No-Buy Reflections and 2016 Beauty Resolutions

Today marks the end of my two-month beauty no-buy. The terms of the arrangement were fairly lenient: I was allowed to replace skincare, haircare, and “boring” products like mascara and concealer, and I could accept (and request) gifts, but I couldn’t buy any new makeup or nail polish. I’m proud to say that I never broke the no-buy, though I picked up a few more sheet masks than I might have otherwise, and I received three beauty products as gifts: from my boyfriend, Urban Decay’s Naked2 Basics palette and Topshop’s mini Lip Bullet in Motel, and from my mom, a bottle of Essie Summit of Style.

I went on the no-buy for a few reasons. First, to save money: I’m a grad student who earns barely enough to cover rent and food, and I don’t have enough discretionary income to buy new makeup constantly. Second, to prevent my collection from getting overwhelmingly large: I want to use and appreciate everything I have, and to get rid of what I don’t use and appreciate. Third, and most importantly, to sever the connection in my brain between emotional distress and the urge to shop. The fall semester was a trying time: I was on the academic job market for the first time while teaching and writing my dissertation and getting sick multiple times per month and trying to fend off the feeling of gloom that always accompanies the dwindling days. It was no coincidence that my beauty spending increased in the fall. I won’t go so far as to say that my spending was out of control or that I had a shopping addiction, but I noticed that I was relying on beauty purchases to give me those little jolts of pleasure that seemed to make my days more tolerable. By early November, I knew I had to cut myself offand when I did, I immediately felt a sense of relief. This reassured me that some part of my brain had been begging me all along to make a change.

My no-buy may have been brief, but it taught me a few things: 

1. It’s easy to change my actions but hard to change my mentality.

I’ve always had decent impulse control, at least where money is concerned (food is another matter). If there’s a good reason why I shouldn’t buy something, I’ll almost never buy it. So it wasn’t difficult for me to stop buying makeup and nail polish for two months. What was much harder, I soon discovered, was breaking the habit of wanting makeup and nail polish. Though the wants didn’t translate into actions, they were still occupying mental space. I kept a wishlist, I checked Temptalia and Makeup and Beauty Blog daily, I looked up swatches of new releases. Since my daily work involves a good deal of mental heavy lifting, I gravitate toward brainless pursuits during my free hours, and what could be more blissfully brainless than comparing the undertones of five different matte brown lipsticks? I wouldn’t say that this habit is bad, exactly, but it’s doing nothing to increase my happiness or quality of life. I could be using that time to keep in touch with distant friends, or practice yoga, or catch up on my pleasure reading, or experiment with new eyeshadow placement, or a million other things. Going forward, I’d like to devote less brainspace to products and more brainspace to people, ideas, and offline activities.

2. Minimalism can still be a form of consumerism.

In the past month, I’ve spent a lot of time on the MakeupRehab subreddit (just what I needed: another way to waste time online). MakeupRehab is dedicated to no-buys, low-buys, Project Pan updates, collections of empties, and “TMO” (“talk me out [of X purchase]”) posts. It’s great that such a resource exists for people who feel that their beauty spending is out of control, but it seems to me that some of the users have merely replaced one compulsion with another. Endlessly brooding over how much of a lipstick you’ve used, how long it will be until you hit pan on an eyeshadow, how many products you’re not allowed to buy—what does that really accomplish? I think it’s telling that I found myself reading MakeupRehab as obsessively as I once read Temptalia. Both sites focus on products themselves, not on what those products can actually do. And on MakeupRehab, there’s also a lot of guilt and self-recrimination involved. Many people there seem to buy makeup during emotional low points and then castigate themselves for it later (hey, that sounds familiar). And if there’s one thing I’ve learned during my no-buy, it’s that it’s unhealthy to attach emotions to beauty products, or indeed any products. I’d rather buy a lipstick I want and move on than spend a year longing for itwhich I have in fact been known to do, and look how well that turned out.

