On Not Buying Pens*

Nothing today, and that’s okay.

If you’re like me, you’re familiar with the tingle. You know the one I mean, that tingle you get when you see a pen on Instagram or Twitter or Facebook or in a blog post, and it speaks to you. And because of that tingle and the pen whispering in your ear, “Buy me. I’m cool/colorful/limited/dazzling,” you buy it. Then there’s another tingle when the pen arrives in your mailbox, and yet another when you share it with your friends, either in person or though social media. That tingle—it can become very addictive.

And then the pens start to pile up. Well, they’re stored carefully in cases and holders and boxes, but, man, suddenly there a lot of them. You start thinking, “Where’s that Micarta or the orange Jetstream or that Kiwi Green Retro 51?” It all starts getting a little, shall we say, blurry— all of these pens and inks and papers—a little overwhelming. A little—maybe?—excessive. (After all, you only have two hands. And really, you can only write with one of those.)

That was me at the end of 2014— a year in which I bought a “healthy” number of pens. I don’t regret any (or very few) of those purchases, but as 2014 turned into 2015, it seemed like a good time to ratchet down the buying a bit. Not to swear off new pens altogether, but to really think long and hard about what I want and why I want it.

At first it was hard. There was that TWSBI Diamond 580AL Orange Fountain Pen, which, in the past, would’ve been an automatic purchase. But I have a couple of 580s and do I really need another one just because of the color? Right now, I’m saying no. (My Lamy Safari and AL-Star collections seem to indicate otherwise, but that’s another story.) Then there are the hard-to-come-by Kaweco ART Sport fountain pens, with cool looking acrylics and a very good price. SO TEMPTING. But I’m happy with the Kawecos I have, so I passed (after a lot of internal debate). And you know what, the more I let some pens slip by, the easier saying it became to say no. I even experienced a teeny tiny little tingle from THAT— from saying no.

I’m in the middle of yet another round of the Whole life Challenge, and I’m treating pen purchases much like I’m treating dessert and bread and salty snacks. Instead of automatically gobbling a handful of cookies or chips because they’re in front of me, I REALLY think about what I want to spend my precious points on. When I really want cake, I have cake. But I don’t eat cake just because everyone else is, or just because it’s sitting there. Knee-jerk actions have been replaced by thoughtful actions, and I’m far healthier because of this change. The same goes for my pen “consumption.”

It’s easy to get caught up in your friends’ purchases and recommendations—to get dazzled by what is new and shiny and gorgeous—but it’s also fun to shop in your own “store.” It’s been eye-opening inking up pens that have fallen by the wayside—not exactly forgotten, but definitely neglected. There are some real gems that I’d forgotten about—a pen that feels especially good in my hand, one that glistens with stunning colors and depth, and another with a nib that sings. Since I can’t buy ALL the pens (darn!), I can surely do a better job of using and honoring what I already own.

NOW, in the interest of full disclosure, we interrupt this post to say that I bought a pen. Yesterday. Like, while these thoughts and this post were in the works. But I let this pen purchase simmer for four or five days to sort out why I wanted it. Does it add something to my collection, or am I just looking for the quick thrill of coming home to a package in my mailbox? (Back to the WLC analogy, am I snacking on donuts for the sugar fix when what I really need is a good apple?)

I let the pros and cons percolate, had a little email exchange with the vendor, and ultimately decided to make the purchase. But lately, in many cases, I decide to pass. So…progress. (To be clear, we’re not talking big money. This is a $35 dollar pen, but even those $35 dollar purchases can add up.)

I hope this doesn’t sound preachy. I don’t want this to sound preachy. And— really— I’m just preaching to myself. For, you know, a moment of weakness.

In her song “Soak Up the Sun,” Sheryl Crow sings, “It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.”

Smart woman, that Sheryl.


Messed up the lyric a little, but still.


 * Also applies to notebooks, pencils, pencil sharpeners, ink, t-shirts, coffee mugs, kittens, and …. (Well, maybe not kittens.)




