Call it the Pile Of Shame, the Cairn Of Opportunity or the Heap Of Grey, everyone in this hobby has some models they haven't yet painted and face the dilemma of wanting the new shiny thing when they haven’t finished the old shiny thing. Today we’re going to look at how a few Bunkerites manage their backlogs.
|I wish this was my full backlog...|
I started collecting 40k as a kid, with very limited money. It was a hard cap on how much I could buy, even when most of my birthday presents and Christmas presents were Warhammer too. When I became an adult with lots more money to buy models and much less free time to paint them in, I ran into problems. Especially as that was around the time of the first big Apocalypse release with big limited time good value bundles of big formations and entire armies. I still have things on the sprue from those days.
I have a limited capacity to hobby. If I buy stuff quicker than I can build and paint it then no matter how good my intentions, something won’t get used and I am wasting money and space. Over the years I have tried lots of different approaches to managing my purchases versus painting and most of them have failed. For years my pile has grown bigger and bigger despite all of my best intentions. For the last 6 months I have, for the first time in my life, been succeeding.
My method is to use a very complicated spreadsheet. I’ll spare you all the details, but the principle is very simple indeed.
- Every unit is given an “Effort” value
- 1 Effort is approximately equal to painting a single Infantry model to my normal standard
- A Character will typically be worth 2 Effort, maybe more
- A simple Space Marine tank is just a box, so I’d give it 5 Effort
- Dreadnought’s have proven themselves quite irritating to paint so I cost them as 10 Effort
- Scenery is generally pretty low Effort for its size as it’s mostly quick sprays and drybrushing
- Effort incorporates building and painting, but as I prefer building to painting, I focus on costing the painting much more than the building
- Ultimately it doesn’t really matter how accurately you cost these, it’s just a ballpark
- Every time you complete a unit you earn half that unit’s effort in Credits
- Every time you buy a new unit you spend its full amount of Effort in Credits
The end result is essentially that for every model you want to buy you have to paint two. Eventually my backlog will shrink to nearly zero and I’ll have to change my pattern to one-in-one-out, but for now this is working really well. I’ve been painting more, buying less and generally feel good about my hobby. I still get to buy cool new models but I don’t feel guilty about it because I know that overall the backlog is decreasing.
There’s a few factors involved here I think, and a lot of it is the combination of both the 2-out-1-in process but also having it all written down in front of me. I can see what I have to paint, nothing gets forgotten in a cupboard. I have accountability to myself. I can enjoy the micro-endorphins from Number-go-up every time I complete something. I can plan ahead, and every time I want to buy something if I don’t have the credits available I can work out what I need to paint first, and that incentivizes me.
Right now I want to get ready for Scouts and Assault Marines getting released, so I looked through my list and selected 25 Effort of Navy Breachers that were already half painted. They’ve come back out of the box and onto my painting desk and I’ve been highly motivated to paint them, which is great because they’re awesome models and I’m really pleased to have them coming together and I can’t wait to have them all painted.
|First squad finished, second squad still feeling blue.|
It’s all just mind games really, but I’ve found some mental Alchemy that works for me to turn desire for new models into motivation to paint old ones.
Tom’s approach is sane, organised and does a good job of keeping his backlog to a minimum. Sanity, however, is for the weak.
Strong opener aside, I think I’m probably more typical of the average hobbyist in that I have both a fairly involved backlog and also regularly add to it, without thinking very hard about when or where I might be able to fit in the hours required to assemble, paint and base what I’m buying. In the past I have had mixed results with this “if it feels good do it” approach (sorry orks you’re just not for me, sorry wood elves), and I think I’ve figured out over the years a handful of simple rules that stave off my choice paralysis and existential dread of so much time represented by unfinished little plastic mens.
RULE 1: Keep it boxed...
...Until you actually want to spend the time the project requires. It’s a subjective thing I’m sure, but unless I’m working on a self contained project like a scenery set having an entire army of miniatures assembled and sitting on my painting desk staring at me has such a deleterious effect on my motivation to paint. It’s a psychological trick I’ve actually learned from Charlie, and though it essentially boils down to the extremely nuanced position of Out of sight, out of mind, having the physical representation of hundreds of hours worth of work unobtrusively stashed in the garage gives me the feeling that the chunk in front of me (usually 1-2 squads at a time, per army) is a much more achievable prospect.
RULE 2: Research...
...Because impulse buying in this hobby is expensive. Even if you’re buying things well in advance of when you intend to complete them (as I almost always am) there are often ways to cut costs or do things more efficiently. While my Imperial Guard army is perhaps the single worst example of cost cutting I can think of, I do at least save up and bulk purchase the infantry (since they are ordered from Australia) to save on postage, and plan out exactly what I need (lol) and the cheapest (lol) way to get it before I take the plunge.
|Pictured: Well researched inefficiency. Seriously, the parts for this conversion come from two different GW kits, Bolt Action accessories, two different ebay sellers and a third party conversion kit maker... All for a Storm Chimera (Read: Nightfall 31st Wendigo Light Tank). They look the part though!|
RULE 3: Have a plan...
