How My First Pen Purchase Sent Me Down The Path To Materialism

A collection of pens from Sharpies to Pigma Microns

I’ve never been one for materialism. Car? Been using a decade-old jalopy for the longest time. Home? Don’t own one. Clothes? They’re just 90% black tees. My mobile phones have also been hand-me-downs for as long as I can remember.

I’ve never understood shopaholics either. Just what do people get from buying things for the sake of it? But then I found pens. Then I knew what it meant to want things, even though it didn’t make sense most of the time.

Now I understand what shopping means. Most importantly, I’ve learned the lessons on materialism and how it applies to all of us.

You’ll never know how they get you

I remember going back to college in my late twenties. I was a decade older than most of my classmates, yet I was the only one without proper stationery in class.

I remember standing in Popular Bookstore, a local retail chain, feeling the pain from not being able to just buy some pens and notebooks without first having to calculate the rest of my week’s spendings.

Hey, I was between jobs, and I’d just broken my hand, so things weren’t exactly going too well.

I fancied myself a writer then. I mean, I’d always written just for the sake of it, but this was when I started taking the craft seriously. So when I saw that Jetstream ballpoint pen, I figured it was worth the USD 4, which was a lot for a pen at that time.

But I remember using it for the first time and realising how I’ve been using nothing but peasant pens all my life. As broke as I was, I remember vowing never to use ‘normal’ pens ever again.

There’s always the gateway drug

For the most part, I’d stuck to my promise of always having a decent pen. And I never thought much of it. That was until I’d made one more career change and found myself in the publishing industry.

Now I was truly a writer, so I deserved a fountain pen. The first purchase was rather easy. I just googled ‘fountain pen for beginners’ and bought the one that was mentioned the most, which in this case was the Pilot Metropolitan.

How I wish my subsequent purchases would’ve been as easy.

You see, the more you get into something, the more you develop a taste for it. And when that happens, you start buying things not for their intended use, but to reflect who you are.

Look at me, a certain brand would proclaim, my owner knows his stuff!

I would reach that level sooner than I expected, but right then, I was just a little naive writer, thinking that his abilities lied in the instruments that he used.

You can build a tolerance to price tags as you do heroin

The previous pen cost about USD 25. Not too bad, right? But like any other person mired in the throes of consumerism, I needed new things to cover the features that the Metropolitan lacked.

So I set my sights on the Pilot Custom 74. We’re entering new territory here at USD 100 a pop. Just years ago I would’ve balked at the price tag, but at that moment it seemed pretty reasonable.

This pen had a gold nib. I never had gold anything. This would be the answer to all my problems. It would end my run of unnecessary purchases. I just knew it.

Cue the montage of me pulling up to the shop in my jalopy, the ringing of the cash register, and me unboxing the pen. It was all rather exciting. Up until I had it in my hands.

Sure, it wrote much better than my starter pen, and I could finally say that I owned a gold-nibbed pen, but that was as far as my satisfaction went.

You know how an idea sounds good in your head, then you say it out loud and regret it the moment that idea leaves your lips? That’s how I felt with this purchase. It certainly felt much better when it was just a desire. Luckily, I already knew what the problem was.

I needed another pen that actually sung to me.

Two women smoking cigarettes

Buying pens is addictive, and this is coming from someone who used to smoke a pack a day. Photo: Mikail Duran

Buying shit almost feels like chasing the next high

The next pen in my sights wasn’t really expensive in the grand scale of pen collecting, but my next choice, the LAMY 2000, was double the price I had paid for the Custom 74.

But it had everything I was looking for—an ink window so I could tell when I needed a refill, a hooded nib so that the ink wouldn’t dry up, and a snap cap so I didn’t need to bothering unscrewing every time I wanted to write something down.

To be honest, I wasn’t entirely comfortable spending that much on a pen, really, but this was a classic, one that had been around for over five decades! Surely, this would be my final purchase of all?

It was the same drill: me pulling up to the store, my car’s engine juddering from old age; the beep of the credit card machine; and the glint in the storeowner’s eyes (Mister Lee) as he packaged my pen. I wondered if Lee ever felt like a drug dealer sometimes.

I went home, took the pen out for a twirl, and before I could finish writing ‘the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’, I’d already known that I’d just done it again. I’d bought something that didn’t truly make me happy.