21 thoughts on “On Not Buying Pens*

  1. I hear you Mary… it’s the same for me. Want vs. need and and where will it end… and where will I store it… and the box. About 100 fountain pens into the game now and beginning to think that’s enough… especially for a person of my um, er, uh… maturity. No one else in my family gives a hoot about them so they’ll all end up in a Goodwill store someday anyway. So, from here on out, I’m focusing on tweaking a few of my better nibs. It’s really about the nibs anyway, don’tcha think?

  2. Hah I hear you. I haven’t bought a fountain pen in a while, but it was my most expensive one: Pilot Vanishing Point at about $120 or so. But then I stopped, deciding that I wasn’t going to use them anyway. I’d very much like a 580AL and it’s not even that expensive but like you said, it adds up.

  3. Yeah, another agreement here. I’m trying to enjoy the pens I have more first. I tend to pick up £3 gel pens as they feel a bit more like ‘pocket money’ purchases but now I’m restricting them to the cool and unusual (usually Japanese imports). I am considering buying a new expensive fountain pen; by that I mean over £100. My current top pen in a TWSBI 540 which cost £40 and I adore. So I’m considering a Lamy 2000 or Pilot Heritage 94. But I’m thinking hard about it and how it fits in to my current budget drains such as needing a replacement computer monitor and new windows for my home!

  4. Yes. I find that too much of my time is being used up, not in creating anything but rather in the thrill of the hunt on eBay. I end up adding pens to my watchlist in the hope that no-one else will find them and the price stays low. This hardly ever happens! I’m starting to resent this activity because this is what I did with books: buying too many to read.

  5. Agreed. Am working on what I have, tweaking nibs, trying different inks with my current rotation. I did, however, succumb to a Binderized nib for my Pilot VP, but given the soon-to-be rarity of anything Binderized, I felt that justified my purchase. (Oh, and I would love to know about your $35 pen…)

    • I agree that getting a “binderized” nib makes total sense. I have one and it’s great. My $35 pen is a Waterman Phileas (blue marble, medium nib). I have a green one and absolutely love how it writes, even though the looks don’t really do anything for me. Bertram’s Inkwell had the blue one for sale so I thought I’d pick it up so I can have one loaded with blue and one with green. It’s funny, I usually buy based on looks (+ performance), but this one’s just on performance alone, and that fact that they’re discontinued (though probably not hard to find).

  6. I totally agree with all of your points. I bought a lot of pens 2013 into 2014, and I definitely had to scale back when I realized just how many pens I owned. Now when I want one, I let myself want it for a while before I actually let myself get it, just to make sure it’s something I really want, and to give myself time to try to figure out how it would fit into my pen rotation and whatnot. Now I’m just growing my wishlist! And maybe I’ll never own most of the pens on my wishlist, and that would be OK. But I definitely couldn’t keep buying pens the way I was!

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  8. It was so refreshing to read your post! It can be so hard to rein myself in when I fall in love with a thing, and want to buy every new thing that comes along. Later, you realise that those things cannot make you happy. Well…sometimes a well chosen one will, one that works well, one that I think is beautiful, and one I got a deal on. But many of them do not. The trick is sussing out which ones do!

    • You’re totally right…the trick IS figuring out which ones are special in some way. I think I’m getting better at it, but need more practice!

  9. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Mary. I, too, find myself in this place of not wanting to buy another pen just yet, after two years of pursuing a love of fountain pens and ink and paper and being particular in my purchases but regularly purchasing, none the less. What did if for me, though, was I finally purchased my ‘grail’ pen. Wasn’t the price, really, it was under $200, but somehow getting it finally ( after 18 months of waiting to get it) took all the oomph out of my pursuit energy for new pens… to the point where I haven’t even inked it yet, much less started looking at new fountain pens. I have my two daily use pens and notebook, same as always, and I do still follow my favorite pen/ink/paper/desk accessories bloggers, but I’ve stopped looking at eBay for vintage pens ( a fav) , which used to be quite enticing and entertaining. Haven’t lost my love for the feel of writing with a smooth nib on great paper and watching the ink glisten then dry, just need to wait, I think, and appreciate what I have, at least until that starts to feel special again.
    Great responses to your post, too. Much appreciated to know others are feeling the same about acquiring.

    • Thanks for commenting! This was a post that’s been rolling around in my head for awhile. From the comments, it seems that others are thinking the same. Glad to know there are others trying to find “pen buying” balance!

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