Why I Don’t Buy MLM Products

This is something that affects my circle quite a bit – especially women, especially moms with young children. This is the culture I live in. This is the world many friends have joined – the world of direct sales. (Or MLM, which stands for multi-level marketing.)

And let me give a big disclaimer: I don’t have a problem with anyone personally for selling products or trying their hand at direct sales. This is my opinion of the companies. Not of the sellers.

If you’re my friend and you just happen to sell something please don’t take this personally. Honestly, I check my social media feeds so little right now – I’m not completely sure who is selling anyway!

I value you as more than a salesperson. If you’re in my life I value you as a friend.

But this is why you will never find me pitching a particular product or hosting online “parties” for my friends to “attend.” And this is why I won’t partake in your parties or events. It’s a blanket “no thanks.”

Dear Direct Sales Woman:

Listen, I get you are passionate. You want to earn some extra income. You want a business you can call your own, something that helps you have your own identity outside of motherhood. I know your products may be fantastic. I know they come with options beyond my wildest dreams: scents, flavors, embroidery. I know these things are the latest fashion or health trend.

And what I want you to know about me is this: I don’t want your stuff. Any of it.

Rachel Garlinghouse – Dear Direct Sales Woman


First and foremost, I’m a frugal minimalist. There are very few “miracle products” on my lists of must-have’s.

I do all my cleaning with baking soda and vinegar

I don’t wear makeup.

I eat real, simple, homemade food.

I take advantage of things that are free – like the outdoors, running, picnics, the library, etc.

I find joy and happiness in a simple, frugal, minimal lifestyle.

I don’t want to clutter my home with things I don’t need or samples I won’t use.

I simply can’t justify spending money on things I don’t need when there are people in the world who are actually needy who could benefit from my resources.

Even the things I do find useful – like essential oils – I don’t need a plethora of them. I have what I need already, and I’d like to save money and space on the things I don’t need.

And while I do like to support small businesses, direct sales companies aren’t small businesses. They are big companies disguised as small businesses, cashing in on the social circles of their representatives. 


You can’t monetize your friendships. So many platforms use the phrase that goes something like: “If you have a social media account, you have a customer base.”

I don’t think so. Friends don’t automatically equal customer base. I don’t like to be assumed as anything other than a friend.

There should be no strings attached, and if you’re truly my friend you won’t mind that I’m not interested in your miracle pill or oils or lipstick or tupperware.

It makes me sad when a friend I haven’t talked to in a long time will only message me to invite me to a product demonstration.

It’s hard to know if they’re genuinely interested in me as a person or just trying to make a sale.

If I haven’t seen or heard from them in 12 years, I think not.

Is there a way to say yes to reconnecting with old friends and no to the sales pitch? Because if it were actually about the friendship, I would be interested! But if there’s a “free sample” or a “sign here” or any other kind of expectation, no thanks.


I’ve got absolutely no problem with people who join companies because they love the product and the discounts of joining make it worthwhile.

My mom did this with rubber stamps for a long time…back when rubber stamps were a thing…

If you’re able to stock up on great products you’re passionate about without putting pressure on those around you – certainly, go for it!

But it’s hard to say no to a hard sale.

I’m only human. I know that if I go to these kinds of things I will probably walk away with things I don’t need.

I try to be a minimalist but even I can’t always say no to a good salesperson. I don’t like to be “mean” and have to give a firm no every time. I would rather avoid that situation entirely.

This is where saying no upfront is the easiest option.

And if it’s a large, blanket no thanks then hopefully no one person will get offended.

I don’t like to make any decisions out of guilt or outside pressure. I like to make level-headed decisions that are right for my family.

For me, it’s easiest to do this without showing up in person in the first place.


Our culture is driven by the need for more. By advertisements. By promises that a product will fix all of our problems.

I’m just not buying it. Literally.

I’m striving to live a life that places value on experiences, on people, and on serving – not on material things.

And let’s be honest – a lot of things that these multi-level marketing companies are selling make promises that they don’t even fulfill.

I don’t want an apple-cinnamon-almond-jasmine organic soy candle that will help my sleep improve by 23 percent (results not typical).

I don’t want a poppy-flowered bag, featuring 20 compartments, with my initials embroidered on it in chocolate brown.

I don’t want any peppermint-lavender-eucalyptus essential oils that will heal every single medical problem and problems I didn’t even know I had.