Well, that was as far as I would go. I was going to stop buying pens. I could do that right? It wasn’t hard, right?

Ha. Ha ha ha. Hahahahahahahaha.

Things don’t even make me happy

Remember when I said that people tend to discover what they like in a hobby the more they get into it? In the pen world, some people enjoy ornamental designs. Others prefer a hefty pen. I myself only cared about the nib.

But when I bought the Pilot Customer Heritage 912, it would be a decision totally devoid of logic.

I’ve finally managed to land a managerial position, I told myself. You’d toiled for six years in hairdressing and got nowhere. But look at you now! You deserve this.

Yup, the only reason why I purchased that pen was because it had a flex nib. I found out pretty quick that I didn’t really enjoy using fancy pens for everyday purposes.

It was just a tad more expensive than the LAMY 2000, but what hurt me the most was realising that I’d just spent so much money on a pen that I would never use.

Another thing that I hated to think about was the fact that I could’ve bought a top-of-the-line model had I not purchased all the other standard pens to date (and I’ve omitted a ton of other in-between purchases).

Maybe that was my problem. Maybe I’d stop pining for pens the moment I reached the pinnacle of the hobby.

I was going to go for broke.

Sometimes life gives you what you need, not what you want

Thankfully, I had the common sense not to purchase something simply because I had the money, because COVID season would arrive, and having money in the bank gave me peace of mind.

The pandemic would help me reexamine my priorities, and I would finally come to the conclusion that I would not find my happiness in pens. In fact, I’d probably not find it in anything external.

There I was, browsing Mister Lee’s pen website, in a much better place than when I was in Popular Bookstore, yet I didn’t feel any happier.

It never ends, does it?

That’s what I’d asked my conscience. But the person that replied was my compulsive self: No.

And I’ll never be happy?

Never.

And that was the moment when my interest in pens began to fade.

You know how people say that money can’t buy happiness? They don’t mean the relief you get from paying off your debts with a windfall. Oh, you’ll definitely feel great after that.

What they mean is that when all your needs are taken care of, that you’re not going to necessarily feel happier in your Bentley than you did in your Toyota.

And perhaps true happiness doesn’t exist in that shiny new thing that you think you need. Perhaps it’s in learning to find joy in the things you already have.


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66 thoughts on “How My First Pen Purchase Sent Me Down The Path To Materialism

    • And I love your comment. You really know how to make a writer happy. Can’t say I’ve come across free spirited before, but now I feel like I like having my stories called that. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  1. Very enjoyable read, and I like your observations about why we do things like this. Your search for the perfect pen reminds me of my husband’s search for the perfect pair of hammers (he plays the hammered dulcimer). When he was beginning to learn to play, he felt he made mistakes because he didn’t have the perfect pair of hammers. So he bought a different kind. And yet again and again. I swear he has 40 pairs of hammers for his dulcimer . . . but he uses only two pair over and over. Because, as he got better, he abandoned the excuse that it was the hammers’ fault for the wrong notes. I went through a similar phase with idiophones, looking for one that would allow me to be a musician. Spoons. Bones. Guiros. Claves. Drums. Shakers. Scrapers. Eventually the thrill of the search lessened, until I gave up. And went back to what I love best: writing. It’s fun to indulge a compulsion now and then. But also a relief when one gives it up and comes back to the real world. Thanks again for such a fun read!

    • You used the perfect word there: compulsion. And it can be a very strong pull sometimes too—for no specific reason at all. Like, why do I need ‘better’ pens? Yet until today, whenever I put a specific pen on paper, there’s always something that can be improved. I guess my peace will come from learning to appreciate how each pens perform, despite their perceived imperfections. Anyway, thanks for such a lovely comment. You and your husband have super interesting hobbies indeed.

  2. Your words made it totally clear what you mean! I went through a similar syndrome some time back, buying expensive thing after expensive thing, but then I got depressed because … well, you’ve put it as best as it’s said.
    I never knew you had a thing for pens, but I also own an inherited Parker x Toyota fountain pen (found it in my grandmother’s house years after she died) and it’s actually got a cool feel to it. I’m not a fan of buying more of them, I suppose.
    But here’s the thing: EVERYBODY with some money to spare (or everybody who gives themself the illusion that they do) has gone through the thing you’ve gone through … with all sorts of buyable stuff. This is a great reminder to take care.
    Loved the post though! And look who’s putting out two posts a week now. I would’ve preferred twice a week rather than twice a day every week, but it’s still great to see ya upping your content game!

