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.
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.