I don’t want any lip-plumping balm made from kale harvested from the depths of South America.

I don’t want strawberry-vanilla-calcium-infused-sugar-free slimming shake mixes.

I don’t want beer bread mix made with organic flour (beer not provided).

Rachel Garlinghouse – Dear Direct Saleswoman

I don’t need it.

I’m good.

No thanks.

If we all said these words a little more, I don’t think the economy would suffer.

I think we’d learn that consumerism isn’t the only economy. That giving and investing also play an important part in economic growth.

I think we’d lessen the grip that material things have on our lives and our happiness.

I think we’d consume less and have a positive effect on the earth. 

Pyramid Schemes

Here’s the thing: pyramid scams are illegal. But that doesn’t mean similar things don’t happen anyway. There are a lot of companies that pull out all the stops to distract you from what is really going on.

In pyramid schemes, the only money comes from growing your “team” of downlines. They are  ultimately designed to fail – and the only winners are the ones who happen to be at the very top.

Pyramid schemes have a generally large ($500 or more) upfront cost to get involved, and there is hardly even a mention of the product itself. It’s all about the glitz, the glam, the cars…you get the idea.

People are told they will get rich quick. They are told they can’t make money without recruiting. Representatives will play on your emotions to get you to sign up. I once had a woman in my house who found out we were Christians, trying to tell me all the “good things” I could do with the extra income. That surely Jesus would want me to sign up! Yeah, I don’t let people like this in my house anymore….

Pink Truth is a website created by ex Mary Kay representatives, revealing the darker side of the company – which I believe makes much more profit from representatives “investing” in products they cannot sell, than from actual customers.

And while the big companies out there now are supposedly all on an “approved list” put out by the Direct Sales Association, several companies, including Avon, have left the DSA because they didn’t think it did enough to protect consumers from fraud.

So maybe they aren’t all illegal pyramid schemes, but this should tell us something, right?

I don’t doubt that some of these products are really awesome. That’s part of why they are successful. I’m just not a fan of how they are marketed.

It’s a little weird. Programs with famous speakers. Videos to watch. “Uplines and downlines.” Team meetings. Big, upfront investments. I don’t even know what else.

In my opinion, all these things distract from the product itself. If the product is really awesome, I wish it would just cut the unnecessary stuff and sell the product in a traditional, no-frills way.

Ideally I shouldn’t have to sign up for a subscription or join the company or sign my life away to have access to a product.


Lastly, a big part of why I won’t participate in direct sales companies is because I strive to live a simple life – free of clutter both physical and on the calendar.

I’m not saying they are all a scam, but parties of this sort fall very, very low on my list of personal priorities. As a person, and especially as a mother of two small children, I have limited time and energy to devote to things.

I’m not going to make it to every event I get invited to. Period.

And because these events aren’t in line with my personal values – in fact, they are sometimes even be at odds with my personal values – I’m under no obligation to go to them.

I’m going to simplify my life as much as I possibly can to make room for the things that matter most. 

This means saying no to some things so I can say yes to other, more important things. Here I’ve written a whole list of things I no longer do!

I may not want what you are selling (and more-so, I just don’t like your constant preying upon my wallet), but I might want to be your friend, if you could just put down the catalogs and take a deep breath from one of those “calming” tri-scented candles you are selling. Pull up a chair, and I’ll pour you a glass of Trader Joe’s wine, in an un-etched glass. We can laugh and share, as long as you don’t inject “hostess perks” into the conversation.

Rachel Garlinghouse – Dear Direct Saleswoman

What are your thoughts on direct sales companies? Have you had good experiences or bad experiences? Did you make money or lose money? Would you do it again if you had the choice? Anyone else interested in making a blanket “no thanks” to these kinds of things or will you play it by ear depending on the company and the person inviting you?

One Comment

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  1. Thank you for being brave enough to write this! My mom taught me early on that blanket “no”s to direct marketing schemes are best because then it’s not personal. Fortunately, I’ve never faced a hard sell, just the occasional non-personal invitation to a Facebook “party,” which I don’t mind at all, even though I always decline. But I’ve talked to people who get guilted into buying Lularoe or DoTerra when they don’t even want it, just to “support a friend.” I like what you point out: this isn’t small business, it’s just big business with more insidious marketing techniques!

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