A No-Buy Year. Really.

Actual lyrics:It’s not having what you want—It’s wanting what you’ve got.

In December 2022, a penpal’s letter talked a lot about mentally gearing up for her self-imposed 2023 “no new pens” challenge. D’s sentiments were familiar. She has enough. She should simply enjoy what she already owns. But there was an edge of anxiety as well, a feeling I could also relate to. Can I really do this? Can I go cold turkey? As I read her letter, despite the fact that I’ve tried this before and failed miserably, I felt a spark of excitement ignite—the desire to take on this challenge with her—partly so that I’d have an accountability partner, but also because such a challenge is sorely needed.

I have plenty of stationery—notebooks, pens, pencils, ink, postcards, notecards, and even postage stamps. That’s a fact. There is truly no shortage of fun things to use. But, man, the temptation for more is hard to resist. Irrational thoughts abound. “Maybe THIS pen will take away my anxiety/boredom/frustration.” (Or maybe that’s just me.) The thrill of the hunt and anticipation of that new shiny thing is addictive. And admittedly fun. But the cycle never ends—unless you break it.

As long-time readers may recall, I’ve made this “no new pens” pledge before, but have never succeeded in sustaining it for more than a few weeks. Maybe it’s because I’m tiptoeing up to retirement—where I’ll have to be more careful about spending— that this challenge feels more acutely needed. Maybe it’s because I’ve recently started attending Death Café meetings (much more fun than they sound—and there’s cake!) that I’m thinking about what’s truly important in life—what I want to share versus what I want to acquire. Maybe it’s because I’ve simply realized, yet again, that one can only own so much “stuff.” For whatever reason, I’m feeling really energized and enthusiastic as I enter Month #2 of the “No New Stationery” challenge.

Have there been moments of weakness? Oh, hell yes. In the last month there have been almost daily tugs at my stationery-loving heartstrings. The Ti2 Designs laser-etched Techliners. <swoon>. The USPS + Fieldnotes collaborations. (I love trains and train stations so that soon-to-be released edition is killing me.) The tea-themed Retro 51 via Goldspot Pens is great looking. Ian Schon’s Monoc nib. They’re all excruciatingly tempting. But I’m holding strong. Close the webpage. Delete the email. Move on.

There are a couple of tactics that are helping when the urge to buy wells up. I happened upon one in a 5-Year Q&A journal that a friend gave me for Christmas. A recent question asked, “What would you take if you had to leave tonight?” Talk about making you think about what’s truly important! After the pets, I’d grab some pens—especially this one—as well as my journals and letters from friends (so many memories!)—but as I looked around from my desk, not much else felt critical. So now I frame potential purchases that way—is it something that I’d love enough to rescue in the event of an emergency?

A second tactic arrived in my inbox this week, from another friend looking to curb a shopping habit. She sent along a link to Simplify Magazine‘s recent article called “No More Impulse Buying—The Magic of Careful Curation.” In the article, the author wrote: “Instead of writing a list of the things you need, write a list of “Things I do not need.” When I did this, my list included baking equipment, snazzy notebooks, gym gadgets, and electronics. Write your own detailed list for every room in your house.” She goes on to say that you can refer to the list in a moment of weakness as a concrete reminder of what you already own, what’s already there to enjoy. “…use it as a magic shield against the temptations of impulse spending.” And so I have composed my list:

Pens, pens, pens, ink, ink, ink, pocket notebooks, journals, pencils, colored pencils, writing paper, notecards, and postcards. I love what I have, but I don’t need to buy more. I’m all set. Unless I live to be 150.

I like opening a letter and thinking myself loved.” – Virginia Woolf

The thrills, instead, will come from using what I have. Filling up journals. Sharpening and using pencils. Writing and sending cards and letters. Receiving cards and letters and notes from friends in return. (I savor reading letters. Like, I settle in and make sure I can give the letter my undivided attention. No dogs barking, no husbands talking, no time constraints. Sometimes I make a cup of tea first. It’s kind of a thing.)

