Since I’m moving this month and need to limit both my spending and my accumulation of new crap, I’ve put myself on a replacement-only beauty no-buy until the end of August. It’s been pretty easy so far: I’ve been so consumed with other problems that I haven’t had much brain space for makeup. But since there’s no telling what temptations I’ll face in the second half of the month, I thought I’d write up a list of the techniques and mantras that have helped me through previous no- and low-buys. (Disclaimer: I don’t have a shopping addiction, which is a serious disorder, and I’m not qualified to counsel people who do. This advice is designed for those who, like me, occasionally impulse-buy things they can live without.)
1. Know your triggers.
Here are mine:
a. Feeling (even) more broke than usual. I’ve spent my entire adult life as a graduate student and underemployed academic, so money has always been tight. But I’ve noticed that when it’s particularly tight, I feel the near-constant urge to treat myself to a new lipstick or nail polish or enamel pin. Being poor is exhausting, not least because you’re constantly reflecting on all the basic amenities you can’t afford, so it’s tempting to buy yourself a little luxury that you can afford. Which I don’t think is a bad thing in itself (cue Republican outrage that people on welfare dare to buy beer and ice cream, as if saving that $5 will help them afford a house). But it can easily get out of hand.
b. Uncertainty about my future. Like many people who came of age during the recession, I’m getting by on contingent employment and have no idea what my life will look like in the long term. For the past two or three years, I’ve been unable to plan more than a few months ahead, and that’s taken a significant mental toll. Ordering a treat online and using USPS tracking to monitor its progress toward my house is an easy way to ensure that I can look forward to something, even if my long-term prospects feel grim. But the pleasure is fleeting and illusory. (Wow, this post got real pretty quickly. Sorry.)
c. Anxiety from overwork. I’m never so tempted to impulse-order makeup as when I’m completing a bunch of job applications on a tight deadline. It’s like, I’m already doing six things at once, and all six are agonizingly stressful, so why not add a seventh that’s at least somewhat fun? For me, those impulse purchases almost always result in regret.
2. Turn to new techniques and inspirations, not new products.
If you feel like you’re in a makeup rut, and you’re bored and dissatisfied with how your looks are turning out, new products will only do so much. Your skills and your range of inspiration will stay the same, and instead of doing a halo eye with orange, peach, and light gold eyeshadows, you’ll be doing the same old halo eye with red, pink, and champagne eyeshadows. If you own enough makeup to be undertaking a no-buy, there’s no way you’ve exhausted the potential of all that makeup, I promise. Watch old movies or new kpop videos.* Binge Lisa Eldridge tutorials. Take another look at the Pat McGrath editorial photos you saved on your “makeup inspiration” Pinterest board three years ago. Practice your blending skills right before you shower.
*Yes, that link is a shameless attempt to make you fall in love with my precious daughter Song Yuqi and her group, whom I narrowly and tragically missed seeing in NYC two weekends ago. The makeup in that music video is really good, though.
3. Mix and layer colors to create your perfect products.
I’ve watched YouTube videos by professional makeup artists and by social-media influencers, and I’ve noticed a stark difference between the two kinds of videos. Whereas beauty gurus tend to create the same looks over and over with a constantly changing array of trendy products, real makeup artists mix and layer the same products over and over to create a constantly changing array of looks. In other words:
Makeup artists: narrow range of products -> wide variety of looks
Beauty gurus/influencers: wide variety of products -> narrow range of looks
When I realized this, my perspective on my makeup collection changed dramatically. I’m more familiar with my coloring and tastes than any brand is. Who has a better chance of creating the perfect brownish peach lipstick for my skintone: me, or some committee in a boardroom? (For the record, my perfect brownish peach is Wet n Wild Liquid Catsuit in Nudist Peach layered over Milani Color Statement Lip Pencil in Nude.)
4. Look up reviews of products you already own.
This will serve a twofold purpose. Not only will it remind you of the reasons why you bought the products and the excitement you felt when you first used them; it will also lead you to blog posts and tutorials that will give you new ideas for using those items.
5. Keep track of all the shades you own in your favorite makeup category.
For each of the past two years, I’ve maintained a list of all my lipstick shades (current total is 45, plus eight glosses), putting an asterisk next to a shade whenever I wear it and starting the list over at the beginning of the year. I keep the document in my Google Docs so I can view and update it on my phone when I’m out and about. This exercise reminds me just how infrequently I get to wear my favorite lipsticks, even the ones I think I wear often, because my collection is so damned large. It also gives me pause when I contemplate buying another, because that will be just one more lipstick that will prevent me from wearing the others!
6. Don’t beat yourself up if you buy something.
Guilt is counterproductive. First, because it can lead to even more spending: “I’ve already broken my no-buy,” you think, “so what’s one more purchase?” Second, because brands use your guilt as a marketing tool. A glance at the Instagram account of pretty much any social-media-based brand will reveal as much. Brands love posting those “hiding your makeup orders from hubby” and “spending your therapy money on lipstick” memes, because they tap into the undercurrent of guilt we all feel as consumers. And there’s nothing quite like feeling understood…by the very people who are trying to sell you more makeup. Third, because how many things does our society tell women feel guilty about? Eating. Not eating. Being girly. Not being girly. Wearing makeup. Not wearing makeup. Having feelings. Not having feelings. It’s enough. Break the cycle. When you slip up, get right back on the wagon; more importantly, reflect on why you slipped up, what triggers got you there, and how you can resist those triggers in the future. Then move the fuck on.
7. Remember that the feeling of shiny newness always, ALWAYS fades. And soon.
Think about the last few products you bought. How long did your excitement take to wane? A few hours? A day or two? The pleasure of new makeup or skincare is real, and it’s not worthless, but it’s not even close to permanent. During your no-buy, focus on things that can improve your life in the long (or, at least, slightly longer) run.
And that’s it! Wish me luck for the next two weeks, and let me know your own no-buy and low-buy tips!