The Problem of the Pencil Sharpener

In 2002 my boyfriend and I bought a house together and shortly after that we got married. Sometime soon after that, he bought a pencil sharpener. He bought, in fact, this very pencil sharpener. It is the kind of pencil sharpener that many of us had in our households when we were little kids. Our responsible parents installedPencil Sharpener them in sensible locations: in the doorway near the kitchen closet, in the basement near the workbench, and so on. They installed pencil sharpeners so that everyone in the household would know what to do when a pencil got dull and needed to be sharpened. You would go to the pencil sharpener — which was not too high up on the wall, but placed in such a way that both adults and school-age children could use it — and sharpen your pencil. It wasn’t a big deal, really, but it was definitely fun. Everyone knows that pencil sharpeners are fun. And then there’s the pleasure of using a freshly sharpened pencil.

My husband and I are both fans of pencils, freshly-sharpened pencils in particular, and we have strong feelings about what types of pencils are best. We’re kind of snobs about it, in my opinion — perhaps my husband would protest and say, “I’m not a snob about pencils!” but let me tell you: anyone who mail orders boxes of pencils so that they only have the kind of pencil they like best is definitely a snob about pencils — and part of that is caring about how the pencil is sharpened. We agree that for on-the-go sharpening, the small metal jobs you get at art supply stores are necessary (and I keep one in my wallet). We agree that the plastic ones you find at drug stores and the like are inevitably mediocre; supermarket ones with the little plastic enclosures that catch the shavings are useless. You’re better off just having the naked metal sharpener and holding it over the wastebasket when you’re using it.

So we were both very pleased with ourselves when we got this pencil sharpener. The problem was, we could never figure out where to install it. So we lived in that house for a decade — ten years, folks — and never installed it anywhere. It lived on a shelf in the pantry for that whole time, unused. Much loved, mind you, but unused.

When we moved house in 2011, I carefully packed everything on those pantry shelves. Tiny glass bottles that got dug out of the backyard during the misguided attempts at gardening; strange salt and pepper shakers that were given to us as wedding gifts; a jar of silver polish; a can of Nevr-Dull, which is terrifying stuff but really, really effective for cleaning metal; the iron that my husband acquired at the Hadassah in Boston; the pencil sharpener. These items, and more, were packed into a large Rubbermaid bin and hauled over to the new apartment, and because we no longer had a pantry, and we no longer had shelves on which to store these items, they’ve stayed in the Rubbermaid bin for five years now. I’ve had occasion to take out the can of Nevr-Dull (we got a copper coffee table and decided to polish it, which is a whole other story), but the rest of the stuff’s just been sitting there all this time.

But a few days ago, readers will recall, I had occasion to pull out the iron, which now, by the way, lives in a bucket near the washing machine. And in pulling out the iron, I stumbled on the pencil sharpener, which is a thing we’ve all been thinking about a lot because our daughter is now at an age where she does a lot of homework and can sharpen her own pencils. For three years she’s been doing homework and in all those years we’ve been relying on the pencil sharpener I carry in my wallet. It’s fine; my wallet is usually handy. But frankly, it’s also annoying that every time my daughter does homework, I have to reach for my wallet. “We should really install that pencil sharpener,” I’ve said to my husband probably once a month for the last two years. “Yeah,” he’s said. “I’d install if if I knew where it was.” “It’s in a box in the basement,” I’d always say helpfully. There the conversation would end, because, of course, while he could go to the basement and look for the pencil sharpener in the Rubbermaid bin, this is really my domain, and he doesn’t encroach on my Personal Space that way.

However, when I saw the sharpener sitting there next to the iron, I seized the moment and cannily took both useful items upstairs, out of the basement. That evening I said to my husband, “I found the pencil sharpener, we should figure out a place to install it.”
“Cool,” he said. “Yeah, we should think of a place.”

The pencil sharpener, in all its well-built glory, has been sitting on the kitchen table uselessly for about a week now. I’m taking bets on how long it will sit there. And I’m trying to think of a good place to install it. We have no kitchen closet. There is no workbench in the basement. So far, it’s looking like the only practical option is rather unappealing aesthetically: on the kitchen wall above the garbage can. Which is also next to the toaster, and the countertop where we do most of our kitchen prep work. It’s not a great location for a pencil sharpener, but it’s the one place that makes sense.

Probably when the sharpener gets installed we should do two things: one, pour ourselves a couple of drinks to recover from the shock, and two, have a giant party to celebrate. Anything that’s taken that long to achieve — we’re talking 15 years now — is worth celebrating.


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