Reader question: Shelving your CD collection

Unclutterer reader Jenny wrote in with this question:

My boyfriend and I are audiophiles, and between us we probably have over 1,500 cds. We do not own a house yet, which prevents us from installing a ton of custom-made shelving on our walls. We can’t find any pre-made solutions that hold more than 350 cds. Any creative suggestions?

This isn’t the only reader question we’ve gotten about CDs, so it looks like folks need help with their media. First off, let me say that in this post I’m going to offer some basic advice that should be applicable to most people. Next week we’ll have a post that will be better suited to serious audiophiles. Below I’ll present three options, from most to least drastic.

The first thing that comes to mind is what I’ve done myself: I’ve gotten rid of all but a few of my CDs. On his blog, Todd Dominey has a detailed step-by-step how-to post explaining how he ripped his collection of about 4,000 CDs into digital files and then sold the originals on Amazon marketplace. Although I have questioned the legality of doing this, it is no doubt a common practice. Revenue from the sale of a big collection can bring in enough cash to buy you an iPod, speakers, and Airport Express (to shift music wirelessly around your home), or a bigger hard drive to contain all that music.


A less drastic move would be to get rid of the bulk created by your CDs’ jewel cases. Put the discs in high-capacity (but compact) CD cases and then store cases out of the way (which might defeat the purpose of decluttering) or throw them away. Another storage-based solution is to keep on hand only your most listened-to CDs and back up the rest of the collection in easily accessible and labels boxes that you put in your closet or garage. Use a program like Delicious Library to catalog all of your CDs and keep track of what box they’re in.

This way, you have virtual shelves of your CDs while the real ones are stowed away. This also works for books as Merlin Mann explained a while back:

Lovely and innovative as it is, I’ve only found one purpose where Library would be really persistently useful to me. Saturday morning, I cleared off two full shelves of old programming books that are destined for a new life in cardboard boxes in the basement. I scanned the 40 or so titles into Library, and then organized them into sub-groups (they call them “Shelves”) corresponding to which books were in which of the three boxes. Now if, God forbid, I ever need my O’Reilly book on programming Access, I know exactly where to go. Super handy, actually.

The last thing you can do, obviously, is to get some shelves. The trick is to use all the overhead space you can. Reader Jenny said she couldn’t find pre-made solutions that fit more than 350 CDs. I’d check out the Leslie Dame 1,500 CD shelf, which is a steal for $250 on Amazon. Or you could go with a more compact cabinet with doors if you don’t want to see all the CD spines. Retailer AVThing in its Place (clever!) has lots of media storage solutions.

31 Comments for “Reader question: Shelving your CD collection”

  1. posted by jukeboxgraduate on

    What almost everyone who gets asked this question fails to grasp is that for many music lovers, it’s about the entire experience and the way audiophiles and music geeks physically interact with their collections. Digitizing the music and getting rid of the cd also means you no longer have access to the package, the album art, the liner notes. You get rid of the experience of standing in front of your music collection, trying to figure out what you want to listen to next – and as you work your way along the shelves, a record catches your eye that you hadn’t thought about in ages.

    And this is why I still have at least 500-750 albums and close to 1000 cd’s, without going into how many live shows I have. I’d like to digitize, I really would. But it feels like I’d become an android.

    I know, I’m a legacy holdout. But I’d miss it, just like I’d miss hours spent in a record store exploring. I think something gets lost.

  2. posted by Amanda on

    We’re in a similar boat, with about 1,200 CDs. While I always hope my husband will eventually move towards binders that can be discreetly stored on shelves, it’s not likely to ever happy. We have a great shelving unit from IKEA, with a shallow profile (just over CD width) mounted to a wall in our bedroom. The collection is concealed behind sliding doors and although we’ve kept ours white, it could be painted to match any decor.

    Of course we bought it a while back and I can’t remember the name, but I’d be surprised if they’re not still stocking it or something similar. From what I recall the cost was under $200.

    Hope that helps…if nothing else, know you’re not alone.

  3. posted by christa on

    here is a “portable” media cabinet that holds 1500 cds for a fairly reasonable price.
    http://www.homedecorators.com/P/Oak_Veneer_Triple_Multimedia_Case/550/

  4. posted by Jerry Brito on

    Jukebox- There’s nothing wrong with what you’re feeling. The key to organization is finding balance with the things we have, not getting rid of everything. It’s having less clutter so we can focus on the things we do love. If you love music as much as you do, then you should definitely have a huge collection and keep it around and accessible for exploration. That’s why I offered tips in descending order of drasticness (if that’s a word). For most folks, getting rid of CD towers will be a good thing, but for others, real joy comes from having a giant shelf of CDs to browse. If that’s you, by all means have your shelf — just make sure it’s tidy and systematized.

