Life Hacks

A Tip for Getting Your Pens (& Life) in Order

September 27, 2015

Keep just enough pens in play.

Do you resent your desk drawer? Or the jar or coffee mug you've crammed with pens? There's hope!

This is my desktop pen holder. It might look like it has little functionality to offer, but it has improved my life in surprising ways. It was formerly a flower frog, which come in a variety of shapes designed to sit at the bottom of vases and hold flower arrangements in place—so pens are a natural fit, too.

Shop the Story

Keep an eye out for pretty vintage ones at flea markets and antique shops, or go hunting on Etsy or eBay—just be sure to get one of the kinds with sizable holes or a grid-like cage (like mine) and not the sort with spiky pins (though people get crafty and use pin-style frogs for propping up other things, like photos and business cards). I spotted my frog in an antique mall in Seattle, where it was propping up a handful of pencils, and immediately gravitated to the workflow improvements this would offer over the system I'd been using, if you can call it that.
Before I got my frog, all the pens in my house lived in an old coffee can that my fiancé has been carrying from apartment to apartment, probably since college. Whenever I needed to sign a check or write a birthday card, every pen I pulled out seemed to be low on ink or frayed at the tip or—with dismaying frequency—an orange Sharpie.

In the frog, since there are few pens, fully exposed, I know just what I'm grabbing—no more orange Sharpie surprise. And because there's only room for a tiny fleet of pens, they all have to pull their weight. As soon as one starts to falter, it's retired (maybe to the coffee can). When I'm done writing, it goes right back in its place, and I feel like my desk—and therefore my life—is under control.

I need more micro lifestyle improvements like this—got any good ones? (Tell me in the comments.)

Grab your copy

It's here: Our game-changing guide to everyone's favorite room in the house. Your Do-Anything Kitchen gathers the smartest ideas and savviest tricks—from our community, test kitchen, and cooks we love—to help transform your space into its best self.

Grab your copy

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Rhonda35
  • 702551
  • Amanda Hesser
    Amanda Hesser
  • Kristen Miglore
    Kristen Miglore
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Rhonda35 September 28, 2015
I'm not sure I'd agree that a pen frog will get my life in order (that's a big job!), but it sure is a lovely way to store your writing implements. It would work nicely as a holder for eye and lip pencils on a vanity, as well. Kristen, is your desk a vintage enamel-top table? I love the pattern on the surface!
Kristen M. September 30, 2015
Yes, Rhonda—good eye! I fell in love with the table top at a flea market in New Jersey and have since seen a lot of enamel-topped tables in the same size and shape, but none with quite the same pattern. Have you ever had one yourself?
Rhonda35 October 1, 2015
Yes, we have two! Both are white with black decoration and white-painted legs and both were passed down from family. I use my great-grandmother's table in the laundry room for folding, etc. And my husband's grandmother's table, which has the original chairs from the set, has served various purposes, from breakfast table to desk to craft space. Although pretty, neither table has a surface design as lovely as yours.
702551 September 27, 2015
Do not use pens that can't take ink replacement. When they start going south, the tendency is to keep them around. Then it becomes a roulette wheel when you pull one out of the jar.

If you use pens that accept ink replacement, you recharge then move along with your life. This could be an old-school fountain pen with a piston converter or a consumer-grade pen with ink refill cartridges.

For years, I swore by fountain pens with piston converters. You use one pen and when it stops writing, you refill the piston then everything is just like it was before.

Today, I swear by Pilot Frixxion pens. The ink cartridges don't seem to last very long, but they are easy to swap out. Why do I use these? Because THEY ARE ERASABLE.

I still use my fountain pen(s) for thank you cards (I like the way the ink flows out of these pens), but I no longer use them for daily writing.
Amanda H. September 27, 2015
Your frog is a beauty. Going to use this idea for our kids project room.