You know this scenario: Compacts, palettes, assorted jars, bottles, and lipsticks (so many lipsticks) strewn across every possible flat surface in your home. And then there's the 'overflow' situation, where unopened products are just sitting in storage, waiting for the day you get around to using them. Sounds all too familiar? Newsflash: You could very well have an undiagnosed case of hoarding — one that's specific to beauty.
Like something out of an episode of Hoarders the beauty edition, it's all too easy to start buying makeup with the premise of curating a collection of 'everyday essentials', and then unknowingly slip down that slope into hoarder territory (a fact yours truly can attest to, especially as a beauty writer who receives products regularly). The fast-changing and trend-driven nature of the cosmetics industry doesn't help, what with new collections and products seemingly launching every other week. But are you really happier with a mountain of makeup that's endless enough to supply your own beauty store, or is the strict Marie Kondo method of materialism the way to live your life? Does either of these extremes give you a better peace of mind, and in the long-term address the underlying issues fuelling your beauty hoarding? For that matter, why is beauty hoarding a thing in the first place?
In light of World Mental Health Day, we explore the connection between cosmetics and hoarding in a bid to raise the awareness flag on this compulsive disorder. Do you have the makings of a beauty hoarder? And if you're already a makeup addict, it's time to take a big step back and re-assess where you stand on the beauty hoarding scale — and whether or not you need to make a life change in order to better your mental wellbeing.
THE DEFINITION OF HOARDING
Clinically, hoarding is the persistent difficulty in discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value. It's a disorder that has links to compulsive buying, such as being unable to pass up on bargains or obsessively needing to obtain the newest launches. Think of a squirrel neurotically searching for acorns and nibbles to store away for the winter in its hidey-hole, and you have just about the right idea.
Symptoms of this behaviour include severe anxiety when it comes to discarding items, indecision about what to keep and where to put things, a huge difficulty in categorising or organising possessions, and obsessive thoughts and actions that circle around the fear of running out of an item or needing it in the future. At its most severe, hoarders also suffer from functional impairment as the disorder creates familial or marital discord, financial difficulties, health hazards, social isolation, and the loss of living space.
HOW MAKEUP HOARDING CAME TO BE
Did hoarding or cosmetics come first? To be fair, the disorder has probably been around longer than makeup has been in commercial production, as commonly hoarded items such as newspapers, magazines, cardboard boxes, photographs, and household supplies pre-date modern cosmetics. But the uptick in amassing truckloads of makeup has never been more prominent, particularly in the last handful of years thanks to the digital age taking off with the proliferation of social media and YouTube.
Don't get us wrong; we're psyched that makeup is now more accessible than ever with beauty YouTubers putting up tutorials and product reviews that enable anyone to educate themselves as long as you have a Wifi connection. And we're certainly not begrudging the gurus who have made it big and parleyed their fame into solid makeup brands beloved by many. But the dark side to this ubiquity is the subliminal messaging that you need to keep buying makeup — whether it's coming from a place of envy that your favourite YouTube stars have presumably the ultimate beauty collection, or a case of simply being highly suggestible to glowing reviews or recommendations.
Beauty insider Cheryl Chio, who straddles between being a full-time editor and part-time beauty influencer with a multi award-winning blog, shares the same sentiment: "Because of today's social media culture — be it YouTube, Instagram, Facebook or even Facebook Live shopping — consumers are now finding it easier to be educated, with access to information on application methods and tips and tricks. This combined with the ease of online shopping does indeed influence people to buy more makeup (myself included!), as consumers now can see the effects of a product as opposed to only seeing its packaging or only swatching it on the back of their hands in-stores. They also learn more about brands they've never heard about before."
Supply and demand also plays into the equation, as the growing appetite for makeup drives cosmetic companies to launch new products with increasing frequency, thus feeding the beauty hoarder's obsession to keep purchasing makeup and essentially creating a vicious cycle. "I think it's gross because it's just the churning and churning of endless products to sell for the sake of 'newness'," quips makeup artist Larry Yeo. "It is no longer about proper reviews of what is good. And it's the worst when personalities come up with their own makeup lines using formulations from the early 2000s', but they have minions reviewing their products with #amazing like it's holy water sent to dispel vampires. #eyeballrolling."
Yeo's advice when it comes to wading through the all fluff and ra-ra on social media? "The more solid YouTubers and Instagrammers who stick to their guns with genuine reviews will survive longer and be more respected. I also think those who look like themselves in real life and are not FaceTuned to death will hold better standings. Consumers are also getting social media fatigue from looking at excessive sponsored posts, proving that such viral talk do not hold weight or provide actual content anymore."