    One last thing — although I have digitized all my music, I’ve still been able to preserve the sense of wonder and surprise you get from listening to stuff you haven’t in a while and have forgotten about. For one thing, you can put your music collection on shuffle and who knows what will come up. A smarter way to do this is using smart playlists in iTunes. First, I rate all my music. Then I create a playlist that says “play all songs rated four stars or more that have not been played in the last 6 months.” You’d be amazed how awesome this is.

  5. posted by Diane on

    We purchased a product called discsox, a bit pricey, but worth the money. They have storage for cd’s and dvd’s. We have over 1000 cd’s and almost 600 dvd’s. You can fit 75 cd’s in one foot of space. The website is http://www.mmdesign.com. Check it out, you won’t be disappointed with this product.

  6. posted by Dr Fierce on

    I’ve struggled with the same issue. I have about 4 large Case Logic binders which hold 100-200 CDs apiece. I reached the point, however, where I could not remember which binder to look in. In the last few years I have switched to storing my CDs in envelopes– the paper kind that software DVDs come in. You can order these from any online digital media store. They can easily accomodate front and back sleeves. I have several storage boxes from Hold Everything and I have simply alphabetzied my collection, with a separate box for compilations, etc. What I love about the system is that A) it massively debulked my CD collection B) It is really easy to resort or add new media as it comes in. Let me offer the disclaimer that if it is a very attractive digipak or collectible case, I keep the original case and CD on display. I also have digitized all of my music so I generally am using my computer hooked up to my stereo to play it so I don’t frequently dig into the collection.

    A side note– I would consider joining a CD trading service such as LaLa. As you are organizing your collection you will undoubtable come across many CDs you no longer want. You can trade them for new music on the site very easily, and keep a burned copy if you so desire. Moreover, the CDs which are shipped to you come in envelopes so they do not add to the bulk.

  7. posted by Chris Reeder on

    Do you know a great Windows App similar to the Delicious Library you mentioned?

    Been looking for a good one that does all that…

  8. posted by Craig Kelker on

    Hi Audiophiles-

    I receive this type of question all the time as an operator of a CD Ripping service. You MUST keep your physical CDs after a digital conversion. This is the only receipt of ownership.

    For people with a large collection, a digital library is a perfect way to unclutter your shelves. There are tons of digital music systems out there and prices are really reasonable. Some of our favorites systems are: Slim Devices, Sonos, ReQuest, and Apple.

  9. posted by Barbara Olson on

    From a legal standpoint, you may want to look into your suggestions. The way I understand it if you rip the music to your computer, once you sell the CD technically the music should be removed from your computer. You may not get caught, but if someone should ever come to raid your computer, you are supposed to have proof of ownership.

  10. posted by Barbara Olson on

    Nevermind, I see you linked to a site going over just that.

  11. posted by Derek on

    I’d second the IKEA suggestion. The “Billy” bookcase line has available inserts to make them more CD friendly. Fully loaded with the inserts, I think I fit about 900 CD’s in a book case. I also added the glass doors which up’d the price a bit but made it look really nice.

    It still takes up some space and in the end I have gone the digitization route, and ended up storing all the CD’s in the basement in some plastic bins and have repourposed the bookshelf. I do miss the browsing aspect that jukebox hits on, but I don’t really ever sit down and listen to a CD anymore. I’m usually on the go and the iPod works well there. Other times I’m in front of a computer and iTunes works in that situation (though both iTunes and WMP get unwieldy after say 4000 tracks)

  12. posted by Stephen W. Carson on

    These are a bit pricier, but I really love my Botz cd racks: http://boltz.com/showitems.asp?deptcode1=500

  13. posted by Eats Wombats on

    I digitized all my music and put it on an Infrant.com ReadyNAS and can access it with a SlimDevices.com Squeezebox without any computer being switched on. In principle, I can dispose of or destroy the CDs. In practice, most are in storage. When you don’t have to handle the CD you’ll find that the urge to do so will decline. Even if you wish to keep handling them doing someting similar to what I’ve done is good insurance against loss. My storage system has all our photos, videos, documents, software etc. as well as music.

  14. posted by VA on

    I would recommend everyone take a look at the jewel sleeve method. I have been using this for a little under a decade now and its the best system i’ve heard of. It seems to be similar to the discsox system someone mentioned. The best part is that you get to keep everything that originally came with the CD in a fifth of the space. And when you get a new disc you can put it right in whatever order you want. The only problem that I’ve run into is what to do with those CDs that come in a cardboard case with no removable cover art. These are a few CDs. So I store them next to my jewel sleeves. http://www.jewelsleeve.com/

  15. posted by helix_r on

    If you do decide to rip your CDs and get rid of the originals, be sure to have some type of back-up plan (or some kind of robust RAID storage). Hard drives don’t last forever. The day when you music collection bites the dust because of a hard drive failure could be a very very bitter day!

