Infest the Waters: A Blog About Design, Life and Making Stuff

The Burden of Making Stuff

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Now that I’ve embarked on this new plan to make more stuff, I find myself at a crossroads that I’ve come to before.  As someone who’s not terribly into accumulating stuff (even cool, handmade stuff), I find myself asking the question, “Why am I making this?”  Last week, I got sucked into the vicious cycle of surfing around Etsy and alternating between feeling tremendously inspired by the things I find on there and feeling excruciatingly awful about myself because it seems as though everything I come up with has already been done.  The latter feeling is a slight variation on how I used to feel when I was painting growing up–as though every good concept for a painting had already been painted, so why even bother?

Of course, this kind of thinking is totally useless, especially if you’d prefer to spend your days doing something productive, instead of just balling yourself up in a corner and feeling like you’ve never had an original thought in your life.  But I think it does point to a larger question:  What’s my motivation for making stuff?

tandem bicycle notecardsAs I perused Etsy, I found myself in an increasingly consumerist mindset:  ”I must make stuff that people will want to buy.”  I didn’t realize this was where my brain had gone until a couple days later, when I was obsessively checking my shop to see if any new people had viewed my items.  (And speaking of which, there are a couple of new ones up there–a reclaimed bead necklace and some hand-printed notecards (shown here)–so check them out.) Selling stuff has never been my main motivation for making stuff, but just the fact that I had a shop now seemed to be pulling me in that direction.  And of course, now that there was a shop–and this blog–there was a pressure to come up with clever new items to make so that I could put them up there and update my blog.  I was trying to come up with new ideas, then I would get anxious because I wasn’t coming up with them, and then I’d feel pressure to update the blog, and then I’d try to come up with more things to make, and on and on it went.  Not helpful.  As many studies on the topic have reinforced–and as any creative type knows–pressure and anxiety are two of creativity’s biggest enemies.  Luckily, this condition only persisted for a couple of days before I realized that it was dumb.

felt_roundsSo, now that I’ve remembered that I like to make things simply for my own enjoyment, the creative juices appear to be flowing a little better again.  The only problem is–once I’ve finished making this stuff, what do I do with it all?  Sometimes I feel guilty because I feel like I’m just contributing to the vast wasteland of “stuff’ there already is in this world.  Does the world really need another candleholder?  Really cool linoleum block printed notecards?  I recently picked up a whole bunch of felt at The Resource Exchange (even though I had no idea what to do with it) simply because it looked useful.  I’ve been leaving it out in my dining room because I’m convinced that if I stare at it for long enough, my felt muse will tell me what to do with it.  (And by the way, if you see my felt muse, please tell her to GET ON IT ALREADY.)

I’ve run into this problem with paintings over the years, and even though I’ve sold a few and given a bunch away, I still have a small museum’s worth of works that have no chance of ever making into the rotation on my home’s walls.  I also frequently find myself working on the same painting for years because I have no clear plan for what to do with it when it’s done.  The painting below is a perfect example.  I was working on it when I moved into my house almost 6 years ago, and I’m still working on it.  It’s big, and I have no idea where I’m going to put it when I’m done.

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I’m a little worried that I’ve unnecessarily burdened myself with this Etsy shop, making a hobby and stress reliever inch that much closer to “work.”  But I’m hoping that my experience of going down the Etsy rabbit hole last week will turn out to have proven helpful in readjusting my mindset and reminding me why I create.  Now, as long as I can stay off of Pinterest, I think I’ll be fine.

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