#shopthestash | a retrospective: 15 things I learned from a year of no shopping

AMtoPM organize beauty inventory stash homekeeping

My year-long experiment to not buy has finally ended. I’m a little sad and more than a little grateful. My big purchase is a splurge: a skincare haul to properly replace all that I stopped myself from buying. Still, my skin has been pretty good without it, considering there were a lot of steps that I eliminated.

Aside from another big purchase (sunscreen haul) and maybe some concealer and base, I’m going to go back on the ban. It was fun and I learned so much.

My main takeaways:

1. Having without makes you resourceful

Out of a product? No problem! Often it can be supplemented with something else–with a little creativity.

Running out of eyeliner? A makeup artist at an event I went to last year took out her mascara wand and surprised me.

Out of sheet masks? Do a couple with some tissues (blank sheets) and some hydrating toner or essence.

Out of anything else? See if you can cobble something together with what you have and do an old fashioned DIY. (Except maybe with sunscreen. Don’t fuck around with DIY sunscreen). And always patch test.

2. Samples are everything

The early days were rough until I realized a clever loophole to tide me over on the whole embargo on new products thing: samples!

I could ask for free, try what my skin and heart wanted and make up a list. The sample haul I got was massive, but the list of things to actually buy was incredibly short. No surprise: all skin care.

Still, I’m thankful I tried all those foundation samples. Now I know what not to buy.

3. You know what you really need.

I always knew sunscreen was my number one. This year I realized I can do without sheet masks (bummer) and I can skimp on the acne products (happy surprise!).

4.…And even if you know what you really need, you can still cull a bit more.

I have maybe seven absolute products (makeup included). Lipstick, eyeliner, brow pencil/eyeshadow, sunscreen, oil cleanser, moisturizer, lip balm. When in dire straits, I realized I could cull that down to sunscreen, face oil (as cleanser, moisturizer and emergency lip balm) and lipstick–though the lipstick is still a bonus item.

5. A ban is all about the mindset.

You can think of it as deprivation, guaranteeing a period of sheer hell and torture. Or you can think of it as a challenge to think creatively, an opportunity to try out and cull what doesn’t work and a chance to finally corral an unwieldy vanity. I chose to the latter sense and thrived. I had time for hobbies (one colouring book and a knitting project done) and major real estate inside my home was cleared away. And I probably went through a ton of products. More so than I would have gone through if I wasn’t so focused on finishing each one completely before moving on.

6. Buy what you really want to buy.

If only there was a people pleasing rehab group. My name is Tiff and I’m a people pleaser.  I’m addicted to it and part of that behaviour seeped into my purchasing habits. From the nice makeup artist who did my makeover and tried to sell me something that I wasn’t so sure on (but bought) to the chummy sales associate who tried to upset me on some sunscreen.

If you’re not a people pleaser, I’m sure there are products that everyone has bought that they weren’t 100 per cent on. Like that crazy eyeshadow you adore but would realistically wear once or twice a year (but would wear daily in your fantasy life). Or that palette you have your eye on, even though you only really love two or three shades. Or those extra $30 of product you bought to get that free trial set at the cash register. <— Or am I just stealing scenarios from Confessions of a Shopaholic now?

If these don’t resonate with anyone, I really need to lay off all the Becky Bloomwood.

Regardless this year has taught me to emotionally purchase in a different (healthy) way. I check in to see what brings me joy. Out of the 5 serums that I might be looking at, I’ll choose the one that I really like and what I’ll really enjoy using every day as part of my routine and what would be most beneficial to my skin.

7. Clear the chaos

To piggyback off the next nugget of wisdom, discernment really helps. Before the stash, I had so many random products. It was the beauty version of everything but the kitchen sink. Products for every scenario–acne, aging, pigmentation, things to combat excess oil, dry skin…let’s just say I was prepared for pretty much every aesthetic emergency.

