Thursday, June 4, 2015

Shrinking Your Stash: Some Philosophies and Suggestions

At the height of my makeup hoarding, I had over 3,000 pieces of color cosmetics alone. My lipstick collection looked like a makeup counter at Macy's. My friends joked that they would send me to rehab. I YouTubed about a new product at least once a week. And the stash took up an entire fourth of my bedroom, sometimes spilling out on to my desks or in to my purse. Now that I'm older, have less room, and live on a very tight budget, having that much stuff is no longer manageable...and so I'm shrinking my stash even more.

It's not that there's anything wrong with having a large stash. Having so many different things prompted me to try a variety of looks and products, and over a 2-3 year span, I was able to figure out what, exactly, works for me. It's just that a large stash takes time to truly enjoy, and I don't have enough time to give each piece the love it deserves. So it's better to save my time for what I truly love and use often.

Here are some of the things I do or think about to make purging easier. Most of these suggestions require that you think logically, detach yourself from the joys of material wealth, and have some willpower. It's a lot like being on a diet: if you are not truly motivated, then most of the tips won't work for you.

1. Consider a "low buy" instead of a "no buy." A "no buy" means you are forcing yourself to buy nothing, except for maybe staples, for a set period of a time. A "low buy" means you are allowing yourself a certain amount of money, or a certain number of items, each month, year, etc. Personally, I've never had luck with no buys. As soon as I tell myself I can't have ANYTHING, I become hyper-aware of all of the stuff I've put out of my reach. I know that this is the case for a lot of people: tell us we can't have it and it's all we want. It sits at the front of our mind, irking and distracting us.

A low-buy works better for me. I allow myself, say, $25 a month, and I'm permitted to "roll over" that money. That way, I don't feel so deprived. (Interestingly, I find that if I put myself on a low buy, my desire for new products wanes, and I end up just not buying anything most of the time.)

2. Remember that makeup has a shelf life. This changes a little if you have a lot of well-cared-for powder products, because the practically non-existent moisture content means they'll last for years. But I have mostly creams and liquids these days, and they only last for so long before they start to smell funny. This trick is especially useful for me when I think about lipstick. Lipsticks often go bad after 3 years or so. So I have to think: no matter how much I love that lipstick, if I only wear it 2 or 3 times a year, is it worth keeping? Or could it find a better home with somebody who will use it up before it turns?

3. Pull out every piece of makeup you own and spread it out or pile it up. Tucking stuff away in organizers and drawers makes it look more innocuous, but pulling it all out really drives home how much you have. Some people like to line their stuff up and count individual pieces. I like to do that first, but then I shove everything together in to a giant pile like a dragon's hoard. Seeing this huge pile of stuff in the middle of my bed reminds me, "Wow, I really do have a ton of this."

4. Calculate how much you've spent on beauty products in a certain time frame. This won't work well if you're sensitive to shaming tactics, but for me, it's a reminder of how carelessly I've handled my money at times. If I have 20 lipsticks and they cost $20 each, then I've spent $400 on lipstick. What else could $400 buy? Well, it could pay for a month's rent on my old apartment, or it could cover the cost of an iPad Air. Again, this works best if you're able to put it in to perspective and resist the urge to feel bad about how you've spent your money.

Once you've figured out how much you've spent, or you've considered how much a certain product you want will cost (say, $50 for a new palette), think about what else that money could buy. For example: I'm getting ready to visit a friend in New York, and we want to take him to a musical for his birthday. Whenever I want to make a makeup purchase, I stop myself and think, "This would cover over half of a ticket. Don't I want that special, once-in-a-lifetime experience with my friends more than a new foundation?"

5. Don't make impulse purchases--wait at least 48 hours. I love Makeup Alley, but one of the things that's always stunned me is how quickly some people will jump on sales or limited edition releases after just a few moments. I'm not trying to be judgmental here; I think it's just unusual to me because many of these people make more money than I can ever dream of, and I'm never sure what to make of it. But suffice to say that I rarely buy things I haven't brooded over. This is my personality: I am so opposed to impulsiveness that even simple decisions result in hours of agonizing. ("The red shirt or the white shirt for Thursday? AHHH IT'S ALREADY MONDAY WHAT DO I DOOOOO?!?!")

Instead of allowing yourself to purchase right away, let the items sit in your digital cart for 2 days, or walk away from the makeup counter and come back after the weekend. You'll be surprised how much a bit of time and space can do to change the "I NEED DIS" mindset. (Because waiting 48 hours comes naturally to me, I've upped my waiting time to a week.)

