Someone asked me today why I make soap. I told her that I am a maker at heart and I love the process of making soap and I’d love to run my own creative business. And all of that is true. But it’s not the whole story.
So here’s the rest of the story, and what I wish I could have said:
I started selling on etsy to sell crocheted things. I’ve always crocheted. I love it and I’m good at it. Selling it is a great way to feed my yarn addiction. Other folks on etsy raved about handmade soap. A lot. So about 6 years ago, I bought some. It’s relatively inexpensive – usually between 5 and 10 dollars – so it was an easy impulse buy. I got it, used it, and I have not bought commercially-made soap or body wash since. If you’ve never used handmade soap, you literally don’t know what you’re missing. It is a completely different product from the stuff you are buying at the store. The fragrances are incredible. The rich creamy lather, the natural moisturizing properties, the additions of ground oatmeal, natural clays, pumice, poppy seeds…It is wonderful.
Not long after, my family tipped into a financial black hole that we are still trying to recover from. We went for a multi-year stretch where either my husband had a job or I had a job. At one point I actually got laid off the EXACT DAY he was hired. We were on a $20 a week grocery budget. One time we pulled up the floormats in the car to dig out coins so we would have dinner. I often worried whether or not I had enough gas to get to work. We had 1 car, 1 phone, no a/c or heat until my water line froze so my dad got the gas turned on. It is only because of the generosity of our friends and family that we were not homeless.
Every day the questions run through your head. Are we going to eat all week? Are they going to shut off my water today? If they shut it off, how can we get it turned back on? That’s another 35 bucks I don’t have. What am I going to do about that bald tire? No haircuts, so learn to love ponytails. No new clothes, so don’t wear anything out. No takeout on the way home because you’re too tired to cook. Turning down lunch invites at work. Not participating in food days or secret santa. Eating popcorn for lunch because it’s 75 cents. I know we have been luckier than many and I am so grateful for the many blessings we have. But week after week and month after never-ending month, it wears you down.
So I gave up haircuts and clothes and colored my scuffed shoes with a sharpie. But I bought handmade soap. I could still justify it as a (semi) practical item. I still had to have soap of some kind and I could usually dig up $10 every 2 or 3 months. I would research in advance to plan for the next bar I was going to buy. I bought grab-bags and imperfect bars to get the most value for my money. And I loved spending that money. Having the ability to get something you want is incredible. Now that my situation is somewhat better, I still don’t take that for granted. It seemed to make everything easier. Watching my friends go out to dinner without me. Staying home on Saturdays so I didn’t have to spend gas money. Hearing people talk about their new cars and their new tv’s and what they are buying for Christmas… I have never considered myself spoiled or overly materialistic, but when your answer to “What do you want for Christmas?” is “hopefully a mop because I’m tired of cleaning the floor with a washcloth”….it’s a little depressing. Somehow the act of shopping for, purchasing and having handmade goat’s milk soap with exfoliating ground coffee made it a little better.
We’ve been consistently simultaneously employed for over a year, and things are better and slowly improving still. And I’ve started making my own soap, and other products. What I said today is true, I do love making it and I have to be making something. But, as melodramatic as it sounds, soap is personal to me. My goal is to make my soap business full-time. But my dream is to be able to help someone else find what I found in handmade soap – a little luxury in an un-luxurious life.