Just the other day I finished a bottle of ink—MY FIRST ONE EVER—which felt like an event worthy of fireworks. And confetti. And celebratory cake. Okay—it was only a 30 mL bottle, but still. Pre-2023 Mary would’ve immediately ordered up another bottle of Electron, but honestly, the thought didn’t even cross my mind. There is, it turns out, joy in using things up—a surprising buzz of satisfaction. Maybe I’ve got this?!

Only eleven more months to go. I’ll keep you posted.


10 thoughts on “A No-Buy Year. Really.

  1. I am doing something like this. 15 pens including 3 vintage Sheaffer school pens and a 1961 Parker 45 with 14k nib. A batch of jinhao 248 pens with Lamy nibs… And 3 Lamy pens. Interchangeable nibs.

  2. I surely can relate to what you are saying. I cleaned 9 pens last week, then sat at my desk and wondered why I have so many pens!

  3. I salute your determination and your wisdom in realistically self-apprising your location in the journey of life. And I know you can do it this time!!!! At one time, when I was working, it was easy to afford moderately priced pens and accessories; but after a rather life altering health event, which ended my working days and awakened my own grasp of my mortality, I also had to assess the issue of material possessions- what I needed versus wanted, what I could or would realistically use in whatever time remained for me, and what would lie in a rain soaked pile by the curb after my demise, for others to pick through looking for scrap metal or pawn-able items. So I gave away all of my sword collection, knife collection, and dozens of fountain pens and scores of inks. I kept about six pens and a dozen inks which will far outlast me. And I still get the emails from several pen companies and, like you, I feel that silent, deep urge to BUY BUY BUY… but the fact that living now on social “security” (lol) from day to day, helps me to overcome the siren call, and i often console myself by recalling that I read somewhere that Mark Twain never owned more than three fountain pens at a time. So I am happy with what I have, and I hope that you will also find contentment in your collection as time rolls onward. PLEASE forgive my rambling on for so long- I did not intend to do so. But I close with heartfelt best wishes and blessings to you and yours. j

    • I second that emotion—that I don’t want my precious pens winding up in a dumpster because no one wants them or knows what to do with them. Contentment is a very good thing. Best wishes to you, too!

  4. Way to go! Sending celebratory cake and confetti 🎊

    I am on the same mission this year. While I have made the exception for a birthday pen, I am hard set on not buying anything else this year. The fact that I have yet to finish a bottle of ink or a pack of cartridges should inform me that I do not need 50. But, the stationery mind has its own logic… 😅

    Good luck to us!

  5. Thanks for this post. I can relate so much to this. It is good to know that others with a stationery addiction feel the same.
    I was not planning to buy more pens this year, and then discovered the Jinhao X159 and now have four of them! However, they will help me to use up my stash of ink.
    As to finishing inks, it helps to break down bags of cartridges into manageable targets, such as putting 5 or 10 in a box on your table. I seem to have had bags of 30 cartridges around forever.
    Since I have been acquiring more and more pens, inks and notebooks for several years without hardly ever selling any pens, I am building an accumulation far faster than I can use them. But as well as the joy of a new thing, there is a different satisfaction to be had from finishing something.
    Over the Christmas holidays I threw out about 10 filled A5 Leuchtturm journals, which made me think it had been rather pointless writing rubbish in them for several years, although it was relaxing at the time. I still do it though.

    • I really love your cartridge idea…breaking them down into littler groups. I’m going to do the same! I wonder how many I can get through in a year? I may keep track.

  6. Thank you for your wonderful and thoughtful post. I’ve been thinking about similar things while at home with COVID :/ I felt like I reached my limit when I bought my Aurora Optima on FP Day sale last year, but in December fomo struck and I bought another pen. When it arrived, I was not even interested in inking it – it is lovely, but I feel oversaturated. I have not been tempted by a pen since. I don’t want to do a total no-buy year yet, mostly because things like these work best for me when they happen organically, but I certainly want to minimize. I have just under 20 pens total and that’s way too much for me to use consistently, so my first goal is to sell some pens before buying anything else. Best of luck with your resolution!

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