Secondhand Goods: Stopgapping the Vinyl Hunt

vertical stacks - crop

One year ago I made myself stop looking for records for the rest of August 2015. Two weeks ago I had to do the same for August 2016.

The reasons are more or less the same. The big difference is the backlog. For as long as I’ve been a “serious record collector” I’ve had issues with procrastinating on listening to some of the vinyl I’ve purchased. My purchases used to be a bit more modest – maybe a dozen or so albums a month, max. This yielded a relatively small pile of mostly spoken word albums requiring more attentive listening that I never seemed to have time for (there’s still about 50 to this day). Much easier to backburner for later.

Last year was different. A handful of highly fortunate events yielded almost 1,000 LP’s and singles within the span of six months. By the end of July I still had about 600 to go through, and I was still buying. Or more accurately I was still hunting. Even without a job I was semi-regularly driving around the city almost daily, taking varying routes between a dozen thrift stores (how I mainly buy records). Some days yielded a handful of treasure, others little to none. But the addiction was strong. It was the thrill of the hunt that was only reinforced and justified by the odd jackpot.

Thankfully those summer days became increasingly accompanied by a multifaceted sense of guilt. It was a waste of time; it was a waste of money; used records don’t always smell nice – all this should have been cause enough to stop. Ultimately it took the daily reminder, whether I went out or not, of seeing the fat rows of unattended records lined up in my living room. It was a cumbersome, tangible manifestation, a physical admonition of a growing problem.

And so on August 1st of 2015 I took a picture of those vertical stacks of records, posting it to my Instagram account with a decisive and public note…


And it worked. It was difficult, especially when coincidentally driving past some of my usual vinyl haunts. But I toughed out August, and some of September as well. My buying after that became tapered down as well, and luckily I did not experience any more jackpots as big as those I’d encountered earlier in the year.

Vinyl influx in 2016 has been, for the most part, pretty innocuous in comparison. I definitely lucked out a few times, but certainly not to the extent of the year before. This is not to say that I wasn’t hunting. There is a difference between not finding and buying 1,000+ records within a few months and not looking altogether.

Thankfully I’ve mostly curbed my habit of driving around the city (and a bit beyond) to hunt. This past summer has mainly been about garage sales, which yield a more unique and frustrating experience. Maybe 1 out of 5 garage or yard sales at best will yield any vinyl, so the success rate drops in terms of purchases per visit. By all means have I gone out of my way to find such sales, but to be honest it’s only been a few days of dedicated travelling and hunting well away from my own neighbourhood. The success rate has been as minimal as estimated earlier, and that goes a long way towards deterrence. It feels like a waste of time, especially when you can’t find a marked garage sale to begin with. Financial considerations play a factor too, as well as the notion of an impending trip to the US in September where I will surely find some records.

Last year my therapist and I theorized on how hunting for and buying records can serve as a kind of emotional regulation for me. I feel a gap inside, a hole in the soul that I try to fill with material things. Or rather, the acquisition thereof. The pattern: I feel bad, I go out to look for records, I (sometimes) find some, and that temporary thrill makes me feel temporarily better. A revelation I’ve experienced just now: perhaps this is why I’m content to let my new records pile up and collect dust for months before I actually listen to? Perhaps it’s the thrill of finding them that I enjoy more than the music?

I doubt this is all there is to it – I do love a lot of the music I find. But the hunt likely plays a bigger part than I realize. At the least it’s a part of my emotional difficulties. If hunting for records helps to fill my soul, then I would need something else to regulate. The past few weeks I’ve been buying a lot of junk food, especially sweet pastries. And there’s a hunt in that too: scouting the local supermarket around the same time every night for day-old clearance bakery goods. As with used records, there’s no guaranteed success. It’s exciting to find the odd 50%-off lemon-filled mini-donuts, or blueberry scones, or sticky cinnamon buns with raisins. It’s a tasty stopgap. It might not be healthy, but it helps.

And so I’ve stopped buying records for the meantime, or in fact any new/used physical music. It’s been difficult – damn difficult, especially having been conditioned to look for and feel excited by the sight of a garage sale sign. Even when driving around during my day job on a Monday when I know damn well the garage sale is over with, I feel excited. But I drive by. I save my time; I save my money. I move on.

© 2016 Andrew Hall Writes


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