I had stuff for acne (even though I realistically get acne ≤1 a month). Lots of spot treatments and a trial kit for a condition I didn’t really need to address is a bit overkill. Similarly I had too many tubes of foaming cleanser, even though I really only need one to last me a year.

I’m a generally anxious person. In an interesting twist, I realized that the more I culled/used up, the less overwhelmed I was. Seriously just looking at my dresser would stress me out and that’s not really the way anyone should start or end their day.

8. Community helps

Keeping me accountable and motivated were the many people that supported me this year and updating the blog (and the Internet) on my journey. I’m so thankful to have people cheer me on, keep me accountable and not shove their purchases in my face. Ironically, people were also my saving grace by providing me with stuff to supplement me. The Universe is a crazy thing. The minute I’d run out of something or think about something, a couple days later I’d get those very things from someone, somewhere.

Masks and trial sets from well-meaning friends and family who happened to need to “pass things along” and a happy surprise from Nars thrown in. I’m so thankful to the people who helped me, but they did sort of put me in a quandary. #shopthestash was primarily a no-spending ban, but it was also a bit about keeping my growing collection of beauty everything in check. While they helped keep me in line on the personal finance end, it was a struggle to keep the number of stuff I had under control. I’m still going through a lot of things I received this year (I haven’t even touched the gift cards I got)–but this is the best problem to have. So I’m shutting up now. (If you could forget this last paragraph, that would be awesome).

9. Enjoy all the aspects of the beauty buy–including the buy

I knew this a long time ago on a surface level, but I realized this more viscerally as the year went on. I window shopped a lot and because I like the luxury of visiting shops when they weren’t packed on the weekend, I came to know a lot of sales associates. There were amazing ones that were attentive to me as I asked for samples of things that fit the concerns that I had and were patient enough to answer my many questions (I like to be prepared).

But then there were the associates that dropped me like dirt when it was clear that I wasn’t desperate to buy right now. (And even the one time I did break the stash and bought an emergency item, I was jilted–when no one else was really in the store). I will not be going back to them or their establishments. The time has passed for me to frequent a place and tolerate that kind of service even though they have something that I need. I can find that thing elsewhere.

Not strictly a beauty lesson, but that’s part of the beauty experience. Beauty is as much image as it is performance. The packaging, the marketing, the story and the science and the customer service part take a big role. Just this week I went to a store (not a beauty shop, per se but to buy some beauty supplies) and I just felt so uncomfortable with the service I got, I came out empty-handed and bought the exact same product somewhere else.

10. You are what you buy 

I noticed a pattern in the things in my stash. Not surprisingly, my love of sunscreens was pretty evident. Ditto my weakness for the more ritualistic parts of skincare (I have a lot of masks). I also was really into moisturizing products–acquiring as many as I could get my hands on. But when I found myself actually using my things, I noticed some deviation. While moisturizing was still a priority I found myself gravitating to toners/essences/lightweight creams and light-medium oils, rarely my face balms and richer oils. I found myself really looking into anti-aging products–things with vitamin C, niacinamide–as well as anything to revitalize and brighten my skin. I tend to focus a lot more on cleansing (products, methods (holla 4-2-4!), massage) as well. My skin changed a lot over the past couple of years, so my stash moving forward is going to be a bit more flexible and reflect the new priorities.

11. You are what you buy, II

My stash tells a story. It says so much about all the different stages I’ve gone through without saying anything. In past years, it showed off my pink phase (2010-2011), the rise and fall of lip gloss(1998-2007), my red lipstick phase (2012-present), my love for NARS (2007-forever). It reminds me of my love for oil cleansing (2011, though all my oils are up-to-date), my collection of italy towels–every single aesthetic move I’ve ever made, except for those pastel eyeshadow sticks from grade 8. (The memory of those are enough that I didn’t need mementos.)

Over the last year I’ve had to say goodbye to things that no longer fit me and my lifestyle. I culled clarifying masks to the littlest tube. I came to the conclusion that I didn’t need more than one foam cleanser tube at a time. I realized that I have yet to find a good chemical sunscreen and resolved to stop buying them–for now.

