Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Daily Declutter #6 - One Pen Challenge

The other morning I was filling out a form for my daughter that she needed to hand in to school that day.  I grabbed a pen, started writing....and it didn't work.  Tossed it out, grabbed another....argh!  Didn't work!  Grabbed another.  Arrrrgh!  Another dead pen!  By then I was really scrambling around to try to find another pen.  How come it's always so hard to find a pen that works in this house?  I finally found one that worked, filled out the form and dashed my daughter out the door.

I decided to find a solution to the mystery of the disappearing pens & pencils in our household.  I hunted in all the usual crooks and crannies they hide in, all the desks, the kitchen drawer, the bedside table, etc.etc.  I scrounged up 66 pens & pencils!!!!  Why was it so hard to find one when I really needed it?

There were 35 pencils and 26 of them were busted or dull.  That means whenever my kids break the tip of a pencil, they don't bother sharpening it, they just get another one.  There were 31 pens, and 12 of them didn't even work.  All these pens and pencils helped me realize that because we had an excess of writing instruments, they had no value.  Pencil broke?  Toss it back in the drawer & grab another.  Who cares what you do with a pen after you use it - just drop it and forget about it, 'cause there's lots more in the house.  It's a great example of our materialistic, careless, throw-away society.

You may be thinking, "Whoa - materialistic, careless, & throw-away?  Those are harsh words when you're just talking about a handful of pens, Lynn."

But let's think about it.  If you only have one of something, and you need it - then it has a lot of value, right?  It doesn't matter if it's "only a pen".  I was reminded of a story from the "Little House on the Prairie" book series.  There's a chapter where Mary and Laura go to school for the first time.  Their parents give them some money (of which they had very little!) to go to the General Store and buy a slate, so they could learn to write.  They had to share the slate, because they couldn't afford one each.  The store owner reminded them that they would need to buy a slate pencil as well, and that it would cost one penny.  Here's what happened next.

"Pa had already spent so much for the slate that they hated to tell him that they needed another penny.  They walked along soberly till suddenly Laura remembered their Christmas pennies.  They still had those pennies that they had found in their stockings on Christmas morning in Indian Territory.  Mary had a penny and Laura had a penny, but they needed only one slate pencil.  So they decided that Mary would spend her penny for the pencil and after that she would own half of Laura's penny.  Next morning they bought the pencil at Mr. Beadle's store."

Can you imagine how careful those two sisters were with their slate pencil?  I'm sure they had a special spot to keep it, and made sure that they didn't break it.  Who knows how long that one pencil lasted?   Without it, Mary and Laura Ingalls couldn't do their school work; therefore it had great value.

So, I decided to create a One Pen Challenge for myself.  I sharpened all those dull, broken pencils, put two in my daughters' desk drawer for after school homework, along with a good eraser and PENCIL SHARPENER!  Then I tested out all the pens, tossed the ones that didn't work and picked out two of my favourite pens.  I put one pen in my husband's box on his dresser, and the other pen (for me) I tied to a string and attached to a magnet on the fridge.  One pen or pencil for each of us.  My four year old still got to keep her box of crayons and markers.  Then I bundled up all the extras with a rubber band and hid them far, far away in a place I will not tell my family.  The good news is, I shouldn't have to buy back to school pens or pencils for YEARS!

Now, does my pen have value?  Yep!  Will I be more careful with it?  Yep!  Will I always know where it is?  Yep!  Will I replace it when it runs out?  Yep!

I might sound a little weird, (okay a LOT weird), for doing this and you may be thinking to yourself, "Baaaaack awaaaay slowly from the crazy woman who's obsessing about pens....".  But if this one change helps me avoid the chaos of scrambling around looking for a pen that works, and helps me and my children to become more mindful, careful people, then this one change is worth it.

Let me know if you decide to go for just one pen!


  1. I always have that problem with pens - they disappear in our house. I'll think about going down to one pen. you did inspire me to clean out my sock/undergarment drawer - loving picking out socks and not having to weed out the holy ones.

  2. So far so good for the pen challenge for me - I never even have to think about it when I need one. It's still there on the fridge! And don't you love the simplicity in dressing when your drawers are decluttered?

  3. Wow! Were we separated at birth or what? I can so relate to the pencil fiasco, especially. I can never find a sharpened pencil yet I have a drawer full of them.
    I love this idea. It is SO simple, yet very profound. And I agree with this comment: "It's a great example of our materialistic, careless, throw-away society." Harsh? Maybe, but the truth hurts. So, thank you for inspiring another item for me to put on my 52 weeks of organizing. I will definitely be saving your blog as a favorite.

  4. Great idea. So funny that it sounds like we were sorting through our pens at the same time. Isn't it amazing how many pens and pencils we just toss back when they won't work instead of getting rid of them?
    Great idea with the 1 pen challenge.
    Thanks for linking up to my Organizing Mission Monday challenge

  5. Okay this is a great idea! I don't think it sounds crazy at all. I remember when I was a little girl reading about that one slate pencil, staring at all my crayons and wondering what that felt like. It's a great way to teach our kids how to value things, too!!

  6. Hi. Glad to stumble by your blog! I've a lot of pens all over the house, haunting me wherever I go. And yet, when I most need one, can't find any that works! I guess the more important issue here is the value of frugality we instill in our little ones by being a good example to them. Showing them we value every "little" thing we own will, in the long way, teach them as well to value every thing -- big or small-- that we give them. Thanks for your wonderful idea! And yes, I'll be following your blog. =)

    PS I'm going for the challenge. :)

  7. Thanks for stopping by! The one pen thing works amazingly well. I always know where it is. There's no more scrambling at all. If I take it off the fridge, the clunky magnet helps remind me to put it back. (Kinda like a big stick on a gas station bathroom key!)