6. Admit to your weaknesses. Do you see the title of this blog? It's clear that I have a lipstick obsession. When new collections come out, I scroll right to the lipstick section to see if anything suits my fancy. Most of my makeup-wearing, not-a-drag-queen friends own maybe 3 or 4 lipsticks they truly love...and I have over 20. Rather than drive myself crazy trying to get down to a lipstick stash to match my friends, I allow myself to splurge on it. If you give yourself one such allowance, you'll find that you're less likely to overspend in general. That allowance becomes something special, and it lets you have variety in your collection so it doesn't become stale or boring.

And to those who say, "Oh, but I love everything!", you don't. Really. Stop and think about it: are there a few types of makeup you're more likely to impulse buy or splurge on? What kinds of makeup photos really attract you? What are you always questing for: the best foundation, the most duochrome-tastic eyeshadow, the blackest mascara? I enjoy all types of makeup, but when I think about it logically, it's lipsticks (and, to a lesser extent, highlighters) that grab my attention first.

7. Admit to your laziness. I used to really love eyeshadow. I had hundreds of singles and dozens of palettes, all clogging up my dresser and vanity. Even when I got older, stopped wearing it as much, and admitted to myself that I didn't need anymore, I'd still be tempted to buy new shadows because they look so freaking pretty. I also felt a bit of peer pressure: tons of bloggers and beauty addicts adore eyeshadow, so shouldn't I?

But I've admitted to myself that I'm just extremely lazy about eyeshadow, so holding on to it is pointless. It never gets used! And what's the point of having a product if you never use it?

What you see above is my current eyeshadow collection, minus a Kevyn Aucoin duo that was gifted to me and a Charlotte Ronson liquid eyeshadow. (I had both stuffed in to a bag and forgot to pull them out for the photo.) The liquids, creams, and singles in the middle are, quite honestly, the only eyeshadows I use on a regular basis. Whenever I'm tempted to buy more eyeshadow because I see a pretty swatch or a great FOTD, I just look at the two palettes at the far edges and realize, "I barely use these. I don't need more things I'll rarely touch."

8. Think about your organization methods. Above, you can see most of the aforementioned eyeshadows. They're in the open and in easy reach, and they don't take up too much room. This is important for me: I eventually want to be able to see every product I own, and I want it to fit in the space I have allotted. If you keep your makeup in places where you cannot see it, or you leave it in messy piles, you're more likely to over-purchase. "Out of sight, out of mind" definitely applies to makeup addiction.

9. Understand that there are very few limited edition products that are THAT unique or un-dupable. Limited Edition releases are a well-orchestrated hype machine. And they absolutely work--just look at how quickly MAC collections sell out, or how much an LE Tom Ford palette can go for on eBay. Companies sucker you in with pretty packaging and the promise of a once-in-a-lifetime product. But when you really stop and think about it, you'll realize that next to no limited edition product is irreplaceable. It may take a few years of searching and some trial and error, but eventually, you will find another lipstick that's the same color, or a powder that works just as well. I mean, think about it: would a company produce a great shade or formula and never ever ever make anything similar ever again? Hell no! They're out to make money, after all.

If you really struggle to resist limited edition releases, try finding dupes in your own collection. I did this recently with the Stila Convertible Color Palette, and while I wouldn't necessarily pass up the chance to purchase it on a blogsale, I've realized that I don't need it. Limited edition or otherwise, it is not unique.

10. Try enjoying the aesthetics of your favorites. This is a fancy way of saying, "Do like Golem and grope your preciooooouses." It sounds creepy, I know, but I find that reminding myself why I love certain products and have kept them around really stops me from buying more junk. I hold the tubes and compacts in my hand and enjoy the packaging. I open things up and stare at them or swatch them to remember the texture, the color, the effect. I arrange my stuff in interesting ways and take pictures. I look through old posts of mine that feature my favorite products and try to remember why a certain blush or lipstick gets more use than another. Finally, I ask myself, "I love this product and use it constantly. How sure am I that this new thing I want will compare?"

11. Be proud of your successes thus far. I'm usually an over-achiever, so when I don't reach an incredibly high goal I've set for myself, I tend to beat myself up over it. But now I'm trying to break that bad habit. I'm trying to realize that I'm human, and I've definitely made some progress. Just look  at my collection roughly 2 years ago: it's at least three times the size of my current collection. Considering I love makeup and I blog, this reduction is pretty impressive!

12. Beauty products can do a lot of good. Homeless shelters, in particular, are often looking for unopened or very lightly used soaps, shampoos, and deodorants, and women's shelters often ask for makeup donations. A new nail polish or a bar of soap can make a difference in the life of someone less fortunate. I've also given a lot of my purged products to drag performers (drag is expensive, and they tend to go through makeup like crazy), as well as transgender women who were too frightened to buy their own makeup or lived with less-than-supportive families.