3. Short-term no-buys are better for me than long-term ones (at least for now).
Speaking of MakeupRehab, I notice quite a few people therepeople who are used to large and frequent makeup haulsputting themselves on no-buys for all of 2016. I’m no psychic, but my magic crystal ball of common fucking sense tells me that these people are setting themselves up for failure. If I’d tried a yearlong no-buy, I’d probably have thrown in the towel within three or four months. I’d rather make a couple of carefully considered purchases every month than attempt a yearlong no-buy, give in to temptation eventually, and beat myself up over my “failure.” Again, my main goal is to attach fewer emotions to beauty products. For me, the way to do that is to buy a small number of products within my financial means, not to pine for a year over all the cool stuff I’m not allowed to have, or to persuade myself in January that my willpower will hold out until December when I know perfectly well that it won’t.

4. Simple resolutions are better than complex ones.

Again, I want material things to take up less of my brainspace. I see people on Makeup Rehab making mind-bendingly complicated low-buy plans for 2016: “Okay, so if I skip dessert for three nights in a row I get $10 toward a lipstick, but only if the moon is in Sagittarius AND I’ve gone to the gym at least two days in the past week.” Personally, I do want to lose some weight this year, but I don’t want that plan to have anything to do with my low-buy. Why use a complicated reward system to link two emotionally fraught forms of consumption and deprivation?

Plus, I’m bad with details. I can follow a low-buy plan that has two criteria; I can’t follow one that requires a spreadsheet. That spreadsheet isn’t going to help me when I’m standing in Ulta face-to-face with the new NYX matte lipsticks, is it? (There’s one called Up the Bass, lolol.)

5. Just because it exists doesn’t mean I need it.

There’s some great makeup in the world. Not all of it needs to be on my face. My no-buy has taught me that I can appreciate the existence of a product without actively wanting it or, worse, buying it.

With all that out of the way, here are my resolutions for 2016!

1. Maintain a low-buy of no more than two new products (makeup, nail polish, and fragrance) and/or $40 per month, with at least two no-buy months.

These are guidelines more than absolute limits (though the $40 limit is harder than the two-product one). I’ll do my best to abide by them every month, but there will probably be months when I buy more than two things or spend more than $40, and that’s fine. I just want those figures present in my head when I’m shopping. My no-buy is exclusive of skincare and haircare, since I have very minimal routines and repurchase products only when needed.

2. Step out of my beauty comfort zone at least once per month with the products I already have.

Trying a new look once per month sounds hilariously unambitious, but that’s where my brain is right now. I’ve fallen into a rut of wearing the same makeup in the same placements over and over, and when I do want a change, I’m more likely to buy a new lipstick than I am to experiment within my collection. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a makeup uniform, but I’d like to rediscover the creative aspect of makeup.

3. Check each beauty blog and subreddit on my blogroll only once per day.

If I don’t know about new beauty releases, I won’t want them. End of story. And keeping up with beauty blogs takes time, too! 

4. Never buy new stuff when emotionally fragile. 

If I’m anxious, depressed, sleep-deprived, or angry, that’s a sign that I need to take better care of myself, not that I need to impulse-buy something online. At no point in my life has buying new makeup helped me overcome a problem or improved my mood for more than a few hours.

5. Keep a running list of the non-beauty items I actually need.

Why is it so easy to forget that I need to spend money on more things than rent, food, and makeup?

6. Record each beauty purchase (new or replacement) in a notebook or Word document.

I did this for a couple of months in 2014 and was surprised at how much I was spending. I think it’s time to pick up the habit again.

I wish you all a happy, healthy new year. I spent my own New Year’s Eve miserably ill with what I’m pretty sure was norovirus, but I’m feeling better today (I managed to keep down a piece of toast: go me), and I’m excited to find out what changes 2016 will bring! One thing is for sure: it will bring new lipstick.

18 thoughts on “No-Buy Reflections and 2016 Beauty Resolutions

  1. Happy 2016! I think your low buy plan is indeed much more realistic than an all-in, yearlong no buy, which does seem be nearly impossible to achieve. I think you hit the nail on the head re: behaviour vs. mentality. My consumption patterns have been reasonable over the last half year or so, but the \”SHINY NEW THINGS!!!\” part of my brain was activated as soon as I started receiving makeup in the form of Christmas gifts. Something for us both to work on in 2016, I guess!


