My iTunes library got so big recently that I didn’t trust Shuffle mode anymore. Scrolling through my library was a memory exercise instead of a quick path to an ear massage. Plus I missed that feeling I had when I was 14, with a shelf full of maybe 50 CDs, each of them dear to my heart. While I felt the frustration growing, it seemed like too daunting a task to actually filter through 60 gigs of music. But an unexpected event suddenly gave me an opportunity.

A couple weeks ago, my hard drive went belly-up and I had to restore everything from backups (thank you SuperDuper). Restoring from a crash is like moving to a new apartment. You can cargo cult and just move everything from point A to point B, or you can take the opportunity to reevaluate what you should keep and what you should toss.

This reminded me of a tip Jason told me for unpacking from a move. The idea is you dump all the packed boxes into the middle of the living room. Then you take things out one-by-one only as you feel the need for them. After a couple weeks of unpacking only what you need, you discover the rest of the pile is prime material for donations or the dumpster.

I loved the idea. And my hard drive crash was the perfect chance to test it on my overgrown music collection.

So here’s what I did.

1. I made my living room pile. I found the iTunes Music Library folder on my backup and copied it to my Desktop as a folder named “Music”.

2. I opened iTunes and kept it completely blank. I set it to Album View to replicate my CD shelf of yore. Then I waited for an itch.

3. When a craving hit, I opened my Music folder on the Desktop, found the Album I wanted, and dropped it into iTunes.

Two weeks later, I have a beautiful hand-picked selection of Albums in iTunes. And since that “Music” folder only takes up 48×48 pixels on my Desktop, I’ll leave it there as long as I want as an Archive in case a rare itch hits.

You don’t need a hard drive disaster to replicate this tip. Just copy ~/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music/ to your Desktop and rename it “Music”. Then inside iTunes, delete everything. Wait for the itch, and start cherry-picking your own small music collection. Enjoy!

Screenshot of iTunes in Album view