Saying goodbye to all those things were like saying buy to little parts of me. I’m the type of person that personifies things like a “crazy” person. But I realize now that it’s just evolution. I’m at the point where I can embrace every stage as a new adventure instead of mope over HGs that are HGs no longer.

12. It’s how you use your products.

Like buying the state-the-art camera but still using it on auto and flash, there’s no point to buying the best for your skin if you don’t properly use it. You only scrape the surface of what you can really achieve. I experimented with different methods of cleansing, I tried out all these facial massage techniques and I switched up combinations to my daily routines to get as close to a holy grail skin care setup as I could. I think by the end I got pretty close! I got more out of my skin care regimen without actually adding anything into the mix.

Upwards of seven products every day (sometimes twice a day) is kind of a big timesuck and I’m all about multitasking. Before the ban, most of the time I did my beauty/skin routine in a haze. Not really all there when it came to doing all the steps and just doing it by rote and muscle memory until it was time to move onto the next step. But I started to pay more attention to each step and how my skin reacted to it. Probably the biggest benefit was doing a mini facial massage with my oil cleanser. On so many levels it helped my skin rid itself of a lot more grime and clogged pores. The decreased tension in my jaw and relaxing vibe I got afterwards were also happy, unexpected fringe benefits to adding that into my routine.

13. Rituals are everything

All that time devoted to shopping (buying, purchasing, perusing, lusting) was diverted to rituals. More of that time was diverted into more consistent facials and jjimjilbang days. I get a different kind of satisfaction from my rituals compared to a haul or shopping. Instead of that rush of adrenaline that I used to get after a haul sale or something

14. A stash is useless on display

I like pretty things. I have a tendency to collect things. To no one’s surprise I’ve amassed a lot of stuff–a lot of it going unused. I don’t know what the resistance to using all the pretty was. It was probably a lot to do with scarcity–what happens if I can never find that product again? What if it gets discontinued? Then I’ll never be able to use it. Which was absurd. In reality, I had it right in front of me and I never used it.

Cracking into that stash for the first couple times was probably more anxiety inducing than it had to be. But I slowly worked through all those scarcity and lack issues as I whittled down the stash. It’s nowhere near to being finished, but the contents have gone down dramatically.

If anything, I feel more expansive and abundant towards the end of the experiment. I’d run out of things or run low and two things would happen: I would just get out and buy more or I would be magically be gifted with what I needed. Sounds like common sense: I could just get more when I run out, right? But to me that was pretty revelatory.

15. Beauty is supposed to make you feel good, never bad

Makeup and skin care are ways we can all express self-love and self expression. It shouldn’t ever make you feel bad. Right? But the amount of stuff I had got to a point where I would just freak out and it would make my stomach turn looking at all of it.

I’m the type of person that hates chaos unless it’s the manageable and creative-inducing kind. But my stash at the end of 2014 was too unwieldy for me. It wasn’t that I needed more storage, though that could keep it all visually in check. It was just so much! Seeing all of it in dollar amounts was scary. If I didn’t practice itemizing all my stuff, I could have easily spun out of control.

Now that I’ve used a great deal of my stuff I feel way better about my stash! I’m more carefree and I use my stuff with as much gusto as I did when I first started obsessing about skin. It feels amazing!


I’ve replenished some things I’ve been lacking with a Jolse haul, but besides that and a few more cosmetics I might have to pick up this year, I’m going to keep the beauty shopping low-key. I still have way more to go on #shopthestash and I’m more excited to continue!


2 thoughts on “#shopthestash | a retrospective: 15 things I learned from a year of no shopping

    1. Thanks Gyudy! It’s been fun! I enjoyed it a lot and will probably be unofficially continuing on with shop the stash. Foundations are so tricky; not all formulations work well with every circumstance. I see the logic in multiples. But then, I’m also an enabler of massive proportions 😉 Thanks for stopping by!

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