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Don’t turn your hobby into a side hustle

DURING a holiday dinner party, the host suggested we each share a significant moment from the year. As one woman shared how her pottery class had allowed her to explore her creative side, another cheekily said, “Oh, you could totally open up an Etsy shop and sell your work.” Before she even finished the sentence, I exclaimed, “No! Don’t monetize your hobby!”

It’s advice that perhaps seems heretical in this time of high inflation. After all, it took $107 in November 2022 to buy what $100 bought in November 2021, according to the US Department of Labor. Between 2019 and 2020, the increase was only $1.17. But despite rising prices, it’s important to keep the side-hustle mindset in check.

A hobby, by definition, is supposed to be something you pursue outside of your job for relaxation. Of course, you can have hobbies that are mentally or physically challenging such as chess or hiking. However, a hobby is no longer a hobby once you add a price tag and start to sell your wares to consumers. That’s a job.

Grind culture has faced a modest reckoning in the last few years, with some going so far as to label it toxic. There is certainly a dark underbelly in pushing people to relentlessly consider profitability. As a recovering member of the constantly-side-hustling community, I can say confidently that respecting the sanctity of at least one or two hobbies for fulfillment does wonders for one’s mental health.

The fact that I even write financial opinion pieces stems from what was once a hobby. A little blog where I shared my musings and experiences with personal finance eventually became opportunities for speaking engagements, freelance writing, and even book deals. As this became my full-time career, the work, despite being aligned with my areas of interest and skill, lost the fun factor that motivated me in the beginning.

It also shifted how my brain assessed my other hobbies. Every area of interest turned into a potential moneymaker — or I eschewed potential hobbies because of perceived time constraints, low energy, and the upfront costs for something that wouldn’t yield a profit.

Oh, how wrong I was.

The pandemic slowed down my work for a period, which forced me to reckon with the fact that I otherwise had little to fill my time outside of reading or watching television. As much as I find those activities relaxing, I craved more creativity and stimulation from a hobby. In the last two years, I’ve taught myself to crochet and started taking tap-dancing lessons at a local community center.

Both are hobbies that cost me money rather than bringing in income. But both have yielded significant, non-financial returns. There is a reconnection with my creative self, a sense of accomplishment from learning a new skill, the benefit of challenging my mind and body to learn new ways of moving, and access to a new, intergenerational community. Yes, crochet is a skill set I could easily monetize, but profit margins would be nonexistent if you did the math on cost of supplies and the hours of labor for one piece. Instead, I donate my creations or give them away for birthdays and holidays.

There is one concession I’ll grant about monetizing a hobby. For those whose interests result in physical creations — like woodworking, painting, producing pottery, or making jewelry — it can result in clutter. Beautiful clutter, but lots of it, that perhaps you don’t need in your home. In this case, yes, it can indeed make sense to sell your wares and perhaps use that money to reinvest in your hobby. But selling off a surplus is much different from building a side hustle.

As someone who has had multiple streams of income her entire adult life, I understand that there’s a benefit to having more than one way to earn money. But some hobbies should simply be hobbies. We are allowed to create and learn for personal enrichment, even if it costs us some money — and earns none.

BLOOMBERG OPINION

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