...For what you’re buying, even if that plan is merely a vague concept of something you’d like to do in the future with your group. I have a fairly sizable Eldar collection at varying levels of completion (due to getting most of the way through a total rebase), and want to grow it into an army capable of playing Apocalypse with - the only army in my collection I actively intend to grow to this size. Consequently, when I caved and bought a truly irresponsible number of Eldar super heavies, there was method behind the madness: One day, when we decide it's time, I’ll pull my finger out and paint them up in time for a sprawling Eldar focused campaign which will culminate in a game large enough to incorporate them, and a good time will be had by all. Despite having done nothing with them since they arrived I have no buyer’s remorse at all, because there’s a plan for them - and when it comes time to execute that plan I’ve already got the miniatures we’ll need ready to go.
RULE 4: Finish something before you use it...
...Because fully painted and based miniatures give the best gaming experience. This might be (is) snobbery of the highest order but I can’t help it, the hobby joy I get from playing a game of warhammer with two fully painted and based armies, on terrain that is also fully painted, is second to none. This rule for life isn’t intended as a way to manage my backlog, but still does indirectly by motivating me to finish miniatures if I ever want to see them used - meaning I finish projects and keep the conveyor belt moving.
RULE 5: Show off! (it feels good!)
Pretty much every time I finish a project (be it a squad, character or scenery thing) my various group chats get spammed with pictures, usually accompanied with some sort of “I did this” remark. I’m not really looking for critique when I do this (If I needed help I should have asked before finishing the thing after all), it’s more about capitalising on the sense of achievement after finishing a milestone. Armies are huge and take a lot of work, and never really get finished (as after a certain stage they’re more living collections than set army lists). Consequently the sense of achievement needs to come from smaller stages, otherwise it never really comes and I lose interest as the months drag on without dopamine based reward. Luckily my friends are all very accommodating of this behaviour, indeed we’re all doing much the same thing to varying degrees to keep the enthusiasm and mutual hobby joy flowing. Hooray for Narcissism...?
It would be rude to not now use this opportunity to give examples of a couple of things I’ve finished recently, using my Rules for Hobbying Chaotically(TM). I’ve been focusing on my Black Templars, both because that’s what I’ve been playing since the dawn of Tenth Edition, and because I’ve almost filled out two carry cases’ worth and that feels satisfying.
|Watch-Marshal Antilochus Leothric Ortiz of the Black Templars, along with his chosen retinue, Nihilus Squad. Feel the Edge.|
|Malenius the Martian, leaning hard into the Dark Souls inspiration for this one. EDGE|
Before I start, I agree with tons of what is said above, but it is fair to say that I am going to play Horusian Advocate here and offer a slightly different approach to all of this:
- There is no such thing as a pile of shame
- Managing it is based entirely on whether the idea you had still “sparks joy” or can fit your current living situation.
Allow me to expand, point 1 first: Everyone is different, we have a nice spread of home decor styles in the bunker from damn near minimalism to chaos goblin. I live rather more at the chaos goblin end, but can still see my floors. Some people can handle having clutter around is largely my point, and if you can… there is not a single thing wrong with having a backlog of miniatures. I often dislike the tone that Pile Of Shame brings, it’s why we often call it the Cairn of Opportunity in these parts. There is nothing wrong with having an exciting idea; investing in that excitement because you have the money now; then letting it mellow until time allows. We all have ups and downs, and let me tell you, when there’s too much month for the money, it’s nice to have something waiting there to let you keep on hobbying. Nothing like having to stop doing things you love because of finances to really rub in the cost of living. So I make hay while the sun shines and then feed the hobby livestock in the dark winters. That analogy got away from me a bit but I hope it made sense.
|The imperial guard were bought when swords were banned in 2021 and I converted the sad compensation money into toy mens. The tanks were bought when apocalypse first came out, so 2007! Both are being painted this year, the urge has struck.|
But! It is important, especially for us chaos goblins, to recognise that there are certain practical limitations. One is your living space, it’s irresponsible to let a collection become a hoarding situation. If you can’t fit it in then, well, sometimes things have to go. But there are ways to be space frugal too. Assembled minis often take up less space than the frames and so I tend to assemble as I go, I also clip all the spare bits from the frame, slap ‘em in a labelled baggie and into a bitz box they go. Shrink down all that air space and it’s amazing how little room bitz take. The critical thing, and the thing that I really lean on, is that “is this a project I truly want to do”, because if I’m not sure, or I’m not sure I’m going to have opponents (I’d be entirely out of luck in this crowd for Blood Bowl for example) then I do not buy it. The safest way to manage the cairn of opportunity is to only add what is truly giving you that good hobby juice. This was not always my way, but it is firmly older Jeff’s way.
Similarly, take the time to go through the cairn from time to time and check that things truly are still giving you that joy. If you kind of sigh and go “that’s never getting done is it” then they probably need to either 1) bring someone else joy, or 2) make back some of the bank so it can be reinvested in exciting little plastic mens. My preferred choice is always to support someone else’s hobby in the group. I’ve just moved a bunch of Ash Wastes buildings on to Harvey because he’s doing the project that I’d vaguely got them for now and thus I’ll be able to play on them all the sooner. For the stuff that still brings me the joy, it will wait for the yen to take me and then I’ll have that project ready to go.
