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Opinion: The revival of the side hustle

Due to the state of our economy, many people have picked up side hustles to earn some extra cash. Are they really working?

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Illustration by Zoë Petersen, Deseret News

Two nightstands, a bookshelf, a wooden filing cabinet, sandpaper, drill bits, paint-flecked tarps and paint cans — our small apartment looks more like a woodworking shop every day.

Why, you might ask, have we crowded extra furniture into our little home, painting and sanding the evenings away?

Simple. It’s our side hustle.

This is what my generation is doing, both by choice and for many by economic incentive, according to Fortune. In the wake of COVID-19 job uncertainty, crushing inflation and completely unattainable housing prices, it’s hard to get by with the regular 9-5. So instead, my husband works two jobs, I work one, and we have our furniture flipping side hustle.

We’re not the only ones feeling the need to hustle. About 45% of Americans have a side hustle of some sort, and 54% of side hustlers are between the ages of 18 and 34, according to Side Hustle Nation. And of all those side hustlers, only 12.2% are able to make more than $5,000 a month. The median monthly income for side hustlers is about $200.

We’re all digging through our hobbies and interests, wondering what we can monetize after we finish up at our day jobs — all hoping that maybe this side gig could become a day job. But for most of us, the efforts don’t reap rich rewards.

My husband pitched his furniture flipping idea to me this summer after he’d thoroughly investigated a car detailing idea first. Through the great teacher, YouTube, we learned from other furniture flippers about the best kinds of paints, finishes and tools to invest in. Then began the scavenger hunt through online marketplaces, Goodwill, and yard sales for interesting pieces.

Tips for turning a profit

For the aspiring furniture flippers out there, here is what we’ve learned so far.

When you’re hunting for pieces to buy, the most important considerations are materials, style and durability. A shelf made of solid wood that’s a little scratched up can be sanded down and restained, but particle board covered by wood veneer would need to be painted over — and wouldn’t be the same level of quality.

Plan to spend between 3-8 active hours on a piece, depending on its size. One good Saturday can be enough time to finish a few smaller pieces like nightstands and side tables or one large piece like a dresser.

Selling a piece is as much about presentation and staging as it is about the refurbishment quality. You’ll want a clean, simple background, good lighting and props to stage it. For example, if it’s an end table, a few books stacked on top with a plant or vase of flowers can help readers envision what that piece could look like in their home.

A hustle for the American dream

Though our side hustle was born from a desire for extra cash, it has become an outlet for our creativity, an opportunity to stand up from our day-job desks and work with our hands. But that creativity faces driving deadlines imposed by a median cost of a single-family home pricing over half a million dollars in Utah, and an inflation rate spiking grocery budgets by 13.1% — that’s where the hustle really comes in.

Is this the new path to the American dream? The American drive to rise that makes us grab for more jobs after clocking out of our other jobs? Or is it, as some have called it, a con? A false beacon of “work hard and you’ll reach the top” that lulls us into normalizing the state of our economy? As The New York Times puts it, “Our jobs are now ‘flexible,’ although we are the ones contorting ourselves to work at all hours.”

How many of us would be hustling if we didn’t feel the crushing anxiety draining from our savings accounts into our exhausted expressions as we stare at the grocery store balance due, the used car price tags, or the housing costs completely out of budget?

But if you’re like me, you do feel that stress. And if you’re like me, you have to do something, even if some call it futile.

And who knows, maybe our side hustle will take off and become more than just an evening pleasure — we all hope we are in that top 12.2%. But for now, we continue to sand, paint, clean and stain our wooden living room occupiers, shuffle over our rent money each month and hustle onward, hoping our hustle will get us closer to those lofty housing prices.