  3. Yes, I must agree. I’d buy stuff I thought I had to have, two weeks later interest and excitement is gone. I keep my still new 30 year old guitar as a constant reminder.

    • Haha, and it takes guts to admit that! Maybe that’s the ‘tuition fee’ we need to pay to learn this lesson. Maybe it’s not all bad. At least we’ll be more mindful with our future purchases, eh?

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

  4. Holy crap! You weren’t kidding about the prices! I thought I was extravagant the other day when I dropped 12 USD on some Uniball click pens! I will say though that I am addicted to pens and notebooks, so totaled together, it’s possible/probable I’ve spent as much as you have. Or books. I own so many books I’d don’t know if I’ll live long enough to read them. Amazon makes it too easy to buy things. This post was very entertaining.

  5. Enjoyed reading this.
    True- – money can’t buy happiness. But, it can give happiness.
    My mother wanted nothing for her 90th birthday.
    As a surprise, we sponsored a dessert on her behalf for the residents of a short stay home for cancer patients and their caregivers..
    On her birthday, we drove her to the home and while she sat in her chair we, her three daughters distributed sweets to each one of the residents.
    The joy on her face was priceless!

      • Not that I could afford it either. It was a real good present from my mother in law. But I totally understand you, as a guitar player, we use to call it GAS (guitar acquisition syndrome), and you may have the most expensive guitar in the world that you will soon be in the mood for a better one…

      • Lolol yup I use GAS specifically for pens. I felt slight GAS from mechanical keyboards, but thankfully I can resist most purchases. Pens hooked me quite deep though. And I can see how guitars can too, with all the pedals and stuff.

  6. Wow! Thanks Stu. In our fast-paced world, it’s so easy to forget that life is actually made up of the small moments, not the big fanfares. Those burst forth like fireworks but last just as long too sad to say. it’s only the little things that stick around for the long haul. May we never forget! As alw, apprec the sharing. PS Thankfully my in-laws run a stationery shop so I’m never short of pens LOL!!

    • Whoa, that’s a pretty cool slice of your life to know about, Kelvin! I wouldn’t know what to do if I had people close to me run a stationery shop. I’d probably see them a lot. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. You’re right, you never know how they’ll get you, because now I’ve read this and I want some PENS. A good pen is a beautiful thing!

    I never have enough scarves and I have no regrets. :-)

    • Lol yeah, nothing beats a good pen, especially as a writer. The challenge lies in remembering why you bought a certain pen in the first place, rather than pining for the next one.

      Wishing that you have fun with pens as much as you do with scarves!

  8. Surprisingly I am attracted to this this post of yours, but I was not drawn to your two (or three) previous posts.

    This part of your post I like the most:
    “You see, the more you get into something, the more you develop a taste for it. And when that happens, you start buying things not for their intended use, but to reflect who you are.”

    I started to look at myself in relation to that. I mean…it is the part that it reflects who I am.
    It is like getting into something so deep, that it becomes a part of you.

    I was like, what are those things then for me?
    Specific Gemstones and The Joker Merchandises.
    Well, you already know my connection to ‘The Joker’,
    but about Gemstones…they are a part of my ‘tool for enhancement’ when doing ‘spiritual activities’.
    None of us ‘generally need them’ for such things, but they help a lot especially in magnifying the effect of those activities (if you know how to do it).
    I know that basically, I already have all that I need when it comes to Gemstones…and I go with two specific ones (specific ones for specific purposes).

    I did mention to you before, about my past with ‘healing’, but I didn’t want to focus on that anymore…but recently, I was pulled into it…but focused only on ‘helping to heal, guide, and protect my family’ (there’s a deeper story but let’s not go there).

    The link below is the strongest desire I ever felt…to buy. Just look at it and you’ll know what I mean.
    It is an ‘Amethyst Scepter’! I was so shocked because it looks like something in the media…a wizard’s magical staff.
    I shared that page with my brother and he knows that I use crystals to help my family.
    The basic thing is…that ‘scepter’ is like a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ thing, which is also why I felt that super strong desire towards it…until I fantasized myself using one to heal others.
    The price is at maximum around RM2500, and there is an installment plan.

    In short, I don’t have a credit card for the installment plan, but I did send out my wish about having one someday.