  2. Yes indeed! I want to focus less on the products themselves and more on what they can actually do. I've spent a few years building up a nice, well-rounded collection, but I know I haven't used that collection to its full potential. I've been in my neutral eye + bold lip rut for so long that when I do feel like changing up my look, the first thing I think to do is buy a new lipstick. I don't plan to develop totally different makeup habits in 2016, but I do want my interest in makeup to shift from acquisition to creativity. Happy New Year to you as well! 😀


  3. Oof, I'm glad you're feeling better. Food poisoning (or similar) is the actual worst. Nothing quite like feeling like you can't breathe due to vomiting!If there's one thing I've learnt the past few years is that I don't do well with any form of extremism, whether that's \”go to the gym every day and only have a protein shake for lunch\” or \”do yoga for 30 days straight\” or \”no buying beauty products\”. That being said, I haven't bought anything (except for a replacement mascara and powder while I was on holiday recently) since November 6th — yes I noted this in my phone notebook! It's felt natural though, and I haven't really consciously thought about it too much… in a reply to Liz on my Hourglass palette post the other day, I mentioned that I think due to that particular extravagant purchase, I think I've come to realise that there's not much else that's drawing me in, and that I have a pretty ridiculous collection already. With all of the recent releases I've seen over the past couple of months, I've been able to say, it would be nice to have this but NOPE.It's probably just as well since I've realised that I'm not in the best financial shape, especially with some big expenses coming up (hello visa and student loan repayment!) I really liked your second point, that minimalism can still take up so much mental space. It's makeup, and I don't need to agonise over every purchase. Like food, I don't need to ascribe moral value to it!


  4. Happy new year to you AB! 🙂 I haunt makeuprehab frequently. What's your reddit name? I agree that it can be an obsession in itself. But I think that most people need some little inconsequential thing to have a ritual over. I certainly do, it's a nice little compulsion that's at least in some ways better than buying make up! Lots of people on there are pretty extreme though. I have to say that by forcing myself to use up certain products I have changed my mind about them. I don't know if Matte Everything is still the big trend, but who cares because I'm really liking layering gloss over lipstick (inventive, I know, I just never did it before somehow.) It transformed my old MUFE lipgloss sample into a wonderful moisturizing topper instead of a lame sheer gloss. With this new knowledge in mind my semi-impulse purchases of Illamasqua lipglosses don't seem so redundant anymore, and very drying lipsticks also get a new lease of life. I'm on a no buy at the moment because I think I'm going to the states around the Feb-Mar period and I will MOST DEFINITELY spend tons of money there getting all the stuff that is unavailable here, but at least I have a lot of time to mull over and slash my wishlist.


  5. Happy new year! :DThe really pathetic part of my new reddit addiction is that I don't even have a reddit name! I don't participate, I just lurk. I've been thinking about joining for real, but that would mean yet more time wasted online, sigh. And I agree, there's nothing wrong with having little rituals; better to focus on panning eyeshadows than on buying dozens of new eyeshadows a month. I'm actually contemplating a \”pan that palette\” challenge for my theBalm Nude 'tude this year. I've had it for three years and have hit pan on only one shade, and you're right that forcing yourself to use certain products can really expand your repertoire and enlighten you about your preferences. I've never been crazy about lipgloss myself, but I do have a few that I should use before they go bad…Good luck with your no-buy! It's always fun to buy new stuff overseas.


  6. Vomiting is THE WORST. I actually went for a period of 11 years (ages 10-21) without once throwing up, so now every time I do, it feels not only unpleasant but also terrifyingly foreign. Aaaanyway.I actually don't feel a tremendous urge to buy anything, either! I do think I'll pick up a couple of things before I leave San Francisco so that I don't have to pay for shipping later, but my no-buy reminded me that if I really want a certain product, it will probably still be around in a few months. I'm interested in the new NYX matte lipsticks, for instance, but I feel fine about waiting until reviews come out instead of rushing to Ulta right now because OMG NEW STUFF. It's a real shame that our culture teaches us to attach moral value to material things. That's capitalism for you, I guess.