  16. posted by Ryan on

    I have somewhat of a similar problem at work, but rather than music CDs I had tons and tons of software CDs.

    I read this blog for tips on how to organize our office. It’s just three of us, but my co-workers (especially my boss) are very, very unorganized. (That’s why I was hired!)

    We have thousands of CDs that were once strewn all about the office. One day I ordered some large CD bookcases from CDW. About $10 bucks a case. I went through every CD deciding which ones could be stored on our network (such as drivers and such) and done away with, and which ones needed to be kept.

    I doubt a music lover would toss any CD, but for the most part, I kept the majority of our CDs. Now I have them all ordered into these CD bookcases by category and aligned on a self that’s easy to reach from out work counter.

    I imagine a similar system would work for a music collector. I have a lot of music, but I’m rough on CDs. So I digitized my music with iTunes. Works wonders for me.

  17. posted by Vis Major on

    My husband and I have hundreds of physical CDs but they don’t take up much space. I bought two sturdy paper boxes, some tagboard alphabetical tabs, and some pasteboard to serve as a divider.

    Box 1 holds our A-L CDs, and box 2 holds our M-Z CDs. We keep the liner notes and the discs themselves, and the rest of the packaging gets trashed. Each box has two rows of discs, with the pasteboard dividers separating the rows and the alphabetical tabs separating the discs.

    We also have all our music digitized on an external hard drive, so we don’t tend to delve into the boxes often. However, as others pointed out, the physical discs represent our ownership of the digitized music.

    Other alternatives for audiofiles could be purchasing only digital music and/or using a music swap service such as LaLa.com.

  18. posted by Richard on

    Any non-apple alternatives to the Delicious Library>

  19. posted by consumer_q on

    The only non-mac cd catalogue software I have used was Readerware:
    http://www.readerware.com/
    It is cross-platform, but the Mac version is not all all Mac-like.
    It is probably one of the most thorough pieces of software out there, but it ain’t pretty like other Mac applications (e.g., Delicious, Bookpedia).

  20. posted by Betsey on

    For those looking for a Windows alternative, you might try an online service such as LibraryThing (www.librarything.com).

  21. posted by Lane on

    You might want to check out http://www.jewelsleeve.com/
    or similar product, you keep your media and save a lot of space too.

  22. posted by Leslie on

    I really like IKEA Billy bookcases with the CD inserts that look like extended tic tac toe boards. The Billy line is one of the cheapest shelving options IKEA offers. I have a whole wall taken up by these bookcases with the CD inserts and I think it looks fantastic. Sorry I’m too lazy to look for a link.

  23. posted by Craig on

    I just got rid of all of my jewel boxes, and had them recycled – saving both space and trash. GreenDisk.com, while it costs a moderate fee to use the service and for postage, at least you can feel good about getting rid of them all.

  24. posted by Ingrid on

    I second the plug for GreenDisk.com. I’ve also heard that libraries can take the jewel cases off your hands and use them to replace cracked or missing boxes — an even more direct way to recycle all that plastic!

  25. posted by Debbie on

    For Windows users, I recommend MediaMan (www.imediaman.com). It has an interface that appears to be very similar to the Delicious Library one, and supports bar code scanning. It was recommended on the ApartmentTherapy SF about a year ago.

  26. posted by Craig Kelker on

    Here’s a cheap option: http://www.supermediastore.com/cd-dvd-wallet-wallets-cd-holders-cd-storages-organizer-epv-416.html $13/ea to store 416 CDs! I found this through techbargins.com.

  27. posted by holly on

    I’m using a cheaper alternative to the Jewel Sleeve that I learned about here: http://ssl.adhost.com/jazzloft/baskets/sleeves.cfm

    It’s great to be able to shelve these right next to the speciality cd cases that I’d rather not get rid of. Browsing is a practically identical process, but it all takes up much less space.

  28. posted by JefferyK on

    I have at least 1,000 CDs and 200 opera boxed sets. I chose to go with open shelving. I found an independent unfinished wood furniture store that makes pine CD racks to order. I bought two that fit perfectly into my walk-in closet. I stained them with water-based stain, which took about an hour, with no mess and no smell. Total cost: around $200, including delivery.

  29. posted by JeremyM on

    @those looking for windows version of DL: try CodeAero’s Music Label 2007.

    For those with a little cash lying around, i highly recommend Can-Am‘s CD Cabinets

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