Makeup is a hell of a drug. Who among us hasn’t set foot in a Sephora under the guise of “just browsing,” only to momentarily black out and emerge laden with a haul of trinkets? (And a dent in one’s checking account.) Cosmetics are fun to use and easy to purchase—too easy, in some cases, as anyone with an overflowing makeup drawer can attest to. Those lip stains and liquid liners can pile up fast, yet the temptation to keep chasing the latest limited-edition goods and shiny new releases can be hard to shake off.
If you’ve ever felt like you needed to pump the brakes on your makeup-spending habits, but you find it excruciatingly difficult to resist the magnetic force of the beauty counter, you’re not alone: Plenty of beauty enthusiasts and bloggers have found ways to set their sights on what’s already in their cosmetics collection, rather than splurging again and again on new products. Below, a handful of tips to help pause the spending and, instead, “shop your stash” to rediscover what you already have. Who knows? Your next holy grail might just be tucked away in a forgotten corner of your vanity already. Let the thrill of the hunt begin.
Clean out your collection It’s the least sexy, yet most important, step because it’s impossible to know just what (and how much) you’re working with when your makeup drawer runneth over. Kickstart your decluttering by checking for expired products; most cosmetics have an icon that denotes the product’s shelf life, but you can also look that up. Toss the impulse-buy goods that you know—deep down inside—you’ll never use, and don’t be afraid to be brutally honest when asking yourself whether you truly see yourself rocking that electric-blue liquid liner or lilac lip stain. Identify some of the common threads in your stash: Got a half dozen nude lip pencils? Perhaps you can narrow it down to one or two. Once you’ve amassed your pile of duds, do a bit of research to see whether they can be recycled. Certain brands offer perks for returning empty packaging, and some charities will even accept lightly used cosmetics. (Even your old mascara wands can help a cute woodland critter in need.)
Swatch your products Whether you’re dealing with five lipsticks or fifty, it can be easy to forget what you’re working with (and easier still to accidentally duplicate items you already have). Swatching and photographing your color cosmetics, a beauty blogger-beloved method of testing and demonstrating products, can serve as an easy reminder in the form of a visual breakdown. Think of it as a directory for your makeup inventory. Seeing your makeup stash not just as a bunch of dusty old products knocking around your drawer, but as brilliant, concentrated colors can inspire you to rediscover and reach for shades you’d once forgotten—and gently prevent you from subconsciously stocking up on the same version of an item you already have in spades. (For example, a quick swatch of my own lipstick collection was the only hint I needed that I’m probably set for life on “Fairuza Balk in The Craft”-inspired brick red hues.) Plus, who doesn’t like a craft project?
De-pot eyeshadows into one big paletteIf you have an Urban Decay Naked Vault-sized hole in your savings account, you know how pricey—and alluring—palettes can be. But, if you’re up for a DIY project, consolidating your eyeshadow can scratch the palette lover’s itch without the hefty price tag. Simply round up all of your loose eyeshadow singles, along with any other palettes you already have, and employ any one of the many blogger-approved tricks and methods to pop them out of their packaging. Slap a magnet on the back of the casing and add them to an empty magnetic palette, which you can buy from Z Palette, Make Up For Ever, and even Etsy. The end result is a palette you can organize and arrange to your liking, customize to your heart’s content, and take a little bit of joy in knowing that it’s a true one-of-a-kind (that doesn’t involve a waitlist).
Chase the high of “hitting pan”For makeup minimalists, “pan porn”—that rare glimpse of metallic pan that emerges as a product like eyeshadow or blush wears away with use—is the holy grail of mindful makeup usage, because it epitomizes the ideals of using and finishing what you have before moving on to something new. Hitting pan on a product denotes a certain level of commitment, and it encourages a mindset of finishing what you’ve started, instead of letting half-used cosmetics pile up in your collection. And, let’s be honest, that first flash of silver pan can feel deeply satisfying: It even has its own hashtag.
Breathe new life into old products Just because a product has seen better days doesn’t mean it’s ready to be trashed just yet. That mascara you bought two months ago that’s somehow already dried up? A drop or two of sterile saline solution (i.e. eye drops) can bring it back to life. (Just be sure to toss it after three to six months, since prolonging the shelf life any further can lead to bacteria growth.) Cream shadows, potted gel liners, and brow pomades that lose their consistency can be stretched with a drop or two of argan oil and a quick stir. A tragically smashed powder shadow or blush can be salvaged by repressing with plastic wrap and a bit of alcohol. And, if you really want to go the distance in getting every last inch of a product out of its packaging, you can wield a lip brush to reach the bottom of an almost-finished lipstick, or (carefully!) slice open a plastic bottle of foundation and use a makeup spatula to fish out the last few drops.
Find inspiration in online challengesThe online makeup community, with all its hype and hauls, is normally a siren song to the temptations of spending. But some bloggers have made it their mission to fight makeup maximalism by encouraging their followers with creative challenges to use what they have and toss what they don’t need. Youtuber LivLovesHerMakeup's popular decluttering series will inspire you to streamline your collection down to the essentials. One blogger’s genius Reverse Rouge series takes the Sephora loyalty program and turns it inside out by tracking your usage with a points system based on an item’s cost. The aforementioned panning phenomenon gets gamified in ongoing Project Pan challenges. And if you aren’t feeling those, the internet (particularly, Reddit’s MakeupRehab community) yields plenty of inspiration for challenges like these: Pick one palette you haven’t touched in ages and use it exclusively for a different look every day for a week; try living off of your samples and minis for a few days; wear a different lipstick every day until you’ve worked through your whole collection. Think of them as prompts to spark inspiration and stretch your creativity, without stretching your paycheck.