In recent years, my book carton full of video cassette tapes has bothered me. The thing about moving overseas in 2002 is that we were in the crux of a great technological change. I had no idea what lay ahead, how the world would evolve in my time away. Yes, compact discs were emerging but they certainly hadn’t yet dominated the market. So, when I moved, my precious video tapes got boxed up for later. Occasionally when I returned home for visits, I would think about tackling them. But I didn’t make any great strides until last year. How?
Unfortunately, my beloved grandmother died. I knew she had an early flatscreen tv and a VCR video player. I needed one, so I asked if I could have the set. I was still living abroad at that point, so my parents needed to mind them until I came home. Then I needed a place of my own to set them up. Cut to January 2019. I move into this poky little granny flat in someone’s backyard, with a single bed, some built-in wardrobes, a tiny bathroom, a microwave and double sink, and the house laundry. It wasn’t my favourite place to live, with no heating or cooling and hardly any space for a tv and video. But I set it up at the foot of the bed nonetheless, mounted on a homemade bedside table. Then, when I had moments in the evenings or on weekends, I set to work.
Here’s the thing. There were two steps that preceded even acquiring the VCR. One, was that all of the pre-recorded tapes that one buys in the shop, buys with a movie on it, I had offloaded already. When I lived in a hostel in 2014, they entertained us by keeping a VCR and a bookcase of tapes to make sure no one would steal the entertainment. They happily accepted a huge amount of my pre-recorded tapes. I donated the rest… somewhere. I can’t even recall where. Secondly, a few years back I had attempted to watch the videos I recorded from the tv and see what was on them. Some were labelled, others weren’t. Yet I had this unexplainable need to watch them through and see what was on them, even if labelled, just to decide for certainty I didn’t want them anymore. That need is the emotional tug of a hoarder. There are declutterers and minimalists in this world who would tell you to just throw them all. But I couldn’t. So, as a good little hoarder-declutterer, I worked out how to get through them.
What I had recorded on them were mostly tv shows. Some movies. It’s funny that even today, twenty years after recording them, I’m still obsessed with tv shows, largely those very ones I still enjoy watching today with a sense of nostalgia. Therefore, an easy part of decluttering the tapes was noticing I either had certain tv shows on DVD, or iTunes, and given they were doubled up, I could easily get rid of them. Friends was a case in point. Back in the day, I loved it so much I taped every episode until I moved overseas. That’s 8 seasons x 24 episodes x 3-4 hour recording capability = a lot of tapes.
The first time I really got stuck in with decluttering the tapes, I got rid of 50 tapes in my parents’ house. They had two VCRs, one in each living space. I picked the labelled ones and put in one tape after the other, fast forwarding by hand in the second living room because the first living room VCR ate my very first tape and wouldn’t give it back. The second VCR had no remote, hence standing by the VCR with my finger on the FF button and scanning what was on them. Did they match the labels? Yes. Did it help me emotionally separate from the item? Absolutely. Like I said, some of the shows I had digitally, others I made the choice I had outgrown. Sometimes I watched a scene or an episode, an old favourite, or rehashed a memory. But yes, I took a huge step forward in separating from something that was emotionally tainted. It wasn’t that I needed to keep the item, it was just that time and the right equipment stopped me from doing the work to be able to part with them sooner. When I finally took that first box of 50 tapes to the e-waste recycling centre near my parents’ house, there was so much relief, a sense of something big done. A sense of putting the past to rest.
But, there were still another 100 odd tapes to go. Which brings us back to last year. I started again with easy, labelled tapes and fast-forwarded them – with a remote this time! – and again half-watched, half-scanned them to see if there was anything meaningful to me. Any memory I wanted to relive, like Crowded House’s farewell concert at Sydney Opera House, when their drummer was still alive. Time makes you wistful for things like that. I had also recorded the Sydney Olympics Opening and Closing Ceremonies. Funny to watch those again and realise how much is ceremonial stuff and how little is actual entertainment. It makes moving on easier. As for the movies, I did kick back and watch a few of them. It is truly amazing how many movies do not withstand the test of time. A lot of them I knew I would not be interested in seeing again. Like there are plenty more fish in the sea, how many movies are available out there today, on DVD and iTunes and streaming services, both classics and the plethora produced today. Being honest with myself meant acknowledging, I’ll take that memory of that movie and put it behind me, keeping just the memory and not the item.
A point to mention about a big project like this is how much tapes age. There was so much flickering, often lines across the screen, sound issues, you name it. It was often really hard to watch something longer than a few minutes. A big part of detaching myself from the videos was recognising that they don’t work like they use to and it actually was better to watch them digitally.
One thing I liked about the process was that in the local library they had a massive recycling drop box, with separate spaces for tapes and batteries and mobile phones and so forth. To keep the momentum going, I regularly dropped off my latest haul to get them out of my flat and out of my system. It was great. Lo and behold, five months later, it was time to travel abroad again, and I had decluttered the last 100 tapes, except for about five. I think they must have had more meaning to them and warranted a little more time. My VCR? It’s back at my parents’ for a while so that it could be loaned to family who also need help decluttering tapes.
Me? I get the divine pleasure of knowing it’s one more big category sorted.
What do you have on your video tapes?
- Acknowledge if they are home movies of your family or holidays, this is a separate category, and like I talked about last week – you can find services who can digitalize these for you. I paid $8 a tape. It’s really affordable even if you do one at a time.
- Consider your movies and tv shows, do you still like to watch them? If yes, see what’s available on your preferred digital platform (DVD, streaming, iTunes), and buy them or pay for the service there. Many are even available free on the tv networks’ apps. As I mentioned, the quality of tapes mean that your playback – and the ads! – will mean you probably don’t enjoy video watching anymore.
- If you have something more obscure, something that’s not readily available or captured a moment in time, take the time to watch these in full or in small scenes, to help yourself separate from them. Say your emotional goodbye and keep it locked in your memory only. If you have a favourite concert or performance, likewise watch and see if your memory matches what you see. Are you likely to watch it again, or is this the day you were saving for, to watch back, a moment in the future? Can you say your goodbye and let it go?
- Don’t forget to check out YouTube. You’d be surprised how much is on there. Maybe that very concert or moment in history is already uploaded to YouTube for posterity. Watch it there instead when you feel nostalgic.
- Find a local e-waste recycler or recycling station like a library, and take away what you can.
- No VCR? Check gumtree, ebay, the classifieds, people are always selling them. In fact, I just remembered I have two! Because I bought one this way after I thought my Nan’s VCR didn’t work, and then got it working and used both, because sometimes if a tape didn’t work in one player, it worked in the other! Haha. Consider the fact that the small purchase (under $100) of a video player for a short period, will help you get rid of a large pile of tapes, and then you can sell the VCR on or loan it to your friends, and have the whole lot out of your life once and for all!
I hope these tips and my story helps you tackle your old tapes, or better yet, be glad you already did.