The Ghosts in Our Pockets: How Sorting Through Your Music Collection May Help to Lay Some Spirits to Rest

As I’ve mentioned the past few weeks, I’ve been doing some early spring cleaning. I started with my clothes, then moved into the kitchen and my pantry. Both places were filled with loads of neglected feelings, so when I shifted my focus to my music collection, I sort of knew what to expect.

It started when I was looking at my playlists. Thinking I needed to change things up a bit, I was looking for something to listen to when I came across the number of liked songs I have, and when I realized the number was close to 8,000 songs I kinda freaked out a little. I had literally thousands of songs at my fingertips and I couldn’t find anything to listen too!? This was a staggering revelation for me.

So I decided to listen to the songs I have saved and maybe cut back some, use better discretion instead of liking songs all willy nilly. This seems like an unreasonable feat to achieve, but the idea of having a manageable music library was appealing so I began my journey, sorting through my massive music collection.

I was pretty excited at first and things were going smoothly. In the first four or five days I sorted through maybe a thousand songs. Most of which were whole albums I saved under the assumption that I would revisit them at a later date, to explore new music and have a broader selection to choose from. But instead, they lay in my library waiting for the day to come around when I’ll suddenly remember that song I heard at work three years ago while busy doing some other task and thought, “hmm, this is nice, I’ll listen to the album later.”

Sadly, those days are few and far between. But the more I listened to the songs, the more I started to remember the times and places, when and where I was when I first heard them. I’ve since begun organizing tracks into different playlists corresponding with different moods and times in my life. So if I’m feeling nostalgic for my early twenties, I have a playlist to keep me company.

I suppose what I was most worried about was coming across a song or an album that would trigger some feelings of anxiety or brush up against some traumatic experiences I’ve been through in my own personal musical history. After all, the main way I learned to relate to my emotions was through music. I know I’m not alone in this and that’s one of the reasons why music is in the very fabric of most, if not all cultures. Music is important.

I guess this is why I thought I’d find it to be an emotionally draining task. I’m still in the midst of the sorting process, I’m down to about 4,500 songs, but the more I sort them, the better I feel about the music I’m listening to. It feels a little more intimate knowing that instead of blindly liking whole albums because I heard a song I liked once, that when I open my library I’m instead greeted by carefully selected songs and albums that reminds me of a time and place, or a mood I’m in.

And I’m finding that my musical taste is changing. It’s a living, breathing part of me and still a dimension of how I relate to my emotions. I may have traded the gritty New York rap for some singer-songwriter folk, but the feelings and how I relate to them are similar.

Even some of the songs and albums I listened to when I was dealing with the worst of my emotional neglect and self-abandonment didn’t bring up the same feelings of fear and anxiety that I thought they would. I don’t listen to them as often as I had, and that may be a large part of why. I’m not constantly reinforcing the negative messages the songs and albums were conveying on repeat as I once had. But they helped me to get through a time and place in my life when I felt submerged in them. And there’s something cathartic about being in the primal feelings while they’re happening, and knowing that someone else has been there too. Maybe that’s part of the process of moving through the feelings, listening to someone guide you through their experience of it.

There’s also an aspect of feeling lighter after having sorting through the music and their corresponding feelings. As though my music collection isn’t loaded and waiting for me to haplessly fall into a dark crevasse, never to be seen again.

But there are also times where I feel I may be going too fast. As though I’m sorting and discarding songs for the sake of throwing things away. And it’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of, “out with the old and in with the new”, especially if, like me, you’ve been living in the past through your music collection. But as I mentioned above, sometimes it’s nice to revisit those memories that were joyful, and remembering a time and place through music can be a soothing way of doing that. As Marley said, “one good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.”

When this feeling comes on, the worry about losing a large portion of my emotional language, I know it’s time to slow down a little. After all, I’m looking to bring a sense of ease to and around my music library, not more stress. Another reason for not rushing this process is it took me a life’s time worth of listening and experiences to accumulate this collection. To think I can sort through it with any degree of sensitivity to my emotional needs in a short period of time seems unreasonable and insensitive.

And now I’m looking forward to the songs and artists I’ll discover. I’ve started a playlist, “Music to Look into” where I put songs I hear when at work or out somewhere. This way instead of liking an entire album, not remembering which song I liked and then burying it in my music library, never to be seen again, I have the one song I liked in a playlist that I can revisit and decide if I want to explore the artist or album some more.

We listen to music because we enjoy it. If we leave our libraries unattended, we may be avoiding some of the emotional energy we have tied up in the songs of our pasts. If you’re finding yourself in a musical rut, it may be time to go through your own library. Freeing up some space may give you the room to expand your appreciation of what you already have and what may be waiting for you to find. Peace, and thanks for reading :]

Image Credits: “CFBX Music Library” by cogdogblog is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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