDs. Is it time?


Photo: Ragnar Schmuck

I can admit now that my CD collection was assembled to impress women.

In my teens, I imagined the unfortunate recipient of my latest crush letting her eyes play across the neatly arranged discs in my trendy IKEA shelves, slowly becoming convinced of my exceptional taste.

“You have all of the Cure albums,” she’d say, clearly impressed.

“I’m a fan,” I’d say, hinting at the intense inner turmoil that I shared with Robert Smith. The torrent of powerful emotions churning beneath my cool exterior that, if she chose, she could unleash.


“Is there anything you want to me to put on,” I’d say, really asking if there was anything she wanted me to take off.

“So many excellent options,” she’d say, running her finger tantalisingly across my CD cases. “The Smashing Pumpkins, or maybe the Pixies… hmm, but I’m not quite in the mood for guitars, y’know?”

In the end, she’d opt for one of my highly credible mid-nineties trip hop slash electronica albums, like Morcheeba or Massive Attack or Thievery Corporation. Maybe even Portishead’s Dummy, because we weren’t afraid to confront the sadness of existence itself as our bodies…

Let me be very clear that this sort of thing never happened. I didn’t live an entirely monastic life in those days, although I wasn’t too far off. But whatever strange alchemy attracted the occasional woman to me had nothing to do with my CD collection, at any rate.

And yet I assembled my CDs with a devotion bordering on the fanatical. Even when I had practically no money, I’d buy, say, a rare Clouds mini-album just because I wanted my collection to be complete.

It’s not that I didn’t love the music - I did. I always had a CD on, no matter what I was doing. And I queued to get the self-titled Blur album on the day of release because it came with a free shirt which immediately became my favourite t-shirt. But I wanted my music to do more than just fill my ears with melodies - I wanted it to define who I was, at a time when I really didn’t know yet.

So it was with more than a little recognition that I read Nick Hornby’s brilliant novel High Fidelity at about this time. Hornby’s narrator loves music, but he and his record-shop employees use their arcade music knowledge as a proxy for taste, for coolness, and even in lieu of a personality. Whereas once their ancestors fought one another to demonstrate their strength, they duel to see who has the best knowledge of obscure Clash B-sides.

High Fidelity’s recurring motif is the compilation tape, which was a labour of love back in the era of C-90 cassettes. By this point, I burnt compilation CDs instead, which was slightly less time-consuming but equally agonising in terms of assembling the perfect playlist.

I digitised my CD collection long ago when I got my first MP3 player, and given my love of gadgets, I haven’t played a song off a disc in years. Now I use my phone or tablet to play a song off my hard drive and beam it to my stereo. Or, increasingly, I just play it with a streaming service.

But still I lug my CD collection from one house to another, carefully preserved in a sealed series of plastic tubs. It cost me so much money to put together at a time when I had precious little, and I devoted so many hours to flicking through the racks at now-departed megastores that I can’t quite bear to give them all away. CDs don’t even have the romance of vinyl, but still, even though I objectively have no need for them, I hold on.

A few weeks ago, a film critic friend of mine gave away all his DVDs. I can only assume it was pointed out to him that he’d never watch any of them again, and that in the small apartments we all have to live in nowadays, space was at a premium. He had thousands of discs, and he was giving them away for nothing to his friends, who excitedly promised to come around and scoop up a bunch of them.

As I looked at the photo of his shelf that he’d put on Facebook to publicise the event, I felt a brief flickering of jealously, but it quickly subsided. Once upon a time I would have viewed a man with a collection like that as lucky. Now, the shelves of DVD just seemed like clutter.

I didn’t go around to grab a share of his DVD bounty, because I have my own collection of unwatched DVDs sitting in another series of plastic tubs. More of them are still in their plastic shrink-wrapping than I’d like to admit. Because now, when I want to watch a movie at home, I tend to watch something I’ve stored on my cable box’s hard drive, or pay for a high-definition download. It’s just easier, and it absolves me from the responsibility of building up a collection, hoping it’s complete.

Sure, it’s far from a completely satisfying system. There’s no easy way of watching, for instance, the wonderful Wong Kar-Wai DVDs that I ordered from Hong Kong on eBay. But that’s okay. I don’t seem have that much spare time to watch movies nowadays anyway, and there must be at least fifty on my cable box, just waiting patiently for me to watch them.

Besides, pretty soon Netflix will launch in Australia, and a few similar services are already here or on their way which will let me stream movies to my heart’s content.

