Why I’ll always have a shelf full of ink and a bag full of pens
Some people stick to just a few pens, or just a few inks. In fact, some elite disciplined few on the forums I frequent say they’ve found just one ink, often a black or blue-black, that they’re content to use for the rest of their days.
That’s not me. Not now, and probably not ever.
I say not now because I’m still busy searching for that perfect pen, that perfect ink. The rabbit hole is stretching ahead as I start to experiment with custom nibs and wonder whether it’s actually perfectly reasonable to pay £50 for a bottle of Ink of Witch.
I say not ever because I’ve been on this rollercoaster before. Even after the initial flurry of purchases associated with a hobby die down — once I know what I like and have reached a point of diminishing returns in terms of quality and performance — even then, if I care about something I will always want multiple options available to me.
That’s because I want access to the right tool for the job, and feel more comfortable with a backup on hand in case of unexpected failure (who takes just one pen into an exam?). But it’s also because I’ll always have one eye out looking for something new and better, even while acknowledging the worth of what I’ve already got.
This has played out for me over the years in watches (I’ve settled at four: two automatics, two quartz, mix of styles — bought two of them in 2016, though), pocket knives (stabilised at about eight — but got one for Christmas), torches (refined to about a dozen — but bought one last week), bags and briefcases (about six) and so on.
So, I’ll never end up with one pen and one lonely bottle of ink sitting on the shelf.
Objects come with responsibilities
Living like this has many implications. Money, obviously. And storage. But what’s on my mind at the moment is maintenance.
Many of my stocks of objects need some periodic looking after — flashlights need charging and lubricating; knives need oiling and sharpening; watches need setting. But pens are most demanding of all. Unless they’re bedded down for storage, they benefit from flushing out whenever they run dry, or whenever I get bored of a particular pen/ink combination.
Maintenance could be seen as burdensome, and I admit that at times it is frustrating. Flushing my Lamy 2000 or Pilot CON-70 converters is an exercise in patience that could test a saint. But, as with my other hobbies, I actually enjoy the ritual, and just as importantly find the end results satisfying.
A meditative ritual
Once half a dozen pens have been flushed, dried, inked and returned to their cases, I feel the same expectant glow as I get looking at a packed suitcase: the work is done, everything is neat and “just so”, and all that’s left is the anticipation of the unknown future, pregnant with possibilities.
In the rush toward minimalism, it’s easy to accept blithely that our possessions are a burden, that the true cost of a purchase is in worrying about it, storing it, maintaining it, moving it, accessorising it, insuring it.
These facts are all true. I would no doubt spend less time thinking about, and spending time and money on, stationery if I settled on two or three pens, each inked with a single, timeless colour. Sometimes that appeals, and over the years ahead I do plan to refine down my number of pens and bottles, much as I have with my other hobbies.
But the pure minimalism argument misses not just the pleasure of having beautiful things in your life (the collector’s mindset), but the joy in working on and with the things you have. It’s a kind of mindfulness in itself: when I’ve finished my ritual reinking, I feel positive, in control, focused. I’d miss that feeling if it were gone.