13. Admit that these are just material goods. I'm a middle-class North American, and as such, I'm a Stuff Addict. We love things: new technology, nice cars, our own bedroom, a fridge full of designer yogurt.  And to some extent, that's understandable. We've been lead to believe that the "American Dream" is financial comfort and the acquisition of stuff. But the truth of the matter is that things are just things. They only provide temporary happiness. What makes us truly happy are the parts of our lives that are intangible: connections to other people, having a job we love, the promise of success, etc. If I let go of a lipstick and later find myself saying, "Gee, I wish I would've kept that one," my life will go on. And that's probably the most important lesson of all.


  1. Very useful post and an insightful read. I find that depotting my eyeshadow palettes have really cut down on clutter/encouraged me to use them more as well!

    I have been buying a lot of makeup but also culling a lot of unused stuff....I find that the FEELING I get when giving away to friends and family and showing them how to use products to transform their daily routine is much more rewarding than buying and blogging about makeup.

    My stash is pretty well-edited at this point (maybe a few more purges...but I have some sentimental items I don't want to give away or throw away....) My goal is to turn my blog away from reviewing new products all of the time and injecting some more personal FOTDs into the mix.

    1. I love giving things to people and making their day! Especially when I give small care packages to transwomen: so many of them have so little support.

  2. I've done #4 with my nail polishes and it shamed me BIG time. I have over $200 worth of ONE brand of nail polishes alone. And while that's the most represented brand in my nail polish collection, it's probably makes up about an 8th of my entire collection. Doing the math on that alone was enough to curb quite a few nail polish lemmings. I still love the stuff, and I will allow myself to purchase a few new bottles, but I've really cut back. I like the idea of giving myself a budget that I can roll over every month.

    1. See, it doesn't work well if you're sensitive to shame because you're just going to beat yourself up about something you can't change. Instead, I try to say, "Well, the money is spent. Does this teach me something for the future?" Hobbies are money pits, we know that, but sometimes you could be saving the money you spend on one hobby for another, KWIM?

  3. Everything you have said totally echoes my own philosophy. I do love blog sales though, cheap way to pick up nice, expensive things occasionally.
    I lost my concealer some time ago and.i spend half a year without concealer and it was totally okay. Life does go on, without make up.

    1. A lot of my makeup has come from blogsales, swaps, and gift cards. :) No judgment here!

  4. All right, now it's my turn to gush over your post: I LOVE THIS POST. I've become more conscious of my consumption habits since I started blogging, and I follow a lot of these rules, especially 6, 7, and 10. It seems like we have similar approaches to lipstick and eyeshadow. I could easily wear NARS Lhasa every day for a whole year, and that's kind of what I do anyway, but with lipstick I'm always looking to justify one more red or purple or fuchsia because IT'S TOTALLY DIFFERENT, OK.

    I also agree about makeup forums: they're fun but can lead to obsession. I was a Specktra lurker for a hot minute, but I got weirded out by the number of people who went absolutely bonkers over each new release and bought a dozen backups of everything. So unhealthy and unnecessary. I try not to judge others for their purchasing habits, because it's none of my business what someone else wants or can afford, but I also try to avoid getting drawn into the endless cycle of desire and consumption, and makeup forums often perpetuate that cycle.

    1. That is so me with lipsticks. "I NEED 5 warm reds. You don't understand!" I'm actually hoping to start (and finish) a series that revolves around me trying every lipstick in my collection so I can remove anything that doesn't truly flatter me.

  5. I don't have anything insightful to add here, but just had to let you know how much I appreciate this post! I bookmarked it and am very sure I'll be re-reading it often in the future. If you have any more to say on the topic than what's already written here, I'd love to see a follow-up expanding on how to keep yourself from BUYING ALL THE NEW THINGS. I'm not too bad at purging (though I still wish I were as skilled at it as you are!), but I find it nearly impossible to stop my stash from growing out of control again in the following months. It's especially tough for me when I recognize that, from one purge to the next, the items I end up keeping aren't always the same (an item that may have survived the last 3 purges gets replaced by a new one, for example) sooo it's that much harder to tell myself the new items won't be any better than what I have, when that sometimes DOES happen. But certainly it doesn't all the time!

    1. When I find myself consistently buying new stuff to "one up" another product, I try to rationalize it. If I figure out what I do and don't like about the last one, I can make a more educated choice. For example: "Why do I keep buying hot pink lipsticks when I have this one and that one? Are they both darker than what I want? If so, I should only look at brighter colors. Do I love the color, but the formula is too slippery? If so, I should only look at matte formulas I like."

      And of course, there's your expectations. I can buy 50 highlighters, but when it really comes down to it, doesn't Becca SSP in Pearl do everything it's supposed to perfectly? And can anything really top that?