It makes me a little sad that the art of collection is dying. That instead of careful curation, we have lazy abundance. Friends sometimes confess that when they log into a streaming service, they’re so overwhelmed that they can’t even think what to search for. And I know those services don’t necessarily have all that much in the way of obscure indie music, or some of the lovely rarities that the High Fidelity characters prized so highly, but with literally millions of songs on offer, even they wouldn’t be stuck for choice.

And if they somehow were, they could just log into Pitchfork’s Spotify app to listen to the new albums that their fellow obsessive tunesnobs are raving over.

These days, I don’t have any groaning shelves of CDs or DVDs, These days, anyone inspecting my apartment will have to be impressed by other indicators of my excellent taste. I may have to impress visitors with my charm, or conversation, or, heaven forbid, perhaps even with who I actually am.

And if that fails - well, I’ve still got a fairly decent book collection.


  • Wow! Great article and loved the Clouds reference. Awesome sydney band who I saw countless times around sydney pubs back in the day. And yes, I too used my CD collection to impress girls. And yes, it didn't work too well for me either. Oh the angst....

    Date and time
    February 07, 2014, 8:01AM
    • I'm a female for whom it never quite worked either! I too queued for the Blur album but I only got a poster. That said if any of you wish to give away your collections I have a very large boot....

      Date and time
      February 07, 2014, 12:42PM
  • I guess for each person it's different, but to me, suggesting throwing away my CDs is a bit like asking me to throw away all the books I've accumulated over the years in favour of a kindle.

    Well firstly, I think kindles are ugly and nothing beats the smell of a book. Sometimes I will pick up an old book to re-read and discover it has sand caught in the pages from when I took it away on holiday with me. Feeling those tiny granules spill into my hand takes me back for a moment to a warm, sun kissed day where the breeze blew gently against my skin as I read carelessly for hours.

    CDs are the same. Also, the sound of CDs is superior to the sound of MP3s. Plus there's the bonus of the jacket cover, where artists write their thank you's and you find artwork and photographs here that are often difficult to find anywhere else. It's tangible. It makes you feel good and it takes you back. I love rummaging through these and seeing where memory takes me.

    DVDs i'm not so fussed over. Download em.

    Date and time
    February 07, 2014, 8:54AM
    • + 1 for Adrian.

      No way could I part with my CDs or books. Electronic gadgets are great, but they cant capture the little rip in the corner cover your old Meanies CD, that the stoner flatmate tore off to use for their joint filter all those years ago...

      Also, its amazing looking through the collection and re-discovering something - that feeling is wonderful. New technology has its place, but its not for everyone.

      Purple Sneakers
      Date and time
      February 07, 2014, 10:18AM
    • I used to feel the same way re books vs Kindle (or e-readers) until I bought one. Took all of 1 hour to appreciate the kindle more than the book. The main advantage is for travelling. Not having to lug around 6 or 7 books on holiday or read the rubbish usually left in B&B or hotel share bookshelves is awesome. Not to mention being able to read with one hand and not have to contort my fingers to hold open the book whilst reading in bed. Also the prices of books are about 1/3 of the paper variety. $30+ for a book - no way! My Kindle has paid for itself many times over.
      To the idiot about to write "First World Problems" in reply to this comment (I know there will be one.) You are a tool.

      Cyber Space
      Date and time
      February 07, 2014, 10:43AM
    • " the sound of CDs is superior to the sound of MP3s."

      Yes, but exactly the same as flac files (which are played by quite alot of equipment these days...just not anything made by Apple).

      My CD player died a few years ago, and I haven't seen the need to replace it. But I can't bring myself to throw away the CDs. At least I have proof that I haven't illegally downloaded the music?!?

      Date and time
      February 07, 2014, 12:08PM
    • Oh wow, I'm officially old. I remember having the exact same conversation about records when CD's first came out. "CD's just don't have the same quality as records". Heh. Personally I embrace technology. I don't like clutter or sentimentalism. If tech makes things simpler and more streamlined, I'm all for it.

      Date and time
      February 07, 2014, 4:15PM
  • Look all I'm saying is that in the event of a zombie apocalypse, you can't make Spotify work with a pedal-powered generator. CDs though, you're in with a chance at least.

    Date and time
    February 07, 2014, 9:05AM
    • +1

      Date and time
      February 07, 2014, 9:50AM
    • I bought a grammophone a couple of years ago. Apart from using zero electricity it has an amazingly evocative, natural sound. Definitely the way of the future!

      Date and time
      February 07, 2014, 12:06PM

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