  7. I hang around and post on MakeupRehab, too, but this is really accurate:\”Many people there seem to buy makeup during emotional low points and then castigate themselves for it later (hey, that sounds familiar). And if there's one thing I've learned during my no-buy, it's that it's unhealthy to attach emotions to beauty products, or indeed any products.\”I've never been able to really beat myself up over buying another lipstick, and I don't think it's healthy to do that. I also don't like how scolding some people can be, because I think a lot of their criticism revolves around stuff they don't care for. For instance, when I mentioned how many red lipsticks I have, somebody shot back with something like, \”Why do you even need more than one? Red is red.\” We know that's not true, especially if you're like me and you wear reds waaaaay more than nudes. But for the most part, it's an interesting and thought-provoking group.I also got two beautiful notebooks for Christmas, so I'll be recording my beauty purchases as well, as well as my Beauty Roulette progress, my goals, and my lemmings. 🙂 I did the lemmings list a few years ago and it really helped!


  8. I spent my new year celebrations hacking into a tissue, so you're in good company. :)I have participated on MakeupRehab, but you've really hit the nail on the head about the community: a lot of people there have traded one obsession for another. I personally don't want to spend my time obsessing over panning things I don't really like. I've been tinkering with realistic low buy plans – ones with easy limits and not tied to things like exercise or diet or anything else that could lead to more unhealthy habits. I like rituals and routines, and after the rollercoaster of emotions/employment/life transitions that 2015 was for me, I most definitely need them…but maybe not as intense as MUR.


  9. I enjoyed this post. I'm currently trying to declutter, I've thrown out a lot of junk lately but I really need to sell off a bunch of products. I also gave away a bunch of PR samples that I will just realistically never ever use.


  10. People on the internet are so weird. I don't get the point of scolding total strangers for harmless things, or offering them unsolicited advice. People rarely take advice even when they ask for it, so why would they take it when they didn't want it at all? I also don't believe in forcing myself into minimalism just for minimalism's sake: I think you and I are similar in that way. I don't need more than one red, but really, I don't need the first red, either. Makeup is always unnecessary, and we're just talking about different quantities of an unnecessary thing. There was a great comment about this on MUR today: \”You don't have to (to be blunt) have an orgasm every time you look at/think of/use a product. If you're obsessing over how the shade is 2 hairs cooler than you'd like it to be, IMO that's as bad of an obsession as not being able to go in a store without buying a lipstick.\”


  11. Aww, feel better soon! :(I think Project Pans and the like are great for rediscovering old favorites and discovering the potential in products that once seemed mediocre. But if the products still seem mediocre, there's no point in forcing yourself to finish them and turning makeup into a self-punishing chore. Just learn from your mistakes and make smarter purchases next time, you know? Good luck with your own low-buy plans!


  12. I really really liked your post! And your resolutions! I think we have the same opinion. I also learned to not buy anything. Sometimes I walk through the store and just look and think: naaa i dont need that.. and that makes me proud 😀 I think I will try to rediscover my collection as well. I have many items (especially lip sticks) i barely use. Will be nice to try out the old shades again. I think it will feel like buying something new 🙂


  13. During my no-buy, I was surprised that I could walk through a store like Sephora without feeling any temptation. Sometimes it's enough just to appreciate the existence of a good lipstick or eyeshadow, you know?


  14. This is so fantastic. Had a good laugh at some of your observations and comments too, especially around the MakeupRehab subreddit. The whole \”buying something in a moment of weakness then hating yourself for it\” is oh so familiar. Right now in my life, I'm trying (key word trying) to focus on saving, though certain things always get me and I fail. Things like bargains, sales, the idea of buying something so I'm saving money in the future, or simply giving into my own need for entertainment/distraction/pleasure. I definitely have a feeling like I need to stop or severely rein in my spending on makeup. I like your idea of a fixed, moderate budget per month, with at least a couple of months of not buying a thing. If there's something I really, really want (and I can justify it in my mind), then I might treat myself, but otherwise, I need to focus on the mound of stuff I already have at home, most of which I haven't made a dent in.


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