What are your collecting ‘guardrails’?

As I have written many times over the years, I am a man with poor impulse control, little willpower, and questionable financial sense.

At times (such as right now) I’ve owned dozens of pens, keeping pens to review in one case, pocket pens in another, my cheaper ‘toy’ pens in another… But at the constant heart of my pen habit is this little drawer here. My ‘main tray’.

It turns out, this tray and its arbitrary, unplanned number of pen slots has become an important guardrail or anchor for my behaviour, getting me back on track when my impulses threaten to leave me drowning in stationery.

It is obvious to anyone and everyone that a reasonable man’s pens should fit in a tray like this. If they don’t, it’s not because there’s too little space. It’s because there are too many pens.

When I spend my hours agonising over which pens to sell, this tray is the yardstick. The question I ask is: which pens would ‘make the cut’ and belong in this main tray, sitting side by side with my Nakaya and Agatha and other greats?

If I can’t make the case for a pen to live here, but decide instead to store it in some overflow pouch in a drawer, I am really only deceiving myself. I know full well that when it’s tucked away in a drawer, a pen won’t get used much. If it’s not in my top 26 pens, why am I even keeping it?

The best thing about the tray is that it’s hard-sided. You’ll note the Murex in the photo above rests uneasily at the top of the tray. That’s because I’ve not truly finished with my latest cull. Unlike with a soft-sided case or pen pot there’s really no way to ‘sneak in a couple more’. The rules are firm. And this is important: in the past when I set myself challenges to stick to 10 pens, or 12, or 20, I lacked those true boundaries. There was space available, and I filled it.

But now whenever I feel my pens have got out of control, I can put this tray in front of me and fill it, one by one. The rigidity helps me make those hard decisions (pun intended). For every pen I choose to include, another pen gets excluded. It’s as simple as that. I can’t afford to waste a single choice. And I can make the best choices this way. Like Marie Kondo recommends, I have it all laid out there in front of me in the cold light of day. Looking at the whole collection at once helps me to optimise for variety and to put pens in context, rather than just asking ‘do I like this pen?’ in isolation.

After thinking about it, I was surprised to realise just how important this tray has been in shaping my collection. Of course, as I’ve just described it has helped define my habits of acquiring and selling. But it has also governed how I arrange and evaluate and pick from my pens on a daily basis. I wonder what would have happened if I had never started using it?

How do you store your pens, and how has that shaped your behaviour? Do you think it has?

20 thoughts on “What are your collecting ‘guardrails’?

  1. I actually have better purchase control than people might think, however I am terrible at culling and selling those pens I no longer use or want, and when I do try selling them I’m not very good at it.

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  2. I laid my pens all in front of me and i looked at the Marie Kondo book beside me telling me what to do. I pressed the button and called for an emergency meeting, Marie Kondo was ejected.

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  3. My collection is stored in a Pelikan collector’s box with 24 pen slots for the exact same reason. A sort of self-imposed self-discipline to compensate the lack of an automatic one.

    I did the same for my shoes bytheway. An IKEA wardrobe with 7 shelves for 28 pairs in total. Obviously, I cheat that system by not including sneakers, espadrilles, wellies and other garden shoes, etcetera.

    Therefore the same will likely apply when my 24th pen arrives: to exclude the two graduation gifts of my parents would be an easy start…

    Anyway, I guess it ultimately is about reducing one’s cognitive dissonance. How I envy those who don’t have that…

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    • There’s always a way around the system if you let there be! I have read up on capsule wardrobes and it’s really only for people in stable climates, plus work uniform is excluded, sports equipment, etc etc.

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  4. Wow, what discipline. My desk and book shelves are more like pen anarchy. Definitely not a fan of Marie Kondo. Someone who states that you should not have more than 30 books is clearly a culturally deprived (and completely depraved) zone. (I have more than 30 cookery books! Other books? Perhaps 4,000 plus.) Your system probably allows for an optimum of refresh and “what is new” strategy. Not sure if I have reached any sort of equilibrium or an economic and philosophical resolve. Am I awaiting wisdom or financial fatigue?