    Why not? I go to crystal shops regularly (usually window shopping) but I never saw a ‘scepter’.
    I guess you could imagine how shocked, excited, and passionate I became when I saw it.

    https://shopee.com.my/%E2%9C%9C%E2%99%99%E2%9C%B230cm-Natural-Brazil-Raw-Amethyst-Point-Wand-Crystals-Healing-Stones-Crystal-Point-Wand-Specimen-Reiki-Stone-Healing-i.463563762.10429253668?position=251

    • Whoa, I didn’t know what to expect, but I totally didn’t expect that price. But I guess this is how people react when I talk to them about pens too. The first thing they always ask me is: “They cost that much?!”

      Totally agreed on going into something so deep that it becomes part of you. Like, I may be returning to cheaper pens for more clarity, but every pen I use now goes through a judgement process that dates all the way back to my first Jetstream. Even the ones loaned to me to fill forms.

      Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts. It’s much appreciated!

  9. A lot of new-to-me info in this post, the most salient being “those in the pen world . . .” There’s a pen world?! Also didn’t know pens could cost that much. I’ve written with good pens before (always someone else’s I was borrowing for a sec), and I always think, “Oh, this is so much better than the crappy pens I use. I’ve got to get one.” But then I leave the room and forget all about it. The only time I really think about pens is when I’m using a really bad one. Then I get frustrated. Actually, the husband accuses me of stealing pens from businesses, but they’re logo pens that the banks/companies want me to take. Free advertising for them. They’re just ok, but then, I don’t have a pen problem like some people do/did. ;)

    • Ahaha, yeah, and I haven’t even dived deep into the pen world yet (fortunately)! There’s a bunch of people willing to scour for pens made in the 50s and pay good money for them. Then there are those who’d willingly wait years for a nibmeister to grind a nib specifically the way they want them. It’s a crazy world when you think it’s just about pens. But then again, nothing is crazy when you’re in it.

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! What a lovely comment this was.

  10. That’s… interesting. I would like to say I can relate, but I’ve been trained by external and internal forces to not embrace such a lifestyle. (No joke, I would get in trouble for buying a shirt) Although, my parents and siblings would definitely relate. One was all about the kitchen gadgets, the other was sports memorabilia, the older sibling was videogames, and the younger sibling was body care products. They’d spend fortunes on these things just to have them. These things would be collecting dust in no time, but they had them and that’s what was important.

    • That is super interesting! Would you care to share more about this ascetic lifestyle? Or would you prefer it to remain private?

      I ask this because I aspire to simplify my life (except maybe a struggle or two, as you can tell from this post), and your comment really piqued my interest.

      Anyway, thanks for stopping by!

      • I’ve never thought about it, so it will be kind of awkward. This lifestyle is just something I do out of habit. But I have a tier list of importance, with housing and food at the top, then utilities, and other bills. Once those bills are paid, I give myself a $25 allowance to spoil myself with once a month after the major bills are paid (it rolls over to the next month if I don’t spend it). There’s also a redline in my bank account that I do not cross, which ensures that I don’t lose another home. I used to set aside a certain percentage of my paycheck for savings, but I can’t do that anymore due to insurance payments. That said, the ascetic lifestyle is a lot easier to do if you have a roommate because then there is a load to share, and you can help each other if need be. You’ll just have to accept that you won’t have much privacy and will be compelled to leave the premise just for alone time frequently. (The roommate part is a lot easier with friends or family. Would not recommend with people you met at a bar.)

        But funny story. Shortly before posting this, I realized that I have quite a collection of blankets. So I guess I do have a materialistic vice… with blankets… Kind of weird, but at least they are comfy.

      • That is such an interesting comment to share, and I enjoyed reading it. Hopefully your roommate isn’t someone you met from a bar? :P

        I think what it all comes down to is that housing, food, and utilities are the main things we need in our lives. The rest is just topping.

        Anyway, thanks again for sharing!

  11. Loved this. I’m not particular in the type of pens I purchase or use, I just hoard them. And they have to be blue ink. Other than that, I’m probably using what you termed peasant pens. Haha! I will relate this post to my affinity to wallets. There have been enough purchases to open my own store. Recently, I’d spent over $100 on a wallet–something I said I’d never do. I prefer to put that amount in a wallet than spend it on a wallet with no money to put inside. Once home, I realized the wallet wasn’t as functional as I wanted, plus, it was so similar to that last wallet I’d bought. So I returned it. The endless cycle, like you and pens. So much to process and digest here. Thanks for this!