So, the tl;dr summary: 1) don’t be ashamed of your collection, it is your hedge against leaner times. 2) If bits of your collection do not bring you the good hobby juice, move it on. 3) The easiest way to manage the cairn of opportunity is to take a breath before making that impulse purchase. Give it a minute and make sure that it really is something that you want (this is just one of many reasons I hate limited editions, but that’s a whole other ramble).
Tom's way of doing things is the big boy version of my approach: we're both following the rule of "one in, two out," but he has a spreadsheet, and more nuanced rules. I sort of do it by eye; if I want to buy a thing, I must first paint something from my backlog of similar effort, and if I’m not immediately going to build and paint the new thing, I have to paint TWO equivalent things from the backlog instead.
This lack of actually recording stuff compared to Tom’s spreadsheet means this method is far more likely to go to shit at the first sign of trouble. I hear what Jeff's saying about buying stuff that excites you when it excites you, but he feels good doing that. I on the other hand do not feel good about buying something until I've finished it; retail therapy without actual follow-through just causes me mild emotional damage. No judgement on anyone who feels differently, that's just how my brain works. So as Harvey says, if I've bought something which I won't use right away for whatever reason, it stays in a box, stored away, so that it's not occupying mental space.
If that's how I feel about things I've bought but not used, why would I ever make this mistake? Classic pitfalls include time-limited releases (Christmas battleforce boxes), but my biggest Achilles heel by far is terrain. GW removes that stuff from circulation without warning, so if there's terrain I like, I'll often end up buying it.
Sometimes, I'll buy something on impulse which I absolutely haven't earned in terms of backlog clearance. When I do, I tend to make it a point of honour to build and paint that thing IMMEDIATELY. If it never goes into the backlog, it doesn't count. Right? RIGHT? Classic examples of this include the Tabletop World guard tower, and indeed the two drop pods I once gave to Jeff, then recently got back from him. Those are two complex models I wasn’t expecting to have back in my life, so I just painted them AS SOON AS Jeff gave them back to me (thanks Jeff, love ya, glad you didn’t end up using them for your Blood Angels).
Ultimately though my main defence against unsustainable buying is money. I can't really spend more than about £50-£60 a month on hobby stuff, and that's fine, since generally I can't paint more than that in the average month. Some months I might spend more, but that means I spend less the month after that.
I have to say, though, that this vague, hand-wavey policy does make me wonder if Tom's crazy complex spreadsheet approach might be something I'd enjoy. Number go up, and all that.
It can't hurt to try, can it?
You guys have a backlog?
Seriously, I don’t have a Hobby Stash. Not really. I have the things I have completed and are using, or I have the stuff that I am actively working on. I don’t stockpile things that I intend to do at some point, maybe, if the mood takes me, perhaps. It is either something that I am doing or it’s gone. I simply do not have the mental capacity to hold on to a lot of maybes or ‘I’ll do it one of these days’.
I will finish the things I am working on and then move on to the next thing. If I start something and it doesn’t work, I will get rid of it. Either sell or donate, whichever. I don’t want half finished things nagging at me when I know, deep down, that I am not going to finish them. Similarly, buying for the sake of buying things then sitting on them just doesn't work for me. Having all that stuff just sat there just stresses me out.
So no fancy systems, methods, or justifications in my hobby world. Just simply, finish the thing, get the next thing.
I have come to find a backlog psychologically challenging. The thought of the various collections of unpainted, partially painted, or needs fixing models acts like a weight on my mind that means I struggle to focus on my current project.
This is problematic as I have also been in this hobby since the heady days of Rogue Trader and so have decades of collection in various states of completion.
Since the start of the pandemic, having just moved into a property with space in which I could bring together all the hobby I’ve had since I was a child, I’ve been making a concerted effort to reduce my collection and also control my accrual of new collection. This has taken on a few different methods, but mostly SPREADSHEETS!
- I use a tracker for each year in which I track models in, models out, and also use the old painting points system (an old blogging system of monitoring how much effort models involve, 1 for basic infantry, 3 for a character, 5 for something big or extra complex).
- I have a hobby savings account. Each month I transfer a nominal sum (it’s currently £30). Any money raised from selling off my older collection or models I’m no longer using also gets transferred into that account. I can then only spend the money in that account on my hobby. If something comes out and I can’t afford it, then I can’t buy it until there’s enough in that account. It's been revelatory in controlling my hobby butterfly.
- eBay - I’ve become somewhat familiar with the process of how to sell and also how to accept to sell off models that I may have had since I was barely into my teens.
It’s not perfect, and sadly most years my models in are still slightly higher than my models out, but the two are a lot closer than they ever were before so at least there’s some control, and occasionally I manage a big year and there’s a sizeable chunk taken out of the backlog.
I know I’ll never reach zero, but if I can get it to a point that it isn’t such a weight on my shoulders then I’d consider that a success.