HOW TO LEARN TO LET GO AND STOP COLLECTING
To de-clutter is to de-stress. Much like how getting rid of stuff frees up room in the physical world, the act of de-cluttering helps to clear your headspace by reducing how much daily thought you consciously (or unconsciously) commit to thinking about your makeup stash.
For most beauty junkies, sentimentality is the lead culprit behind our larger-than-average collection. The need to hold onto limited edition packaging or products such as your first M.A.C lipstick or that palette you flew all the way to New York to get — never mind that they're way past their use-by date — is one we understand all too well (and similarly agonise over), but the key is moderation and self-awareness. No one's saying all your older makeup has to be junked; keep the products that bring you joy — to paraphrase the Japanese queen of de-cluttering — but set limitations on quantity by assigning your collection with an 'in-out' system.
"One should not enable hoarding, so my self-imposed limitation on storage space helps me to be more 'ruthless' and clear out stuff to give away."
A pragmatic approach practiced by Chio who's a stickler for neatness and categorisation with a side of OCD, she ensures her stash never ventures into hoarder territory by staying firmly within the bounds of her allocated storage space. "Many people have told me to buy more shelves or expand my storage area, but I stick to my two chests of drawers (each with four levels) and the one shelf (with three levels) dedicated to makeup storage. It takes up one full length of my room, so I believe it's more than enough. One should not enable hoarding, so my self-imposed limitation on storage space helps me to be more 'ruthless' and clear out stuff to give away."
Everything has to fit and be tucked away, and Chio enforces the 'in-out' rule by removing a corresponding number of items for every new product that comes in which she decides to keep. "If I have 20 BB cushions in a row, for example, and I get the 21st one that I can't squeeze in, I'll make myself get rid of one," she explains. Another way to stay on top of the stockpiling is to exercise stricter QC. Yeo does this by asking makeup brands what they're sending, wherein he analyses if the products will be of use before giving the okay for them to be sent. "I do not take everything because I do not need everything, so it's actually easy to control the influx." He further elaborates: "There are some brands I won't accept because there is either a conflict of interest in my beliefs or a conflict of interest in their formulations, seeing as I am educated in cosmetic science."
Obviously, overhauling your entire emporium of makeup in one go is stressful, to say the least. It can even be counter-intuitive as unearthing everything at once and seeing it all in its hoarder glory can put you off before you barely start de-cluttering. What you can do is set reasonable goals — and load up some de-cluttering YouTube videos for inspiration — to help you make headway, such as sorting out and trimming down your collection according to category within a certain timeframe.
Once it's down to a more manageable size, hardwire it as a habit to sweep through your stash every few months or so to re-evaluate what are the products you've been using recently, and whether they're working out or not. Yeo makes his judgment call this way, saying: "I always test products for at least two to three months before moving on to the next launch. Only products that are amazingly effective will stay in my kit for the next six to 12 months. I always try to de-clutter every three months, and the things I do not use or am done testing with will be handed to my assistants for them to renew their kit, or to makeup newbies trying to expand their collection."
KEEPING YOURSELF ON THE BEAUTY STRAIGHT AND NARROW
Cutting down on your collection is not a means to go out there and buy more things later, in case you've misinterpreted the de-cluttering raison d'être. Always ask yourself if this new lipstick/bronzer/highlighter/eyeshadow palette/nail polish is something you can dupe from your stash. Be proud that you've staged a self-intervention and remind yourself of the effort, time, and discipline you've invested into keeping a lid on your makeup hoarding tendencies every time you get an itch to purchase something new. Resisting temptation is more than half the battle won.
After all, the main difference when it comes to hoarding versus collecting is that hoarders usually experience embarrassment about their possessions and feel sad, guilty or ashamed after acquiring additional items, whereas collectors have a sense of pride about their stuff, and they experience joy in displaying and talking about them. The latter group also tends to keep their collection organised, and they get a sense of satisfaction when adding to it, doing so with consideration to budgeting their time and money.
So what's the beauty bottom line? Know what you own, use what you have, and remember that everything eventually expires. And what you've already cleared, or will continue to keep clearing, should go on to friends and family — or better yet, makeup charities — who will appreciate the products and give them a new lease of life. Making someone else's day with makeup in turn boosts your own mood, which could very well help reduce your cortisol levels (that's the stress-inducing hormone) and improve your overall mental wellbeing. Clichéd sayings like 'less is more' and 'sharing is caring' have never rang truer. Give yourself a chance to have some literal and figurative breathing room from all that makeup — and in the long-run seek to diminish the compulsion of your hoarding disorder — and you might just find you're truly better off for it.
On that note, be right back sorting out my own stash that's long overdue for a declutter.