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    • Ah, that’s not really what she says — if you truly love having books around, have them around, but don’t keep them for the wrong reasons, and display the objects you care about at their best. Kondo made me realise that I was hanging on to a load of literature from my degree because I wanted to look smart, not because I actually wanted to read them or liked having them there, taking up space. Once I realised that and accepted that I’m not a literature reader today, I got rid of them and haven’t missed them. But anyway! Yes, absolutely, I need a system that lets me balance old and new pens. I probably think more about what pens to keep Vs sell than is strictly healthy!

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  5. I’ve had the best time culling my pens. No longer trying to sell any of my culls. I gave one away to a person who had never used a fountain pen, showed her how to use it, gave her a bottle of Noodler’s Black, and she was thrilled. As I don’t need the money I’ve decided to give the others away as well. The look of wonder and enthusiasm on her face was worth more than the price of all the pens. I’m giving away the rest this fall to people who have never had an fp, and who will appreciate them.

    Just as I have been giving away pens I no longer use, I’ve been giving away inks I don’t use. Apache Sunset, Noodler’s Black, Private Reserve Tanzanite, Noodler’s Red Black, Diamine inks and many, many others I simply don’t use. Some were a mistake to buy while others were fine to use, but just not my taste. I’ve grown tired of trying to read some inks as they seem garish and unprofessional in correspondence. I now have 7 inks I use and that’s plenty for me. YMMV.

    Will I still buy pens? Certainly – but they will be pens I want, most likely handmade or high quality (I’m looking at you Onoto Sequoyah w/gold nib) but no longer buying pens simply to have a new pen. Since buying a YOL Grand Vic and Pelikan M1000 earlier this year, I’ve not bought another pen. While some are tempting, I always think “What does this new pen do for me that I don’t already have” and after 24 hrs the original desire has grown dim. I have 15 pens in a wooden holder on my desk that are the ones I use, with 8 always inked. I have 30 pens to give away as the mood strikes and none of them are non-writers or duds. It’s that they don’t give me pleasure but maybe what someone else could use and enjoy.

    One never knows what a simple gift of a fountain pen and ink might do for someone.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I like your idea of giving pens and inks away. I had planned to do that at my local pen club meetings. Then Covid happened, and the club is only meeting online. I really don’t know anyone who’s interested in writing with fountain pens other than the people in my pen club, so I guess it’ll have to wait a while.

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  6. A fixed income works well for me to keep my pen addiction in check. I love the vintage Esterbrook lever fill pens (because one was my first fountain pen that wrote well.) I’d been out of fountain pens for quite a few years, so I’m just breaking back into the habit again, so although I have several cheaper pens for regular use, I’m only at 5 different Esterbrook pens right now.
    For my fixed income, I can justify about 1 a month, and unrestored. So I’m into playing with them to clean up and tweak them. Keeps my addiction in check pretty well, so far.

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  7. Well, the Agatha Christie is for your little girl, so you can keep it elsewhere and save a space.
    Saaaay…. you sold the Homer ? If I would keep 1 MB out of my approx 20, it would be the Homer.
    It is in essence perfect!
    Also no Pelikan was worthy?

    But I do like the fixed space concept. I may adopt similar eventually

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  9. What is that wonderful swirled pen three from the right?

    I also ejected Marie Kondo. I don’t have the time or energy to spread everything out and then put it all back. But I am slowly culling pens. I acquired a lot when I was buying old lots on eBay to practice re-sac-ing them. I’m going through the process of inking them and using them to see if they suit me. I don’t sell the ones I don’t want either. I like giving them away.

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      • Oh, I’ve been deep in Pen Wonderland for a while now. (At least the company down here is excellent.) And staying at home to avoid getting/spreading COVID has given me far too much time to spend looking at pens. While I *have* acquired a few new ones, I’ve been trying to assuage my cravings by indulging in inks. But now that it seems as if I’ll be home even longer (I thought we’d have a better handle on this situation than we do and justified my profligacy by telling myself I couldn’t do too much damage for the few months I’d be holed up inside), I’m going to have curb that stop-gap measure as well. Maybe.

        And I don’t have any pens from the Carolina Pen Company…

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