    • We all have your weaknesses, don’t we? And nothing hurts more than buyer’s remorse, especially after spending a sum that’s beyond our typical budget. But again, I feel that these experiences teaches us on who we are and what we want, so I guess all is not lost. Thanks so much for sharing your story! It’ll definitely be useful to other readers as well.

  12. Hey, what about a pen give away.. someone just recommend I do a book give away ( my blog today).. we could do a twofer. Or forget them… you can just send me the pen. Great post. 👏👏👏👏

  13. Pingback: How My First Pen Purchase Sent Me Down The Path To Materialism – MAD Production. Company.

  14. I couldn’t imagine such a passion for pens, but the way you described how it happened made me feel it. I don’t think I have anything that makes me feel so obsessed with it. There was a time that I used to shop a lot, mostly clothes and shoes but I think I did it mostly because I just could. Covid arrival showed me that there are very few things that I really need to posses so now I follow a really minimalistic lifestyle.
    Loved your ending :)

    • Omg same. It’s COVID that taught me how little I needed in terms of material items. I mean, I have always leaned towards sparse when it came to belongings, but COVID took that one step further. Now I’m starting to realise that the roof over my head, nutritious food, exercise, loved ones, and good rest are all I really need. Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful comment!

  15. Such a wonderful ride into and out of your addiction and subsequent rejection of pens as an acknowledgement that ‘shiny and new’ isn’t always ‘shiny and new’. “There’s always the gateway drug.” is a fabulous analogy that sets the tone for the rest of the piece.

    Personally, I love all stationary and office-y type products. Luckily, I’ve never had a high priced habit but I sure have a hell of a lot of colourful pens, types of paper, highlighters, journals, scissors, sticky notes, paper clips, tapes, and so on. I always call it “retail therapy”…I go into it knowing that true happiness is found elsewhere but it’s a nice boost on an otherwise bad day.
    [Justification = It’s cheaper than actual therapy!?!] ;D

    • Oh, journals have gotten me smitten too, and those do burn a hole in my pocket as well. I’ve since resorted to pencils, because they’re basic and you can’t possibly spend too much on—OMG STEINBECK USED A BLACKWING I NEED TO FIND IT.

      Thanks so much for sharing your amazing thoughts!

  16. I realize the real message here is about the bottomless rabbit hole of trying to find the perfect [insert item], but I did enjoy the pens themselves. I love fountain pens and have my small collection (mostly inexpensive) that lay mostly unused while I tap away on a laptop or phone, but I do have one pretty fancy pen that I paid real money for many years ago – a Namiki Vanishing Point. Interestingly, they still make that very same pen, and have added a few new style and finish variations to the range.

    • Oh wow, the VP was on my list too, but then I realised that I would never stop, not after I get the 823, not after I get the Visconti, so I ended up freezing all my future purchases, and true to my predictions, I actually DIDN’T need them at all.

      I still enjoy a good writing instrument though.

      Thanks so much for sharing your story. I appreciate it!

  17. I can honestly see pens as a common gateway purchase for writers. There are some really nice ones out there, and it’s easy to justify it as something that inspires or sets the right mood for writing. I’m glad you were able to take a good hard look at the habit before it became too entrenched.

    I did something similar with notebooks for a while, impulse-buying fancy covers and then ironically feeling shy about actually writing in them because I wanted to put something “great” in there. One time I was eyeing this thing that had metallic-embossed leather binding, and I think that’s when I realized it was getting out of hand. I’ve gone back to my older habit of buying cheap, nondescript notebooks as “camouflage” now. 😁

    • It does turn into a hedonic treadmill, doesn’t it? Once we start going deeper into our interests, we begin needing that one special feature, that final purchase that will have us set for life. Only that never happens as long as we’re looking to the next acquisition.

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience with notebooks! It really is a thing to not want to ‘dirty’ your nice notebooks with your everyday scrawls, which defeats the purpose entirely. Like you, I’m also trying to fall back to pencils and cheap paper. We’ll see how that goes!

  18. Pingback: Why Using Pencils To Write May Be More Eye-Opening Than You Think | Your Friendly Malaysian Writer

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