Part 1 of the answer tackled the economics of the issue. I came to the conclusion that it is not wrong to sell during these times, even to sell non-essentials. But that it is irresponsible to convince people to spend beyond what they can afford. Scroll down or click here to read more on yesterday's post.
For part 2 of the debate, I wanted to talk a little bit about culture. Because even before the economy was in rough waters, I questioned the validity of making a living on "girly" things. When I was in college, I briefly sold Mary Kay, and struggled to convince young women that they needed to add cosmetics to their budget. It just didn't seem very noble to me. I mean, with all of the things that we should be doing with our money (saving it, investing it, donating it), was it right to spend it on things that made the world look prettier (or our complexions) but didn't make it a better place?
Many years later, I find myself selling decorative items for home--a job not appreciably different than selling Mary Kay. What made my perspective change?
It started just after 9/11. I was in a fellowship in Washington DC at the time where we were studying history, law, and culture. Our instructor gave us all a copy of a short essay written by C.S. Lewis during WWII. Lewis was addressing a group of students for this speech, and in a roundabout way, he tackled my "cosmetics" question. You see, his message to these students during war was to keep studying in the midst of distraction, because knowledge and art were the very things worth fighting to preserve. He mentioned that in such times, it was tempting to do away with everything that seemed frivolous (like art, languages, music, humanities) in favor of that which was strictly utilitarian (for survival), but that they must resist this temptation. Civilization, Lewis argued, was not worth saving if it didn't sustain beauty, music, poetry, art, science, and the like.
Now, I won't say that throw pillows and make-up are akin to poetry and music, but they serve a similar aesthetic function in society. And they provide a creative livelihood for women, and an opportunity to invest in a smaller, more flexible, more community-oriented economy. Yes, they can also represent vanity and consumerism at its worst (hardly the kind of ideals that Lewis was encouraging his students to preserve), but just because something isn't "utilitarian" doesn't mean it doesn't have value in society.
Maybe you are considering taking your creative talents to the marketplace--or you already are--and are struggling with the idea of selling something that doesn't meet an immediate need for people. I would encourage you to persevere anyway. Don't let distressing times distract you from your skills and passion. And do believe that your creative ideas and products are valuable to society--even with high gas prices and mortgage troubles.
Coming shortly we will be discussing marketplace mavens--women who are not afraid to make a profit on creativity even in these times. Stay tuned to read more!