Digital Divide Volume 5: Sometimes It's Just Time to Clean House
Don’t use analog for the sake of using analog. Don’t use digital for the sake of using digital. Use the best tool for the job at hand. Simple enough, right? You’d think. But is a philosophy built on “using the best tool for the job” ever going to be consistent with owning three dozen fountain pens? What about the dozens of notebooks I have yet to crack open, and don’t get me started on the bottles of ink that have accumulated on shelves and in drawers. Multiple pen cases sit empty for extended periods of time, or are used to store pens that never get used.
If you’ve been following me on Twitter, Instagram, and in the Pen Addict Slack Channel, you’ll have notices that I’ve been selling things off. A significant number of things, actually, amounting to almost a third of my “collection”. I was nervous about embarking on this project, but once I started, it felt great, and I think I’m going to keep going. A few reasons why:
Guilt. I have a strong aversion to accumulating a ton of stuff that I don’t use, and I feel guilty allowing nice things to just sit in their case. I don’t like that I end up not using things I REALLY love because I feel like I need to work all the other stuff I have “into the rotation.” Using all of those pens became, to some degree, an obligation. Maybe not a significant one, but it definitely sits there at the back of my mind, gnawing away. Never underestimate the mental and emotional burden of clutter!
Losing Sight of Purpose. As I alluded to above, at some point endlessly accumulating pens, ink and paper becomes inconsistent with the reason I started my blog (and later, this newsletter). I started the blog when I first got into using nicer pens, as a way to keep track of my thoughts on the various models I tried, my overall likes and dislikes, etc. Basically, I intended it to be a chronicle of my “journey” towards finding that ideal “tool set” that really spoke to me and “worked” for my working style and workflow. At the end of the day, I don't want to forget that my original love of pens, stationery, and even analog tools such as typewriters and keyboards stems from the joy of actually working with them to create things. People occasionally ask me whether I started the blog as an “excuse” to use my pens. For me, that’s not the case. I mean, I enjoy writing the blog because it necessarily involves playing around with stuff I love, and sometimes prompts me to try a brand or a model I wouldn’t otherwise, but pens aren't purely a hobby for me. I do use my pens all day every day for work, and I rarely purchase pens solely to review them for the blog (though sometimes such pens are donated or lent to me by retailers and readers). I’ve consciously tried to avoid losing sight of my larger purpose in having nice pens (having fun creating great work) at the expense of owning them for the sake of having a large collection, even if it’s “valuable”.
Finances. When things get too far out of whack with any hobby, there can be financial consequences. At some point I realized that I had a lot of money tied up in pens I wasn’t using. Even though I’ve managed to keep the expenditures of my pen hobby within the confines of my overall budget, as I zeroed in on the tools I truly like and want to use on a regular basis, it began to make no sense to keep the stuff that sat idle. Even if I didn’t mind having that money tied up in pens, I could sell off stuff I wasn’t using and afford to buy a smaller number of nicer pieces that I knew I would truly love. Consolidation!
Reselling: the Beauty of Analog. The ability to resell unused tools and consolidate is also one of the beautiful things about analog. How many relatively expensive apps or software programs have you purchased, only to realize that it wasn’t for you? Unless the developer is willing to give you a refund, a disappointing app or buggy software program is a sunk cost; it’s not like you can go resell it to someone else and recoup at least a portion of your cash outlay. Pens? With a few exceptions, most pens I’ve been able to resell for around 75% of what I paid. If it’s a vintage pen that I bought in nonfunctional conditions and restored, I’ve even made a little bit of money. I really do wish I could sell off 90% of the “minimalist writing apps” cluttering up my phone and mac. True, there’s not much I can do with a used notebook, though all those unused notebooks, pens and pencils make great gifts around holidays. Somehow my family always knows what they’ll be getting from me.
Hopefully some of you have had the opportunity to benefit from my bout of housecleaning, and have been able to grab, at a fair price, a pen that you think you’ll be able to incorporate into your own life. If something’s not “the pen” for me, it could still be “THE pen” for someone else. All the more reason to get it out of storage and listed for sale!
Lots of people have written on this topic, many in the context of “blogger burnout”, which seems to occur when people start blogging out of obligation rather than enjoyment. Check out the following pieces for some relevant thoughts:
That One Pen: Time for a Change. Todd talks about how he's starting a new blog, and while he'll still writing about pens, he's opened the door to writing about other interests as well. Also see his piece "A Conclusion But Not An Ending," where Todd discusses how he began "intentionally focusing on using fewer writing tools to see what really works." I think it's a similar process to what I'm going through now.
Harry Marks: How Many Notebooks Do You Really Need? "There's only so much joy you can get out of looking at an unopened pack of notebooks before that joy is replaced with longing. Longing for stories untold and lists unchecked, for ideas and phone numbers and ephemera that whips across your face like a blizzard as you go about your day."
FourFiftyTwo: On the Topic of Burnout. "Like I have said in many places, I reached a pen collection plateau. I am very happy with everything I own and nothing is really catching my eye - not enough to spend my limited budget at least. It feels like a lot of stationery blogs are sustained by constantly accumulating [and] getting new stuff to review. Because I haven't gotten anything new in so long, it made me feel at a loss for what to post."